Paradise Garden

Gardening Articles written by Experts

Commercial Cutflower Sweet Pea Production

by Mark Rowland

Introduction

Sweet peas were at one time a major glasshouse cutflower crop, but have now become confined to a few small specialist growers. The reasons are not hard to find; suitable varieties were unobtainable for many years and knowledge of how to grow the crop was lost. Now, however, as seed of exciting new varieties is made available, there is a resurgence of interest from growers looking for a new niche in an ever more difficult marketplace.
The advantages of the crop are many:

The disadvantages are equally clear:

Varieties

Cutflower varieties can be divided into three groups based on their flowering response:

Failure to use the correct type is a shortcut to disaster. The characteristics and uses of the three types are considered below.

Winter Flowering

These types are used to provide flower for Christmas in California and Japan, but the term is something of a misnomer in the UK due to low winter light levels. Flower initiation takes place under quite short day lengths and it is possible to have flower in February in a heated glasshouse. Quality, however, is poor, demand is weak, and production costs high. Targeting production to start mid March is far more practical. Heating costs are minimal as the crop requires a growing temperature of only 2°C during the coldest months, and flower production is of good quality and finds a ready market. Strong colours as well as pastels find favour with the market early in the season.

Spring Flowering

These are perhaps the most suitable type for UK glasshouse production. They have the same temperature requirements as the winter flowering varieties but need to be planted a little earlier. Production peaks from early May to late June, coinciding with the main wedding season. For this reason pastel colours are in greatest demand. These varieties have excellent heat tolerance, but do not perform well outdoors in the UK.

Summer Flowering

These include the widely available 'Spencer' varieties, and are more usually grown outdoors. Attempts to force these varieties under glass for early production are likely to result in severe bud drop. They can, however, successfully be used to extend the season of glasshouse production. Prices late in the season can be very high, but demand is limited and overproduction a constant danger. Varieties with a rather open spike are preferred for the cutflower market. Well organised marketing is essential if the crop is to be viable.


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For more detailed advice and information on seed availability go to the new expanded Laughing Owl Nursery cut flower sweet pea site.

© 2006 Mark Rowland