Sowing Sweet Peas in January

January can be a tough month for an allotment gardener.

We may have flung open the doors to let the old year out in a raucous chorus of Auld Lang Syne, but the countryside is still bare, the light is low and hazy and the world is still a cold and dark place.

Despite this, the move into the New Year brings with it the intense itch to sow and grow and patience can be a difficult beast to tame.

However, on account of taking the plunge into the wonderful world of flowers this year, I’ve found something that can scratch that itch just a little – sweet peas.

Since sowing my first batch of Lady Salisbury Sweet Peas in October, I’ve found I’ve already caught the sweet pea bug.

The autumn sown seeds came through tremendously quickly and the plants were around 3 inches tall by the time the temperature and light levels dropped in December.

The germination rate was excellent too, with nine out the ten seeds sprouting.

Sweet peas

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Whenever I take on something new, I have a compulsion to find out as much as I possibly can about it. Over the winter, I spent time reading and learning about what is possibly the gardening nation’s favourite flower.

Maybe we can get a new generation embracing these beauties in much the same way as craft beer and Sherry have met with revival and are bang on trend? (I’m stroking my hipster beard as I type this!)

Hipster sweet peas

The National Sweet Pea Society is a charity dedicated to these wonderful flowers. I’ve discovered its website is a fantastic resource to unearth the plant’s history, hear about events and obtain hints and tips on growing sweet peas.

The website has a wonderful gallery too, showing a variety of sweet peas in bloom, which is helpful when making the decision on the types of sweet peas you may wish to grow on your plot.

My favourite find, however, was The Sweet Pea Book by Graham Rice. I bought this book over the Christmas break and simply flew through the pages. It’s a joy to read.

As a complete newbie to sweet peas, this is a comprehensive guide but the narrative is effortless and doesn’t make you feel like you are ploughing through a textbook.


I’m excited by sweet peas which is strange as I’ve not yet gone a season growing them. But there is something about this flower that has me thrilled to be growing it on the allotment this year.

I’m especially seduced by the thought of bringing home cut and fragrant blooms to pop in a vase – a beautiful accompaniment to adorn the table as we tuck into all that home-grown veg.

Back to scratching that gardening itch.

I’m sowing the second batch of sweet peas this month. More Lady Salisbury and also Blue Velvet. My plan is to ease into growing sweet peas by limiting my choice to just two. I also think the bold contrast in colour of these blooms will make a simple yet striking display on the plot and arranged in a vase.

Raising sweet peas from seed

The large round seeds of sweet peas make them very easy to handle. They remind me of those edible silver balls used to decorate the tops of cakes – only, they’re not silver and, well, they’re not edible.

Sweet peas are annuals and can be sown in the spring. However, as with sowing the seeds in October, a January sowing enables the plants to develop strong roots, put on some early growth and provide larger plants to set out after the frosts.

It does feel incredibly strange sowing seeds in the middle of January. But, in Britain especially, it’s very common practice. The early sowing gives them the edge over those sown in spring and strong, healthy plants will always have the upper hand over new seedlings in the fight against those pesky slugs.

Despite not having much success with sweet peas before, I’m very aware of the debate around pre-sowing technique. Should you ‘chip’ the seed case to aid germination? Is there an advantage to soaking or ‘chitting’ the seeds before sowing?

The truth, I’m reliably informed, you can simply poke the seed into the soil and they’ll come up. However, it might be worth taking a little extra time and using the above techniques to ensure better results.

In October, I sowed the sweet pea seeds into two 5 inch pots. This time, armed with further knowledge, I’m using toilet roll tubes to sow each sweet pea seed.

There are two good reasons for doing this.

Firstly, an article in The Telegraph in 2007 suggested that us Brits were leading the way in toilet paper use. The figures indicated that British toilet paper consumption of 110 rolls per capita was 25 times that of Ukraine, Europe’s lowest.

That’s a lot of bottom wiping and a lot of empty cardboard tubes too. By all means, recycle them. But they make terrific homemade pots for seeds.

Secondly, if you sow the seeds into a pot, when it comes to planting out the sweet peas, you will need to pull each plant apart from the large root ball that has formed. No matter how gentle you are at doing this, it will always cause some root damage.

Of course, the effect of such root damage is very small. I’m sure only the growing purist would notice. However, maybe we should aspire to be as professional as possible when it comes to our blooms? And so modules or root trainers get top marks.

Root trainers are relatively cheap to buy and are reusable. I would have no problem with purchasing a few packs. But as I’ve said, we are swimming in cardboard tubes from all the toilet paper we get through.

sowing sweet peas

Cardboard tubes provide the same benefit as commercial root trainers in terms of root protection but they are also biodegradable. So you can plant the sweet peas out in the ground – Pot and all.

Fill the tubes with seed compost and shake them and gently push the compost down. Make a hole in the compost, drop the seed in and then add a small amount of compost on top to tuck them into bed nicely. Give them a soaking and pop them in a mini greenhouse.

Pinching out

As I did recently with the sweet peas sown in October, I’ll be pinching out the January sown plants when they reach around 3 inches in height.

There is nothing complicated in doing this (I know. I was scared the first time I did this too!). Simply take a finger and thumb and pinch off the top of the sweet pea seedling above a leaf joint.

It’s wonderful to be outside and sowing something to look forward to seeing bloom later this year. I’ll watch patiently for the first signs of little shoots poking through. But now, I’m going back inside to warm my fingers around a hot mug of tea.

What about you? Are you a January sweet pea sower? Let me know what you’re sowing and any advice and tips you want to share too. Drop me a comment below.

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27 thoughts on “Sowing Sweet Peas in January

  1. The trouble with inner cores is that different brands are, well, different. I buy loo roll with an eye to the Aaah! factor whilst avoiding the Urggh! one. I’ve found that the cores of my current brand fall apart as soon as they get a little damp and wrapping them in waterproof tape to hold them together sort of defeats the object. Maybe we need a national survey to choose the best gardening brand for core strength.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha! I suppose you’d suggest that Monsanto sponsor a study into the harmful effects of Roundup 😉 Of course, normal root trainers may be reusable but they ultimately end up as non-recyclable black plastic, at least around here where black is verboten. I use single use biodegradable ones now.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not one for sweet peas, since you can’t eat ’em. I did sow some hibiscus seeds at new year, but they haven’t germinated yet…. Mostly I’m happy to wait a few weeks and let the garden take care of itself 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha I’ve always been a fruit and veg person too Emma. After 10 years of growing edibles , the flower bug finally grabbed a hold. I’m taking my time in this new world. But yes, the veggies will always win.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I couldn’t wait to get growing this year and sowed some sweet peas into my windowsill propagator on the 1st Jan! Most have germinated now and it’s so good to see their wee green shoots. I’ll sow a few more soon, as I really love sweet peas. They smell beautiful and flower for ages – they’re a must for me in my back garden allotment.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post! I’m a sweet pea newbie too so I’ll be back to read you tips when it comes to sowing! I just need to decide on my colour theme and which ones to grow. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad to hear that. I’ve only gone for two colours as it’s easier for me to learn and try to master growing them. I’m not a fan of the multi coloured ones (yet!). I’m in love with the simpler, single or two tone coloured ones.. But that could all change. Look forward to hearing how you get on with yours 😊


  5. Interesting post, I didn’t know about the National Sweet Pea society!
    I sowed my first batch in October, just some fragrant varieties mixed and they are now growing in mini greenhouse and the second batch, sweet pea “Maloy”, was sown last weekend. I will stick to these two varieties, don’t want to grow crazy about sweet peas! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m itching to plant some sweet peas but have nowhere to keep them frost free as yet and it’s driving me crazy! I’ve ordered some seeds so I guess, at the very least, I get to stare at them!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. We started off with one of those but the little squares fell out of the roof and rained on us like tiny fish-scale-dandruff. My boss said I could use his… and the very next day a storm ripped it apart! We hope to salvage it if it survives the storm due tonight. Failing that I am considering using a plastic storage box or something – anything -as my desperation to plant things is getting out of control. This is my first January with a plot. Please tell me these planting pangs get easier to deal with after the first year!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. To be fair, it blew away on our first day so it had a disadvantaged start in life. We did manage to retrieve it, but I don’t think it ever forgave us.
        I can’t take any clever credits on the plastic box idea. I think I saw it in a post on a Facebook allotment group.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Alan. What I’ve read and been told is that it stops the plants from becoming leggy and thin. The pinching out encourages the plants to become bushy. This means more flowers too.


  7. Gah, my Instagram feed is blowing up with seeds being planted but as my poly tunnel won’t go up until next year I’m reduced to a few windowsills and indecision is stopping me from growing at all! Imust get a move on, I’d be sad not to have sweet peas this summer…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I find that when I sow seeds into toilet roll tubes, I put a small ball of scrunched up paper at he bottom of the tube …. just enough to stop the compost falling out the bottom!

    Liked by 1 person

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