A quick guide to autumn sowing of sweet peas for overwintering, with a bit of Blue Peter style recycling thrown in!
You will need; Loo rolls, a tray or box to stand the loo rolls in (a snug fit is good), multi-purpose compost, a pencil or other similar shaped pokey stick, and sweetpea seeds. Grit and newspaper is optional.
A few people have asked me about sowing sweetpeas and its one of the most satisfying and straight forward jobs you can do. You should get good results whether you sow in Autumn or Spring, but sowing in Autumn can really give the plants a head start. Despite their delicate looks, Sweet-Peas are tough plants that can be left outside over winter in a sheltered corner of the garden protected from the worst frosts, and pretty much ignored until the spring, what is easier than that!
Step 1 – Select a container to grow your seeds in. The roots of these plants like to stretch out, so a good depth is important. You can choose a largish pot (at least 20cm) and plant 3 or 4 seeds per pot, or, you can make your own out of toilet rolls- hence the Blue Peter approach! I love this way of growing for so many reasons, its sustainable and plastic free, good for the plant, easy and free! You will need to stand your loo rolls in something to keep them supported, the container used needs to have drainage holes so the plants don’t drown. I often use a seed tray, but this year I am trying packing them into fairly strong cardboard plant boxes to see how they get on. (I’m hoping the extra insulation will help germination)
Step 2 is to mix up your compost and fill the ‘pots’. You can use a good quality, peat free, general garden compost, I like to add a bit of grit to help drainage but its not essential. Fill the loo rolls with compost – cup one hand over the end to keep it in place then gently place into a container, if a bit spills out, dont worry, just top it up again. Gently firm the compost in, but dont squash it down too hard, the roots want to find it easy to make contact with the compost and be able to push through it as they grow, if its too compacted this is harder for the roots to burrow into, if its too light its likely to dry out more easily.
Step 3 – Get your seeds. Sweet pea seeds are big, this makes sowing them a doddle because you can place individual seeds exactly where you want them. This year i have sown two types of annuals and two perennials. (See my other post on the different types, but for here they can all be treated exactly the same.) Tip the seeds out of the packet and into a container where you can see them – here, I have used a plant-pot saucer, but anything will do, a pale colour helps you see the seeds in a gloomy potting shed!
Step 4 – Sow the seeds! In loo rolls sow 1 seed per tube. (NB – some people sow 2 per tube then sacrifice the weakest seedling when they germinate – I would rather give them all space to thrive and risk having some not germinate – I’m a big softie that hates thinning out! – is that wierd?!) Make a hole with your pencil, or other pokey stick, about 2cm deep, drop the seed into the hole, cover it up with compost. Done.
Step 5 – give them a good water and then put them in a sheltered spot. A coldframe or unheated greenhouse is ideal, but a corner of the garden where the front rarely goes is just as good – close to the house is often a bit warmer. You can cover with newspaper if you wish, this may speed up germination if its cold. Once they have germinated leave them alone, – just make sure they dont dry out completely (unlikely in the UK winter) until the spring. When they are 10cm tall pinch out the growing tips to make a good bushy plant. – I’ll post about this, and planting out, when I do it in the spring, but once the frosts have passed (late May around here) plant the entire tube and seedling where you want the plant to grow, the tube will decompose in the ground and your sweetpeas will give you beautiful blooms in the summer!