Gardeners’ World: Monty Don on sweet peas

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Sweet peas have finished flowering for the summer, with many gardeners now focused on deadheading to prolong their display of dainty blooms. While you may have missed your chance to grow your own fragrant sweet peas from scratch this year, it’s the perfect time to make a start on sowing the small seeds ahead of next summer. According to gardening experts at Thompson and Morgan, the simple task “couldn’t be easier” to do and is guaranteed to save you time waiting for the sweet-smelling plants to flourish after winter.

When to plant sweet peas

Sweet peas perform best if their roots are forced to grow in a deep, narrow channel but timing is also important to give the plant a good start.

The gardening experts at Thomson and Morgan said: “Growing sweet peas from seed couldn’t be easier. You can sow them into pots of compost in autumn and overwinter the young plants in a cold frame or cool greenhouse.

“Or, you can wait until spring when you can sow into pots or directly into the ground.”

While this gorgeous plant is very hardy, finding a sheltered spot indoors really is best to help the seeds germinate as the temperature cools down.

You don’t even need a greenhouse or cold frame to do this successfully, according to British author and gardener, Sarah Raven.

She explained that these adaptable flowers will do well even on a windowsill throughout winter, as long as it is sunny and warm.

The indoor sowing season is very long too, lasting from October right through to March in the UK.

Like most small seeds, sweet peas require a little bit of preparation to give them a fighting chance of growing into productive plants in the summer.

To prepare the seeds, experts at Thompson and Morgan recommended leaving them on moist kitchen roll until they “swell or sprout”.

Once this happens, lay the kitchen roll in a sealed container and place it in a warm room for an extra boost.

They said: “This helps get them off to a quicker start but isn’t essential as your seeds will still germinate well in moist soil.

“Use a good quality compost and sow several sweet pea seeds to a pot. Plant them about 1cm deep, cover with compost and water them well.”

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How to grow sweet pea seeds

No matter where you choose to overwinter your sweet pea seeds, checking in on them regularly is key to encouraging a successful plant.

This is especially important for sweet peas grown in cold frames outdoors.

The experts at Grow Veg said: “While you don’t want to mollycoddle seedlings too much (cool temperatures will keep plants stocky and sturdy) they won’t appreciate being repeatedly frozen, so add extra protection in frosty weather.

“Cold frames can have layers of sacking/burlap or bubble wrap laid over the lights, for example.”

Paying attention to the leaves is also a good idea to give your sweet pea seedlings the best chance outdoors. To do this, “nip out” the top two leaves of the first four that appear on the young plant.

This stimulates new side shoots, which means more stems and, ultimately, more flowers, according to the Grow Veg experts.

They said “You can plant out your pot-raised sweet peas as soon as the weather has warmed up and soil conditions allow.

“Pick a sunny site and plant into moist, rich soil. Plant the seedlings 20-30cm (8-12in) apart against supports such as pea netting, or trellis.

“The absolutely best effect, however, comes from growing up rustic wigwams – the sort made from hazel poles tied at the top with string.”

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