Peas are some of the tastiest and easy to care for legumes. These intriguing beans have been domesticated for over 9,000 years. Over time, growers have come to appreciate the many unique heirloom varieties while developing pest- and disease-resistant hybrids.
Many gardeners plant peas at multiple points throughout the growing season. There are few things more enjoyable than continual bounties of semi-sweet, crunchy legumes.
Before you stray from this page thinking peas are beyond your gardening expertise, know that peas are an excellent choice for first-time gardeners.
Their large and easy-to-handle seeds small make them a wonderful learning tool for pint-sized growers. Since peas are nitrogen-fixing plants (we’ll talk more about this in the sections that follow) they also serve the greater good of the garden.
What are Peas?
Peas, or Pisum sativum, are small pods fruits that grow on both bushes and vines. Peas are highly celebrated vegetables. They offer a good nutrient base, plenty of fiber, and some beneficial antioxidants. As nitrogen-fixing legumes, they’re easy and beneficial additions to gardens big and small.
It only takes a little time and effort to secure multiple pod harvests throughout the growing season. There’s nothing that quite compares to the semi-sweet flavor of a freshly plucked pea pod. Below, you’ll find advice on how to select, plant, grow, and harvest peas.
What are the Different Varieties Available?
As with most legumes, there are both heirloom and hybrid varieties of peas. Before you begin selecting pea varieties for your garden, you should learn how to disseminate between the three main kinds, including snow peas, English peas, and snap peas.
Snow peas are the flat, green legumes that are often used in stir-fries. Many growers prefer this variety of pea because the entire thing, including the pod and peas, are edible. Popular snow pea varieties include the Oregon Giant, Oregon Sugar Pod II, Mammoth Melting Sugars, and Dwarf Grey Sugars.
English snap peas, or pisum sativum var sativum, are also a popular variety of this magnificent legume family. It’s hard to tell these peas apart from snap peas. The main difference between the two is that most people do not eat the outside of English peas.
English pea pods are very fibrous and starchy. As such, you must pop the small round peas out of the pods before you devour them. Popular English pea varieties include Alaska, Badger Garden, Early Frosty Garden, and Green Arrow peas.
Snap peas are crossbreeds of snow and garden, or English, peas. Snap peas combine the best characteristics of these two pea varieties, including the edible pods, sweet flavor notes, and natural growability.
Popular snap pea varieties include Sugar Sugar, Sugar Daddy, Sugar Ann, and Cascadia peas.
When is the Best Time to Plant?
Use the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map to determine the best time to plant peas in your location. Once you determine your hardiness zone, use it to find the dates of the first and last frosts in your area.
Keep in mind that the USDA’s Hardiness Zones are determined by the average reoccurring temperatures in an area. You should also take the temperature of your soil to ensure it has warmed to at least 45 degrees. Soil that is colder than 45 degrees is detrimental to pea plants.
You can plant peas intermittently to improve your chances of reaping multiple harvests throughout the season. If you live in a temperate climate, your first plantings will not germinate as fast as those planted during late spring or summer.
Speed up the process by soaking your seeds overnight. What’s more, seek out the advice of local farmers when determining the most appropriate time to plant your peas.
Another great gardening resource is The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s Planting Calendar, which can be found here. If you live in a hardiness zone with an area with a short growing season, consider starting your peas indoors.
You can germinate your peas indoors by placing the seeds inside a sealed plastic bag with a moist paper towel. It takes close to a week for pea seeds to sprout. They germinate faster under cool, humid conditions.
You can also start your plants in plastic or compostable trays. Use a nutrient-rich organic potting soil. Water your plants regularly to ensure that they will be set to go in just a few weeks. Use wooden stakes or popsicle sticks to identify different varieties and exact planting dates.
Where Can You Plant Peas
Peas have a long list of suitable plant companions. They do well alongside everything from leafy greens to aromatic herbs. Garlic and onions are a few of the plants that are not the best companions for peas. As with most horticultural practices, it pays to plot out a pea garden before placing seeds or seedlings in the ground.
If you are planning on incorporating pea plants into a mixed vegetable garden, plant them in rows on the north end of your raised bed or garden patch. After all, some varieties are so tall and thick that they will block the incoming sun and create undesirable amounts of shade when planted on the south side of a garden.
Peas are considered cool-season crops. The ideal temperatures range for peas is between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Peas do best in nutrient-rich, loamy soil with adequate drainage. They demand neutral or slightly acidic soil with a pH range between 5.8 and 7.0.
If you haven’t already, send a sample of your soil to your local agricultural extension or purchase a mail-in soil kit from a garden supply store.
Many growers add extra nitrogen to their soil immediately before planting peas. Potash is also a popular additive, as it improves pea plants’ fruiting capabilities.
Peas taste the best and produce the highest yields when they are grown in direct sunlight. Be sure to select a sunny spot in your garden. Ensure that your pea plants will not inhibit the growth of nearby plants and vice versa.
As legumes, peas enjoy a good drink of water just as much as the next plant. Still, it’s imperative that you keep their soil moist but not soaked. Most experts suggest that growers feed their peas 1 inch of water per week.
Do not allow the soil to dry completely between watering sessions. Take special care to provide your plants with water during their flowering and fruiting stages.
How to Plant Peas in the Garden
Many growers prefer to start peas by seed. Depending on the timing, temperature, and soil conditions, you may opt to either germinate your peas inside or outside. Speed up germination by placing your pea seeds in a sealed plastic bag with a moist paper towel. Or else, germinate your pea seeds in small soil-filled cups or trays.
Check the temperature in your house to ensure that it averages around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Under ideal conditions, it can take anywhere from 7 to 14 days for pea seeds to germinate. Some of your pea seeds may fail to germinate. Plant a couple of extra seeds to ensure that you will have enough plants for your garden plot.
While you are waiting for your seeds to germinate, take the time to prepare your outdoor garden. First, ensure that the soil is prepped and ready to go. Till your garden. Remove weeds, rocks, and other hazards. Amend your soil to ensure that it has a proper nutrient density, pH level, and drainage rate. Add fertilizer, compost, and other essential soil modifiers.
If you’re growing vining varieties, set up some sort of support system. Pea plants aren’t very particular about their supports. So, feel free to recycle materials that you already have lying around your home or yard.
Place one pea seed every two inches. Plant rows at least a foot apart. If you’re planting seedlings, ensure that the roots are fully covered. If you’re planting seeds, place them in 1-inch deep soil and covered before watering.
How to Take Care of Pea Plants
Before we dig (pun-intend) into the details of how to care for peas, know that these sweet legumes are incredibly low-maintenance garden additions. These plants will actually help you boost your confidence in your growing capabilities.
Soil should be moist but not drenched. Depending on the weather, you may need to water your peas as often as one time per day to one time per week. Take particular care to test the soil during flower and fruiting stages, as this is when pea plants are most vulnerable to dehydration.
Climbing pea plants can grow to be several feet tall. Even the bushier varieties can benefit from some sort of support system. We recommend using trellises, poles, sticks, or even wire fencing as vertical supports for climbing vines.
Pea plants develop curly tendrils. These clingy growths will attach themselves to nearby supports without any assistance. That being said, plants can always benefit from guidance.
A basic pea support system may look like several support stakes connected by multiple lines of string or wire. Gardeners also use teepee trellises, plant towers, repurposed fencing, and fallen limbs.
Two side-by-side rows of peas may share a single line of support. As such, you can often optimize your space by planting your peas in even rows.
Peas prefer nutrient-dense soil, but there’s no need to over-fertilize these hearty plants. Most growers mix a bit of 5-10-10 fertilizer into their soil a few days before planting. A mild yet complete NPK (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium) fertilizer will help kick start the growth of your pea plants.
You mustn’t overload your soil with nitrogen. After all, peas are naturally nitrogen-fixing plants. An excess of this vital nutrient causes plants to grow rapidly but not fruit properly.
You’ll need to weed the area around your pea plants to ensure that they do not have to compete for essential nutrients, moisture, and sunlight.
Take the time to pluck the weeds by hand. Scrawny pea vines are easily uprooted and decapitated. The good news is that tall pea varieties will shade and stunt most of the competition by the time they reach the fruiting stage.
Use organic mulch to cover the area between your pea rows. A thick organic mulch cover will stave off weeds while keeping your soil cool and moist. Popular mulch options include lawn clippings, straw, and wood chips.
Always opt for straw over hay. Hay contains seeds. Whereas, straw consists of the stalks of hay plants.
How to Harvest and Store Peas
Growing times vary between varieties, but most peas take between 50 and 70 days to mature. Check the specifications on your seed packet to see what size and color your mature peas should be. In most cases, ripe pea pods are a few inches in length and robust in shape.
Most pods will ripen within a month of flowering. If you are unsure if your pods are ready for harvest, pluck a single pea and give it a taste. It should be sweet, earthy, and crunchy. It’s best to harvest peas as soon as ripen. If you do not, they will become fibrous and bland.
Peas taste best when eaten fresh. Store your peas in a plastic or cloth container in the fridge. Do not wash them before placing them in storage, as moisture invites mold. Fresh peas will last for anywhere from a few days to a week when refrigerated.
You can also clean, blanch, and freeze your peas to preserve them longer. Frozen peas last for several months. They are easy to cook. Be sure to prep your peas before freezing. Depending on the variety you planted, you may need to remove the pods.
Canning is another viable preservation method. You need canning jars, lids, and other supplies to get the job done. A salt and water mixture is all you need to secure a multi-year shelf life for your peas. Since peas do not contain much acid, you must use a a pressure canner to avoid botulism.
If all else fails, consider sharing or trading your excess harvest. Pea plants tend to produce bountiful harvests. According to Garden Gate Magazine, you should plant approximately 15 to 20 plants per person or 70 plants per person.
What are Some Pests and Diseases that Affect Peas?
Many pea varieties are resistant to common pests and diseases. That being said, here are a few issues that plague pea plants.
Aphids are small green or pink insects that plague all sorts of vegetable plants. These tiny bugs feed on the foliage and stems of pea plants. As aphids eat, they release sticky, toxic mildew that can weaken and even overcome plants. Integrated pest management is an excellent way to stay on top of aphids and other potentially harmful insects.
You can save your plants from aphids by introducing lady beetles and other noninvasive predatory insects. Keep a close eye on your pea plants as they grow, taking a hose or soapy water to any loitering members of the aphid family.
Root-knot nematodes are yet another all-too-common pea predator. These microscopic worms feed on the roots of many different garden plants. Since they live in the soil, they often go unnoticed until it is too late.
They cause galls to grow on pea plant roots, leaving them looking knobby and thick. Many English and Southern pea varieties are resistant to root-knot nematodes. You can stave off these worms by rotating in nematode-reducing bumper crops or by fallowing off your garden patch for a season.
Fusarium (Pea) Wilt
Fusarium wilt is a lethal fungal disease that is known to impact pea plants. Impacted plants wilt and die. If you’re particularly concerned about pea wilt, consider planting a resistant variety. Do not disturb your soil after your pea plants have flowered. Fusarium spreads through the roots.
Mexican Bean Beetles
Mexican bean beetles look a lot like ladybugs. They are yellowish red with black spots on their backs. These deceiving insects consume pea and other vegetable plant foliage, sometimes leaving plants near death. Pluck the larvae and insects from your pea plants. Then, drop them in warm soap water.
Powdery mildew is a plant disease caused by the Erysiphe polygoni fungus. It causes plants to develop discolored patches. One common and intriguing treatment is milk spray.
Choose pest-resistant pea varieties to ensure that powdery mildew is not an issue in your garden. As always, monitor your peas closely to ensure that you can take quick actions to eradicate issues.
Wireworms are the larvae of click beetles. These insects tend to damage pea seedlings, wilting and eventually killing them. These bugs are a difficult bunch to manage. Some growers use potatoes as organic wireworm lures. Another preventative measure is crop rotations.
We hope you enjoyed our guide to growing peas. Pea cultivation is relatively low-maintenance. The rewards are bountiful and delicious. Peas are nitrogen-fixing crops. They have a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
The bacteria take up residence inside small nodules on the roots of pea plants. As a result, peas leave beneficial plant nutrients while making the most of less-than-ideal soil conditions.
Whether you’re planting peas for your garden or your family, you cannot do wrong.