When to grow peas?

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Here’s a primer on how to plant peas in the garden.

Fresh garden peas are one of our favorite garden vegetables. It might be because they’re so easy to grow or because they’re one of the first veggies to ripen but more than likely it’s because of the incredible sweet flavor of those perfect little green pearls.

We’ve grown regular shelling peas, sugar snap peas and snow peas. We love regular shelling peas the best. When they’re young and fresh, we eat the whole pod. When they’re bigger, we shell them and freeze a few for the winter – if there are any left!

How to Plant Peas

Peas are one of the easiest veggies to grow. Pea seeds are basically dried peas so they’re easy to identify and are quite large – perfect for little fingers.

Peas are a cold weather crop that you can plant as soon as the soil is workable in the spring. They’ll germinate and pop out of the soil when the air and soil temperature has reached their preferred range of 45 to 65°F or 7 to 18°C. If you delay seeding beyond these temps, you’ll have poor germination results. In fact, once summer temperatures arrive, pea plants will stop producing – so it’s good to get them planted early so you can harvest buckets full of peas before that happens.

Seeds, whether peas or any other seed, require moisture to germinate. That’s why consistent watering during the first couple of weeks is critical. So make sure you take a watering can with you or plant right before a rain shower.

For Best Results…

To give peas sufficient water to germinate, soak pea seeds in a bowl of water the night before planting.

Once you’re at the garden…

  • Use a hoe or edge of a garden rake to make a trench about 1 inch or 3-4 cm deep.
  • Place pea seeds in the trench about 1 inch or 3-4 cm apart. When the plants actually grow, the ideal space between them is about 3 to 4 inches or 7 to 10 cm. But chances are poor germination or garden pests (squirrels or cutworms) will prevent all of them from coming up. So it’s better to over-seed at this stage and thin out any extras later.
  • If planting multiple rows, space them about 1 to 1 1/2 feet or 30 to 45 cm apart.
  • Cover the row with soil.
  • Water the pea rows evenly and consistently until plants are about 2 inches or 5 cm high.

For Best Results…

Your seed package may not tell you this, but peas will produce more and will be easier to pick if you provide some sort of trellis or support for them to grow up on. Even low growing bush peas will do better with a little support. I’ve grown plenty of peas without support – but every time I use a support system I’m glad I did. The peas are definitely easier to find and pick when they’re off the ground.

There are tons of ways to build a trellis for peas. We stick to the very simple chicken wire held up by sticks technique. It’s not the prettiest method, but it works and takes no time to put up and take down.

If possible, put up your support system the same day as your planting your peas. It doesn’t take long for pea seeds to germinate and they’ll want to start climbing right away. Their stems can be delicate and you risk breaking them if you try to support them once they’re out of the ground and growing.

Can’t wait for that first pea.

Want more info on growing peas and pea varieties, here’s University of Illinois article on planting peas.

Happy gardening!

Here are some other How To’s to get your garden going this season:

How to Plant Leeks

How to Plant Onions

How to Plant Beets

How to Plant Tomatoes

How to Plant Corn

How to Plant Carrots

How to Plant Garlic

Top 5 Herbs for Your Garden

Grow Your Own Seasoning Blend

Grow Your Own Herbal Teas

When to Plant Different Vegetables

Need help planning or getting your vegetable garden going? Get Getty to help you figure things out. Getty Stewart is a freelance Professional Home Economist, author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, mom and avid veggie gardener. She loves growing food and has been doing so forever. Need a workshop or a little one-on-one, Get Getty!

Planting Peas

You can plant peas in a number of different fashions. Check to see which one suits your garden best.

Wide Rows

Although peas can be grown successfully in single rows, you’ll have a more abundant harvest with much less work if you grow peas in wide rows. With wide-row growing, you’ll spend less time weeding, watering and harvesting, and more time shelling, because the harvest is larger.

It’s easiest to make your wide rows the same width as your rake, which is normally 14 to 16 inches. To mark off a wide row, put a stake at each end of the row. Stretch a string close to the ground between the two stakes. Hold one edge of an iron rake next to the string, and drag the rake down the length of the row. This will level and smooth the seedbed at the same time that it marks off the width of the row.

Remove large stones and any debris from the seedbed and really smooth the soil before you plant. Once you’ve finished, don’t walk on the bed – you’ll only pack it down. You want the soil loose for your seeds.

Broadcast pea seeds 1-1/2 to two inches apart across the entire raked area.

Using the back of a hoe, gently tamp down the seeds, pressing them into the soil. With a rake, pull enough soil from outside the row to cover the seeds. The amount of soil covering each seed should equal four times the diameter of the seed, or about 1-1/2 inches for peas. Gently level off the row.

Finally, the soil should be firmed down again, so that there’s good contact with the seeds.

It’s a good idea to water the rows gently after planting, especially if the soil is dry. If you water before planting, you’ll pack down the soil.

Leave 18-inch-wide walkways between your wide rows. This allows enough room for the plants to spread out, and it’s also wide enough to walk through, allowing you to cultivate and harvest easily.

Single Rows

The simplest way to make a single row is to put stakes in the ground at each end of the row and stretch a string tightly between them. Draw a shallow furrow with a hoe beside the string in the well-spaded seedbed.

Plant seeds one to two inches apart in rows at least 16 inches apart. After planting the row, use a hoe to cover the seeds with 1-1/2 inches of soil. Then gently firm the soil with the back of the hoe and water well.

Double Rows

Although they’re similar to single rows, double rows use garden space more productively. Make two shallow furrows four to five inches apart. Drop the seeds into the furrows, one to two inches apart and 1-1/2 inches deep. Continue planting as you would for single rows.

The double-row method is especially helpful for trellising tall pea varieties. Simply place the vine supports between the double rows.

If you have irrigation problems, place a soaker hose (a garden hose made of porous material that allows the water to seep out slowly) between the two rows for efficient watering.

Another way to irrigate double rows is to dig a shallow furrow between the two seed rows. To water the peas, simply run water down the middle furrow.

Garden, English, and snap peas are grown for the shelled seeds or peas in their pods. Sugar or snow peas are grown for their flat, green pods.

• Peas are a cool-season crop that must mature before the weather gets warm. The ideal growing temperature for peas is 55°F to 70°F.

• Sow peas in the garden 6 weeks before the average last frost date in spring or as soon as the soil can be worked.

About Peas. Peas are weak-stemmed vining annuals with leaf-like stipules, leaves with one to three pairs of leaflets, and tendrils used for climbing. Peas grow 6 to 10 peas or seeds in a pod. Seeds are either smooth or wrinkled depending on the variety. Garden, English, and snap peas are grown for the maturing seeds in the pods. These are harvested when pods are 4 to 6 inches long and pods are bulging but before the pods begin to dry. Sugar and snow peas are grown for their edible pods. These are harvested when pods are 1½ to 2½ inches long and the peas inside are barely visible.

Peas Yield. Plant 30 plants per household member.

Peas are a cool-season crop that must mature before the weather gets warm. The ideal growing temperature for peas is 55°F to 70°F.

Site. Grow peas in rich, loamy soil that is well-drained. Peas will produce earlier if planted in sandy soil. Later crops can be planted in heavier, clay soil. Plant peas in full sun or partial shade. Peas prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8. Grow peas supported by poles, a trellis, or fence.

Peas Planting Time. Peas are a cool-season crop that must mature before the weather gets warm. The ideal growing temperature for peas is 55°F to 70°F. Sow peas in the garden 6 weeks before the average last frost date in spring or as soon as the soil can be worked.

How to Plant and Space Peas. Sow pea seed 2 inches deep, 2 to 3 inches apart in double rows supported by a trellis, netting, or wire or string supports between two poles for bush varieties. Sow two seeds to each hole. Thin plants to 4 inches apart. Space rows 18 to 24 inches apart. Sow pole or vine varieties in a circle around a pole or stake. Sow seed 8 to 10 inches from the pole and thin to the 8 strongest plants. Soak seed for 4 to 6 hours before sowing.

More tips: Peas Seed Starting Tips.

Companion plants. Beans, carrots, corn, cucumbers, radishes, turnips. Do not plant next to garlic, onions, or potatoes.

Container Growing Peas. Peas will grow in a container at least 8 inches deep. The number of plants required to produce a reasonable crop may not justify the effort.

Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of planting. Side dress plants with aged compost at midseason.

Caring for Peas

Water and Feeding Peas. Keep the soil evenly moist. Do not allow the soil to dry out. Avoid getting plants wet when they are flowering or the crop may be reduced. Add aged manure and aged compost to planting beds in advance of planting. Side dress plants with aged compost at midseason.

More growing tips at: Pea Growing Tips.

Care of Peas. Provide a trellis or pole to support the pea vines. Peas can be grown without support; however, they will grow and produce much better with support. Cultivate gently to avoid harming the fragile roots.

Pea Plant Pests. Peas can be attacked by aphids, rabbits, and birds. Control aphids by pinching out infested foliage or by hosing them away. Fence out rabbits. Use bird netting to keep birds away.

Pea Plant Diseases. Peas are susceptible to rot, wilt, blight, mosaic, and mildew. Plant disease-resistant varieties and plant peas in well-drained soil to avoid root-rot disease. Avoid handling vines when they are wet. Remove and destroy diseased plants.

Disease and pest problems and solutions: Pea Growing Problems: Troubleshooting

Pick shelling peas (garden, English, and snap peas) when the pods are bulging and green before peas start to harden.

Harvesting and Storing Peas

Pea Harvest. Peas will be ready for harvest 55 to 80 days from sowing. Pick shelling peas (garden, English, and snap peas) when the pods are bulging and green before peas start to harden. Young peas will be tastier than older ones. Withered and yellowed pods can be used for dried peas. Pick sugar and snow peas when pods are 1½ to 2½ inches long and peas are just barely visible within the pods. The sugar in peas will begin converting to starch as soon as peas are picked. To slow the process, chill the peas in their pods as they are picked and shell them immediately before cooking.

More harvest tips: How to Harvest and Store Peas.

Storing and Preserving Peas. Peas will keep in the refrigerator unshelled for up to one week. Peas can be frozen, canned, or dried. Dried peas will keep in a cool, dry place for up to 12 months. Edible-pod peas will keep in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days in a plastic bag. Edible pod peas can be frozen and will lose little flavor.

Snow pea

Pea Varieties to Grow

Common name. Pea, garden pea, sugar pea, English pea

Botanical name. Pisum sativum

Origin. Europe, Near East

More Pea Picking Tips.

Grow 80 vegetables: THE KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE

Peas

Pea is a frost-hardy, cool-season vegetable that can be grown throughout most of the United States, wherever a cool season of sufficient duration exists. For gardening purposes, peas may be classified as garden peas (English peas), snap peas and snow peas (sugar peas). Garden pea varieties have smooth or wrinkled seeds. The smooth-seeded varieties tend to have more starch than the wrinkled-seeded varieties. The wrinkled-seeded varieties are generally sweeter and usually preferred for home use. The smooth-seeded types are used more often to produce ripe seeds that are used like dry beans and to make split-pea soup. Snap peas have been developed from garden peas to have low-fiber pods that can be snapped and eaten along with the immature peas inside. Snow peas are meant to be harvested as flat, tender pods before the peas inside develop at all. The Southern pea (cowpea) is an entirely different warm-season vegetable that is planted and grown in the same manner as beans.

Recommended Varieties

The following varieties (listed in order of maturity) have wrinkled seeds and are resistant to fusarium wilt unless otherwise indicated.

Early

Daybreak (54 days to harvest; 20 to 24 inches tall, good for freezing)

Spring (57 days; 22 inches tall; dark green freezer peas)

Main Season

Sparkle (60 days to harvest; 18 inches tall; good for freezing)

Little Marvel (63 days; 18 inches tall; holds on the vine well)

Green Arrow (68 days; 28 inches tall; pods in pairs; resistant to fusarium and powdery mildew)

Wando (70 days; 24-30 inches; withstands some heat; best variety for late spring planting)

Sugar

Snowbird (58 days; 18 inches tall; double or triple pods in clusters)

Dwarf Gray Sugar (65 days; 24 to 30 inches)

Snowflake (72 days; 22 inches to harvest; high yield)

When to Plant

Peas thrive in cool, moist weather and produce best in cool, moderate climates. Early plantings normally produce larger yields than later plantings. Peas may be planted whenever the soil temperature is at least 45°F, and the soil is dry enough to till without its sticking to garden tools.

Plantings of heat-tolerant varieties can be made in midsummer to late summer, to mature during cool fall days. Allow more days to the first killing frost than the listed number of days to maturity because cool fall days do not speed development of the crop as do the long, bright days of late spring.

Spacing & Depth

Plant peas 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep and one inch apart in single or double rows. Allow 18 to 24 inches between single or pairs of rows. Allow 8 to 10 inches between double rows in pairs.

Care

The germinating seeds and small seedlings are easily injured by direct contact with fertilizer or improper cultivation. Cultivate and hoe shallowly during the early stages of growth. Most dwarf and intermediate varieties are self-supporting. The taller varieties (Green Arrow and Bolero) are most productive and more easily picked when trained to poles or to a fence for support; but they are no longer popular. Peas can be mulched to cool the soil, reduce moisture loss and keep down soil rots. Some of the snap and sugar peas are vining types with heights of 6 feet or more that require fencing or other supports.

Harvesting

Garden Peas

When the pea pods are swollen (appear round) they are ready to be picked. Pick a few pods every day or two near harvest time to determine when the peas are at the proper stage for eating. Peas are of the best quality when they are fully expanded but immature, before they become hard and starchy. Peas should be picked immediately before cooking because their quality, especially sweetness (like that of sweet corn), deteriorates rapidly. The pods on the lower portion of the plant mature earliest. The last harvest (usually the third) is made about one week after the first. Pulling the entire plant for the last harvest makes picking easier.

Sugar Snap Peas

Snap peas should be harvested every 1 or 3 days, similarly to snow peas to get peak quality. Sugar snaps are at their best when the pods first start to fatten but before the seeds grow very large. At this point, the pods snap like green beans and the whole pod can be eaten. Some varieties have strings along the seams of the pod that must be removed before cooking. Sugar snaps left on the vine too long begin to develop tough fiber in the pod walls. These must then be shelled and used as other garden peas, with the fibrous pods discarded. Vining types of both sugar snap and snow peas continue to grow taller and produce peas as long as the plant stays in good health and the weather stays cool.

Snow Peas

These varieties are generally harvested before the individual peas have grown to the size of BBS, when the pods have reached their full length but are still quite flat. This stage is usually reached 5 to 7 days after flowering. Snow peas must be picked regularly (at least every other day) to assure sweet, fiber-free pods. Pods can be stir-fried, steamed or mixed with oriental vegetables or meat dishes. As soon as overgrown pods missed in earlier pickings are discovered, remove them from the plants to keep the plants blooming and producing longer. Enlarging peas inside these pods may be shelled and used as garden peas. Fat snow pea pods (minus the pea enlarging inside) should be discarded. Fibers that develop along the edges of larger pods, along with the stem and blossom ends, are removed during preparation. Pea pods lose their crispness if overcooked. The pods have a high sugar content and brown or burn quickly. Do not stir-fry over heat that is too intense.

Pea pods can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for two weeks. Unlike fresh green peas, pea pods deteriorate only slightly in quality when stored.

Common Problems

The first signs of fusarium wilt and root-rot disease are the yellowing and wilting of the lower leaves and stunting of the plants. Infection of older plants usually results in the plants producing only a few poorly filled pods. These diseases are not as prevalent on well-drained soils. Double-dug raised beds amended with abundant organic matter can greatly improve soil aeration and drainage. Fusarium wilt can be avoided by growing wilt-resistant varieties.

Questions & Answers

Q. Should I inoculate my peas with nitrogen-fixing bacteria before planting?

A. When peas are planted on new land, you may increase the yield by inoculating peas with a commercial formulation of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. In an established garden, however, inoculation is less necessary. If you are in doubt, inoculation is a relatively inexpensive process that is easy to do and ensures better plant-nutrient status.

Selection & Storage

There are two common varieties of peas, green garden peas that need shelling and edible-pod peas that are eaten whole. Snow peas, sugar snap peas Chinese pea pods and many others fall into this category. They are low fiber pods with small wrinkled peas inside. The entire pod is eaten, cooked or raw.

Green garden peas are legumes just like dried peas, except they are eaten at the immature stage.

They are a cool weather, early spring crop. Harvest edible-pod peas when they are flat. Use both hands. Holding the plant stem in one hand use the other hand to pull off the pod. Using one hand, you can easily pull up the entire plant.

The smaller pods are sweeter and more tender. Use them for eating raw and cook the larger ones. The shelled peas should be plump but not large. Check one until you become familiar with the appearance. The plumpest peas should be gathered before the pod starts to wrinkle on the stem. Old peas taste starchy and mealy.

Fresh peas keep for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. The sugar in them quickly begins to turn to starch even while under refrigeration. As much as 40 percent of the sugar is converted in a few hours. Store unwashed peas in perforated plastic bags for a few days. The sooner they are eaten the better.

Nutritional Value & Health Benefits

Green garden peas are a valuable source of protein, iron and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber helps to reduce serum cholesterol thus reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Sugar snap peas and the like, contain much less protein, but they are an excellent source of iron and vitamin C that work to keep your immune system functioning properly.

Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup cooked garden peas)

Calories 67
Dietary Fiber 2.4 grams
Protein 4.3 grams
Carbohydrates 12.5 grams
Vitamin A 478 IU
Vitamin C 11.4 mg
Folic acid 50.7 micrograms
Iron 1.2 mg
Potassium 217 mg
Magnesium 31 mg

Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup cooked snow peas)

Calories 34
Dietary Fiber 1.4 grams
Protein 2.6 grams
Carbohydrates 5.6 grams
Vitamin C 38.3 mg
Iron 1.6 mg
Potassium 192 mg
Magnesium 21 mg

Preparation & Serving

Wash garden peas just before shelling. To shell, pinch off the ends and pull the string down on the inside of the pod and pop the peas out. Wash edible pod peas and trim both ends. Remove the string from both sides of the pod. Cook briefly or serve raw. Steam, sauté or stir-fry quickly to retain the bright green color and vitamin C content. Vitamin C is easily destroyed by over cooking.

Home Preservation

Peas freeze beautifully if they are fresh. Fresh frozen peas do not need to be cooked upon thawing. Just add to soups, stews or heat briefly before serving.

To Prepare Garden Peas or Sugar Peas for Freezing

Since freezing does not improve the quality of any vegetable, it is important to start with fresh green pods. Avoid old tough pods as they will only get tougher during freezing.

  1. In a blanching pot or large pot with tight fitting lid, bring about 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil.

  2. Meanwhile, wash, trim and string, pea pods.

  3. Blanch no more than one pound of peas at a time. Drop peas into boiling water and immediately cover with a tight fitting lid.

  4. Start timing the blanching immediately and blanch shelled peas for two minutes and pods for five minutes.

  5. Prepare an ice water bath in a large 5 to 6 quart container or use the sink.

  6. Remove the peas from the blanching water with a slotted spoon or blanching basket.

  7. Emerge the peas in the ice water bath for 5 min. or until completely cool. If ice is unavailable, use several changes of cold tap water to cool the vegetables.

  8. Remove from water and drain.

  9. Label and date, quart size, zip-closure freezer bags.

  10. Pack peas into prepared freezer bags, squeeze out as much air as possible by folding the top portion of the bag over. Gently push air out and seal. Freeze for up to one year at 32°F or below.

Note: Blanching water and ice water bath may be used over and over again. Return blanching water to a boil after each batch of vegetables is blanched and replenish water if necessary.

Recipes

The flavor of fresh garden peas is complimented by spearmint, marjoram, rosemary, and thyme.

They hold up well in stir-fry preparations. Boost the nutritional value of meals by adding them to pasta, soups, stews and rice dishes or raw in a fresh garden salad.

Sugar Snap Peas with Toasted Sesame Seeds

  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 3 baby portabella mushrooms, sliced (1/2 cup)
  • 2 cups fresh sugar snap peas, fresh snow peas orthawed frozen snow peas cut in half
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed

Wash and string peas, slice mushrooms measure soy and sesame seeds and set aside. Heat oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and stir-fry until lightly browned. Add peas and stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in soy sauce. Cover and cook 1 minute longer. Sprinkle with sesame seed and serve. Makes 4 servings.

French Peas

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped romaine lettuce
  • 1-1/2 pounds shelled fresh peas or frozen tiny peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots or white part of green onion
  • 1 large whole sprig parsley
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Heat oil in a 3 quart saucepan. Place lettuce on top of oil. Add peas, shallots, parsley, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, 10 to 15 minutes, or until peas are just tender. Remove parsley sprig before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Pea

Pea, (Pisum sativum), also called garden pea, herbaceous annual plant in the family Fabaceae, grown virtually worldwide for its edible seeds. Peas can be bought fresh, canned, or frozen, and dried peas are commonly used in soups. Some varieties, including sugar peas and snow peas, produce pods that are edible and are eaten raw or cooked like green beans; they are popular in East Asian cuisines. The plants are fairly easy to grow, and the seeds are a good source of protein and dietary fibre.

Pea (Pisum sativum)Walter Chandoha

While the origins of domesticated peas have not been definitely determined, the pea is one of the oldest cultivated crops. The wild plant is native to the Mediterranean region, and ancient remains dating to the late Neolithic Period have been found in the Middle East. European colonization introduced the crop to the New World and other regions throughout the globe. In the mid-1800s, peas in a monastery garden in Austria were famously used by the monk Gregor Mendel in his pioneering studies of the nature of heredity.

The pea plant is a hardy leafy annual with hollow trailing or climbing stems that reach up to 1.8 metres (6 feet) in length. The stems feature terminal tendrils that facilitate climbing and bear compound leaves with three pairs of leaflets. The reddish purple, pink, or white flowers, growing two to three per stalk, are butterfly-shaped. The fruit is a pod that grows to 10 cm (4 inches) long, splitting in half when ripe. Inside the pod, 5 to 10 seeds are attached by short stalks. The seeds are green, yellow, white, or variegated.

garden pea podsGarden pea pods (Pisum sativum).Rasbak

In the home garden, peas should be planted in fertile well-drained soil in an unshaded spot. The cool part of the growing season favours growth and development, and peas are sometimes grown in the winter and early spring in warmer climates. The most common diseases that affect peas are root rot, powdery mildew, and several viral diseases. Widely grown varieties include dwarf, half-dwarf, trailing, smooth-seeded, and wrinkled-seeded. Canning and freezing processes vary according to variety, plant size, shape and size of the pods, and period of maturation.

Unshelled peas.William Whitehurst/Corbis Get exclusive access to content from our 1768 First Edition with your subscription. Subscribe today

The black-eyed pea (Vigna unguiculata) is not a true pea. See cowpea.

How To Grow Peas: Requirements For Growing Peas

Peas are tasty, nutritious legumes that are not difficult to grow. There are peas for shelling, and those with edible pods, like sugar snap and snow peas. All are delicious and require just a little bit of care when planting and growing for a successful harvest. Read on to find out how to grow peas in your garden and what these veggies need to thrive.

How and When to Plant Peas

First, make sure you have the best spot for growing peas. These plants need full sun and soil that drains well. They need less fertilizing than many other vegetables, so adding a little compost to the soil before planting is usually adequate. For vining peas, choose a location where they can grow up a trellis or other structure.

Peas are cool weather plants. If you sow them too late in the spring, they may struggle in the hotter months. These can be among the earliest plants you start each year. As soon as the ground is workable and thawed, start sowing peas directly outdoors. There is no need to start inside. Sow the seeds to a depth of about one inch (2.5 cm).

It’s not strictly necessary to treat peas with an inoculant before planting, but if you have never planted legumes in this area of soil before, it can help improve growth. You can find inoculant at any garden store. It is a natural bacteria that helps legumes like peas convert nitrogen from the air into a form plants can use in the soil.

Caring for Garden Peas

Growing peas is pretty easy, but there is some maintenance needed throughout the growing season:

  • Water only when there is not enough rain to provide about an inch (2.5 cm.) of water per week. Spring is usually wet, so some years you won’t have to water at all.
  • Apply mulch around growing peas to keep moisture in and minimize weed growth.
  • Keep an eye out for damage from cutworms and aphids.
  • To prevent disease, only ever water pea plants at the base, directly on the soil. Also, make sure plants have adequate space between them for air flow.

Harvesting peas at the right time is essential. They over mature quickly and become inedible. Once the pods start to flesh out with peas, check on them daily. Pick peas as soon as the pods have reached their maximum size. If you think the pods are ready, pick one and eat it. It should be thin-skinned, sweet, and tender.

Peas store best if you get them cooled off quickly. Dunk them in cold water right after harvesting and then store in the refrigerator. Peas can be stored longer by freezing or canning.

Grow and Save Pea Seeds

How to Grow Peas

It is easy to see why this early-season crop is a popular garden plant. Peas require little care beyond a trellis and pest protection, yet they produce prolific amounts of snappy pods throughout the spring and summer.

Time of Planting

Sow peas outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked, but do not sow outdoors when soil temperatures are below 50 degrees F as germination is erratic and poor in cold soil.

Spacing Requirements

Seeds should be planted at a depth of ½–1 inch and between 2–3 inches apart. Space rows of peas at least 18 inches apart.

Time to Germination

7-14 days

Special Considerations

Pea plants require a trellis to support their climbing habit. Panels of thick wire, such as cattle panels, work well for this purpose. Alternatively, you can set up bamboo trellises or build a system of chicken wire or twine for peas to climb. Peas do not tolerate drought, excessive temperatures, or waterlogged soil. Peas should be grown in an open, sheltered position on moisture-retentive, deep, free-draining soil.

Common Pests and Diseases

Pests common to pea plants include pea moths, pea thrips, and mice. Crop covers can help protect the plants from moths at the flower-bud stage.

When and How to Harvest

Peas can be harvested in the snap/green stage, the shelling stage, or the dry stage. Snap peas are ready for harvest when the pods are still tender, before the seeds start to swell. Shelling peas are ready when the pods are tender and the seeds are round and plump. Dry peas are ready for harvest when the pods are dry and brittle and the seeds inside are hard.

Eating

Early peas are make great fresh eating while later peas can be shelled and enjoyed in salads, soups, and stir fries. Snap peas and snow peas are often eaten whole. Dried peas can be cooked like beans and used in soups, stews, and dips. Pea shoots also make a tasty snack.

Storing

Blanch and freeze peas if you would like to save your spring flavors for another day; use within a year. Peas can also be left on the vine to dry. Dry peas will store for several years in a cool, dry place.

How to Save Pea Seeds

This crop is a great way to make your first foray into seed saving as peas produce seed the same season as they are planted and are mostly self-pollinating, minimizing the need to be mindful of preventing cross-pollination.

Life Cycle

Annual

Recommended Isolation Distance

When saving seeds from peas, separate varieties by 10-20 feet.

Recommended Population Sizes

A single pea plant can produce viable seed. However, to maintain a variety’s diversity over time, save seeds from 5-10 plants.

Assessing Seed Maturity

Pea seeds are ready for harvest when they are hard and their pods dry out and start to turn brown on the vine and shrink against the seeds. This is about four weeks after the eating stage.

If pea pods are not completely dry before the first frost, pull the plants up, root first, and hang them in a cool, dry location until the pods are brown and dry. When the pea pods are completely dry, break them open to release the seeds.

Cleaning and Processing

Pick the brown pods from the vines and remove the seeds. Separate seeds from the chaff. Seeds will require about six weeks of air-drying.

Storage and Viability

Store peas in cool, dark, and dry places and always keep them in an airtight container to keep out moisture and humidity. Under these conditions, pea seeds will live 3-4 years.

Download the PDF

Peas – Key Growing Information

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Pisum sativum
CULTURE: Peas are a cool weather crop. Midsummer pickings are not as prolific as earlier harvests. For best yields ensure adequate fertility and a pH of 6.0-7.5. Adjust pH with ground limestone or wood ashes before planting, ideally in the fall. Plant the first sowing in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. In well-drained soil, sow 1-1 1/2″ apart in a 3″ band (25 seeds/ft.), 1/2-1″ deep. Do not thin. Varieties under 3′ tall can be sown without support in rows 12-18″ apart. For taller varieties, use crop supports such as a trellis net or chicken wire to keep vines upright, easy to pick and off the ground where they are less likely to rot if rainy weather coincides with harvest. Suspend the bottom of the trellis or chicken wire just above the young plants. The best time to install a trellis is at planting time. Normal row spacing is 4-6′ for trellised peas. Harvest when peas enlarge in the pods.
FALL CROP: Choose powdery mildew resistant varieties. Sow about 2 months before frost. Keep seeds well watered to encourage good germination.
INOCULANT: Inoculate peas to encourage formation of nitrogen producing nodules on the plant roots. This enriches the soil, results in larger plants, and increases yield.
TREATED SEEDS: Treated seeds are less susceptible to rotting in prolonged cold, wet weather.
DISEASES: A common disease is pea root rot (Fusarium sp. or Aphanomyces euteiches) which causes browning and drying of the foliage from the ground up. The best control is to ensure well-drained soil and to rotate crops out of legumes for at least three years. Powdery mildew causes white, powdery mold on the leaves, stems, and pods in hot weather. Choose resistant varieties.
FREEZING: All our peas are good for freezing and canning.
AVG. SEEDING RATE:1 lb. per 80′, 13 lb./1,000′, 272 lb./acre at 25 seeds/ft., in rows 24″ apart.
SEED SPECS: SEEDS/LB.: 1,450-3,400 (avg. 2,200).
PACKET: 250 seeds, sows 8′.

Mary’s Heirloom Seeds

Most PEAS are a cool weather crop. Sweet Peas (garden peas), Snap Peas and Snow Peas are cool weather crops. Southern Peas are actually a legume and are heat tolerant and grow well in HOT climates.

SUGAR SNAP PEAS

PEAS, in my opinion, are one of the most under rated crops.
-They are SO EASY to grow
-Seed saving is simple
-High Yield Crops in smaller spaces
-Some varieties are more pest resistant than others

BLUE PODDED PEA

Are you ready to grow PEAS?
From the Old Farmer’s Almanac

Planting

  • To get the best head start, turn over your pea planting beds in the fall, add manure to the soil, and mulch well.
  • As with other legumes, pea roots will fix nitrogen in the soil, making it available for other plants.
  • Peas will appreciate a good sprinkling of wood ashes to the soil before planting.
  • Sow seeds outdoors 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost, when soil temperatures reach 45 degrees F.
  • Plant 1 inch deep (deeper if soil is dry) and 2 inches apart.
  • Get them in the ground while the soil is still cool but do not have them sit too long in wet soil. It’s a delicate balance of proper timing and weather conditions. For soil that stays wet longer, invest in raised beds.
  • A blanket of snow won’t hurt emerging pea plants, but several days with temperatures in the teens could. Be prepared to plant again.
  • Peas are best grown in temperatures below 70 degrees F.

OREGON SUGAR POD SNOW PEA

Wondering WHEN to plant peas in your area? See Mary’s 2018 Planting Guide for your region-specific planting info
Intercrop peas with fast-growing cool-season crops such as spinach or radishes. After final harvest, follow with late squash plantings or fall-harvested cool-season crops such as broccoli, leeks or potatoes.
Sow fall crops about 8 to 10 weeks before first frost date. Fall crops can be disappointing if hot weather persists. Powdery-mildew-resistant varieties are best for fall crops.
Do not use high-nitrogen fertilizers. Too much nitrogen will result in lush foliage but poor flowering and fruiting. Inoculation with Mycorrhizae may be beneficial if peas have not been grown in the past.
Do not plant peas in the same place more than once in every 4 years. Avoid planting where in places where peas have suffered before from root rot.

WHIPPOORWILL SOUTHERN PEA

COMPANION Planting for PEAS
Peas: Plant with Beans, carrot, corn, cucumber, radish, turnips, SAGE, spinach, mint and potatoes. Avoid planting with Onions and Garlic.
HARVESTING PEAS
From Mother Earth News
To avoid mangling the vines, use two hands to harvest peas. When green peas are ripe, harvest them daily, preferably in the morning. Pick snow peas when the pods reach full size and the peas inside are just beginning to swell. For best flavor and yields, allow snap peas to change from flat to plump before picking them. Gather sweet green shell peas when the pods begin to show a waxy sheen, but before their color fades.

LITTLE MARVEL GARDEN PEA

Immediately refrigerate picked peas to stop the conversion of sugar to starches and maintain the peas’ crisp texture. Promptly blanch and freeze your extra peas.
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Planting and growing peas may not be the most efficient use of space in your garden, but the flavor of home grown garden peas knocks the socks off most commercial peas. If you want more yield per square foot, grow snap peas so you can eat the pod and the peas inside. Pea plants are also great to include in your garden rotation because they can help add nitrogen to the soil. In this post we’ll cover pea growing from planting to harvest, including garden pea companion plants, pea trellis and troubleshooting tips.

Planting Peas – How to Get Your Peas Off to a Strong Start

Pea Planting Basics:

  • Preferred soil pH for peas: 6-7
  • Sun: Yields best in full sun in cool climate gardens, late afternoon shade or off season planting recommended in warmer climates (more below)
  • Seed depth: 1″ (2.5 cm) – (Remember our rule of thumb for seed starting?)
  • Space between pea seeds: I prefer to plant in double rows about 8-10 inches apart, with a fence or trellis in between the rows and 2 inches between seeds.
  • Soil temp for pea planting: 40-75 °F (4-24° C) – the warmer end of this scale will lead to faster germination
  • Seed treatment: Inoculate garden pea seed with nitrogen fixing bacteria, if desired
  • Days to Pea Germination: 14

What are the Best Peas to Grow?

My recommendation for best garden pea is Green Arrow. My favorite for best snap pea is Super Sugar Snap. I’m not a snow pea fan, so I rarely grow them. I regularly try different varieties, but these are reliable producers in my northeast Wisconsin garden (zone 4-5). If you’re not sure what’s the best pea variety for your garden, ask a nearby friend or neighbor what grows well for them in your area.

Don’t Rush to Plant Peas in Cold Ground

Traditionally peas are one of the first crops planted in spring, but cool soil means a slow start to pea growing. Soil that is too cold and wet may cause peas to rot instead of sprout. In The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, the author notes that germination went from 9 days in 60 °F (16 °C) soil to 36 days in 40 °F (4 °C) soil. Better to wait for the soil to warm up a bit before planting pea seeds, or use some dark landscape fabric or plastic to warm up the ground first if you’re in a hurry.

Once established, garden peas will tolerate cold, but not freezing, temperatures.

Peas May be Started Indoors

Pea seeds are normally direct sown in the garden, but I have had good luck with starting my first crop of peas indoors. The young pea plants are then transplanted outside after the soil warms.

For indoor pea seed starting, plant seeds about 1″ deep and two inches apart in shallow trays. Follow basic indoor seed starting protocol. Harden seedlings and transplant the growing peas into garden while still small (2-3″, 5-8 cm) to minimize transplant shock.

You can also soak your pea seeds overnight and sprout them in a mason jar or dish. Cover seeds with water and allow them to sit overnight. In the morning, drain the water. Layer them between moist towels in a shallow dish, or keep them in the mason jar covered with a damp cloth. Rinse daily. Once root tails appear, plant while they are shorter than 2 inches long.

Planting Peas in the Garden

To have your garden pea planting area ready to roll, add some compost or aged manure to the bed in fall. Use in combination with a cover crop to protect the soil. If you use a winter cover crop like field peas, you’ll introduce the nitrogen fixing bacteria that help peas grab nitrogen from the air and make it available to the plants.

I like to dig two shallow trenches roughly 8 inches apart. Nitrogen fixing bacteria (Rhizobia) inoculation is helpful, especially if peas and beans have not been grown in the area before. Coat the seeds with inoculant before planting, or place seeds in the trench and lightly sprinkle with inoculant. Cover seeds and tamp the ground down. If soil is dry, water gently. (Don’t wash your seeds away!)

A fall crop of peas may be sown in late summer for fall production. Check your soil temp – remember that garden peas aren’t likely to germinate if temps are above 75 °F. Mulch may help lower the soil temp enough for successful sowing. Try planting peas to the north of a tall crop for sun protection. Southern gardeners may have better luck with peas as a fall/winter crop.

See When Should I Start My Seeds? Printable seed starting calendar for help estimating your garden planting dates.

Companion Plants for Peas

In the classic text Carrots Love Tomatoes, Louise Riotte suggests these pea companion plants:

  • Carrots
  • Turnips
  • Cucumbers
  • Corn
  • Beans
  • Potatoes
  • Aromatic Herbs

And avoiding planting peas with:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Gladiolus

The book Great Garden Companions suggests a slightly different mix of garden pea companion plants:

  • Beans
  • Salad greens
  • Calendulas
  • Marigolds
  • Sweet alyssum
  • Pinks
  • Pansies
  • Petunias

I have cheated and placed onions along the south side of a row of peas at the edge of a garden bed to keep bunnies at bay. As long as the ground is fertile and the onions aren’t too close, both do fine.

Growing Peas – Care During the Season

Once pea seedlings are out of the ground, I mulch and trellis. It’s helpful to have your trellis or fence up ASAP, so your young plants don’t become a tangled mess. Waiting to mulch until the seedlings emerge keeps the soil temperature warmer for faster germination.

Pea Mulch

For pea mulch, I lay down damp newspaper and cover with straw. The newspaper dramatically reduces the number of weeds that get through the mulch. You can use any organic mulch, such as old hay or leaves. Just watch out for herbicide or disease contamination. (Note: Uncomposted manure may also be a source of herbicide contamination if the farm animal it was from ate plants sprayed with herbicide.) Old hay may also contain viable seeds. Keeping the soil cool around your pea plants will help extend the pea growing season.

Pea Trellis Basics

I highly recommend growing peas on a trellis, whether you’re growing garden peas, snap peas or snow peas. The only peas that don’t get much benefit from a trellis are those pea varieties that are specifically bred to be more compact. (Very short pea varieties are often recommended for growing peas in containers.)

How tall should a pea trellis be? It depends on which peas you’re trying to grow. My preferences are listed below. How do you grow peas on a trellis? The peas should do most of the work for you, as their tendrils naturally reach out to grab and pull themselves up on available supports. I like to get my pea trellis in place shortly after the baby pea plants emerge from the soil. I plant in a double row and mulch between the two rows, and then place the pea trellis between the two rows. That way the weeds are kept down around the trellis, where they are difficult to reach.

Guide pea vines onto the pea trellis as they grow, if needed. If a vine goes too far off course, use a soft strip of cloth or loosely tied twine to tether it back onto the pea trellis.

Garden Pea Trellis

For shorter pea varieties (3 -4 feet in height), I use a sturdy garden fence braced every 3-4 feet for a pea trellis. Strong winds (or the wait of full grown vines) will topple a fence that is less well supported. You might also try shorter folding garden trellis, or sticks with some twigs left on, but we get wind so I put up strong pea trellis.

Snap Pea Trellis

For taller peas (most snap peas and snow peas), I use trellis netting with fence posts and a cross support on top. See the Grow Pole Beans post for more detailed information. You can also try pea teepees, arches made from cattle panels, the VineSpine garden trellis or any other sturdy support you can rig up. See 5+ Terrific Tomato Trellis Ideas for a variety of garden trellises that can easily adapt to many crops.

Snap peas trellis in garden with solar water heating panels in the background

Pea Fertilizer

Do peas need fertilizer? After all, they can pull nitrogen from the air, right? It turns out that it takes a while for the pea root nodules to start working their magic to fertilize the pea plant. To get your young growing peas off to a strong start, side dress with some compost or balanced organic fertilizer when the plants are a few inches tall. Don’t add too much nitrogen (like manure). This will cause plants to produce large vines with few peas.

Watering your Pea Plants

If mulched, growing peas do fine with about half an inch of water per week. Avoid watering in the evenings to reduce the incidence of powdery mildew, a common pea disease.

Pea Flowers But No Pods

Peas are self-pollinating, but benefit from bees and other pollinators. If you don’t have bees or a breeze, gently shake the plants or brush the blossoms with a soft paint brush or feather duster. The flowers are edible, but you probably don’t want to eat them as they turn into the peas. If you really want to eat pea flowers, just plant a lot more peas.

Pea Diseases

Peas are susceptible to a variety of bacterial and fungal diseases. They can cause damage to the plants and the pods – even killing the plants. Work to promote good air circulation by keeping weeds in check and using plant supports. Mulching may help reduce soil borne diseases. Active compost tea can populate plant leaves so there is no room for problem fungi to grow. The healthier your pea plants, the more resistant they will be to diseases.

How to Harvest Peas and When to Harvest Peas

To harvest your peas, use one hand to hold the pea plant just above the pea, and gently pull or twist the pea pod with the other hand to release it. You want to be careful to avoid ripping or tearing the pea plant. You can use scissors to clip the pea pod loose, but I’ve never felt the need.

Determine when to harvest peas using the guidelines below for snow peas, sugar snap peas and garden peas. Harvest peas every one to two days once they start producing for best quality. If you find an overripe pea that was missed during an earlier picking, remove it. Overripe peas left on the vine tell the plant to stop making more peas.

Note: Peas are best when eaten or processed within a few hours of being picked – especially garden peas. With longer storage, the sugars in the peas convert to starch. This makes the peas bland and tasteless. Snap peas and snow peas are more forgiving than shell peas, and will hold longer in the refrigerator. If you blanch your shell peas, you can stop the conversion to starch and save the flavor, even if you aren’t eating the peas immediately.

Harvesting Snow Peas

Harvest snow peas when the pod reaches full size but the peas are still tiny. Once the peas start to fill out, the pods get chewy.

Harvesting Sugar Snap Peas

Harvest snap peas when the pods are full sized and filled with peas. Slightly overripe snap peas can be shelled and eaten like garden peas. The pea pod may look a little pale and fat, but the peas inside are still good. Remove the strings if needed, like you would on a string bean. Grasp the stem of the pea, snap it off, and pull the string off the side of the pea.

Harvesting Garden Peas (Shell Peas)

Harvest shell peas when the pea pod is full but before it is bulging or wrinkled. If we find overripe shell peas, we sort them into a different container and designate them as “soup peas”. They are used in dishes like vegetables soup where the fresh pea flavor isn’t as important.

For more information, check out the post “Harvesting Peas and Carrots, and How to Freeze Peas“.

Useful resources:

  • Green Arrow Pea Seeds
  • Super Sugar Snap Pea Seeds
  • Organic Inoculant for Peas, Beans and Lentils
  • Organic fertilizer
  • Trellis Netting (for tall peas)
  • Carrots Love Tomatoes
  • Great Garden Companions

Other Gardening Posts you May Find Helpful

  • Grow Tomatoes from Seed – Save Money, Get More Varieties
  • 5 Tips to Grow Bigger Broccoli Heads
  • Growing Onions from Seed – 5 Tips for a Great Harvest

Originally posted in 2017, updated in 2018.

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