Peas are easy to grow, nutritious, tasty, and available in various varieties. There are peas for shelling, and those with edible pods, like sugar snap and snow peas. All are delicious and require just a little bit of care when planting and growing for a successful harvest. In this article, I will show you how to plant, grow and harvest 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
- 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).
- 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.
Growing Season for Peas
Generally, peas must be grown between the time the ground is workable and the summer heat. For the most part, peas are 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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 will grow in a container that is at least 8 inches (20cm) deep.
- Plant 12 seeds per 12-inch pot or 15 seeds per square foot box.
- Use commercial organic potting soil when growing peas in containers.
Watering for Peas
Water deeply once a week. Never allow the soil to dry out totally or you'll drastically reduce pea production. The critical time for watering is when the plants are blossoming and producing pods. When pods are maturing in hot weather, water daily if needed to maintain pod quality.
- 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.
- Weeds will compete with peas for nutrients and soil moisture. Keep the pea patch weeded. Peas have a shallow root system, hand pull weeds, 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.
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 should 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 posts.
Pea Pollination and Seed Saving.
- Peas are self-fertile and insect-pollinated.
- To save seeds, 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.
Saving the seeds from peas is the same as the process I show below for saving bean seeds.
Common Pests that Attack Peas
- 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.
Common Diseases that Affect Peas
- Peas are susceptible to rot, wilt, blight, mosaic, and mildew.
- Fusarium Wilt: This fungal disease causes yellowing and stunting of older plants and yellowing, stunting and death to seedlings. The plant will exhibit signs of wilting frequently and the lower leaves will turn yellow and dry up.
- Pea Enation Mosaic Virus: This virus causes the plant to develop mosaic and chlorotic vein flecking. These flecks appear as clear windows in the leaves. Blister-like outgrowths also occur along the veins. Peas aphids cause the plant to be stunted and the pods distorted.
- Pea Leaf Roll Virus: Transmitted by aphids. The first symptom is the yellowing of the young growing tip, and the plant becomes stunted later. Flowers fail to set, and yield is affected.
- Powdery Mildew: First appears as white powdery spots on both sides of the leaves. It spreads over a large area of the leaves and stems. Pea pods will exhibit brownish spots. Reduced yield, shortened production times and little flavor are results of a severely infected plant.
How to Prevent Common Pea Problems
- Plant disease-resistant varieties and plant peas in well-drained soil to avoid root-rot disease.
- Do not touch the vines while the vine is wet.
- Remove and destroy diseased plants.
- Control measures include long rotations with unrelated crops, extra-early planting, well-drained soil, and planting treated seeds.
- Peas will be ready for harvest 55 to 80 days from sowing, depending on the variety.
- Peas flower then they soon make pods. Start harvesting when the pods are full.
- 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 are good to use 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. You can also use scissors to snip the pods from the plant.
- The sugar in peas begins converting to starch when the 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.
Storing and Preserving Peas
- Peas will keep in the refrigerator unshelled for up to one week.
- 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
- 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
- Serve snow peas or shelled garden peas raw or cooked.
- Serve sugar snap 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.
Now that you know How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Peas, it's time to start planting. If you still have questions, let me know in the comments section below or contact me in our private Facebook group.