Growing Peas

Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Pea Plants

Peas and Pea Pods
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Peas are one of the first crops we plant in the spring. The taste of garden-grown peas is nothing like what you find in grocery stores; they are nature’s candy off the vine. Plant seeds as soon as the ground can be worked—even if snow falls after you plant them! Here’s our complete guide to planting, growing, and harvesting peas.

This early spring vegetable is so easy to grow. There are three kinds of peas commonly seen in home gardens:

  • English peas, aka shelling peas (Pisum sativum ssp. sativum), produce inedible pods from which large, edible peas are harvested.
  • Snow peas (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon) produce edible flat pods with small peas inside.
  • Snap peas (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon ser. cv.) produce tender, edible pods with full-size peas.

As with other legumes, peas will fix nitrogen in the soil, making it more available for other plants. In return, they require little extra fertility to grow and produce pods. This makes them a great companion plant, too.

Pea plants do have limited growing season, however. Furthermore, peas do not stay fresh long after harvest, so enjoy them while you can!

The key to growing peas is to plant them early enough in spring so they mature while the weather is still cool. This means planting in February, March, or April in most parts of the United States and Canada. They can even be grown as a fall or winter crop in warm areas of the U.S.

Planting Dates for PEAS

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Planting Calendar for all Plants

Planting

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 in the forecast.
  • 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.
    • Traditionally, St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) signaled that it was time to plant peas.
  • Don’t plant if your soil is soaked from snowmelt or spring rains. 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 to 8 weeks before your first fall frost date. Fall plantings are typically not as productive as spring-grown peas, but they make for a nice fall snack nonetheless!

Pea pods on plant

Preparing the Planting Site

  • Select a sunny location. While peas can grow in part shade, they won’t be as sweet or productive as those grown in full sun.
  • Soil must drain well. One of the few downfalls of growing peas is seed rot. Don’t plant in wet areas where the cool soil is conducive to the pea seeds rotting before they germinate. If necessary, raise the beds 6 to 8 inches high to provide a well-drained planting site.
  • To give your plants the best head start, turn over your pea planting beds and add 2 to 3 inches of compost or manure to the soil in the fall prior to planting the following spring.
  • 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. The young tendrils need to have something to climb on immediately after emerging from the soil. Learn how to build supports here.

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:

Care

How to Grow Peas

  • Once germinated, peas will climb a fence or trellis to anywhere between 2 and 8 feet tall, depending on the variety. Prepare supports ahead of time, taking into consideration the mature height of the pea variety (which should be listed on the seed packet).
  • Water sparsely unless the plants are wilting. If the weather is dry, water them periodically. Do not let plants dry out, or no pods will be produced.
  • Keep the pea bed well weeded, but be careful using weeding tools such as hoes because peas are shallow rooted. 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 tougher.

Pests/Diseases

Pest/Disease Type Symptoms Control/Prevention
Aphids  Insect Misshapen/yellow leaves; distorted flowers/fruit; sticky “honeydew” (excrement produced by aphids); sooty, black mold that forms on honeydew; large presence of ants on plants Grow 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 Wilt Fungus Plants 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 discoloration Destroy 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 Mildew Fungus Yellow, angular spots on upper leaf surfaces that turn brown; white/purple/gray cottony growth on leaf undersides only; distorted leaves; defoliation Remove plant debris; choose resistant varieties; ensure good air circulation; avoid overhead watering
Mexican Bean Beetles Insect Lacey, skeletonized leaves; dark holes on pods Remove 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 Mildew Fungus Typically, white spots on upper leaf surfaces expand to flour-like coating over entire leaves; foliage may yellow/die; distortion/stunting of leaves/flowers Destroy 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 Nematodes Insect Roots become “knotted” or galled; plants stunted/yellow/wilted Destroy 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
Wireworms Insect Pest affects newly planted seeds and young plants. Seeds hollowed; seedlings severed; stunting/wilting; roots eaten Sow 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.

Harvest/Storage

How to Harvest Peas

  • 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. 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.
  • Pea pods that have hardened or turned a dull color are over mature.
  • If you missed your peas’ peak period, you can still pick, dry, and shell them for use in winter soups.

Shelled peas

 

How to Store Peas

  • Peas can be kept in the refrigerator for about 5 days or be frozen for longer. Place in paper bags, then wrap in plastic.

Recommended Varieties

Wit & Wisdom

  • If a girl finds nine peas in a pod, the next bachelor she meets will become her husband.
  • St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day for growing peas. Find out how to grow peas when there’s still snow on the ground with this humorous video.
  • Legend has it that the phrase “green thumb” orginated 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!

Recipes

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Growing Peas

Botanical Name Pisum sativum
Plant Type Vegetable
Sun Exposure Full Sun, Part Sun
Soil Type Loamy
Soil pH Slightly Acidic to Neutral
Bloom Time Spring, Fall
Flower Color Varies
Hardiness Zones 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
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