Sweet peas

It may seem odd to be thinking about next year’s annuals when most of us are probably in the process of clearing the garden of the last of this year’s. If anything, spring bulbs are on our minds. But this really is the best time to sow sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus). The reason for early sowing is to allow the young plants to develop really good roots so that when you plant them out (next March-April) they will rip away and you’ll be cutting flowers for the house come June.

There’s no real need to soak or file the seeds before sowing, as is often recommended, as you are not really looking for quick germination here. As it is, they should shoot within two weeks. Sow the seeds either individually in special sweet pea tubes (made of paper) or rootrainers – or 4 or 5 in a 5in pot. (You need a deep pot to allow for root growth – a 3in pot will be too small.) Actually, since the seedlings will stay in the container for several months, I think the 5in plastic pot is the sensible option. Multi-purpose compost is fine.

Stand the pots outdoors, but bring them in if frost is forecast. Once germinated, the seedlings need no special care – sweet peas are hardy and cool conditions will inhibit leafy growth (which you don’t want) while encouraging good root formation. But they do need protection from mice and slugs and the very worst of the weather, so keep them in a cold frame with the lid open on mild days. Good light will stop them from going leggy.

A simple cold frame will protect seedlings over winter from the worst of the weather

A simple cold frame will protect seedlings over winter from the worst of the weather

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