Pinching out Sweet Pea

I started sowing sweet pea at the end of February, an old-fashioned highly scented variety which will be allowed to scramble over an arch in the veg garden. I pinched out the growing tips of my young plants a few days ago. Why? I hear you say, well in a nutshell it’s all to do with hormones. Not mine, the sweet pea.

The aim of pinching out sweet pea is to encourage the plants to grow side shoots for more lovely flowers (that’s where the hormone bit comes in) resulting in bushy plants that should flower well all summer, provided they are cut regularly to avoid the plants running to seed.

It’s simple to do, wait until your plants are at least 8 inches tall then pinch off the growing tip between your forefinger and thumb. It certainly works, my sweet pea are sprouting lovely little side shoots already!

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27 comments

  1. Phew! Good to read that. I sowed my sweet peas (Cupani) in February and they grew too tall too quickly so I pinched them out – in desperation really, not because I knew it was good for them. They are filling out beautifully now so pleased I did the right thing and I have encouraged more flowers. I have always relied on friends giving me starter plants in the past, this is the first year I have grown them myself. I even soaked the seeds before I sowed them, although I know there are two schools of thought on that one.

  2. They look lovely and healthy – straight and tall! I love the traditional sweet peas, grew lots of grandifloras last year for my mum’s garden and she loved them, saying the scent was just beautiful. The ones I grew for myself were sat on by the balcony pigeons. (Not so this year though!!) I start mine off in toilet roll inners to give the roots a good long start. xx

  3. Sweet Peas are a must for the garden and we (the wife and I) grow a mass of them every year, sowing some seed in the Autumn and some in Jan/Feb. We’re just in the process of planting out the Autumn sown batch now and there are plenty more coming on that will be planted out in the coming weeks.

    We always pinch out the tips but usually at the point where there are about 4-6 pairs of leaves and they bush out nicely from there without becoming leggy. Interestingly, I did read recently that those who grow Sweet Peas for exhibitions pick out all the side shoots and just allow one shoot to grow (known as the cordon method); this gives better flowers on longer stems but fewer of them.

  4. Yes, I have been reading about the cordon method too. I cannot wait to see mine scrambling over the arch, the perfume will be amazing.

  5. Ours are just coming through so your post is timely for us, thank you for the tips.
    We plant some with our beans and I have to confess I’ve always just plonked them in ;) This year I shall give some a space of their own.
    We do have some perpetual ones that each year manage to win through amongst some bramble.

  6. Ooops! I sowed my first sweet pea seeds a few weeks ago……..in a shallow seed tray!!! They are coming on lovely at the moment, but I’m worried that I haven’t given them enough depth? Should I try moving the seedlings to deeper pots, or will it kill ’em off to be disturbed just now? I don’t want to lose them (they, along with an obelisk for later were a mother’s day present from my own ‘sweetpea’, my daughter!! Hmmm – didn’t get any ‘pickle’ from my son?!)

  7. Thanks for that – my seedlings are now safely in some fibre pots and are looking grand (so far)! Just to let you know some of the steps I’ve gone to:
    To try and protect them from being got at by the slugs & snails, I cut a couple of cola cans into long strips (like we used to do when trying to peel an apple into one long strip of skin?) and have placed the strips round the pots……one word of advice though – wear thick gardening gloves (I didn’t, so managed to cut my fingers to ribbons in the process!) I have tried copper tape etc. in the past and didn’t find it very effective?
    Also, to try and make them resistant to damping off, as well as watering them with tap water (rather than from the water butt), I apply a mist of very dilute camomile tea every couple of days – according to other sites, that seems to do the trick!

  8. P.S. (to the above post) – the point of the strips of cola can is that they are jagged and rough-cut so the slugs and snails won’t climb over them…..?!

  9. Save money on next years sweet pea containers by saving all your toilet roll holders fill with compost grow and plant out in the toilet roll holder it’s an ideal depth for seedlings ,no root disturbance and a lovely show guaranteed

  10. Hi! I have just planted some seedlings of a trailing variety – should I pinch these out too?

  11. Hi Mitramonday, pinching the tips out will encourage side shoots to form, you’ll get more flowers and bushier plants so it’s totally up to you really. If you do decide to go for it, wait until the plants have at least 4 pairs of leaves.

  12. I started growing sweetpea seeds on a windowsill 2 weeks ago. The plants are now about 2″ high. I intend growing up netting on a fence.
    This is my intended method of planting; When plants have 5 to 6 leaves pinch out tip above two leaves. Dig a shallow trench along fence line. Fill with general purpose compost. Plant seedling 6″ apart. Protect from birds & slugs. Tie onto netting as plants grow.
    QUESTIONS;
    Is this method OK?
    Is it OK to add growmore & or bonemeal to prepared bed?
    After planting do I just leave them or do I pinch out side shoots? (I understand about removing flowers before they seed)
    I am confused about pinching out. Wont this stop the plant from growing upwards?
    Sorry about all this but I have never grown before & it all seems very complicated.

  13. Pinching out the growing tips encourages side shoots to form, resulting in bushier plants and more flowers. The plants will still continue to grow upwards. Just nip the very tops off once 5 or 6 pairs of leaves have grown, the plants will then start to develop side shoots. The side shoots do not need pinching out. Your planting method sounds fine to me.

  14. Yay, thanks guys – my packet says to pinch-out when 2 pairs of leaves have emerged, but it feels too early to me…

  15. Many thanks this is the first time I attempting sweet peas (so far so good) and I remember the term pinching out from mum who died last year so odd not being able to ask her advice but you answered my question so thank you

  16. Sorry for your loss, Rosie. Good luck with your sweet pea, I’m looking forward to their lovely scent.

  17. Hi I have moved into a house that has a beautiful garden, unfortunately I am a very armature Gardner. I have a mass of sweet peas that I have tried to train to grow up two frames, for the past two years they have flowered very little and are a mass of green leaves. Also they seem to start drying up at the bottom of the pant and eventually works its way up becoming one massive mess of dried up plants. I would love to grow them successfully and wonder if it would be better to take out the old plants and just start next year with new?

  18. Sweet Pea are annual plants, meaning they flower in their first year and die back. Your plants may well self-seed if you leave them in place during autumn/winter, but I would start them again to be sure. Either sow fresh seed or buy seedlings from a nursery/garden centre.

  19. Believe it or not I planted my sweet pea seeds directly into a tub outside in the garden in October and they are about 2 feet high now and looking very healthy.

  20. My sweet peas bolted in the North facing conservatory within a week and were 6″ tall before I could blink ! They are now mercifully growing more leaves in my unheated greenhouse facing east , but am not sure whether to repot or gently ease into a large pot…or the notoriously very sluggy soil we have here on the Isle of Wight….

  21. Hi Karen, my sweet pea seedlings are now 4 double leaves high – do I just need to pinch out just at the very top, above the 4th set of double leaves, or do I need to pinch them lower at say the 2nd set of double leaves?

    I sowed my sea peas about 2 weeks apart so, with the older set, I pinched them right down to the 2nd set of double leaves about a week ago. They look ok (I.e they haven’t died yet!) and are growing straight but I can’t see any side shoots coming though. Have I pinched them out too low down?

    New to this so just keen to make sure I completely understand about pinching out before I do the second batch.

    Thanks for your help.

  22. Hi Lucy, I always pinch out at the very top above the 4th set of leaves. Hopefully your other plants pinched lower will still produce side shoots, if not they’ll still produce something for you, just not as many flowers. Hope this helps :)

  23. Very helpful! Thank you very much for your advice and for the extremely quick response. I will try that and keep my fingers crossed for my other seedlings. Thanks again!

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