How to grow sweet peas

These heady scented plants are easy to grow

It’s wonderful that one of our most loved flowers, the sweet pea, is so easy to grow, hardy and flexible – simply sow them between around October and March in the greenhouse for beautiful spring and summer heady-scented flowers.

If you sowed early, you can overwinter the young plants in a cold greenhouse and, in many places, sowing over winter can produce really robust, healthy plants.

Your other option is to sow them where they’re to grow in March or April, though this usually has less satisfactory results. 

As sweet peas need plenty of room for their roots to grow, use toilet rolls, long modules or rootrainers filled with compost, and sow two round seeds per module, covered with 1cm (½in) more of compost.

Water in so the compost is damp. You may need to chit your sweet pea seeds, using a pocket knife to remove a little bit of the outer layer to aid germination, though it’s not often necessary.

A general rule is that the darker the colour of the flower variety you’ve sown, the harder the seed coating, which will need chitting.

Keep seedlings cool in a greenhouse once you notice they’ve appeared, and be really careful that mice don’t nibble them all up!

Put down traps, if necessary. If plants are getting leggy, pinch out the growing tip if you need to when about three of four pairs of leaves are present, which promotes bushier plants.

How to plant up a conifer

Conifers make great hedges, provide stout, evergreen structure and are fascinating trees that come in a wealth of colours and cone sizes, but best of all is the wildlife they attract

Conifers provide a fantastic source of shelter for birds throughout the year, but particularly in winter, when they can hide and keep warm among the branches.

If you’re lucky you can see goldcrests, firecrests and crossbills as well as squirrels feeding in them, too.

It’s crucial to plant and look after conifers well in their early years, so they can grow into healthy trees, but to start with, check whether the conifer you’ve chosen will fit the space you’ve earmarked for it.

Conifers work well in pots, so their growth can be curbed if planted in a roomy container.

Once they’re planted, be sure they get enough water (but not too much), and once they’ve become established trees, they won’t need very much at all, except during dry periods.

If planted in a container, though, it’s always best to check the moisture level of the compost.

For new trees, give them a general feed and mulch in late winter.

Once they grow larger and healthy, after two or three years, you can pretty much leave them be.

How to propagate succulents

It’s almost as if they want you to pull them apart and replant them

This is another of those little jobs that’s fun to do at this time of year, and is so easy because succulents, such as sedums, sempervivums and echeveria for example, are so keen to reproduce, they do most of the work for you.

They either produce little plantlets crying out to be potted up, or can be propagated from their own foliage.

Succulents are defined as having fleshy leaves and keep themselves moist by carrying water in them.

It’s a characteristic often needed in their native dry, hot, sunny countries.

They’re really tolerant plants, keeping themselves pliable and happy to be moved about and disturbed, almost as if they want you to pull them apart and replant them, so they can spread themselves about more easily!

Some such as kalanchoe and Aloe vera are tender and need to be kept indoors in a frost-free place and a bit of warmth in many cases. But the propagation process is easy.

Simply buy some good, welldraining compost and fill little pots with it.

Then it’s a case of transferring leaflets or rosettes to the pots, which often fall off into your hands readily, putting them on a windowsill and watching them do their thing!

Be sure to also repot pot-bound plants in spring.

  1. Pick off a healthy sedum ‘leaf’ or a small plantlet from your succulent. 
  2. Leave the offshoots to dry out a little for a couple of days. Use a well-draining compost and add small handfuls of Perlite and grit. 
  3. Plant leaflets into a pot of compost, water lightly and place in a light spot.

How to plant a strawberry container

For a bumper crop next year, grab a tub for your strawberries 

It’s easy to grow a healthy, heavy-yielding crop of strawberries in just one container, and early autumn is the perfect time to plant them up so they can get established in the warmed soil, settle in and produce more of a bumper crop come spring and early summer.

Three or four plants in a large pot will give you plenty of fruit to be getting on with.

They need watering and feeding all through their growing season of spring and summer, and to be kept moist at all times.

Use plastic mulch on the surface of the pot’s soil to conserve water.

They’re low maintenance plants, in that you can pop the bare-roots in now in some good multi-purpose compost, 20- 30cm (8-12in) apart, and they’ll furnish you with fruit next year.

Make sure the crowns are at soil level and the roots have plenty of room.

In many ways they’re better grown in containers as they will be spared ground soil pest and disease, though they can come up against vine weevil grubs, which can munch all the way through roots. 

Three strawberries to grow 

Alpine strawberry (For shade) A great one to grow in shade. Uncultivated species with small, rounded fruits, which are tasty if not as large, juicy and sweet as cultivated types.

‘Mount Everest’ (A climber!) An ever-bearer with fruits from June to September, you can grow this one up a trellis or a large obelisk for an attractive, but tasty, display.

‘Cambridge Favourite’ (The juiciest one!) One of the best-loved varieties, great for containers and a high yield of flavoursome and large fruits. Has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

How to dig up shallots

Dig up and dry your spring-sown crop

After the long wait from spring, your shallots will be ready to harvest now. 

As the stems start to fade to yellow, but while they’re still a little green and therefore fresher, lift the clusters of bulbs and dry them out, as you would onions.

You could use a hand fork to lift them, as you can then be more sure of not damaging the bulbs so much.

Bruising or slicing the bulbs accidentally means they’re more susceptible to rot during storage later on. 

Lay them to dry in the sunshine or, if it’s wet weather, in an airy, dry place.

Once they’re drier after a few days, you can make it easier for them to fully dry by brushing off all the extra mud and loose skins from the bulbs. You can cut off the dead foliage, too. 

Separate the bulbs and keep them until you need to use them.

Hang them in clusters using twine or an old pair of tights, or store them in a dry, frost-free place.

Digging up shallots

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     1.   As shallots grow in large clusters, dig them out carefully with a fork or they’ll bruise. 

1. As shallots grow in large clusters, dig them out carefully with a fork or they’ll bruise. 

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   2.   Brush off extra soil and separate the clusters of bulbs so they dry better. 

2. Brush off extra soil and separate the clusters of bulbs so they dry better. 

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     3. Lay out to dry in the sun in a single layer in a large tray, or lay on a tarpaulin or similar.   

3. Lay out to dry in the sun in a single layer in a large tray, or lay on a tarpaulin or similar. 

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