1 Oct 2016

Sweet peas all summer

I often forget to sow sweet peas, either completely or until it's rather too late but, last winter, I remembered.  In an exercise to rid my seedbox of outdated seeds, I came across a random selection of sweet pea seeds.  A few were odd seeds at the bottom of the packet, others were facing or past their best before date (not that that seems to matter much). With all these leftovers, I reckoned that I'd nothing to lose with a December sowing; after all, it wouldn't matter if they didn't germinate or grow as there would be time in the spring to sow again with fresh seed.

Contrary to my expectations, they did grow and I picked my first bunch for an Instagram photo on 5th June. All through June, July and August I enjoyed the heady evening scent of prolific sweet peas in the garden.  I couldn't believe that they would flower for 3 months from one sowing and I became determined that they'd still be flowering at the end of August.  That involved a lot of deadheading, let me tell you!

~ Mid July: Sweet peas and nasturtiums at one end of the veg patch garden ~

By the first week in September I was ready to let them finish their botanical journey and make seedpods so I stopped deadheading.  By mid-September I found a dried seed pod among the still blooming stems ... and today, the last day of September, I picked the last tiny bunch of flowers.  Four months of flowers! Incredible. (At least that's the way it seems to me.  Is this lengthy flowering usual?) I'd like to claim that it was my prowess as a gardener that achieved this (hohoho) but, realistically, I like to think anyone could do the same. There are a few key points however and this is what I did:

1.  Start your seedlings early. Sweet peas for next year can be sown at any time now and left in a sheltered place, eg, cold frame, greenhouse or cloche. Depending on your location and the weather, they may need additional protection if the winter is harsh and you're growing north of, say, Milton Keynes. (Mine survived last year's relatively mild winter on my balcony with no added protection. This year I think I'll put them in my friend's greenhouse.)

2. Sow into deep pots. I put 3 or 4 seeds into each 10cm diameter deep pot (deep root trainers are also ideal) and placed the pots on a shelf on my tiny sheltered balcony.  Amazingly, I had 80 - 100% germination in each pot and, bar a tiny amount of watering, largely left the seedlings to get on with it.

3.  Keep an eye on the plants. By February I needed to pinch out the tops to stop them getting leggy. My balcony is part shaded on three sides so the plants had a tendency to grow towards the light. Pinching out the tops above the first four sets of true leaves also helps the plants to bush out.

4. Plant out from mid-April (if possible). I had other distractions so mine went outside in early May.  I planted the seedlings without separating them to minimise root disturbance. At four to a pot that's not ideal but they had plenty of room to grow once planted; each cluster of seedlings was about 40cm from its neighbour.  I added a small amount of blood, fish and bone to the planting holes, mixed this in with the soil and bunged the whole potful of seedlings into the prepared hole.  Each plant was tied in to the prepared trellis and the row watered well.

5.  Water, water, water.  I made sure to prioritise watering the sweet peas so that the soil stayed moist. I also gave them a very occasional boost with some diluted home-made comfrey feed. And I tried to aim for the roots to keep the leaves dry. (The wet spring/summer helped as well, I'm sure.)

6.  Support and encourage. I tied them in as they grew (actually, it was my neighbour who helps who did that) and we both kept on top of regular deadheading and watering.  As soon as the each bloom started to fade, it were cut back to the base of its stem to encourage more flowers.

7. Label and save. As these plants did so well, I'm keen to save the seed for next year. The plants tended to twine around and through each other as they grew up the trellis. Stupidly, I didn't label the stems so, now that I'm saving the seed pods, I have no idea which sweet pea I'll get when I sow those seeds - it will be a nice surprise!

I had some beautiful variations in the flowers as the summer wore on and suspect this might be due to cross pollination.  Has anyone else found this?  In a one and a half metre row, I was growing purple/black, white, lavender, pale pink plus shades of bright pink and shades of purple (Chiltern Seeds 'Summer Sizzler' and 'Flamenco Mix', my favourites and sent to me by the very kind Flighty). I'm hoping that those variations will appear in next year's flowers because the challenge now is to sow the seeds that I've saved and see if I can create a repeat performance.

Update:  I forgot to mention that all but the very dark flowers had ridiculously long stems as well - so long that I got the tape measure out more than once - and the longest was 16" !!

How did everyone else do with their sweet peas this year? Did my plants do well or was this a universal trend? And who's started next year's annuals off already?  (I have to do mine this weekend!)

~ a few photos taken in August ~


  1. Gosh thanks for this I've just saved all the seed pods on mine and will sow them sometime soon. I had quite a good display but my neighbour's were spectacular on a 4 metre series of canes and all grown from seed. They were over by August whereas another allotment grower had a great display till a week ago.

    1. It certainly seems to have been a good year for them, Sue. They smell so heavenly that I'll be growing them in all my spaces next year - veg patch, allotment and middle garden. The only problem that I had was aphids on the blooms which gets a bit tedious indoors! My display is just coming to an end now - although if the weather stays warm, who knows what might happen!?

  2. A good, helpful, post and nice pictures. I've never done well with sweet peas so since I can rarely smell the scent of them I haven't grown them the past couple of years. Flighty xx

    1. You surprise me, Flighty, especially as the Chiltern seeds came from you! Would it be useful to try some of the more scented varieties? I only recently realised that some varieties are more scented, or longer stemmed, than others. I seem to have inadvertently picked the right ones this year! Caro x

  3. Sweetpeas are among my favourite flowers to grow and I've had varied success (all down to my lack of care and attention, I have to admit!). I sowed seeds (Windsor and Anniversary) into old toilet roll tubes in March this year, they all germinated and produced healthy seedlings which I pinched out. Then I got distracted by life and ended up bunging them in the soil (cardboard tube and all) in late June/early July. Poor things... They had minimal watering, which wasn't good as it was so dry, but they still produced some beautiful flowers. Each year, I endeavour to Do Better. Thanks for sharing your top tips. I'll dig out my seed packets and sow some this weekend (or maybe next...). Sam x

  4. We sow our sweet peas in spring and picked our first bunch of flowers in July since then we have picked one or two posies every time we have visited the plot. I don't deadhead as such. We grow our sweet peas for cut flowers and so there is never really a display on the plant. I just pick the flowers for vases and never leave any on the plants. I haven't measured the stems of the flowers but I have commented that they have had very long stems this year and have maintained those long stems all season whereas in the past the stems have gradually shortened. Even the dark coloured varieties have had long stems this year. I may have picked our last bunch of flowers this week but who knows I may still squeeze out another few flowers yet.

  5. What a colourful display!Yours have done you proud, mine were something of a failure this year, thank goodness there's always another year!xxx

  6. Caro, you have done so well with your sweet peas! I love the sound of Flamenco, will get looking for that one! I've just picked what I think will be my last bunch as well - they have enjoyed the wet weather. I made a mistake this year of planting in soil that was too rich so I had a lot of blossom drop (yes, too rich, for sweet peas, I was amazed as well)! Hopefully I've taken a lot of those nutrients from the soil this year so will try again with my climbing frame already in place for next year! Fingers crossed for a final posy!! x

  7. Your sweet pea collection is lovely and you have done well getting them to flower for so long. I did two sowings in the spring about 4 weeks apart. The second batch just started flowering as the first ones went over. I decided to try an autumn sowing two weeks ago. It will be interesting to see how they do. Sarah x


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