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    Back to Vegetable Gardening    |   Peas

Peas - Pisum spp.

Including: shelling, English, sugar snap, snow pea


Zones 2 and warmer; grow as a spring and fall crop in most Zones, and as a winter vegetable in frost-free climates

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Full sun; will grow in partial shade

Well-drained soil high in organic matter is best; pH 5.5 to 6.8

Steady, even moisture especially when in flower

You can plant peas in blocks, or in rows.

For rows: Bush types: 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) between plants with 2 feet (.61 m) between rows

Climbing types: 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) between plants with 3 feet (1 m) between rows


Shelling Peas: when pods are full and plump and peas are tender

Snap Peas: when pods are rounded but before peas begin to bulge the sides of the pod

Snow Peas: when pods are flat, and showing only the smallest hint of the pea inside

Comments: There are two distinct types of peas: bush cultivars, also called dwarf, or climbing cultivars. Climbers need support, but make better use of space in the garden and overall produce a larger yield than bush types. You can grow both early-maturing cultivars and later-maturing to spread out your harvest. Disease and heat resistant cultivars are available. If you plan to freeze your peas after harvest, there is a variety that is recommended for freezing, but in general, all peas freeze well.

Planting Site: Make sure plants get full sun to partial shade on a site that has good air circulation. Young plants can tolerate moderate frost, but fall crops will not mature after frost. While peas can tolerate most soils, they do better when some organic matter, such as compost has been worked in prior to planting.

Planting & Growing Guidelines: Peas do poorly in hot weather, so plant spring crops early to beat the summer heat, unless you live in an area that has long, cool springs. Plant peas as soon as the ground can be worked and the soil has reached 40° F (4.4° C). Peas can take the cold, but freezing temperatures can damage the plants.

Peas grow best at temperatures between 60° and 65° F (16° to 18° C). Pods can become woody and tough or may not develop at all in temperatures above 75° F (24° C), so try not to plant too late in the spring. For fall harvest, don't plant until daytime temperatures are consistently below 80° F (27° C), in cold winter areas, plant about six to eight weeks before the first expected frost date. In mild winter, frost-free climates, sow seeds in fall for an early spring crop.

Peas do very well planted in blocks about 3 feet (1 m) by 3 feet (1 m). They will help support each other while growing, and the yield will be greater while using less garden space. Inoculate pea seeds (see Fertilizer section below) to promote nitrogen fixation and increase yields. Regular watering will also increase yield and is critical when peas are in flower, but don't over water since soggy conditions can cause plants to rot.

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    Fertilizer: All legumes, such as peas and beans, are self-fertilizing. In fact, they leave more nitrogen in the soil than they use up. So they really don't need to be fertilized, but what you can do is give them a boost with some "innoculant" (available at any garden center) which helps the plants fix nitrogen in their roots.

    Pest and Disease Prevention: Good air circulation and using resistant cultivars can help prevent powdery mildew. Do not plant where peas have grown the previous two years if root rot has been a problem. When seedlings appear, you can cover the plants with a row cover to prevent leafhopper, leafminers, cucumber beetles, caterpillars, pea weevils, and other pests from feeding on your crop. As soon as the plants begin to flower, remove the cover. To help give young plants an extra boost against diseases you can spray them every two weeks with kelp extract.

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    Common Problems: Fall plantings in humid areas, even using disease resistant cultivars, can be bothered by powdery mildew. If plants do develop mildew, spray the foliage thoroughly with a mild baking soda solution of (1 teaspoon (5 ml) per quart (liter) of water).

    Days to Maturity: 55 to 80 days from seed to harvest.

    Harvest and Storage: Harvest Shelling Peas: when pods are full and plump and peas are tender. Snap Peas: when pods are rounded but before peas begin to bulge the sides of the pod. Snow Peas: when pods are flat, and showing only the smallest hint of the pea inside. Harvest peas daily to keep plants productive. Peas should be eaten immediately or frozen or canned quickly because their sugars begin to turn into starch quite fast. You can dry and store overmature peas as you would dry beans, for use in soups.

    The pea growing information above applies to the following:

    Shelling Peas (P. sativum var. sativum) - Also called English pea, and garden pea. Have both climbing and bushy varieties.

    Snap Peas (P. sativum var. sativum) - Pods are tender, not fibrous like shelling peas, and have juicy seeds. Both pods and seeds are edible. Pick when the pods are plump and bulging with mature seeds. Snap peas are great eaten raw or cooked. They are best if the strings are removed before cooking, but some varieties are "stringless." One of the most popular cultivars is 'Sugar Snap'.

    Snow Peas (P. sativum var. macrocarpon) - Also called edible-podded or sugar pea, produce tender pods that are eaten raw or cooked. Harvest when the pods are young and flat and the seeds are small and immature. Favored in Asian cuisines.

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