Peas, as one of the first crops that can be sown outdoors in spring, are a harbinger of the growing season. There are climbing-type and bush-type peas, peas with colorful and interesting flowers, shelling peas and peas with edible pods. If you want to grow peas in your garden, here’s everything you need to know.
You can also download my How Do I Grow Peas? one-sheet and keep the free resource handy for your reference.
When I was a kid, the only peas I knew were the frozen kind — and I have to admit, I wasn’t a fan. But my kids enjoy peas fresh off the vine and eat them like candy. As a parent, you gotta love that! Home-grown peas can also be used in soups and stews or served blanched, sauteed, and stir-fried. They are just so tasty and versatile.
Pea plants (Pisum sativum) are nitrogen-fixing legumes that have few needs and rarely experience pest and disease issues. They thrive in cool weather, and in some climates, a second crop can be planted in late summer for a fall harvest, which makes peas a great candidate for succession planting.
When to Plant Peas
Peas should be planted as early as you can get away with in spring to ensure a harvest before summer heat does the plants in. Generally, this means planting one month before your area’s average last frost date. Alternatively, plant as soon as the ground is thawed and the soil can be worked. The seeds can germinate in soil anywhere from 45°–75°.
Two weeks after the first planting, follow it up with another row. Staggering planting times will space out and extend the harvest. The second round will also be a backup in case the first planting proves to be too early and fails. One or two more rounds of plantings may follow.
Where and How to Plant Peas
Peas require full sun to thrive — that’s six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily. Peas will grow in partial shade, but not as vigorously.
Peas enjoy rich, well-drained soil with a fairly neutral pH, between 6 and 7.5. Apply finished compost and work it into the first few inches of soil to give the pea seeds a strong start.
Peas do not respond well to transplanting, so seeds should be direct sown outdoors. They should germinate within 14 days. To speed up germination, seeds can be placed in warm (but not boiling) water and left for 24 hours to soak before planting.
Sow peas 1 to 2 inches deep. Space climbing-type peas 2 to 3 inches apart in any formation that fits your garden. Bush-type peas will need more room, so plant 2 to 3 inches apart in rows that are 18 to 24 inches apart.
Climbing-type peas will require something to grow up. The more the plants have to cling onto, the happier they will be. Peas will grow up a fence or lattice, and there are numerous trellis designs as well that can be store-bought or home-made. Chicken wire, cattle panel and even string on supports in a directly upright or A-shaped formation all work well.
Types & Varieties of Peas
Shelling peas — the type that comes in cans or frozen — have inedible pods. They are also known as English peas or garden peas.
Snow peas are the ones with flat, tender pods that are picked before maturity and barely-there peas. It’s the sweet, crunchy edible pod that’s really what this type of pea is all about. You often find snow peas in stir-fry dishes with other vegetables.
And then you have the best of both worlds with snap peas, also known as sugar peas or sugar snap peas, where both the pod and peas are equally delicious. These are the ones you pick from the vine and hope you don’t eat them all before making it to the kitchen.
Peas pods are most often a shade of green, with green or yellow peas, but there are purple varieties as well to give an edible garden an early splash of color.
Avalanche is a highly productive and sweet snow pea with dark green pods on compact, semi-leafless plants. While most pea varieties grow one pod per node, Avalanche grows two.
Canoe is a shelling pea with a dozen or so peas per boat-shaped pod. It matures in 70 days.
Cascadia is a snap pea variety designed for the Northwest. The short vines — just 32 inches — yield an abundance of dark green 3½-inch juicy, sweet pods.
Lincoln is an heirloom shelling pea that matures in 70 days and is known for being sweet with 3-foot vines and 6 to 8 peas per 3-inch pod.
Maestro is a shelling pea with 4.5-inch pods with between 9 and 12 peas per pod. They are ready to harvest in 61 days.
Mammoth Melting Sugar is a prolific heirloom vine-type snow pea that grows 4 feet tall for 4-to-6-inch pods in 68 days.
Oregon Giant is a large-podded snow pea with high resistance to Fusarium wilt, pea enation mosaic virus, and powdery mildew. Its days-to-maturity is 60 days.
Royal Snap II is a purple-podded snap pea with pods up to 3 inches and short vines up to 24 inches. It matures in 58 days.2
Sugar Ann is a sugar pea that matures in just 51 days. It is a bush-type with 20-inch white-flowered vines that may be grown with or without support.
Wando is a garden pea that is more tolerant of heat than the typical pea. It grows on vines 2 to 3 feet tall and matures in 68 days.
Water infrequently, but deep. An inch of water a week is the goal. If it has rained any less than an inch in a week’s time, make up the difference with supplemental irrigation. Water under the foliage, right at ground level. (Overhead watering leaves the fruit and foliage wet, which invites disease.)
A 2-inch layer of organic mulch such as shredded leaves or straw will help keep the soil cool and moist.
For a summer-planted crop, water even more frequently to reduce stress on the plants while temperatures are still warm.
Peas, like all legumes, produce their own nitrogen with the help of bacteria. Therefore, peas don’t require supplemental fertilizer, but they do enjoy rich, biologically diverse soil.
Applying compost at planting time increases microbial activity in the soil. When planting in poor soil or in a new garden, peas can also be treated with an inoculant to increase the presence of nitrogen-fixing bacteria on roots for more vigorous plants.
Pea Pests & Diseases
Peas are low-maintenance when it comes to pest and disease care. The diseases that do arise, like Fusarium wilt or mosaic virus, may stunt growth but rarely kill plants before heat or a hard frost does.
The most common problem is powdery mildew, a fungal disease that can affect pea pods and foliage. Proper spacing of plants to provide air circulation can stop powdery mildew from becoming an issue. A solution of baking soda or diluted milk can slow the spread or be used as a preventative measure, but it cannot eliminate powdery mildew. (Read my comprehensive guide to powdery mildew control for more.) If powdery mildew is a consistent problem, choose a resistant variety.
Take note of the days to maturity at planting time and set a reminder. Peas should be picked promptly for peak sweetness. Left on the vine too long, they will lose flavor and the pods will become stringy. After that first harvest, the vines will continue to produce until the summer heat becomes too much for them, or in the case of a fall crop, when a hard frost kills them.
Shelling peas are ready to harvest once the pods have grown to their full length and have plumped up, but before the peas start to bulge.
For snow peas, watch the pod length to determine when they are ready. Pick before the peas inside develop much.
Snap peas should be picked when the pods and peas are full and plump. Pick a pod and bend it in half. If it snaps, they’re ready.
Though peas are best enjoyed fresh, if refrigerated right away after picking, they will last up to a week.
What are your secrets to successfully grow peas? Let us know in the comments below.
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Links & Resources
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joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Three popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.
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