The daylight hours are lengthening and the birds are welcoming each morning with their song. Our first sweet pea seeds were planted in the late autumn but, NOW is a great time to get another sowing undercover. You can then look forward to gathering posies of your own home grown, cut flowers in May and June.
Ideally sow your sweet pea seeds in a greenhouse or well protected and sheltered cold frame. It is also possible to germinate on a sunny window sill. Make sure that the pots get plenty of light, but that the room is not centrally heated. Too much heat at this stage will make the seedlings grow rapidly and become leggy, instead of developing all important root growth…
When the farmhouse is full of guests, we love to arrange jugs of sweet peas in the guest rooms and little posies on the trays of early morning coffee and tea that we leave outside of each bedroom. Over the years we have learnt how to get the best results from sowing from seed, rather than buying established plugs in the spring. This is what works best in our cut flower garden.
- The day before sowing the seeds we pop them in an egg cup or ramekin to soak in a little water for 24 hours. This softens their hard shells. We don’t leave them in the water any longer than this as they tend to sprout and it is easy to break the delicate shoot whilst planting. If time is short, it is better to get the seeds in pots than to leave them soaking all through the working week until the following weekend!
- We usually make a first sowing in the greenhouse during the autumn, ideally the first week of November and then make a second sowing mid February.
- The seeds are sown in root trainers or pots about 12 cm deep. We use a good quality seed compost and sow two to three seeds in a pot about 2 cm deep. Gently cover with a little compost over the seed but do not pack firm as the seeds need light to germinate.
- Place the pots in a tray of water so that the compost soaks this up and is damp but not sodden. Label with the variety and date. Do not let the compost dry out whilst you are waiting for the seeds to germinate. But at this stage we would only give a gently spray of water to keep the compost moist.
- When the seedlings are established and have at least two sets of leaves, we pinch out the top tips to encourage the plant to make side shoots. This also stops the plants getting too ‘leggy’ before the sweet peas are planted outside.
- We ‘harden off’ the plants for at least five days and return to the greenhouse each night, before planting out in late March.
- The flower bed is prepared well ahead of planting time. We cover the soil with a deep layer of our own compost and put a frame of sticks in place before transplanting the established plants.
- Ideally place hazel twigs between the frame to offer support for the young plants. Alternatively you will need to regularly tie the plants to the frame. This encourages growth and supports the plants. Pinch out some of the runners that drain energy from the plants.
- When the buds begin to appear we pick everything that is in flower and then leave the whole ‘wigwam’ for several days before cutting again. Pinch out any seed pods as soon as you spot them.
- Sweet peas are very greedy feeders and like lots of attention, but will repair you with armfuls of beautifully scented delicate blooms in a myriad of colour.