How to Grow Peas

Sally Painter
peas in pod

Peas are easy to grow once you learn how much sunlight and water they require. Peas grow in cool temperatures, giving this vegetable a short growing season. Select your favorite pea variety and add this delicious vegetable to your annual garden plan.

Peas Are Legumes

Peas are the small, round green beans that grow inside the pod of the vine Pisum sativum. In some varieties, the pod is edible as well as the pea. Peas are legumes, which means they are often grown as a 'cover crop' to fix nitrogen in the soil and make it more fertile for later plants.

Ancient Crops of Peas

People have been eating peas for a very long time. They have been found on archaeological sites in the Near East that date back almost 10,000 years. They domesticated shortly after wheat and barley, approximately 7800 B.C.E.

Choose Your Favorite Pea Variety

Today, gardeners can choose from many varieties. There are very early, smooth-skinned peas, early, middle-, and late-season wrinkle-skinned ones, and even a few heat-resistant varieties that can be grown into early summer. Some are dwarf or bush peas, and climbing or vine peas. There is also the 'snow-pea' type, which is grown for its delicious pods, and which also come in tall or short varieties.

First Vegetable of Season to Harvest

These are all "green peas" or "English peas" grown for immediate consumption, not the varieties grown to be dried. They are cool-weather crops. Peas are probably the first vegetable you will harvest from your garden, and the entire crop will be over in time to plant something else in that space.

Learn How to Grow Peas

There are several things you need to consider before you sow your first pea seed. The right growing conditions, such as climate, soil, water, and sunlight determine how well your crop will grow and how much of a harvest you can expect.

Pea seedlings

Growing Days

The number of days it takes for a pea to harvest is usually about 60 days. You can check the seed packet for the exact number of days.

Climate

Peas are cool-weather plants. If the temperatures are consistently above 70°F, the plants will turn brown and idea. Peas stop producing when the temperatures reach 80°F or higher.

  • Seeds tolerate frost well, which makes them an ideal spring crop.
  • Mature plants do not tolerate frost, so a fall harvest in areas with short growing seasons is unlikely.
  • In warm climates, fall and even winter planting is fine.

Sun

Some pea varieties require full sunlight while other peas will grow in partly shaded locations. You should always check the light requirements on the seed packet before designating a growing area for peas in your garden.

Water

The soil should be kept evenly moist but not soggy. Don't mulch spring crops until the plants are about six inches tall, or you will prevent the soil from warming up. Fall crops can be mulched lightly at planting, and more mulch can be added when the plants are about two inches tall.

Soil

Peas prefer to grow in light, sandy loam although they can grow in other types of soil. The soil should hold moisture without becoming waterlogged. Good drainage is important since the seeds and plants will rot if the soil is too wet.

  • Peas are "heavy feeders" while they are growing, so the soil should be very fertile.
  • They return nutrients to the soil through nitrogen fixation as they mature.
  • The soil pH should be 6.0 to 6.5; add lime if it is higher.
Girl & Grandma Planting Peas in Garden

Heavier Soils

Peas don't like heavy clay soil. Sandy soil is good for early planting because it warms up earlier, and if it's in a raised bed, it will warm even faster. Heavier soils are often good for later planting since the roots will stay cooler longer.

Cultivating Peas

You can prepare the soil before planting. According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, you can add compost prior to sowing seeds. It's also recommended that you amend the soil with a mixture of bonemeal and wood ash (potash).

Seeds Treated With Fungicide

Pea seed is often treated with a fungicide, a useful precaution as peas are prone to fungus diseases that can ruin the crop and remain in the soil for a long time. The bright pink color on the seeds is the fungicide. Be careful that children and pets don't eat them as ingested fungicide can be harmful.

treated seed

Succession Plantings

If you have a long cool growing season, you can plant several varieties with different maturing intervals, so you can pick peas over a longer time period. You can also plant seeds every week or so in early spring for a staggered harvest.

When to Sow Peas

You can sow peas anytime during the four to six weeks prior to the last frost in spring. You can also have a fall crop of peas although the growing season may be very short compared to spring plantings.

  • The soil temperature should be at least 45°F.
  • You can plant peas in the late summer and early fall. You need to sow seeds six to eight weeks prior to the first fall frost.
  • Some gardeners sow seed in the fall, leaving it to lie dormant through winter and sprout very early in the spring.
Green Pea sowing

Seed Depth and Spacing

Seeds should be planted one to two inches apart at a one-inch depth. In cold weather and wet soil, plant individual seeds one inch deep. You can just poke them in with your finger and pat the soil back over the hole. If you're planting in rows, space this 12 to 24 inches apart.

Planting in Drier Soil Conditions

In warmer weather and drier soil, make a trench about four inches deep. Water the soil thoroughly. Plant the seeds and cover them with about two inches of soil. As the seedlings go, you can leave the trench only partly filled so that it catches water, or you can gradually fill it and mound some soil around each plant to keep the roots cool.

Simple Instructions on How to Grow Peas

Tall peas need support as they grow and even bush varieties will benefit from support. You can grow peas on a fence or trellis, or you can use pea sticks - well-branched sticks four or five feet tall thrust into the ground. The vines are quite delicate. Be careful not to step on them or move them around and weed carefully.

Mother and two boys harvesting peas in garden

Fertilizing Peas

If you prepared your soil there should be enough nutrients for the growing season. Some gardeners prefer to add a top dressing with a balanced fertilizer when the peas are about six inches tall.

Harvesting

Pick peas as soon as you can feel the round peas within the pod but the peas aren't hard. The pods are typically around three inches long. If you're not sure, open a pod and taste the peas. Pick them as early as you can because the sugar in the peas will turn to starch and they will lose their flavor if they're left on the vine too long. Pea vine produces from the bottom up, so look at the base of the vine for the first mature peas.

  • Edible-pod peas are harvested when the pods are full-sized but still flat, before the peas form.
  • Pick peas as soon as possible before eating. The sugar starts to turn to starch as soon as they are picked.
  • If green peas are past their peak, you can leave them on the vine to harden and dry. Then harvest them as you would dried peas.

Varieties to Grow

There are several delicious varieties of peas you can learn how to grow. Some are early varieties that do best in the sprint while others prefer the short growing season of fall.

Peasecods

Early Varieties

You want to include one or more early variety for your pea section. Plant a week apart for succession plantings.

  • Freezonian: This vine pea requires full sunlight and grows to around five feet tall with a 12 " to 15" spread.
  • Little Marvel: This heirloom pea is a bush plant and matures in 60 days.

Late Varieties

Many gardeners prefer to play a fall crop. You can select a variety that's popular for this late crop planting.

  • Alderman: A vining pea that reaches six to eight feet in height produces large pods with six to eight peas.

Heat-Tolerant Varieties

A few pea varieties can tolerate heat. Select these to produce a larger yield of peas during the growing season.

  • Lincoln: Plants reach 18" to 30" in height with four- to five-inch pod with six to nine peas. High yields.
  • Wando: Heat and drought resistant, this vining pea produces pods three to four inches with seven to nine pease.

Edible pods

Edible pods are best harvested while the pod is small for the sweetest taste. Peas are typically plump and sweet tasting.

  • Sugar Daddy: Developed over 25 years, this determinate pea (24" to 30" high) is disease resistant. It produces 2.5" to 3.5" pods.
  • Sugar Snap: This vining plant grows five to six feet high and produces three-inch stringless pea pods.
  • Sugar Ann: This dwarf snap pea plant grows 24" high and produces 2.5" pods.

Problems and Pests

There are many possible problems with peas, but often they flourish with no difficulties at all. Pea aphids and pea weevils can attack them. Dust the plants with rotenone. Mildew and root rot are possible. Fusarium wilt distorts the leaves and stunts the plants. Most problems can be avoided by rotating crops. If you suspect any viruses or fungi are present, destroy the plants after harvest instead of tilling them under. If you're sure the plants are healthy, turning them under at the end of the growing season will enrich the soil greatly.

Learning How to Grow Peas

Once you understand how to grow peas, you realize it is an easy crop to grow and harvest. When you plan for the short growing season, you can produce enough peas to freeze and can as well as enjoy fresh out of your garden.

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How to Grow Peas