Gardening: Getting an early start on next year’s crops will pay

Planting sweet peas now will save time and money in the long run.
Planting sweet peas now will save time and money in the long run.
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As gardeners we are always thinking about the season ahead. Now is the time to think about bulbs for the spring and autumn seed sowing of biennials.

Sowing sweet peas now, gets them off to a flying start before winter sets in, using the residual heat from your greenhouse or glasshouse.

In return this has the advantage of growing stronger hardier plants that will be able to be planted out in spring for an earlier summer show. I did this, this year and planted them in the Teaching Garden at Harlow Carr. The plants and flowers performed exceptionally well and reached a whopping 8-10ft tall.

However sweet peas are hungry feeders and soil preparation whatever you are planting is the key.

If you have or are able to get hold of well-rotted manure and your own compost, providing it is well rotted down, do a mix of the two and dig it into the beds over the winter ready for planting into next spring. This will allow earth worms and frost to help break down the soil, making it friable. Even if you plan to plant your sweet peas in containers add a slow release fertiliser to the compost, feed and deadhead weekly for a reliable summer show.

If you are doing any renovation pruning jobs think about saving any long poles and brash for the supports you will need to build. Be as creative as you wish, at Harlow Carr we have lots of fun making our supports from natural materials collected from around the garden. We use a lot of non-living willow to make decorative supports as this is both flexible and pliable. Any supports can be changed and removed at the end of the growing season if you wish, whether they have been used ornamentally for herbaceous plants or in the kitchen garden. Hazel, Beech and non-living willow make good stout poles, birch and dogwood (Cornus when pruned in late winter) is great as brash for peas and beans to ramble up and provides great colour too!

Bulbs will now be on sale in nurseries and garden centres. Get your orders in or buy them if you haven’t already so you are ready to go with planting in mid-October and November. Remember to plant your bulbs three to four times in depth the size of the bulb, this is a good gauge and rule whatever species of bulbs you wish to plant. This theory also applies to planting in containers. For that extra dazzling container why not layer your bulbs, starting with the largest nearer the bottom and the smallest to the top, and finish with some spring bedding you have sown this autumn, perhaps violas pansies or bellis work well together. If you are going to plant tulip bulbs I would recommend you buy new bulbs each year to ensure a good display. Tulips are highly bred and don’t always come true year on year and will more often than not come up blind producing only leaf; this will avoid disappointment in spring especially when you have waited all winter and are looking forward seeing the results of all your hard work.

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