A Beginners Guide to Growing Sweet PeasLeave a Comment
It may be gloomy out there and the evenings may be getting darker and the wind windier and the rain… rain…ier – but don’t let winter ‘pea’ you off! Spring will come again and what better way to instill your confidence in warmer days to come than by sowing some sweet peas!
Autumn through to winter is the best time in my opinion to sow these jolliest of flowers. It gives you stronger plants and a longer season of flowering and somehow seems to make the winter go quicker…
Here’s how to do it:
For a great choice from sweet pea specialists check out Easton Walled Garden Online Shop but there are many other great suppliers out there too. I like to go for a lot of different varieties to create a mass of colour but you could colour co-ordinate choosing for example jewel shades of blue, mauve and white or all apricots and cream – or go for only heritage or very highly scented varieties – the choice is yours…
However if your main focus is growing them for picked flowers they really do look their best with a mix of pastel and strong colours – it gives great balance and adds exuberanceto your displays.
By choosing a good variety of seeds, you will also get a good variety of scent which is a large part of the enjoyement – for strong scent you can’t do better than my personal favourite sweet pea – ‘High Scent’ but other highly scented varieties include ‘Betty Maiden’, ‘Ethel Grace’, ‘Fire and Ice’ and the historic ‘Matucana’. Check the packets if you are after strong scent as some varieties hardly smell at all and yet are still beautiful – all the more reason to plant a good selection.
Plant your seeds ideally in root trainers – these make it all so much easier and the seeds love the long root run (sweet peas have incredibly long roots). The compost wants to be something like John Innes seed compost and you want no more than two seeds to each cell with 1cm of compost over them.
Place the cells in a light, cool room or a greenhouse or conservatory if you have one and cover the planted up cells with newspaper until the seeds germinate – if sowing in the depths of winter, the seeds may need a bit of extra warmth – a heated propagator would be ideal or if not just a warmer room in the house.
As soon as the seeds have germinated, take off the newspaper and move the plants to a coldframe or unheated greenhouse. Sweet peas benefit from being grown on ‘hard’ so no mollycoddling!! Keep fresh air coming in – open up the cold frame and give them a good dose of cold, sunny air! Its frost you need to be wary of… and mice! Mice love sweet pea seeds so that is something you need to bear in mind. Make sure you close the coldframe on frosty nights and keep the soil moist – not wet.
Once the shoots have two pairs of leaves, nip off the top two between your fingers – this helps the plant bush out instead of getting long and straggly.
April is the best time to plant out – but be guided by gut instinct and the weather conditions – choose a time when there has been a nice lot of sun so the earth has warmed up and there is a gentle weather forcast for the next few days.
There are many ways to train your sweetpeas but they all fall into two catergories – ‘cordon’ is the first and ‘on the bush’ is the other.
The cordon method is usually used by exhibition growers as it gives you stunning perfectly formed flowers on long, straight stems – however this method is for quality not quantity – each plant has only one stem where as if you go for the ‘on the bush’ method the plant is allowed to develop naturally and therefore has more stems and more flowers.
Most gardeners will go for the ‘on the bush’ method and plant their sweet peas up teepees or trellis – I prefer to use metal bean/pea frames which work really well and give the plants a lot of room to spread out.
Once your peas are in the ground, water them in well and then leave them to do their thing for 4 to 6 weeks – watering them well in periods of dry weather. During this time don’t worry if they start to look a bit sorry for themselves… They won’t grow during this time hardly at all. All the effort is going on under the earth. Their roots are busy going down and down and it is only after about 6 weeks that you’ll start to see new growth and then they will be away!
As they grow, tie them in to the support at regular intervals – you can train them horizontally to begin with, which will promote more side shoots and ultimately give you more flowers but the stems tend to be shorter if trained this way – don’t tie them too tight as the stems continue to grow fatter and be careful not to snap the stems.
Feed them every two weeks or so with a high potash feed – I find liquid tomato feed works really well or good old liquid seaweed and be careful not to over water… Sweet peas do love a lot of water but bear in mind that because of their deep roots, once established they should only need watering in dry spells.
And that’s about it – as soon as they start to flower – start picking – the more you pick – the more flowers you get! And don’t forget to cut off the seed pods – if you leave them on, they will stop producing flowers – look after them well and you can still be picking lovely blooms in October next year!
Regardless if you have a tiny rough patch or a massive garden – Sweet peas make a garden and I urge you to give them a go – there truly is nothing better on a warm sunny day than their scent of summer and their jewel colours beaming at you – they are the best of pick me ups and once you start growing them…
Summer just isn’t summer without them!