Updated: Sep 15, 2022
These small, spherical fruits (yup, technically they’re fruits.) are a staple on so many dinner plates around the world. Originating from western Asia and North Africa, peas are high in many vitamins and minerals. They make a wonderful addition to soups and pot pies, and are also delicious cooked on their own.
To help ensure your Peas thrives, I’ve put together this how-to video and transcript covering topics like:
Varieties of Peas available
Caring for Peas at all stages
Fertilizer and Mulching
Transplanting best practices
Companion Plants for Peas
Pests, Diseases and what to do about them
Harvesting and storing your Peas
Listen to this Article:
Ready for a horticulture adventure growing peas with all your crops? Great - they pair up nicely with a lot of them!
Glossary of pea terms
When learning how to grow peas, it's usually easier when you know the terms, so let’s start there...learning a little bit about peas
Using different types of support structures for vining and climbing plants (like peas). Though pea seedlings are more delicate in the beginning, they can grow up to 6 feet tall and need a strong support structure. Plus, growing vegetables vertically is a great way to save space.
Plants that flower and fully mature in one growing season.
The fruit of pea plants, pods grow up to 4 inches (10cm) long and split in half when ripe. Inside the pods are the seeds, which become rounder as the plant matures.
A type of plants that can either pollinate themselves or get pollinate by an external influence (like bees, the wind, or by human hand).
Varieties of peas
Below are the best varieties of peas for home gardeners and horticulture enthusiasts alike. From growing in containers to hobby farming, you'll love these.
Smooth seeds: They have a higher starch level, and are more often used to produce ripe seeds for split peas. They can also be used as dry beans.
Wrinkled seeds: Generally sweeter in taste, and are preferred for home use.
A variety that has been developed from garden peas. Their pods are low in fiber and can be snapped and eaten along with the immature peas inside.
A type that’s harvested as flat and tender pods before the seeds inside can develop at all.
Starting your pea seeds
How to grow peas when you're starting from seeds - my favorite way to grow them.
Peas are happiest when directly sown into your garden.
Their ideal soil temperature for germination is between 65-80°F (18-26°C), and you’ll want to get started as soon as your soil is workable in the spring.
For a fall harvest, start your peas about 8-10 weeks before the first expected frost.
Plant your seeds about 1-2 inches (2.5-5cm) deep, spacing them 1-4 inches (2.5- 10cm) apart in rows that are about 18 inches (45cm) apart.
Keep in mind that if your soil is wet, you’ll want to plant them more shallow. If your soil is dry, then plant them deeper
Caring for your peas
How to grow peas at every stage
In this section, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about caring for your peas, like watering best practices, fertilizer and mulch options, and which crops grow best with peas.
I’ll also tell you about the growing structures you can use.
Peas are happiest in soils that have a pH level between 6.0-7.0 They are widely adapted, preferring cool damp weather – and peas can actually tolerate moderate freezes.
Their air temperature should stay below 80°F (26°C) for best germination and growth. Also, though they tolerate light shade, peas yield best in full sun.
If you’re growing a tall variety, you’ll want to install trellises for some added support. If you’re using these trellises, just make sure to increase the spacing of your plants to about 4-6 inches (10-15.2cm) in their rows.
When it comes to watering, avoid heavy watering while your peas are flowering, because it can interfere with the pollination process.
Also, overwatering leads to wet soil, which promotes root rot diseases and slows the growth of your plants.
You can try using raised beds when your soil is slow-draining, which will decrease the risk of these rot infections. On the other end of the spectrum, drought stress will decrease yield, reduce seed size, and increase the stringiness of your peas’ pods.
FERTILIZING AND MULCHING
How to grow peas with the plant food and protection that they need.
You can work 1 pound of an all-purpose fertilizer and 2-3 inches (5-7.6cm) of well-composted organic matter into your soil before planting.
Peas fix nitrogen from the air, so in general they don’t need more fertilizer after seeding.
Be wary of adding any additional nitrogen, because although it will result in more leaves, the pods will become smaller and flowering will be delayed.
Also, apply mulch (like straw, grass clippings or wood chips) in the summer heat to help control weeds, keep the soil moist, and reduce soil temperatures for fall planting.
COMPANION PLANTS FOR PEAS
How to grow peas with the plant friends that protect them.
Best companion plants to grow peas with
Beans, carrots, cucumber, eggplant, parsley, peppers, potatoes, radish, spinach, strawberries, turnips all make for great companions.
Celery and corn are also great companions since they’re heavy feeders, so they’ll benefit from the nitrogen fixed in the soil.
Avoid growing peas with:
Avoid planting with onions, because they stunt the growth of your peas.
GROWING STRUCTURE OPTIONS
How to grow peas with the support structures that help them grow to their full potential
These are support structures for tall-growing, vining varieties.
Materials that can be used: bamboo canes, coppiced wood, spare sticks, branches from trees, wire fencing, a steel rebar, and nets.
Structures the materials can be worked into:
A wigwam: plants are placed in a wide circle, with supporting canes tied together at the top. Keep in mind that with this option, you’ll lose the planting space in the middle.
A central support using one strong pole in the middle.
Strings or wires that can be attached between poles for double rows.
An arch over other beds or walkways.
A wall or fence.
Another option is to plant next to corn, so that your pea plants can climb up its strong stem.
They should be at least 5 inches (13cm) in diameter at the top (per plant), with enough depth to accommodate your peas’ roots.
Containers are great space-savers, and can be moved to any spot on your balcony, terrace or garden.
You can still provide trellis support by either placing your container next to a fence, or by using one central support in the middle. Just be sure your containers have holes in the bottom for good water drainage.
The soil in raised beds drains well and warms up faster, both of which help to prevent disease infections.
It also reduces foot traffic around your plants, since you won’t have to step on the ground to work.
This option usually provides the most space as well as lots of opportunities to install your trellises. Here, you can set up arches, wigwams or doubles rows (made with poles and strings/ wires).
Another benefit’s that you typically don’t have to water open garden fields as often as container plantings.
Just be sure to check your soil first for its fertilizer needs. You’ll also want to make sure there aren’t any diseases present in the soil from your last harvest.
Common challenges and their solutions
There are a number of issues, pests and diseases that can potentially harm your peas. Not to worry. I’ve listed them here below, as well as what to do to either avoid or fix the problem.
How to grow peas without the typical vegetable garden pests
Small pests that transmit the Pea Enation Virus, which causes curling, discoloration, and leaf deformation. Typically, aphids form large colonies on the underside of leaves.
Solution: Wash them off your plants with a strong water stream (like from your harden hose).
It’s best to do so in the morning, to avoid having wet leaves during the cool nighttime.
You can also plant disease resistant varieties. Also, take note that over- fertilization will increase aphid populations.
Yellowish-white legless maggots with a pointy head that damage seeds as well as the roots and stems.
Solution: Avoid using heavy compost or manure, which attracts the maggot flies that would lay eggs on your plant.
ARMYWORMS AND CUTWORMS
They’re green, reddish, or black caterpillars. Armyworms feed on leaves and stems, while cutworms will feed near the soil level.
Solution: Control the growth of weeds, because they serve as cover for these worms.
Armyworms and cutworms will also hide under organic mulches.
Natural enemies like parasitic flies or wasps will feed on them, helping to reduce their numbers – so encourage them in your garden.
A brown-flecked beetle with a short and broad snout. The females lay eggs on young pods and their larvae feed on the seeds.
Solution: Early planting minimizes any exposure to this beetle – but if you find any adults on your plants, simply pick them off by hand.
How to grow peas disease free
ROOT ROT AND DAMPING OFF
A disease that stunts your plant’s growth, and turns the lower leaves yellow. Grey, black or red lesions will also appear on the lower stems and roots.
Solution: Improve your soil’s drainage and avoid working in compacted and wet soil. Also, practice crop rotation and avoid using too much nitrogen.
A virus causing downward curling leaves, while the stems and roots will develop a yellow-orange discoloration. This disease becomes a problem when soil temperatures exceed 70°F (21°C).
Solution: Improve your soil’s drainage and try to plant as early as possible. That way, your plants have more time to develop before soil temperatures reach that critical 70°F.
A powdery white fungus will develop on the leaves and stem, and it will stunt your plants if an infection happens during their early growth stage. Also, infected pods might have black or brown spots on them.
Solution: Water your plants in the morning to give them enough time to dry out, taking care not to get their leaves wet.
Don’t crowd your plants either – keep them spaced apart to allow for air circulation. You’ll also want to weed around the growing area.
Finally, if you find any infected plants, make sure to remove and destroy them.
PEA ENATION MOSAIC
A virus transmitted by aphids, it causes leaves to become crinkled and stunted, and white flecks will appear on the leaves and pods. Also, those pods might also be misshapen.
Solution: Plant virus-resistant varieties – though if you don’t have access to them, plant vulnerable varieties nice and early to avoid an aphid outbreak.
Harvesting and storing
How to grow peas for your dinner plate and pantry
A good thing to remember is that regular harvesting of your peas will promote continuous pod production (aka a steady supply of delicious homegrown peas for you to enjoy.)
Harvest these before the pods are fully mature. In general, pods should be full size and have a firm, crisp flesh while the seeds inside should be small.
Your plant will flower and mature their pods every 3-4 weeks – but keep in mind that when left on the plant for too long, they’ll develop a tough fiber in the pod wall.
Harvest them when pods are fully mature and are beginning to dry. Simply pull out your plants and lay them down in a row, allowing them to dry for 5-7 days.
Once dried, you can pick the pods, remove the seeds, then let them dry for another few days.
These must be picked regularly to ensure sweet and fiber-free pods.
Pick these pods when the seeds are swollen, and make sure to shell them before use.
Pea plants take nitrogen from the air and “store” it in their roots. When those roots are left in the ground rather than pulled out, they can be worked into next year’s soil - releasing their nitrogen, and benefitting next year’s crops.
Brassicas like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower are great followers since they need plenty of nitrogen to thrive.
GARDEN AND SNAP PEAS
Their quality and flavor is best when cooked directly after harvest, but they can also be refrigerated.
Keep them in a sealed container in a spot that’s both dry and cool.
FREEZING SNAP AND GARDEN PEAS
First, you’ll want to blanch them in boiling water for about two minutes. This process kills the enzymes that typically reduce nutrients and cause your peas to eventually break down.
After blanching, dry your peas thoroughly and then store them in an air tight bag.