Climbers frequently asked questions

A question submitted by Daphne Smart via our Ask a Question page:

Hi Chris, I am hoping that you have an answer to my problem so that I can avoid the same thing next year. In my job as gardener at Turweston House, I grow sweet peas every year, and I have never come across this year’s problem before!

I sowed my seeds last autumn as usual and planted them out in April. They soon grew to big strong plants but, although I had lovely long straight stems, there were no flowers on the ends! At first I thought something was eating them, but soon realised that they were simply falling off, with the buds not opening.

I plant them in the same place each year so always bulk up and feed the soil first. I used our own compost (from our grass heap) and added chicken manure pellets from the Garden Centre. Could this be the problem, too much nitrogen?

The plants have been huge and healthy, and now, a few weeks later we are picking a bumper crop of flowers. But for the first few weeks, why did the flowers not form....

I would love to know, and appreciate your time in pondering my question.

Just wanted to say it’s a great idea having a question time on Facebook - I shall be a regular visitor...but thought this question was a bit too long to ask on Facebook!

Thanks again Chris, and looking forward to hearing what you think.

Chris replies:

I wouldn’t be too disheartened with the way your sweet peas have fared this year as I suspect the late season (cold and damp) has been a contributing factor. I’ve noticed on my plants they haven’t produced the framework of growth as they should normally and the flowers therefore have been initially slow to develop. In the last few weeks, as you quite rightly point out, plants have flourished and provided ample moisture is available to them and they are regularly picked the sweet peas should be fine.

I’d be careful on overfeeding the soil, being a legume they benefit from a moisture-retentative soil and one the best tips I’ve heard and used over the years is to work shredded newspaper (any Daily will do!) and place a generous layer in the bottom of your trench, watering it with a fine rose so its well-moistened before back filling with your compost and soil. The peas will enjoy the moisture reservoir and help keep the plants blooming through the summer. It might be worth working some Sulphate of Potash into your soil prior to planting to assist flower production and perhaps reduce the chicken pellets a tad. You can always apply additional feed through the summer to help boost growth! A liquid feed with Phostrogen or a Tomato fertiliser every 7-10 days would also be beneficial to keep the flower production going.

Thank you for your kind comments – its great we can help all gardeners and exchange good practical advice from our website and through Facebook.