The peanut is a warm-weather perennial vegetable that requires 120 to 130 frost-free days to reach harvest. Sow peanuts in the garden 3 to 4 weeks after the average last frost date in spring, when the soil has warmed to at least 65°F. To get a head start on the season start peanuts indoor 5 to 8 weeks before transplanting seedlings outdoors.
Description. The peanut is a tender perennial usually grown as an annual, a member of the legume family. The peanut plant grows from 6 to 30 inches tall, depending on the type; some are upright and erect in habit, others are more spreading. Plants form two sets of opposite leaves on each stem and yellow, sweet-pea-like, self-pollinating flowers. The flowers occur on elongated, pea-like stems just above the soil and after pollination, they dip and push into the ground 1 to 3 inches to develop underground seed ends called pegs or peduncles; these are the seed pods we call peanuts.
Types of Peanuts
There are four basic types of peanuts:
- Runner. Runner type has uniform medium-sized seeds, usually two seeds per pod, growing from a low bush. Runner types are ready for harvest 130 to 150 days from planting. The uniform sizes of the seed make these a good choice for roasting (often used as beer nuts) and peanut butter. Runner types are grown in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas.
- Spanish. Spanish type has small, roundish seeds covered with reddish-brown skin, growing on a low bush. Spanish types are ready to harvest 120 days from planting. The Spanish type peanut has high oil content and is used for oil, peanut butter, and snacks. Spanish type peanuts are commonly grown in Oklahoma, Texas, and South Africa.
- Virginia. Virginia type has the largest seed of the four peanut types; the seed is most often roasted. There are commonly two and sometimes three seeds per pod. The Virginia type peanut stands to 24 inches tall and spreads to 30 inches wide and is ready for harvest 130 to 150 days from harvest. Virginia type peanuts are mostly grown from southeastern Virginia into northeastern North Carolina.
- Valencia. Valencia type has three to six small, oval seeds crowded into each pod. Each seed is covered with a bright-red skin. Valencia peanuts are often roasted in-the-shell or boiled fresh and are often used in confection and cocktails. The plants grow to about 50 inches tall and spread about 30 inches; most of the pods are clustered around the base of the plant. The Valencia type is ready for harvest 95 to 100 days from planting. Most Valencia peanuts are grown in New Mexico.
Site. Plant peanuts in full sun. Peanuts grow best in loose, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. A sandy-loamy soil is best. Double-dig clay soil and add gypsum and aged compost. The soil must be loose so that the pegs can penetrate and grow. Peanuts prefer a soil pH of 5.8 to 6.2.
Planting time. Peanuts require at least 120 frost-free days to reach harvest. Sow peanuts in the garden 3 to 4 weeks after the average last frost date in spring, when the soil has warmed to at least 65°F. To get a head start on the season start peanuts indoor 5 to 8 weeks before transplanting seedlings outdoors. Peanuts require nearly all of the growing days to have an air temperature greater than 85°F.
Planting and spacing. Sow peanuts in the whole shell or in the papery skin surrounding the seed. Sow seed 1½ to 3 inches deep; set seed 6 to 8 inches apart; thin successful plants or set transplants 18 inches apart. Plant peanuts in double rows to save space, staggering the seeds 18 inches apart. Single rows can be spaced 12 to 24 inches apart. When the plants are 12 inches tall, mound earth up around the base of the plant so that faded flowers can set pegs down into the hill. For a head start on the season, start peanuts indoors in individual biodegradable peat or paper pots which can be set whole into the garden.
More tips at Peanut Seed Starting Tips.
Yield. Grow 10 to 12 peanut plants per household member.
Companion plants. Beets, potatoes. Do not grow peanuts in the shadow of tall plants such as corn or pole beans.
Container growing. Peanuts can be grown in containers but allow enough room for flower stems to dip into the soil to set pegs; choose a container at least 18 inches across and at least 12 inches deep.
Caring for Peanuts
Water and feeding. Peanuts prefer regular, even watering. Keep the soil moist until the plants begin to flower, then waterless. Once plants are established, allow the soil to dry between waterings. Empty pods, sometimes called “blind” pods, are the result of too much rain or humidity at flowering time. Prepare planting beds with aged compost; peanuts, like other legumes, supply their own nitrogen.
Care. Mulch around peanuts to keep the soil surface from crusting and becoming hard; this will allow pegs to penetrate the soil. Keep the planting beds weed-free and cultivate lightly to keep the soil loose. Mulching around peanuts will make harvesting easier.
Pests. Peanuts have no other serious pest problems. Fence rodents out of the garden.
Diseases. Peanuts have no serious disease problems.
Harvesting and Storing Peanuts
Harvest. Peanuts will be ready for harvest when the leaves turn yellow and begin to wither, usually 120 to 150 days after planting. Lift pods with a garden fork, pulling up the whole plant. Shake away loose soil and hang the whole plant to dry for about two weeks in a warm, dry place. Seeds can be removed when the hulls are completely dry.
Storing and preserving. Raw, unshelled peanuts can be kept in a dry, dark, well-ventilated place for up to 3 months. Dried shelled peanuts can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months. Shelled peanuts can be sprouted, frozen, or used for peanut butter, or roasted for snacks.
Peanut Varieties to Grow
- Runner (130-150 days): ‘Florunner'; ‘Southern Runner'.
- Spanish (120 days): ‘Early Spanish'; ‘Pronto'; ‘Star Spanish'.
- Virginia (130-150 days): ‘Carwile's Virginia'; ‘Jumbo'.
- Valencia (95-120 days); ‘Georgia Red'; ‘Tennessee Red'; ‘Valencia A'.
Common name. Peanut
Botanical name. Arachis hypogaea
Origin. South America