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How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Southern Peas

Southern peas black eyed1
Southern peas growing up a net trellis; the pods are more beanlike than pealike.
Southern peas growing up a net trellis; the pods are more beanlike than pealike.

Southern peas are tender bushy or vining annuals. Southern peas are also called black-eyed peas, crowder peas, and yard-long beans. Southern peas are sometimes called cowpeas or field peas.

Southern peas are more beanlike than pealike. The best known Southern pea is the blackeyed pea. It is white with a distinctive black mark at the hilum or seed scar where the seed attaches to the pod that makes it look like an eye. Other types of Southern peas are: the crowder pea, so named because the seeds seem to be crowded into their pod; cream or conch peas; and the purple-hull pea, named for the color of their pod. Southern peas are also called cowpeas or field peas because they are sometimes fed to livestock or used as green manure.

Other subspecies of the Southern pea include a very long-podded subspecies (sesquipedalis) known as asparagus bean, snake bean, or yard-long bean and an oblong-seeded subspecies (cylindrical) known as catjang pea or Indian cowpea

Here is your complete guide to growing southern peas.

Southern Peas Quick Growing Tips

  • Sow Southern peas in the garden 4 weeks after the last average frost date in spring.
  • For an early start, sow Southern peas indoors 6 weeks before you plan to transplant them into the garden.
  • Sow succession crops every 2 weeks for a continuous harvest.
  • Southern peas require 60 to 90 days to reach harvest.
  • Southern peas yield: plant 30 Southern pea plants for each household member.
grow southern peas
Southern peas prefer warm to hot weather, with air temperatures between 70° and 95°F–most days exceeding 85°F.

Where to Plant Southern Peas

  • Plant Southern peas in full sun; they will tolerate partial shade.
  • Grow Southern peas in loose, well-drained soil. Southern peas prefer sandy, loamy soil. Soils rich in organic matter will increase productivity, but Southern peas, like other legumes, are often planted to help improve poor soil.
  • Add aged compost to growing beds at planting time.
  • Southern peas prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5.

Southern Peas Planting Time

  • Sow Southern peas 4 weeks after the last average frost date in spring when the soil has warmed to at least 60°F (16°C).
  • Southern peas prefer warm to hot weather, with air temperatures between 70° and 95°F (21-32°C)–most days exceeding 85°F (29°C).
  • Southern peas require 60 to 90 frost-free days to reach harvest.
  • For an early start, sow Southern peas indoors 6 weeks before you plan to transplant them into the garden.
  • Sow southern peas for later transplanting in biodegradable peat or paper pots that can be set whole into the garden; generally, Southern peas do not transplant well. Sow succession crops every 2 to 4 weeks.

Planting and Spacing Southern Peas

  • Sow Southern peas ½ to 1 inch (2.5cm) deep, space plants 2 inches apart later thinning successful seedlings to 4 inches apart (25cm). Space rows 3 feet (.9m) apart.
  • Raise rows 6 to 8 inches (15-20cm) above the garden; Southern peas grow best in well-warmed soil.
  • Grow Southern peas up stakes, trellises, or wire supports strung between stakes.

Southern Peas Companion Plants

  • Grow Southern peas with beans, carrots, corn, cucumbers, radishes, and turnips.
  • Do not plant Southern peas with garlic, onions, or potatoes.

Container Growing Southern Peas

  • Southern peas can be grown in containers, but growing peas in a container may not be practical because many plants are required to produce a reasonable crop.
  • Grow Southern peas in containers 12 inches deep.
southern peas in rows
Set supports in place at planting time.

Water and feeding Southern Peas

  • Keep the soil moist; do not let Southern peas dry out.
  • Water at the base of plants; overhead watering may cause flowers or small pods to fall off and reduce the yield.
  • Add aged compost to growing beds at planting time. Side dress Southern peas with compost tea at midseason.
  • Too much nitrogen will prevent blossoms from setting pods.

Southern Peas Care

  • Set supports in place at planting time.

Southern Peas Pests

  • Southern peas can be attacked by bean beetles, aphids, spider mites, and leafhoppers.
  • Control aphids and beetles by handpicking or hosing them off plants or pinch out aphid-infested vegetation.
  • Plants infested with spider mites should be removed and placed in a paper bag and put in the garbage before they spread to other plants.

Southern Peas Diseases

  • Southern peas are susceptible to anthracnose, rust, mildews, mosaic, and wilt.
  • Plant disease-resistant varieties when possible.
  • Keep the garden clean and free of debris.
  • Do not work with plants when they are wet to avoid spreading fungal spores.
  • Remove and destroy diseased plants before healthy plants are infected.

Harvesting Storing Southern Peas

  • Southern peas can be eaten fresh or dried.
  • For fresh use harvest Southern peas when pods are just bulging but still young and tender. The entire pod can be eaten or the pods can be shucked and the seeds or peas eaten after rinsing.
  • Dried Southern peas can be harvested after the pods have matured, turned yellow or brown, and dried but before the pods have split open.
  • Southern peas for fresh use will be ready for harvest in 60 to 70 days, for dry use in 90 or more days.
Uncooked black-eyed peas.
Uncooked black-eyed peas.

Storing and Preserving Southern Peas

  • Fresh, green-podded Southern peas can be stored unshelled in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Green-shelled peas can be blanched, cooled in an ice-water bath, and stored in the freezer for up to 1 year.
  • Dried shelled Southern peas can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months.

Southern Peas Varieties to Grow

  • Blackeyed peas: ‘Big Boy’ (60 days); ‘Blackeyed Southern Peas’ (60-85 days); ‘California Blackeye’ (75 days); ‘California Blackeye No. 5’ (75 days); ‘Magnolia’ (70 days); ‘Queen Anne’ (68 days).
  • Crowder peas: ‘Brown Crowder’ (65 days); ‘Calico Crowder’ (79 days); ‘Colossus’ (85 days); ‘Knuckle Purple Hull’ (75 days); ‘Mississippi Purple Hull’ (70 days); ‘Mississippi Silver’ (70 days); ‘Pinkeye Purple Hull’ (50-85 days).
  • Cream peas: ‘Cream’ (70 days); ‘Running Conch’ (95 days); ‘Zipper Cream’ (70 days).
  • Cowpeas: ‘Lady’ (60 days); ‘Queen Anne’ (60 days).

About Southern Peas

  • Common name. Pea, southern pea, black-eyed pea, cowpea, crowder pea
  • Botanical name. Vigna unguiculata subsp. unguiculata
  • Origin. Asia


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. has more than 10 million visitors each year.


Comments are closed.
    • Pole variety peas are more likely to produce a second crop. That is more likely if you are harvesting on a regular basis. If you are growing a bush variety of pea or bean, one crop over 2 to 3 weeks is all you are likely to get. If you see any flowers, another crops is on the way. If you are growing southern peas and you have 8 to 10 weeks of warm weather still to come, replant now for an autumn crop.

  1. I planted what I thought was only purple Hull peas, but got mostly zipper peas this year. All but one of my few purple hull pea plants died. My biggest pest is I think a type of bird ( I’ve not seen in action) that expertly plucks Each pea out of their pods leaving the pod looking almost in tact.

  2. Looking for the type of field peas that are tiny, reddish brown or brown and oblong. Sold in cans at the store as field peas. Served in small southern cafes. They are really tiny, but tasty. They are not crowders or black eyes. They are maybe 1/4″ tall by 1/8″ wide? Looking for seed for them, Thanks!

    • Whipperwool is an heirloom cowpea/southern pea that originated in Africa. It is drought-tolerant and will grow in almost all soils. Five-foot vines produce a heavy yield of 7-8″ green pods with a purple tinge. Mature seeds are small and light brown with black speckles. Seeds are good eaten green or dried.

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