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How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Peas

How to Grow Peas
Grow peas in garden

Peas are easy to grow. And, there are many kinds of peas to choose from. Garden peas–or English peas as they are sometimes called–are available in both bush and climbing varieties. They are eaten after being shelled. Snap and snow peas have edible pods. Snap peas are full, sweet, and crunchy–and can be eaten pod and all or shelled. Snow peas are flat, sweet, and crunchy and are eaten whole, never shelled.

Generally, peas must be grown between the time when the ground is workable and the heat of summer. For the most part peas as a spring crop in the home garden. Some home gardeners try to utilize the coolness of autumn by making late sowings, but a successful fall crop is not a sure bet. The fact that peas are available year-round in grocery stores is due to the fact that somewhere there is always a period of a few cool weeks in which to grow them.

Tall peas–called climbing or pole peas–mature in about 60 to 80 days. Low bushy types mature in about 55 days. Pole peas grow 3 to 6 feet tall and need a pole, trellis, fence, or net to climb. (‘Lincoln’ and ‘Alderman’ are two pole peas to try.) Bush peas grow 1 to 3 feet tall and are quicker to harvest than pole types, but bear fewer pods.

Snow peas are picked before the seeds inside begin to form bumps. These peas can be picked at any stage and can be eaten raw or quickly cooked. There are both bush and climbing varieties. These peas have only half the calories of English peas. Finally, snap peas combine the qualities of English peas and snow peas. They can be eaten at any stage of development–whole or shelled, raw or cooked. They grow best with some support.

Here is your complete guide to growing peas.

Basics to Know About Peas

  • Common name. Pea, garden pea, green pea, sugar pea, English pea snow pea
  • Botanical name. Pisum sativum
  • Family: Leguminosae (other legumes include beans, soybeans, chickbeans, peanuts, and lentils)
  • Origin: Europe, Near East
  • 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 peas, also called English peas, and snap peas, also called sugar peas, are grown for the maturing seeds in the pods. These are harvested when pods are 4 to 6 inches (10-15cm) long and pods are bulging but before the pods begin to dry.
  • Snap or sugar and snow peas are grown for their edible pods. These are harvested when pods are 1½ to 2½ inches (4-6mm) long and the peas inside are barely visible.
  • Peas are commonly a cool-season crop that must mature before hot weather arrives. The ideal growing temperature for peas is 55°F to 70°F (13-21°C). (That said there are a few varieties that can be grown in very warm weather and in regions where peas are not usually grown.)
  • Sow peas in the garden in early spring about 6 weeks before the average last frost date in spring or as soon as the soil can be worked.

Three Types of Peas

There are three types of peas to grow—shelling, snow, and snap.

  • Snap peas can be eaten when they are young like snow peas or the pea seeds can be allowed to enlarge; snap peas are then eaten pod and all when they are meatier. Snap peas can be eaten raw or lightly steamed. Snap peas grow to bush size, 2 to 3 feet (61-91cm) tall.
  • Shelling peas are the classic garden pea. There are early, mid-season, and late varieties; there are bush and tall types. Harvest shelling peas when the pods are full of round seeds. Petit pois are varieties of shelling peas that produce small pods, just 2 or 3 inches (5-7.5cm) long.
  • Snow peas are not shelled; they are served raw or lightly stir-fried. The pods will be 2 to 3 inches long (5-7.5cm) with tiny seeds that barely bulge in the pod. There are both bush and tall varieties. Snow peas sometimes have fibrous strings that must be removed.

Good Products for Growing Your Garden

Pea seedlings growing
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.

Where to Plant Peas

  • Plant peas in full sun or partial shade.
  • 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.
  • Peas prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8. Do a soil test before planting.
  • Grow peas supported by poles, a trellis, or a fence.

Peas Planting Time

  • Peas are a cool-season crop that must mature before the weather gets warm.
  • Peas like cool nights and bright, cool days.
  • The ideal germination soil temperature is 45° to 75°F.
  • At 75°F, peas seed germination takes 5 to 7 days. Use an inoculant available form a garden center when planting in chilly soil or clay soils.
  • The ideal growing temperature for peas is 55°F to 70°F (13-21°C).
  • Sow peas in the garden 6 weeks before the average last frost date in spring or as soon as the soil can be worked. Peas can be planted in spring as soon as the ground is not frozen.
  • If you live in a mild-winter region, sow peas so that they come to harvest when the temperature is greater than 55°F (13°C).
  • In the South, plant peas in early spring or the fall. In more moderate zones, plant in late summer to get a fall rop.
  • Where summers are cool, plant succession crops every 3 to 4 weeks.

Round Peas and Wrinkled Peas

  • For growing in winter, sow round, not wrinkled, pea seeds.
  • Round seeds can withstand cold and wet soil better than wrinkled seeds.
  • Wrinkled seeded peas are sweeter.
  • Round pea varieties are sometimes called “earlies”–for an early or quick harvest. For an early harvest, look for pea varieties that are ready for harvest in 55 to 60 days.

Planting and Spacing Peas

  • Sow pea seed 2 inches (5cm) deep, 2 to 3 inches (5-7cm) apart in double rows supported by a trellis, netting, or wire or string supports between two poles for bush varieties.
  • Sow two seeds in each hole. Thin plants to 4 inches (10cm) apart.
  • Pea seeds can also be planted in a long trench; use the handle or the corner of your hoe to make the trench. Rake soil over the seeds once they are planted.
  • To speed germination, soak seeds in a flat dish of water; spread the seeds in the flat dish and then add enough water to come halfway up the pea seeds. Soak seed for 4 to 6 hours before sowing.
  • Space rows 18 to 24 inches (46-61cm) apart.
  • Bush peas can be planted close together in wide rows; they will hold each other up. Dense planting is recommended in warming growing regions; the dense mass will keep all cool.
  • Sow pole or vine varieties in a circle around a pole or stake.
  • Sow seed 8 to 10 inches (20-25cm) from the pole and thin to the 8 strongest plants.
  • Peas Yield. Plant 30 plants per household member.

More tips: Peas Seed Starting Tips.

Bush Pea Planting Suggestion

  • Bush peas are best planted in wide rows using intensive planting or equidsitant planting methods. Planted equidistant in wide rows, bush peas will support each other.
  • For the first planting of bush peas, make drills about 2 inches keep in light sandy soil, about 1 inch deep in heavy clay soil. Later plantings should be in drills about twice this depth but only half filled at first. As the plants grow the trench is gradually filled up.
  • Scatter seed freely in the drill, not less than an inch apart. As the plants come up they can be thinned so that the final plants are 2 to 3 inches apart.

Pole Pea Planting Suggestion

  • Space the rows of tall pea varieties about 30 to 36 inches apart and sow seeds in double rows with in between for supports.
  • Make two parallel drills or trenches about 6 inches apart and about 4 inches deep.
  • Plant seeds 2.5 inches apart in each drill. Cover the seeds with only enough soil to half fill the drills or ternch. Save the rest of the soil to support the plants once they come up.
  • The space between double rows can be use for brush or wires between posts to support the tall plants.

Companion Plants for Peas

  • Good companion plants for beans, carrots, corn, cucumbers, radishes, and turnips.
  • Do not plant next to garlic, onions, or potatoes.

Container Growing Peas

  • Peas should be included in any cool-season container garden.
  • Peas will grow in a container at least 8 inches (20cm) deep. The number of plants required to produce a reasonable crop may not justify the effort.
  • Plant 12 seeds per 12-inch pot or 15 seeds per square foot box.
  • Use a commercial organic potting soil when growing peas in containers.
Peas growing on supports
Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of planting. Side dress plants with aged compost at midseason.

Watering for 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.

Feeding Peas

  • Add aged manure and aged compost to planting beds in advance of planting.
  • Side dress plants with aged compost at midseason.
  • Cultivate gently around peas to avoid harming the fragile roots.

Pea Care

  • Weeds will complete with peas for nutrients and soil moisture. Keep the pea patch weeded. Peas have a shallow root system, hand pull weeds of use shallow cultivation, especially around young plants.
  • Mulch around peas with aged compost to keep down weeds and conserve soil moisture.
  • Mound soil up around the base of peas to help support the plants. Bush peas are best supported by mounding soil or spacing plants close together.

More growing tips at: Pea Growing Tips.

Supporting Tall Peas

  • Provide a trellis or pole to support the pea vines.
  • Peas can be trained up string or wire attached to overhead support.
  • Place supports at planting time. Twiggy brush with the bark on is often used. It sould be 4 to 5 feet tall after the stems are stuck in the ground.
  • Ordinary chicken wire 4 to 5 feet high can be used. Stretch it as tightly as possible between stout post. After harvest the wire can be cleaned, rolled, and stored.
  • Peas can be grown without support; however, they will grow and produce much better with support.

Pea Pollination and Seed Saving.

  • Peas are self-fertile and insect-pollinated.
  • To save seed, let pea pods stay on the vine until they are well developed. Dry and shell out the pod.
  • Pea seeds are viable for 3 to 4 years.

Pea 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.
  • Cutworms can attack young seedlings; place low cylinders around plants to exclude cutworms.

Pea 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.
  • Control measures include long rotations with unrelated crops, extra-early planting, well-draiend soil, planting treated seed.

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

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

Harvesting Peas

  • Peas will be ready for harvest 55 to 80 days from sowing depending on the variety. Pea seedlings can be harvested as microgreens.
  • Peas flower then they soon make pods. Start harvesting as soon as the pods are filled out.
  • 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.
  • Timing of harvest is important: if you pick too soon the plant’s efforts will be thwarted, but if you wait a few days too many, the peas will become yellow and hard.
  • Withered and yellowed pods can be used for dried peas.
  • Pick sugar and snow peas when pods are 1½ to 2½ inches (4-6mm) long and peas are just barely visible within the pods.
  • Pick pea pods gently so as not to break the plant or pull out the roots. Hold the plant in one hand as you pull the pods with the other.
  • 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.
  • Peas will continue to produce if you keep the well watered and well picked, every other day or so.
  • Peas have lots of natural sugars that start to turn to starch as soon as they are picked. Use peas fresh or dry or freeze them as soon a possible.
  • Don’t shell peas until just 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.
  • Dry peas on the vine until the leaves have turned color. Then pick the pods and shell out the peas. They can finish drying in an airy place out of the sun.
  • Freeze peas after blanching them in boiling water then dunking them in cold water.
  • Can peas using the raw-pack or hot-pack process; tender, young peas are best frozen.
  • 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.

Peas in the Kitchen

  • Shelled garden peas can be served raw or cooked.
  • Snow peas can be served raw or cooked.
  • Sugar snap peas can be served whole raw or only briefly cooked to retain their crispness.
  • Never pick peas more than an hour or two before cooking.
  • Don’t wash peas before cooking or preserving. Just shell them out of the clean pods.
  • Peas can be steamed, sauteed, or included in stir fry.
  • Fresh peas are always the most flavorful.

Peas Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the best way to support peas?

A: Netting made just for supporting peas is at the garden center. Or use chicken wire stapled to stakes or twine strong between horizontal poles.

Q: Can I grow peas in hot summer southern regions?

A: You will have the best success growing peas as a fall crop in hot summer regions. Peas can grow anywhere when there are 60 to 70 mild, cool weather days.

Q: When should I pick peas?

A: The garden peas havest season begins when the pods are swollen and still shiny. Sugar pod peas can be picked with the pods fill out but before individual peas begin to show in the pod. Snow peas are best picked when about 3 inches long. Pole and snow peas on the same plant will be ready at different time; keep picking to keep the plant productive.

Q: Are peas prone to disease?

A: In damp climates, peas are susceptible to powdery midlew. Planting for good air circulation will slow diseases in damp climates.

Varieties of Peas to Grow

• Garden, English, and snap peas: ‘Alaska’ (52-58 days); ‘Alderman’ (75 days); ‘Bounty’ (61 days); ‘Cascadia’ (58 days); ‘Freezonian’ (60 days); ‘Frosty’ (64 days); ‘Green Arrow’ (62-100 days); ‘Lincoln’ (66 days); ‘Little Marve’l (62 days); ‘Maestro’ (57-61 days); ‘Novella’ (57 days); ‘Olympia’ (60-62 days); ‘Oregon Pioneer’ (61 days); ‘Oregon Trail’ (69 days); ‘Patriot’ (65 days); ‘Petit Provencal’ (58 days); ‘Spring Knight’ (60 days); ‘Tall Telephone’ (75 days); ‘Thomas Laxton’ (65 days); ‘Utrillo’ (71 days); ‘Wando’ (75 days).

• Sugar and snow peas: ‘Carouby De Maussane’ (55-65 days); ‘Chinese Snow’ (65 days); ‘Dwarf Gray Sugar’ (65 days); ‘Little Sweetie’ (60 days); ‘Mammoth Melting Sugar’ (69 days); ‘Mega’ (60 days); ‘Norli’ (50-58 days); ‘Oregon Giant’ (60 days); ‘Oregon Sugar Pod’ (65 days); ‘Snowbird’ (58 days); ‘Sugar Ann’ (58 days); ‘Sugar Bon’ (57 days); ‘Sugar Mel’ (60-60 days); ‘Sugar Snap’ (62-70 days); ‘Sweet Snap’ (66 days)

More Pea Picking Tips.

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Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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