Sunday, 15 September 2019

How to grow sweetpeas

I am writing this knowing it isn't the sort of thing that I would usually post. However it is the sort of post I have often looked for and it is also a nice place for me to out all the knowledge that I have got from years of growing sweet peas so that I don't forget it either!

It's not so much 'how to grow sweetpeas' (even though that is the title), but more just some of the common questions about growing them, or barriers you might come up against when growing them.

So with that said, here goes. I am going to sort out just put out everything I know and it might not be in a perfect order, but there shouldn't be too much to get through, so hopefully it will still be usable!

Getting started and gaining lots of height!
Just starting to come- an exciting time for sweetpea nerds aka me
  • If you are growing from seed, then when you're preparing them, first take them out and place the seeds onto a damp piece of kitchen roll inside a sealed container like a sandwich box, and wait for them to swell or sprout. Don't leave for too long though, hours or overnight at most. This gives them a little head start, it's not essential, but I have had better results with ones done this way. You can also try nicking the seed coating with a knife, I rarely do this though as my eyes aren't too good, so usually end up missing and nicking my hand with a knife. 
  • If you're starting from seed, (though I'm not a seed snob and there's nothing wrong with buying  little seedlings/ plants and growing them from there, often much cheaper, better use of money than buying a whole packet of seeds you might not use). Grow them in deep little pots, root trainers, they're often called, but if you can't find those, find little pots which are narrow and deep, then move them up as they grow. You can even use toilet roll holders- they're the perfect shape! If you're sowing, I usually start in January, but for my extra long ones I start even earlier, around September.  
  • If you're growing the perennial type, which look really quite different, these do prefer being planted into the ground, so do check first. Also worth knowing, the perennial ones usually don't have the scent. 
On their way!  
  • As they start growing, they can quickly get really leggy, but what you really want is lots of side shoots, so discourage them from growing too tall and thin by continually pinching out at the top, keep nipping off the top, just above a set of leaves.  More shoots = a bushier plant = more flowers = happy days. I will talk a little more below about cordon training as if you grow in that way you pinch out very differently. 
  • Plant them out once the first frost has gone, usually at the start of spring sort of April-ish time. Decide where you're planting them and commit to it. they hate being moved! Try and pick somewhere with plenty of sun, or only a small amount of shade. 
  • Pop a small amount of fertiliser, I use Vitax Q4, into the base of the pot/ ground before you out them in. Then give the plant a good soak first so the roots are nice and wet. 
  • They need a good support as they're climbers and like things to grab onto, you can do this how you like, I often have some wigwams and otherwise pop about 5 canes in and then use twine to keep them together. Bear in mind that they can grow really tall. mine usually go around 7 foot so the canes need to be talllllll. The support system needs to go in first as otherwise you'll disturb the very delicate root structure. If you need to put taller canes in later on, really carefully remove the existing cane and place the new one into that hole very carefully. You can also let them scramble up a tree (as long as the bark isn't super smooth) or hedge etc.

  • Once they're in give them a good water to settle them in. 
  • Sweetpeas like lots of water. Lots and lots of it. I actually much prefer to grow them in pots (deep ones) and that way you can stand them in saucers of water that you can pretty much keep topped up all of the time. The ones I grow in pots last for much much longer than the ones in the ground, mainly because you have so much more control over them, my pot ones usually last until September time easily. Even despite that I usually give them a good water each night, sometimes a full watering can per pot, so they've been watered from both ends! This seems pretty obvious in a way but they do like so much more water than other plants do and they often drink it fast. If I watered my dahlias a quarter of the amount I water the sweetpeas, there'd be none left!

  • As they're growing, keep looking at how they're growing and tie them gently to their structure. You want them growing upwards so you'll have nice straight stems for cutting.. If you let them go a bit mad, which I do love and do with some anyway, you'll get curly stems that won't be quite as good for cutting. 
  • When it's really hot, to counteract the humidity, I place a little pot of water in the soil, this keeps the plant moist and stops it drying out. if you let it get really dry there's often not much going back :( 
  • Keep cutting the flowers, and don't let them go to seed. they will surprise you how quickly they grow back, especially when it's hot. Sometimes during summer, I will cut off every flower so that it's pretty much 'bald' and by the next day they'll already be lots of flowers.
  • Feed them, but not too much. Like most plants, and animals, too many of any concentrated nutrients is not a good thing. I feed mine with a tomato food once a week, but any high potash food is fine. Don't pop a bit too much feed in, it really is designed to be used in the quantities it says on the bottle. I have made this mistake before and just ended up killing the plants. 

These curly little bits are the ones you want to try and remove- I obviously hadn't done a very good job here! 
  • We're lucky where we are and don't really get frost as we're so close to the sea, so I can also pop some early flowerers out in early summer and still get flowers in winter. Something worth thinking about if you're abroad or also close to the sea. 

Raindrops on sweetpeas. Be still my beating heart
  • Keep on top of the aphids. I always have a terrible time with these at some point or another, but they can come back from the brink with really good care. If you have had a massive aphid attack. make up a washing up liquid solution and cut all the flowers off. then in the evening, use a high pressure bottle to cover the whole plant (most crucially every aphid) with soap. You can also gently take individual stems and shake them lightly first to knock some of them off before spraying. be very liberal and don't let too much soap get into the soil (I usually place a teatowel over it first). If you do this two night running, they've normally gone and the sweetpeas start coming back really well within a couple of days. 

  • Finally, if you've had a really good run one year, save the pods as you cut them off and use the seeds the next year. You know best which plants have out performed themselves so you want to keep a bit of that magic! If you're doing this, leave the pods until they've turned brown before you collect them, then store in paper bags/ envelopes, somewhere dry until you're ready to use them. You can do this at the very end of the season, around September ish time. 
Now if you want to go next level and grow really long stems that you can put in tall vases then you can cordon train them. I might do another post on this if you'd like? Let me know if so and more than happy to explain how I've done this. I managed to get good 30cm+ stems doing it this way, rather than the smaller jam jar style I often have doing them my normal way! 


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