Reminder: sow sweet peas now

October 14th, 2016 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sweet pea seedlings growing in potsYes, here I am again bashing on about sowing sweet peas in the autumn.

You’ll remember that you get better and more prolific plants that start flowering sooner and last for longer if you sow in the autumn rather than in the spring. No doubt about that. And I usually recommend Rootrainers which give the best root run and the minimum of root disturbance when you plant them out. But they’re not cheap and they’re fiddly to clean.

So, of course, you can use any old pots. A hundred years ago sweet pea growers used clay pots called (because they were taller than other pots for the same width) long toms and in the garden centre you’ll sometimes see clusters of sweet pea seedlings sold in regular 7.5cm or 9cm pots or even in smaller shallower pots.

Until the arrival of Rootrainers many growers sowed five or six seeds in a 12.5cm pot but the fact is that sowing in almost any pot in autumn is better than sowing in spring. And this applies not only to the Spencer varieties but also to the old Grandifloras and the modern shorter types such as the lovely ‘Solway Blue Vein’ (below).

What’s important is to wash your pots well, you might like to add a little disinfectant but be sure to rinse thoroughly – and use fresh seed sowing compost. I tend to mix some perlite with my seed compost to improve the drainage, important during the winter months, and be sure not to firm it; just tap the pot on the ground or on the workbench to settle the compost.

Five or six seeds can go 2-3cm deep round the edge of a 12.5cm pot, spaced out evenly about 2cm from the edge; three can go in a 7.5cm or 9cm pot, or if you prefer to give each plenty of space, sow just one seed in each 7.5cm pot. Stand them in a cold frame or in a sheltered place outside. And most important: protect them from mice.Sweetpea 'Solway Blue Vein'

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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