Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Pea Plants
Peas are one of the first crops we plant in the spring. Plant as soon as the ground can be worked—even if snow falls after you plant them! Here’s our guide to planting, growing, and harvesting peas.
There are three varieties of peas that will suit your garden and cooking needs:
- Pisum savitum, which includes both types of garden peas: sweet peas (inedible pods) and snow peas (edible flat pods with small peas inside).
- Pisum macrocarpon, snap peas (edible pods with full-size peas).
Pea plants are easy to grow, but have a limited growing season. Furthermore, peas do not stay fresh long after harvest, so enjoy them while you can!
As with other legumes, peas will fix nitrogen in the soil, making it available for other plants. This makes them a great companion plant.
Preparing the Planting Site
- To give your plants the best head start, turn over your pea planting beds and add compost or manure to the soil in the fall.
- Add wood ashes and bonemeal to the soil before planting. Peas need phosphorus and potassium, but excess nitrogen will encourage foliage growth instead of flowers or pods.
- For tall and vining pea varieties, set up poles or a trellis at the time of planting. Learn how to build supports here.
When to Plant Peas
- Generally speaking, plant peas as soon as the ground thaws and can be worked in the spring—even if more snow is expected.
- For a more measured approach, plan to sow seeds outdoors 4 to 6 weeks before your last spring frost date, when soil temperatures reach at least 45°F (7°C). Here are some more tips on when to start planting peas.
- Get peas in the ground while the soil is still cool, but beware of excessive moisture caused by snowmelt or spring rain, as you don’t want the seeds to sit in wet soil. It’s a delicate balance of proper timing and weather conditions. If your garden tends to stay too wet, consider investing in raised garden beds.
- A blanket of snow won’t hurt emerging pea plants, but several days with temperatures in the teens could. 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 6–8 weeks before your first fall frost date. Fall plantings are typically not as productive as spring-grown peas, but make for a nice fall snack nonetheless!
How to Plant Peas
- For improved germination, soak peas overnight in water before planting.
- Plant seeds 1 inch deep (slightly deeper if soil tends to dry out quickly) and about 2 inches apart. Plant in rows spaced 12–24 inches apart.
- Poke in any seeds that get washed out of the soil. (A chopstick is an ideal tool for this.)
Check out this video to learn how to plant peas early while soil is cold:
How to Grow Peas
- Water sparsely unless the plants are wilting. Do not let plants dry out, or no pods will be produced.
- To avoid disturbing fragile roots, gently remove intrusive weeds by hand.
- It’s best to rotate pea crops every year or two to avoid a buildup of soil-borne diseases. In between pea plantings, plant other vegetables to take advantage of the nitrogen-rich soil that peas leave behind (they are a nitrogen-fixing legume).
- Peas are best grown in temperatures below 70°F (21°C). Once temperatures get above 80°F (27°C), peas tend to stop producing pods or the pods become tough.
How to Harvest Peas
- Keep your peas well picked to encourage more pods to develop.
- Pick peas in the morning after the dew has dried. They are crispiest then.
- Always use two hands when you pick peas. Secure the vine with one hand and pull the peas off with your other hand to avoid damaging the plant.
- If you missed your peas’ peak period, you can still pick, dry, and shell them for use in winter soups.
How to Store Peas
- Peas can be frozen or kept in the refrigerator for about 5 days. Place in paper bags, then wrap in plastic.
- ‘Lincoln’ (sweet/shelling pea): 2- to 3-foot vines; no support required; tolerant of mildew and Fusarium wilt
- ‘Mammoth Melting’ (snow pea): 4- to 5-foot vines; stringless pods
- ‘Snowbird’ (snow pea): resistant to fusarium wilt
- ‘Sugar Ann’ (snap pea): 2-foot vines; no support required
- ‘Green Arrow’ (sweet/shelling pea): 2- to 3-foot vines; no support required; high yields; tolerant of mildew and Fusarium wilt