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Growing Peas: How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Peas | The Old Farmer's Almanac

How to Grow Peas: The Complete Guide

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Pixabay
Botanical Name
Pisum sativum
Plant Type
Sun Exposure
Bloom Time
Flower Color
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Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Peas

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The sweet taste of glorious garden-grown peas is nothing like what you find in grocery stores. They are nature’s candy off the vine! Peas are one of the season’s first crops, planted as soon as the ground can be worked, even if snow falls afterward. See our tips on growing peas, from sowing and growing to harvest and storage!

About Peas

Peas are easy to grow, but their growing period is limited. It’s essential to plant them early enough in spring so they mature while the weather is still cool! (This means planting in most parts of the United States and Canada in February, March, or April.) However, they can also be grown as a fall or winter crop in warmer regions.

Peas do not stay fresh long after harvest, so enjoy their taste as soon as possible! Those peas in grocery stores are often starchy in taste, which you’ll find has no comparison to garden-fresh peas.

Three varieties of peas suit most garden and culinary needs:

  • Sweet peas, aka garden peas or English peas (Pisum sativum ssp. sativum), have inedible pods from which the seeds (peas) are taken.
  • Snow peas (P. sativum var. macrocarpon) produce edible, flat, stringless pods containing small peas.
  • Snap peas (P. sativum var. macrocarpon ser. cv.) produce thick, edible pods containing large/full-size peas.

Great planting companions for peas include: Chives, Mint, Alyssum, Carrot, Corn, Cucumber, Radish, Turnip, and Beans. Learn more about Companion Planting.

Video Demo: Growing Peas from Sowing to Harvest

Learn all about growing peas in our video demonstration, and then see the instructions in the guide below.

Planting

Select a sunny location and well-draining soil. Although peas can grow in part shade, they won’t be as sweet or productive as those grown in full sun. Prepare the soil, preferably in the fall, mixing in aged manure and/or compost, and much well—peas like well-draining soil.

When to Plant Peas

  • Sow seeds 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost date when the soil is cool, or when it is at the desired temperature. Peas planted in cold (40°F) soil will germinate slowly; peas planted in soil that is at least 60°FF (but not more than 85°F) will catch up.
  • Snow will not hurt emerging pea plants, but several days with temperatures in the teens might. Be prepared to plant again if the first peas don’t make it. Alternatively, try starting your peas in a cold frame.
  • A second round of peas can be planted in the late summer or early fall, approximately 6 to 8 weeks before your first fall frost date.

Here are some more tips on when to start planting peas.

Pea pods on plant

How to Plant Peas

  • Peas are best direct-seeded right in the ground and do not like their roots disturbed. But transplanting is possible if you start seeds in biodegradable pots; you’ll transplant the pot and all into the garden, and the pot will disintegrate.
  • Where spring is long and wet, plant seeds in raised garden beds.
  • To speed germination, soak seeds in water overnight before planting.
  • Sow seeds 1 inch deep (slightly deeper if the soil is dry) and about 2 inches apart. Do not thin.
  • Plant rows 7 inches apart.
  • Regarding crop rotation, do not plant peas in the same place more than once every four years.
  • Like those of other legumes, pea roots fix nitrogen in the soil, making it available for other plants. 
  • In terms of fertilizer, peas need phosphorus and potassium, but excess nitrogen will encourage foliage growth instead of flowers or pods. Learn more about soil amendments.
  • Bush peas can reach 18 to 30 inches tall.  Pole types can grow at least 4 to 6 feet tall. Both types benefit from support (especially bush peas above 2 feet and all pole peas). Install thin tree branches or twiggy sticks (pea sticks), trellises, chicken wire, strings, or netting before plants establish their shallow roots. See instructions on how to build trellises and supports for peas.
  • Water to keep the soil moist. If seeds wash out of the soil, poke them back into it.

Peas on St. Patrick’s Day

It’s an old American tradition to plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day! Our retired editor, Janice, shows us her trick on how to plant peas in early spring if there’s snow! 

St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) is the traditional day for planting peas, one of the easiest plants to grow. It’s said to bring luck come harvest time. And it makes sense: Soil is typically thawed and workable, and these veggies prefer to get started in chilly spring weather.

Growing
  • Water peas sparsely with no more than 1 inch per week, unless the plants are wilting. We don’t want to encourage pea rot. But also do not let the plants dry out. If this happens, no pods will be produced. 
  • Gently remove intrusive weeds by hand. If necessary, hoe or cultivate, but carefully avoid disturbing peas’ shallow, fragile roots. 
  • Pea leaves turn yellow for several reasons. Often, this is due to the stress of hot weather. Provide partial shade (e.g., row covers) and water properly during the hottest time of day.
  • Fertilizing plants is not usually required if the plants are mulched deeply with grass clippings, shredded leaves, or another biodegradable material.
Harvesting

How do you know when peas are ready to be picked?

Most varieties of peas are ready to harvest 60 to 70 days after planting. Peas mature quickly, so check daily once you see the flowers in bloom.

  • Pick snow peas when the delicate pods begin to show immature seeds inside.
  • Gather snap peas when the pods become plump yet are still glossy and filled with sweet-tasting peas.
  • Pick shell peas before the pods become waxy.
Photo credit: StanRohrer/GettyImages

How to Harvest Peas

  • Harvest peas in the morning after the dew has dried. They are crispiest then.
  • Harvest regularly to encourage more pods to develop. 
  • Use two hands when you pick peas to avoid damaging the plant. Hold the vine with one hand and pull the pods off with the other.
  • Peas are at the peak of flavor immediately after harvest.
  • Pea pods that have hardened or turned a dull color are overmature. Mature plants usually stop producing and die back in hot summer weather.
  • If you missed your peas’ peak period, you can still pick, dry, and shell them for use in winter soups.

Shelled peas in a hand

How to Store Peas

  • Store peas in the refrigerator for about five days. Place in paper bags, then wrap in plastic.
  • Or, freeze peas: Shell sweet peas, blanch, immerse in cold water, drain, and pack in sealed containers.
  • De-string/trim snow or snap peas and prepare as above.
Gardening Products
Wit and Wisdom
  • If a girl finds nine peas in a pod, the next bachelor she meets will become her husband.
  • According to folklore, St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional day for planting peas (in many regions).
  • Legend has it that the phrase “green thumb” originated during the reign of King Edward I of England, who was fond of green peas and kept six serfs shelling them during the season. The serf who had the greenest thumb won a prize!
  • Find out how to plant peas when there’s still a foot of snow on the ground with this humorous video from the Almanac Editor.
Pests/Diseases
Pest/DiseaseTypeSymptomsControl/Prevention
Aphids InsectMisshapen/yellow leaves; distorted flowers/fruit; sticky “honeydew” (excrement produced by aphids); sooty, black mold that forms on honeydew; large presence of ants on plantsGrow companion plants to either attract aphids away (nasturtiums) or repel them outright (basil, rosemary, strong-scented plants); knock aphids off plants with water spray, apply insecticidal soap; put banana or orange peel around plants; wipe leaves with a 1-2% solution of liquid dish soap and water every 2-3 days for 2 weeks; add native plants to attract aphid predators. Find images and more information about aphids here.
Fusarium WiltFungusPlants wilt (sometimes on just one side) in daytime; leaves turn yellow (lower ones first); later, entire plant wilts/dies; growth is stunted; stem cross section reveals brown discolorationDestroy infected plants; avoid excessive nitrogen in soil; in acidic soils, raise pH to 7.0; choose resistant varieties; disinfect tools between use; practice crop rotation
Downy MildewFungusYellow, angular spots on upper leaf surfaces that turn brown; white/purple/gray cottony growth on leaf undersides only; distorted leaves; defoliationRemove plant debris; choose resistant varieties; ensure good air circulation; avoid overhead watering
Mexican Bean BeetlesInsectLacey, skeletonized leaves; dark holes on podsRemove by hand; purchase and release beneficial wasp Pediobius foveolatus when beetle larvae are observed; destroy severely infested plants. Find images and more infomation about Mexican bean beetles here.
Powdery MildewFungusTypically, white spots on upper leaf surfaces expand to flour-like coating over entire leaves; foliage may yellow/die; distortion/stunting of leaves/flowersDestroy infected leaves or plants; choose resistant varieties; plant in full sun, if possible; ensure good air circulation; spray plants with 1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 qt water; remove infected plant matter from garden and destroy (don’t compost). Find images and more information about powdery mildew here.
Root-knot NematodesInsectRoots become “knotted” or galled; plants stunted/yellow/wiltedDestroy affected plant matter (especially roots); choose resistant varieties; expose soil to sun (solarize); add aged manure/compost; disinfect gardening tools between uses; till soil in autumn; practice crop rotation
WirewormsInsectPest affects newly planted seeds and young plants. Seeds hollowed; seedlings severed; stunting/wilting; roots eatenSow seeds in warm soil for quick germination; provide good drainage; remove plant debris at end of season; practice crop rotation. If infestation is bad enough, trap by digging 2- to 4-inch-deep holes every 3 to 10 feet, fill with mix of germinating beans/corn/peas or potato sections as bait, cover with soil or a board, in 1 week uncover and kill collected wireworms.
White MoldFungusPods near the ground show cottony mold and black patches, and they are slimy rather than leathery or dry, becoming inedible. Gather up affected pods and compost them. Healthy plants may produce a second crop if dry weather returns in time. To prevent, make sure plants get good air circulation and plenty of sun to dry quickly after rains. Use mulch. Avoid watering from overhead; water at soil level.
Cooking Notes

Ideally, use peas when freshly picked as they rapidly toughen and will lose their sweetness. 

Green peas can be eaten raw as a snack or in salads. Peas are also excellent in pasta, soups, casseroles, stir-fries, and sautés. Cooking times vary greatly depending on when the green peas were harvested. Young, small ones require less cooking than older, starchy ones.

To steam, put 1 inch of water in a pot, bring to a boil, place a steaming basket in the pan, slowly add peas to the steaming basket, and cover with a lid. Steam for about 2 minutes. Or, to microwave, put 2 tablespoons of water in a microwavable dish and cover. Microwave on high, checking every 2 minutes for doneness.  Add butter and salt as desired.

Interestingly, the pea tendrils are also edible! Harvest these young pea shoots when they are 12 to 18 inches out of the ground. As with peas, eat the tender shoots soon after harvesting. Add to salads or in stir-fries at the end of cooking. 

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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