So the sweet peas have been looking bad for a while now, just got around to pulling them this week. I suppose that means I owe the blog a post on my experience this year.

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The secret for me to be able to grow sweet peas semi-successfully in Chicago is variety selection. I say semi because my little patch is much better than last year’s lonely stem, but not as luscious as those I see in the Pacific Northwest, New England or England. For Chicago I’ll take them.

Sweet Peas know when to flower based on how long the days are. A spencer variety, Mollie Rilestone or April in Paris for instance, have the BEST stem length, largest flowers, fragrant. But those are the varieties I’m lucky to get a stem or two out of. It’s just too hot by the time the plants allow flowers to form. Sweet Pea varieties that have been bred to flower sooner help us in Chicago.

Spring Sunshine was the variety I used, from selectseeds.com. Winter Elegance is another variety that can flower even earlier, but I didn’t see any compelling evidence that the stem length would be usable. Spring Sunshine is better if you’re interested in producing cut flowers.

These were sown in either root trainers or reused 1 gallon perennial type pots. You’ll need something with around 6″ growing depth for their early root development. A typical jiffy seed starting “greenhouse” system will not have sufficient depth for root development.  I did notice substantial root development in the root trainers compared to the reused perennial pots at transplant time. Fun to try out but ultimately I didn’t notice any difference in flower production.

Pinch the central growing stem to promote basal branching and MORE FLOWERS!!

One thing that surprised me was the Spring Sunshine series have differences between colors. I figured since they were all in a “series” together they would have the same characteristics. Nope. Cerise, the bright pink in the photo above is what I lusted after. Color was dead on but unfortunately paled in comparison to the light blue/mauve variety with respect to stem length and fragrance.

All in all completely worth growing. The fragrance is worth the hassle of finding specific seed varieties to be successful in this climate.

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