Peas are a member of the legume family and are a highly popular, cool season vegetable enjoyed by people around the world. Garden peas are high in fiber, protein and a good source of iron. Snow and sugar snap peas are a good source of vitamin C and iron. Peas are generally easy to grow and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, in both American and ethnic foods. Peas are classified into three different types: English, (or shelling/garden peas) snap peas, and snow peas (also known as sugar peas).
Varieties of Peas
Garden Shelling peas, or English peas: these are the most popular garden peas. They are enjoyed for their inner sweet peas and not the outer tough pod, which is usually discarded.
Snow peas are meant to be consumed whole, they are valued for their thin, tender sweet pods and are harvested when their inner seeds are underdeveloped and very small. This type of pea is often found in Asian recipes.
Snap peas are low in fiber and both the pod and seeds can be eaten whole like snow peas. They are often “snapped” and cooked with both pea and pod. The difference from snow peas is that the seeds inside are mature when eaten.
Garden pea seeds are either smooth surfaced or wrinkled. The smooth-surfaced peas are generally used as dry peas in soups because they are high in starch and not sweet. Wrinkled-seed varieties are sweeter in taste and softer in texture than smooth-surfaced and are popular in the home garden and kitchen.
Peas come in both a bush type that reaches about 2-3 feet high and a vine type that grows up to 5 feet tall and needs structural support to grow on. Bush plants produce one crop, whereas vine plants will produce over a longer period of time.
Growing Requirements for Peas
Peas grow well in full sun, cool temperatures and cool, moist, well-drained soil. They are one of the more frost tolerant vegetables you can plant. If the soil has reached a temperature of 45 degrees you can plant peas. Peas prefer a pH level of between 6 and 7.5. Before amending your soil, however, make sure to have a soil test done. Your local University extension office can perform soil tests.
Peas need a constant supply of nitrogen, so in addition to mixing in compost and/or manure, adding a nitrogen based fertilizer when planting is a good idea. If you are planting in an entirely new, previously unplanted area, you should consider inoculation. According to the University of Illinois Extension department (Watch Your Garden Grow) they recommend the following regarding inoculating peas:
“When peas are planted on new land, you may increase the yield by inoculating peas with a commercial formulation of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. In an established garden, however, inoculation is less necessary. If you are in doubt, inoculation is a relatively inexpensive process that is easy to do and ensures better plant-nutrient status.”
Peas are one of the earliest vegetables you can plant. When the soil is around 45 degrees and can be worked properly, you can begin planting peas. Peas prefer cooler soil and climate for best crop production. There are heat-tolerant varieties that can be planted in the summer for a fall harvest.
Plant seeds into a prepared bed about 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep, one inch apart, with rows 18 to 24 inches apart. They can be planted in single or double rows. Double rows will need about 8 to 10 inches between rows.
Caring for Peas
Peas will need about an inch of water per week. If they do not receive this directly from rainfall you can hand-water to supplement. Do not overwater, as it will encourage fungal diseases. Peas have very delicate root systems, so be cautious as you weed. Use shallow cultivation and avoid disrupting their root systems. Mulch can be put down over your pea plants to conserve moisture, keep roots cool and decrease weed emergence. The taller pea varieties will need to have support to grow on such as a trellis or fence.
Peas can take anywhere from 55-70 days to mature, depending on the variety, so, harvesting dates will vary. For best flavor, peas should be eaten as soon after harvesting as possible. It is essential that all peas are cooled down soon after picking and not left in the heat. Follow these general guidelines for harvesting different varieties:
Shelling, or English/garden peas are harvested when the pea pods are swollen and the inner seed is slightly larger than the seed you originally planted. A good way to determine readiness is to sample a pea fresh from the plant every day for a few days. Peas on the lower part of the plant mature more quickly than the upper ones. If the peas have become hard and starchy they are overly mature.
Sugar snap peas are usually harvested every one to three days when the seeds are just beginning to swell and are still tender. If the seeds become too large, they loose their sweet, tender flavor. Sample the peas every day to determine readiness. There may be some fibrous strings that need to be removed from these peas prior to consuming. Like other peas, it is best to consume them as soon after harvest as possible. If you are not eating the peas immediately, rinse in cool or cold water, dry, and place in the refrigerator for later use. Peas will keep for nearly a week in the refrigerator if cooled immediately after picking.
Snow peas are harvested when the pea is at its maximum length but still nearly flat. Snow peas need to be picked on a regular basis (every day or two) to ensure sweet tender flavor. If you have missed harvesting them and they have become overly mature on the vine, pick those so the plant will continue to produce more peas.
Pea pests and diseases
Root rot disease and fusarium wilt is somewhat common in peas. This is a fungal disease that initially stunts growth of the entire plant. If a mature plant is infected, it will significantly reduce crop production. Planting in a well-drained area will help prevent this problem that is usually encouraged by overly wet or damp conditions. If your garden is in a wet area, you may need to consider using a raised bed for your pea plants. Purchasing disease-resistant varieties can prevent fusarium wilt.
Recommended Varieties of Peas
Marianne Riofrio from The University of Ohio Extension office (horticulture and crop science department) recommends the following varieties to try in your garden:
Snow peas: Mammoth Melting Sugar, Dwarf Grey Sugar, and Oregon Sugar Pod.
Sugar snap peas: Sugar Daddy, Sugar Ann (dwarf), Sugar Snap, and Super Sugar Mel.
Common Questions and Answers About How to Grow Peas
Can I grow peas with potatoes?
Peas and potatoes should not be grown near one another.
Can you plant peas in the same place every year?
Though peas and other members of the bean family are beneficial garden crops as they add nitrogen back to the soil at the end of every growing season, planting peas in the same location every year is still not recommended. Plants of the same family often need the same nutrients to survive and thrive, and if planted in the same spot year after year, the most vital nutrients for that plant could disappear from the soil in that particular plot of soil. Another reason to practice regular crop rotation is that similar plants are often victim to the same soil borne diseases and crop pests. If you move where you plant the same type of plants every year, it makes it more difficult for pests and diseases to guess where certain plants will be and take a hold in your garden.
Can you grow peas from frozen peas?
No, frozen pea seeds will not germinate and will most likely just decompose if planted directly into the soil.
Do peas like manure?
Peas have nodules in their roots which allow them to make their own nitrogen. Pea plants prefer a well-draining soil with plenty of humus, but because they produce their own nitrogen, they do not need manure to be added to the soil prior to planting.
How deep do peas need to grow?
Plant your pea seeds about one inch deep into the soil, or slightly deeper if the soil tends to dry out quickly in your garden. Space pea seeds out about two inches apart from one another and plant in rows spaced 12 to 24 inches apart.
How deep of soil do peas need?
Pea plants are considered a medium-rooting vegetable, so they need about 18 to 24 inches of soil depth in order for their roots to spread out comfortably.
How long should I soak peas before planting?
Soaking your pea seeds for about 12 hours before you plant them will help them to germinate more quickly and increase their rate of germination, leaving you with more successfully sprouted pea plants.
How many peas does a pea plant produce?
Gardeners report that each pea plant produces about 15 to 45 peas total—that’s 15 to 45 individual peas, not pea pods. In general, you should plan to grow about 30 pea plants per person in your family who will be eating the peas.
How much soil do peas need to grow?
Peas have a root system of medium depth, which means they extend 18 to 24 inches down into the soil.
How much sun do peas need?
Pea plants will tolerate growing in areas of partial shade, but they really prefer full sun and will thrive most when planted in sunny areas, which means pea plants need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day.
How much water do peas need?
Pea plants need about an inch of water each week, which they can get in any combination between water from the gardener and rainfall. Be sure to take the week’s rainfall into account when you’re deciding how much water to give your pea plants.
Should I soak peas before planting?
Soaking your pea seeds before you plant them essentially gives them a head start on sprouting and growing. Pea seeds that have been soaked before they are planted will germinate faster and also have higher rates of successful germination. That means soaking your pea seeds before sowing them is an especially good idea for you if you’ve had trouble getting your peas to come up once they’re in the soil. If you decide to soak your pea seeds before you plant them, you’ll want to let them soak for 12 hours immediately before putting them in the ground.
What can you not plant beside peas?
While many vegetables work well as companion plants for peas, your pea plants should not be planted next to potatoes, gladioli, or onions.
What type of soil do peas grow best in?
Peas grow best in a fertile, sandy or loamy soil that has good drainage, but they will perform in almost any type of soil, unless your garden has a heavy clay soil that is basically impermeable. (If your garden does have this type of soil, see our article Amending Clay Soils for help.) Adding plenty of well-rotted compost to your garden soil will make sure it’s fertile and loose. Peas do best in soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5. If you aren’t sure of the pH level of your soil, refer to our article How to Test pH in Your Soil.
What fertilizer is best for peas?
Your pea plants don’t require a lot of extra help in the way of fertilization, but they do benefit from a dose of fertilizer added to the soil a day or two before you’ll sow your pea seeds. For each 100 square feet of garden space where you’ll be planting peas, spread three to four pounds of 5-10-10 fertilizer, and work it down into the top two or three inches of soil. Then plant your pea seeds as you normally would a day or two later.
If you’d like, instead of using a commercial fertilizer blend, you can use well-rotted manure, compost, or bone meal. If you choose to use one of these amendments, spread a layer of one or two inches over the area where your peas will grow, and work it into the top few inches of soil just as you would a fertilizer.