So, planting out small plants, or potting on. There is usually a lot of information comes with them, how far apart they should be, when to plant seed and when to plant out, that sort of thing, but there are a few things they miss out. The most important to my mind is how you hold the plant, very carefully, it is young and tender, easily damaged, and damage at this stage will stay for some time. For this reason you hold it by the leaves. Leaves are an expendable commodity as far as the plant is concerned, it will shed and grow loads of them in its lifetime, and it kind of expects damage from things like caterpillars and grazing mammals. The stem, on the other hand, it has only one of, and if something happens that stops nutrient coming up from the roots, end of story.
The roots are fairly robust on the whole, and will often benefit from a little disturbance. A lot of those pelargonium cuttings had a solid ball of roots going round the bottom of the pot. Before I plant I gently make sure a few roots hang free from the mass, then the soil from the top of the pot, and whatever else has come loose, go into the planting hole. You would not believe how often someone has said ‘That can go, it has never done anything,’ and when I dig up the offending plant I discover a solid root ball, the same shape as the original pot it came in. The soil that things are potted up in and that in the garden can be very different, and the plant has never managed to bridge the join between the two, making sure there are loose roots and mixing whatever soil comes out of the pot into the hole usually stop this happening, and some of those plants I dug up made a decent recovery when I did that.
My sweet peas I plant in cardboard tubes stood up in an ice-cream box, it comes about half way up the tube and I can fill it with water without submerging the seed in the top half. Planting out in tubes makes them really easy to handle, and the roots grow straight through the cardboard. Traditionally it is the middle of a finished toilet roll that is used, but I find I don’t get enough of them with peas, runner beans, and climbing beans all going in them, so I grab all the tubes from the centre of wrapping paper at Christmas and on birthdays and cut them to length. The sweet peas that go to paying customers go in them, they seem to prefer them, seems daft to me. One last point with sweet peas, don’t forget to pinch out the tip. I know, all that about being careful to cause no damage, but this is an exception. If you leave them to themselves they will grow straight up in a tall, thin, plant with few flowers. Pinch out the tip when there are a few leaves and it will grow side shoots at each leaf axis and look, and smell, wonderful.