Sunday, February 27, 2011

Growing Sweet Peas - part 1

Sweet peas come in many gorgeous shades with both climbing and mounding
varieties available.

When was the last time you bought twenty bunches of flowers for less than $2.50? Well that’s all it will cost to have a summers worth of wonderfully fragrant sweet peas; enough for you and plenty to share with friends.

Sweet peas are one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed and you can actually get better results growing them yourself than with those purchased from the nurseries! Why? It’s all about the roots.

A deep, well developed root system is vital for strong plants. That means digging the soil to 12-18” and amending it with compost is important but also growing seedlings with a root system at least 6” deep makes a huge difference. Nursery grown seedlings are usually grown in 4” containers and home gardeners frequently make the mistake of starting them in shallow seed trays. The method I’ll share here is the way we always grew sweet peas in England and produces really sturdy plants with exceptionally well developed roots.

Basic supplies; pre-soaked seeds and newspaper
1. Start by soaking the seeds overnight in cold water.

2. Next you’ll need to make tubes from old newspaper. Fold and roll up small sheets of newspaper until they are approximately the size of a toilet roll tube. Staple the roll at each end to stop it unraveling but keep both ends open.

3. Stack the tubes into empty 6” nursery pots so that the tops of the tubes are even with the pot rim. (I had over 50 tubes so had to use a washing up bowl! The disadvantage for me is that I now have to be very careful not to overwater the seeds and create a water bath).

4. Using a 2” pot or folded sheet of cardboard, carefully fill each tube half way with a lightweight potting mix suitable for growing seeds. Tamp down with your finger. (I used the rounded end of my wooden dibber that you can see in the photo). Fill up to the top and repeat.


I use a small pot and a wooden dibber to fill the tubes.
(My husband turned this dibber on a lathe).
 5. Make a hole 1” deep with either a pencil or the pointed end of the dibber and add one pre-soaked seed into each hole. Pat the soil back over the seed.

6. Water carefully. I like to use a Haws watering can which has a very fine brass rose. I turn the rose to face upwards which produces a gentle spray.

7. Place on a sunny window sill or in an unheated greenhouse and water every few days to keep damp but not wet. Germination will take 7-10 days.

Popular climbing varieties
Old Spice (a rich mix of purple, pinks and white), April in Paris (pale yellow with a lilac flush), Royal Wedding (pure white), Painted Lady (pink and cream bi-color), Spencer Waved Mix (over 40 colors and shades), Flying the Flag (red, white and indigo).

Popular mounding varieties
Knee-high varieties, Cupid varieties

What do you think of this Streamer Orange
sweet pea variety?
Something new!
Streamer Orange (huge orange flowers with white stripes),

Fact or fiction? This may be an old-wives tale but I’ll tell you anyway. It is common practice in England to line seed trays with a layer of damp newspaper. The ink is thought to promote root development which may also explain why these newspaper tubes are so successful. Or of course it may be pure folk lore!





Watch for Part 2 on preparing the sweet peas for transplanting in a couple of weeks.

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