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Pinching out sweet peas

Posted on April 30, 2024 in Latest Stories and Stories

Hello again, how are your sweet pea seedlings doing? If you've seen our short video,
hopefully yours look at a similar stage to ours.

To pinch out or not pinch out? There is a common misconception when you grow sweet peas that you want a nice long stem to plant out, and you may be keen to get them in the ground now you have good looking plants. However, if you’ve ever sown your sweet peas in autumn and then battled all winter with long leggy tangled growth, to then plant out and find you really don’t get many flowers in the summer, not pinching out may have been the issue.
You see, that first spout of growth is very similar to the seed leaves on any seedling. Don’t quote me on this horticulturally as it’s not technically correct, but it’s an easy way to explain that, that first growth will eventually die away so doesn’t serve any use for flowering. When you pinch out the central leader of that first growth it then triggers a chemical response in the plant to produce stronger new growth from the base and side shoots, these will be what grows on to give you an abundance of flowers all summer long.
So how do we pinch out? It’s really simple. Once your plant has got to around 10 -15cm tall and has around 2-3 sets of leaves, just snip out the top part just above a set of leaves. You can do this with your thumb and fingers if you have nails but using snips or secateurs will give a cleaner cut. And that’s it, now continue to keep your plant in the root trainer or pot for another couple of weeks and water if it looks dry. They can go outside, somewhere away from mice and pigeons, in the daytime to begin hardening them off to the cooler temperatures if you have had them indoors. Soon you will see fat shoots forming and growing on and then we can plant them outside, that will be in our next post.

Just a little note of caution to add, only pinch out once! You may think that by doing it again you will get even more growth and flowers but with sweet peas it doesn’t really work like that. You will get plenty of busy growth from your one plant and if you keep picking flowers all summer that will keep giving you more, not cutting back the plant.

If you come and visit the gardens (which you should because they are bursting with new growth, Spring flowers and lots of birds and butterflies emerging) you can see our plants in the ground now and you will see the first growth yellowing off as the new strong growth takes hold.
The next step is to get your plants into the ground!
Try to prepare your ground beforehand by digging in plenty of organic matter. Sweet Peas are greedy things and like a good nutrient rich soil. At best you can just add organic matter such as well rotted manure, chicken manure pellets or blood, fish and bone to the planting hole as you plant. Dig a small hole with a trowel, deep enough to be able to get your plant in without squashing the roots and allowing the plant to be on or just below the surface. Firm in gently, you don’t want to break those precious roots. All that’s left to do is give it a good watering in.

At Easton Walled gardens we wrap a fleece around the base of our growing drums, this helps to protect them from pigeons for the first few weeks and also gives a little cover from strong winds rocking the new plant until its roots have established. It’s not vital you do this, it will depend on where you are growing yours.

And that’s your first few steps done! Now they can romp away in the summer sun. There are a few further steps to keep your plants growing well and we will go over them in the next blog.