Sweet, tender peas are a garden staple. Peas are one of the first vegetables planted in the Spring because they prefer cool temperatures. For many of us, they are also the first fresh vegetable harvested – a wonderful springtime treat! Peas are pretty simple to grow, as long as they are provided optimum growing conditions. They grow well in the garden or containers. We are thrilled to share all our pea-growing expertise with you so that you can enjoy the treasure of a pea patch in your garden.
Types of Peas
This category includes garden peas, sweet peas, English peas, and any other pea variety which requires removal of the inedible pod. Peapods are tough and must be removed to harvest the peas inside. Shelling peas are the most common pea variety planted in the United States. These peas are easily preserved through canning, freezing, and dehydrating.
Edible Pod Peas
Included in this type are sugar snap peas and snow peas. With these varieties, the pod and pea are both edible and are eaten together. They are crunchy, sweet, and juicy. Sugar snap peas produce full-size peas inside a large pod. Snow peas develop tiny peas inside a flat pod. Snow and snap peas must be harvested while the pods are still very young and tender, or eating them won't be that enjoyable. These types of peas are best eaten fresh or used soon after harvesting in stir-fries and salads.
Stringed Pea Pods vs. Stringless
On the surface, it seems a no-brainer to choose stringless pea varieties over stringed. However, there are some significant differences to consider. Stringless peas, in general, are weaker. They take longer to germinate, are more susceptible to heat, and suffer from more pathogens that affect growth and production. Stringless varieties bred to be more disease-resistant often lack flavor and tenderness.
Optimum Growing Conditions For Peas
Peas must have a cool growing season to get started. As soon as the summer heat hits (80F and higher), they'll begin to slow down and bolt. In most areas of the country, this means planting them as soon as the ground can be dug. A patch of peas can also be planted in the fall, as long as the peas are protected. Even though they love cool temperatures, peas are not frost-tolerant. Most peas produce harvestable pods in 50-60 days.
Due to their vining nature, pea plants must be trellised. This doesn't mean you have to install or build any crazy support system. The thin, winding pea vines are easily trained to grow along fences, up poles, around banisters, and across lines. Because the pods and vines are so light, they don't need a massive amount of support. However, they must have a support system of some type, or they will vine along the ground, and pods won't form well, if at all.
Peas suffer in soggy soil, so watering is often a delicate balance. This is especially a consideration if there is excessive snowmelt or spring rains. Only water when the plants start wilting a little. It's also important not to let the soil dry out completely; water is needed to produce adequate pods.
How To Plant Peas Outdoors
- PLANTING: As soon as the ground is workable, plant seeds. For some areas of the US, this means Feb or March, while others must wait until April or early May. It's okay if snow is forecasted, as long as the ground is no longer frozen.
- Sometimes, since it's difficult to predict exactly what the weather will do, it is necessary to do a second planting. Several days with low temperatures in the teens will kill off the seeds.
- For a continuous harvest of fresh peas, do a new planting every week.
- Choose a location with full sun. This may sound counter-intuitive since peas don't like heat, but as long as they reach maturity before the super hot days of summer arrive, it will be okay. Peas planted in full sun have a much sweeter and robust flavor. Peas will grow in a partial shade just fine, but they won't be as tasty.
- Soggy soil causes seed rot, so choose a location with excellent drainage. Do not plant peas in wet areas.
- Set up trellises and support systems before planting. If you wait until afterward, you may disturb the seeds or seedlings. Make sure to check the seed packet to see how high the trellis needs to be – peas vines range in length from 2'-8'. Be prepared!
- Sow pea seeds at the base of the trellis set-up, 1” deep, spaced 3” apart, in rows 12-24” apart.
- Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
- Pea seeds germinate in 7-14 days.
- Mulch around the seedlings to keep the soil cool, assist in moisture retention, and keep weeds out.
- TENDING: Weed regularly and carefully! Pea plants have incredibly shallow root systems, and it is extremely easy to accidentally pull up a pea plant when removing weeds. Don't use rakes, hoes, or garden forks. Cut the weeds off at the base with a pair of scissors, or pull them gently with your hands. The scissor method is best, even though it doesn't eradicate the weeds. This is why mulching is a great thing to do since it keeps many weeds at bay.
- The baby pea tendrils need to start climbing as soon as they reach a couple of inches high. To create the healthiest and most productive pea plants, start guiding them up the supports as quickly as possible. And continue to check on them every few days and train the new growth.
- Water the plants when they start to wilt a little bit. This is the best guide to ensure they are not being underwatered or overwatered.
- HARVESTING: Once you see flowers on the pea plants, start checking for pods. Peapods emerge and mature quickly. Once they start producing, you need to harvest every day or every other day at the minimum. Peas left too long on the vine become tough and bitter.
- The more you harvest, the more you will grow.
- Always pick peas by holding the vine with one hand and twisting the pod off with the other. If you yank on the pod, the shallow-rooted plant will likely come right up too.
Once you've eaten fresh peas off the vine, you may never go back to store-bought peas. That sweet, tender flavor begins to diminish the second the pod comes off the plant. One of the simple joys in life is snacking on freshly picked peas while working in the garden. Planting, tending, and harvesting peas is an excellent activity for kids, and few can resist the allure of fresh edible-podded peas. Growing peas is the perfect way to get kids involved in gardening and connected with where their food comes from.