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The Complete Guide to Growing Peas

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We love snacking on the pods of our sugar snap peas while working in the garden in the spring. As one of the first crops planted in the early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked, the plants are usually bursting with their sweet, tender deliciousness while planting our late spring crops. Growing peas is pretty easy, let’s walk through the process.

Peas growing on a trellis

Pea Types & Varieties

While they’re very easy to grow, it can be difficult to choose which type of pea to grow in your garden. There are three types of peas typically cultivated in the garden. These are English (shelling) peas, snow peas, and snap peas.

Once you know what each type is, you can decide which type (or types) you want to grow. They’re all so wonderful, you may want to grow each type, and that’s totally ok.

English (Shelling) Peas

English peas in a pile

English peas, also known as shelling peas do not have edible pods. These are the peas that we use to grow nice and plump and pull the peas out of the pod to put in soups and stews or can for later use.

Shelling peas grow pretty quickly and have bush varieties that will be ready for harvesting within 50 days. Trellis-type varieties are typically ready within 60 to 65 days.

These peas can be grown in USDA zones 2 through 9, need full to partial sun, and thrive in a nice, loamy soil.

We typically grow the varietygreen arrow”. If you often fight with warmer weather “Lincoln” does better than some other varieties and another variety to try is “Tall Telephone”.

If you want to try your hand at a bush type that grows well in compact spaces, I recommend “Tom Thumb”.

Snow Peas

Purple colored snow peas growing on a vine

Snow peas are flat pods that aren’t allowed to let peas fatten at all before harvesting. This variety is often found in stir fry and is sometimes referred to as a Chinese pea.

This type can sometimes take a while to mature. But most will be ready in about 65 days. Remember, you’re not allowing the peas to get fat, so you can harvest them as soon as they begin forming when the pods are only a few inches long.

Snow peas can also be grown in USDA zones 2 through 9 and need full to partial sun. This type actually prefers a bit more dry soil, though.

We don’t usually grow snow peas, but some well-known varieties are “Oregon Giant” and “Oregon Sugar Pod II”.

Snap Peas

Snap peas, often referred to as sugar snap peas are a cross between snow peas and English peas. The pods of this type are edible and while the pods aren’t allowed to completely plump, the pods are allowed to fatten up slightly.

These peas take about the same amount of time as the other two types to mature. But, they’ll usually last a bit longer when the weather warms up than the other two types.

Snap peas can be grown in USDA zones 3 through 9 and need full to partial sun. They prefer well-drained, loamy soil.

We’ve grown so many different varieties of this pea type and I’ve liked them all. “Sugar snap” is a very common, great tasting, well-growing variety. We also really enjoy growing “sugar magnolia tendril pea” as the pods are actually purple, which stands out among the pretty green foliage. Both of those varieties require quite a bit of space, however.

If you’re looking for a smaller, dwarf variety that only grows a couple of feet tall, I recommend trying the “sugar bon”.

Growing Peas from Seed to Harvest

When to Plant Peas

Typically, you’ll want to sow your pea seeds as soon as the ground is workable. Even if you have snow in the forecast, you can go ahead and sow the seeds.

Usually, this equates to 4 to 6 weeks before your last expected frost. You can use this map to figure out your zone and when that date is.

If sown outdoors, try to make sure several days well below freezing aren’t in the forecast. If they are, plan to protect your plants from frost or plant again after the weather warms slightly. They can withstand cold and even snow, but only to a certain degree.

If your ground is typically still frozen 4 to 6 weeks before that last frost date, I highly recommend you start seeds indoors. While peas are typically directly sown, we often start them inside and have great success.

If you do start your seeds indoors, make sure you’re starting them in large, biodegradable pots because you don’t want to damage the root systems when transplanting. Start them about 2 weeks before you anticipate being able to transplant them outdoors.

If your garden area is really wet, don’t plant your peas there. Either wait until it dries out, start them indoors so the plot has a chance to dry out, or utilize raised beds.

Peas can also be grown as a fall crop, and in zones 8 through 9, that’s actually preferred. While results of a fall crop can be somewhat mixed, they’re worth the little bit of hassle.

To grow a fall crop, select the varieties you want to grow, find the days to maturity, and count backward from the first expected frost date.

Preparing the Garden for Planting

You’ll want to grow peas in a sunny location. The more sun, the sweeter your peas will taste, and the more peas there will be. If you do not have a full sun location, peas can be grown in the partial shade just expect a slightly lower yield and a slightly less sweet taste.

If you have the opportunity, you can prepare your site the previous fall by adding several inches of compost to the area you plan to plant (or the entire garden bed). If not, no harm.

Peas of all types require well-draining soil. So, if you have clay soil (aka mud that leaves water standing after heavy rain) you’ll either need to improve the soil or plant peas in raised beds.

Peas grown in nitrogen-rich soil will grow a lot of foliage and not a lot of fruit. However, they feed heavily on phosphorus and potassium. So, work in some bone meal and wood ash into the soil before planting for higher yields.

Once you’ve got the area prepared if you have any varieties that require support, or trellising you’ll want to put those supports in place when you sow the seeds as they will need something to climb up as soon as they sprout. To determine the height of your trellis, see how tall the plants get on the seed packet and plan accordingly.

How to Plant Peas

Peas germinate best if they are soaked overnight in some water before planting. However, it’s not the end of the world if you’re ready to plant and haven’t soaked, they’ll still germinate it may just take a bit longer for them to reach through the soil.

After the seeds are soaked, or not, you’ll want to place holes about an inch to two inches down in the soil (if the soil is really well-draining, an inch is adequate, if it takes a bit to drain, plant a little deeper). Place these holes about every foot to two feet apart.

I utilize a weed pulling tool for this part of the process, chopsticks are also a good tool for this.

Plop the seeds in and cover them up. Then water them deeply until the soil is saturated, but not so wet water is standing. If any seeds pop back out after watering, push them back into the soil.

How to Grow Peas

Once the peas have sprouted up, they’ll climb up the trellis that you placed when you planted.

Peas don’t require a ton of care or water. If it is a particularly dry spring, you can water them intermittently, don’t allow the soil to completely dry out. Otherwise, unless you see the plants wilting or turning, don’t water them.

Weeds are a big concern for peas, so a good mulch of straw once the plants are about two inches tall is essential.

Even with mulch, the weeds can still get through, and utilizing a hoe isn’t recommended since the root systems are so shallow. So, to keep weeds under control, you’ll likely have to keep them cleared out by hand in this particular area.

Peas do not like hot weather, which is why they’re planted so early in the season. Once the temperatures start regularly reaching above 70°F, production will decrease and eventually stop.

Common Pea Plant Pests & Diseases

Several pests and diseases can damage pea plants including aphids, Mexican bean beetles, wireworms, root-knot nematodes, fusarium wilt, and powdery and downy mildew. We’re lucky enough that we, knock on wood, don’t deal with too many problems with our pea plants, in fact, far less than other plants in our garden.

To keep aphids at bay, spraying the plants with a cold stream of water or utilizing an organic, insecticidal soap will typically do the trick. If you find Mexican bean beetles, usually picking them off by hand will do the trick.

For wireworms try sowing in warmer soil and practicing proper crop rotation ensuring you clean up all of your roots and plant matter when pulling plants at the end of harvest.

For root-knot nematodes, the plants will need to be destroyed, especially the roots. Practice proper crop rotation the following year and try planting resistant varieties.

Diseases, typically begin happening as the weather warms and starts creating the perfect environment for fungal problems to develop. However, planting resistant varieties and varieties best for your area is a great way to help combat any plant diseases. For the best varieties for your particular area, check with your local county extension office or other gardeners in the area.

How to Harvest Peas

Freshly harvested pea pods

Peas are usually mature enough to harvest in about two months’ time.

It’s best to pick peas in the morning after the dew has dried as they’re the crispest and most flavorful at this point of the day.

Regular harvesting will promote more growth. So, once you begin seeing flowers, check daily to see if you have any peas ready for harvesting based on their type. Once you begin harvesting, plan to harvest every other day to encourage growth.

You’ll want to use two hands to harvest peas. One to pull the pod, the other to support the vine.

Dull peas are over-mature, but they still need to be picked or yields will begin dropping off quickly.

Storing & Cooking Peas

Peas can be kept in a refrigerator for roughly 5 days. They can also be frozen for about 9 months, though they start to lose their texture.

To freeze peas simply blanch them for 2 minutes then drain and plunge them into ice water for an additional 2 minutes. Drain, dry, and place in food seal bags and immediately into the freezer.

Peas can also be dehydrated and used in soups and stews during the winter with great success.

When cooking peas, fresh is preferred. Cook the peas quickly to retain the best flavor and don’t allow them to boil or cook for too long.

And that’s all there is to grow your own peas! Now that you’re armed with all the information you need to successfully grow peas, it’s time to get out and plant! Let us know if you have any other questions by commenting below!

Growing sugar snap peas is super easy. They’re a plant that doesn’t require much more than a little water and time to grow. You’ll want to keep their area weeded (which you want to do in any garden area) but other than that you just water and wait. In no time you’ll be enjoying delicious sugar snap peas straight from the garden, in delicious stir fries, or frozen or canned to put into dishes later in the year. Have fun!

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Timothy Jalbert

Friday 29th of January 2021

What kind of pea will be easy to release from the pods.I did some beans one time and it wasn't worth the time to get the was hard to open then to get 3beans. Any ideas?

Danielle McCoy

Saturday 30th of January 2021

Any type of shelling pea will easily release.

`Tonya Lorenz

Wednesday 30th of January 2019

Please help. Every time I ask about fertilizing snap peas I get information on what types of fertilizer to apply. I am really looking for information on whether the flowers have to be fertilized by hand if we have a lack of bees and pollinators (like some cucumbers) or if they can be fertilized like tomatoes by using an electric toothbrush. How are the female flowers fertilized with the lack of pollinators?

Danielle McCoy

Wednesday 30th of January 2019

Peas, beans, and even tomatoes and peppers are all self-pollinating so you don't need to do anything.


Tuesday 24th of April 2018

Peas are one of my favorite things to grow! I try to get two crops in, one in the spring and one in the fall. We usually end up eating them before they make it out of the garden haha

Danielle McCoy

Thursday 26th of April 2018

Yes! Ours hardly ever make it out of the garden, either. I try to get a few inside to make stir fry.

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