Pea Planting

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Peas sowingWhen the soil in your garden warms to 45ºF (7ºC), you can plant peas—snap, snow, and shell.

Peas are tasty shelled from the pods and used raw in salads. You can steam peas as a vegetable, or cook them in soups and stews.

Peas prefer cool weather. They mature in about 60 days. So time your pea planting so your pea harvest comes before the weather turns warm. That means plant peas in late winter and very early spring (February and March in the northern hemisphere) in regions where there is seldom snow. In snowy winter regions, pea planting can start in mid spring (April in the northern hemisphere). As a general rule, peas can be planted six weeks before your last spring frost date.

Site. Peas also like full sun. The only reason to plant peas in part shade is if you live in a region where the weather turns hot quickly. Afternoon shade in hot and arid regions will give peas the cool air temperatures they prefer at harvest time. Peas do not do well when the daytime temperature rises above 80ºF (27ºC), The sugar levels of peas are higher in cool weather.

Soil. Peas prefer loose well drained soil that is rich in organic matter. If your soil is heavy—with clay—plant your peas in raised beds that have been amended with lots of compost to ensure good drainage. Raised beds also warm quicker in the spring. Peas planted in too cold or too wet soil may not germinate or could rot before they even sprout. If your soil is sandy, again amend your soil with plenty of organic matter and compost.

Planting. Plant dwarf or bush peas 1 inch deep and 1 inch apart in rows 2 feet apart. Plant vining types in double rows 8 to 10 inches on either side of 6′ tall stakes. Thin seedlings to 2 to 3 inches apart. Seeds started indoors should be planted out about 3 weeks after they are up.

Watering. Keep the soil moist but not overly wet. Peas will not germinate, grow, bloom, and the pods will not swell if the soil is dry. Stick your finger in the soil near your peas. If it is dry when you remove it, water. If it is glistening, the soil is too wet. If your finger is damp, the soil is just right.

Feeding. Peas grow best in soil rich in organic matter and compost. Peas and beans produce their own nitrogen, so there is little need to add manure to your soil.

Companions. Interplant peas with radishes, spinach, lettuce, or other cool-weather greens. In the late summer and fall, plant peas with corn, pole beans, or tomatoes that will shade them until the weather turns cool.

Pests. Watch for aphids, pea weevils, and thrips. Beneficial insects will control aphids and thrips. You a stream of water from the garden hose to knock these pests off the plant. Use floating row covers to control weevils. Avoid pest problems by rotating your crops. Don’t plant peas in the same spot more than once every five years.

Diseases. Plant disease resistant varieties and rotate crops every year to avoid diseases that live in the soil. Peas are susceptible to leaf spot or scab, blights and rots, fusarium wilt, powdery mildew, botrytis and molds, damping-off and mosaic virus. Good drainage will control root rot fungi. Powdery mildew may appear when the weather warms. sulfur dust applied early can control powdery mildew.

Harvest. Pick shelling peas when the pods are fully rounded. Pick snow peas when the pods are still flat and the seeds inside are still small. Pick snap peas when the pods are plump. Peas are usually ready for harvest about 3 weeks after the plant blossoms. For the best flavor, eat peas right away.

Shelling pea varities. The pods of shellin peas are not eaten. Varieties to choose are ‘Knight’, ‘Oregon Trail’ (a prolific producer), ‘Coral’, and ‘Green Arrow’. ‘Maestro’ and ‘Eclipse’ are good for warm regions. ‘Tall Telephone’ also called ‘Alderman’ grow to 5 feet and has long pods. ‘Alaska’ is a short-season variety. ‘Little Marvel’ and ‘Wando’ are heat tolerant.

Snap pea varieties. Choose ‘Sugar Ann’ a dwarf, early variety. ‘Super Sugar Snap’ is a pole type that is resistant to powdery mildew. ‘Cascadia’ which is resistant to enation (a disease characterized by bumps on the leaves and pods). ‘Sugar Pop’ and ‘Sugar Daddy’ are stringless varities.

Snow pea varieties. ‘Oregon Giant’ is disease resistant. ‘Oregon Sugar Pod 2’ is good in cool regions. ‘Dwarf White Sugar’ is good for stir frying.

The botanical name for peas is Pisum sativum.

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.

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