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How to Grow Peanuts: The Complete Guide | Almanac.com

How to Grow Peanuts: The Complete Guide

Harvesting Peanuts
Photo Credit
Arpho/Shutterstock
Botanical Name
Arachis hypogaea
Plant Type
Sun Exposure
Bloom Time
Flower Color
Hardiness Zone

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Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Peanuts

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We “dig” the fresh taste of homegrown peanuts. Not only are they nutritious legumes, but also peanuts fix the soil! Short-season peanuts can even be grown in northern climates. Learn how to plant, grow, and harvest peanuts.

About the Peanut Plant

People are often surprised to learn that peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) are not nuts at all. Actually, they are legumes related to peas and beans. The peanut plant is unique because its flowers grow above ground, yet the “fruit” (peanuts) grow below ground.  

Peanuts, which originated in South America, have a long growing season. Depending on the variety, between 100 and 140 frost-free days are required. Therefore, they tend to be grown in the southeastern U.S. (especially Georgia). Still, some peanut varieties (with shorter growing seasons) thrive as far north as southern Canada. 

Peanut plants look like small bushes with yellow, pea-like flowers that self-pollinate. Once fertilized, the delicate petals fall away. Then flower stalks (“pegs”) grow longer and bend toward the earth, pushing the flower’s ovary or pistil into the soil one or two inches. While underground, the ovary at the tip of each stalk enlarges to form a peanut pod. Once all the peanut pods are mature, they are lifted out of the ground.

Peanut plants

Planting

Peanuts grow in loose, deep, sandy soil.  In the spring, till the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches. Till in compost or organic matter, but break up any clods and ensure the soil is loose and light. Peanuts prefer neutral to slightly alkaline soil pH (between 5.8 and 6.2). If your soil is too acidic, you’ll need to add lime or the quality of your peanuts will suffer.

When to Plant Peanuts

  • Traditionally, they are planted a few weeks after the average last frost date (in April or May) when the soil is warm and moist—or when soil temperatures reach 65° to 70°F. They are often dug up anytime after the first of September.
  • The trick to raising them in the North is to choose an early-maturing variety such as “Early Spanish” (100 days) and plant them on a south-facing slope, if possible. You could also get a head start to the season by sowing peanuts indoors for 5 to 8 weeks before transplanting outside.

Where to Plant Peanuts

  • It’s important to select a site that receives full sun.
  • Plastic row covers are recommended to protect young plants from spring frosts. 

How to Plant Peanuts

  • To grow peanuts, you must start with fresh, raw, uncooked peanuts still in their shells.
  • To plant outside, place the peanut seeds two inches deep. If sowing in rows, sow five shells per foot. Space the rows at least 20 inches apart.  
  • For those starting early inside, fill a large, four-inch-deep plastic bowl 2/3 full of moist potting soil. Shell four peanuts and place them on top of the soil; then cover with one inch of soil. Plants will sprout quickly. Transplant seedlings outside after the threat of frost has passed.
Growing

Caring for Peanut Plants

  • Water is critical for peanut production. Keep the soil moist after planting to ensure uniform germination. Water at soil level, and do not get the leaves wet. 
  • Peanuts do not need fertilization (and can get fertilization burn). However, it’s recommended to inoculate peanut seeds when planting with a bacterial inoculant found at seed stores. 
  • After planting, the plant will germinate in 5 to 10 days. When the plants are six inches high, carefully cultivate around them to loosen the soil so the pegs will penetrate it easily. Then, hill them like potatoes and mulch with two inches of straw or grass clippings.
  • The plant will continue to grow quite slowly for the first 40 days. It should flower in 25 to 40 days.
  • Then, it’s critical to water the plant during the time when the pegs enter the soil (60 to 110 days) and pods develop. But stop watering 10 days to two weeks before harvest.
Harvesting

Based on your variety’s growing season length, check for maturity about 15 days before the predicted harvest date. Harvesting occurs often in September and October.

The first indicator is to see some yellowing of the leaves. But the best way is to dig up a plant or two with a spading fork. Break the pods open and see if they’ve filled the pod completely, and if the shell is thin. 

Peanuts

It’s best to harvest before the plants flop over, or your peanuts could rot in the soil. 

  • Take a big spading fork, loosen the soil around the plants, and gently lift them out so the pods are still attached.
  • Carefully shake off the loose soil from the plants and pods. Then let the pods dry in the Sun for about a week.
  • After a week or so, remove all the pods and spread them out in a cool, dry area for a few more weeks. Avoid humid areas or the peanuts could rot.
  • Store the peanuts in loosely woven containers or hang them in a cold, dry area away from rodents.
  • The “nut” can be enjoyed raw, roasted, or boiled!
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Wit and Wisdom

Did You Know: It takes about 540 peanuts to make a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter.

Whether eaten raw, roasted, or spread on bread, peanuts are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They have no cholesterol and contain more protein than many meats.

Peanuts are thought to have originated in South America, where Peruvian Indians cultivated them at least 3,500 years ago. Besides valuing peanuts as food, the Peruvians considered them a status symbol. They even used them as money—which isn’t surprising when you consider how many of us still think we are working for peanuts.

Ever wondered where popcorn comes from? It’s also a seed plant! See our growing tips for popcorn.

Pests/Diseases

Leaf-feeders chew on the leaves above the ground. In addition, black spots indicate a leaf spot disease. Below the ground are soil insects.  

In general, diseases can be avoided by buying resistant varieties, practicing crop rotation (don’t plant in the same bed as legumes from the prior year), keeping water off the leaves, and using fungicides when necessary.

Cooking Notes

Roast peanuts to perfection by baking shelled or unshelled in a 350°F oven for 20 minutes.

About The Author

George and Becky Lohmiller

George and Becky Lohmiller shared their gardening knowledge and enthusiasm with Almanac readers for more than 15 years, writing Farmer’s Calendar essays and gardening articles in previous editions of The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Read More from George and Becky Lohmiller

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