Growing Peas in the Backyard Garden

Growing peas in your home garden is an easy garden project well worth undertaking. Some varieties can be eaten right off the vine, pods and all, while other types are small green orbs that are eaten shelled from the pod. All types of peas are a delicious and nutritious part of a garden-fresh diet. Read on to learn how to grow peas in your garden!

Need more ideas on what to plant? Learn how to grow a prolific crop of green beans in your backyard

Contributed by Jodi Torpey

Hands cupped holding ripe harvested peas

Growing peas in your garden results in a sweet harvest.

How to Grow Peas in Your Garden 

Whether you call them garden peas, snap peas, snow peas, or shelling peas, Pisum sativum, is a terrific small vegetable to plant in your garden.

These delicious members of the legume family are most flavorful in early spring either as shelled peas or edible pods. Gardeners are also discovering the bright crunchiness of pea shoots to top green salads or add to stir fry dishes.

Peas are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables, and each type is a bit different. One of the most familiar peas, the English pea, is meant to be eaten fresh when removed from the pea pods. Snow peas and sugar snap peas are both meant to be eaten pod and all.

Snow peas are somewhat flat and have small peas inside the edible green pod. Snap peas are plump and sweet.

Peas are delicious and nutritious, rich in vitamins A, B, and C.

Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), grown for their fragrant flowers, are related to edible green peas, but they are not edible. 

Snow peas growing on vine.

Snow peas

Easy to Grow

Peas are easy to grow, and the key to the tastiest tenderest peas is to get an early start. Plan on planting while spring temperatures are still cool because peas stop growing as soon as temperatures heat up. Some gardeners always plant their peas on March 17 – Saint Patrick’s Day – even if they have to clear some snow away. In places with mild winters, peas can be planted earlier.

If you can’t plant in March, the next best planting date is two to four weeks before the date of the average last spring frost in your area. Wait to plant until the garden soil has warmed to about 50-60 degrees and is dry enough to work. Because peas are a hardy vegetable, they can survive light frosts and grow in temperatures as cool as 40 degrees.

Select a full-sun spot in the garden and deeply dig in organic matter to loosen the soil to make it easier for pea plants to develop the long roots they need to be productive.

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Peas can also be planted when temperatures cool for a fall crop. Even in cold-weather regions, plant peas in fall. There might not be enough time for pods to form fully by the time cold weather sets in, but pea shoots, the thin curly tendrils, and tender leaves will be ready to enjoy.


 

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Pea Varieties for Your Garden

Plant several varieties of peas with different maturity dates, to increase the yield and extend the harvest. Search your favorite seed catalogs for unusual varieties. 

Here are some of the most popular pea types in three categories for your garden:

Growing Snow Peas

Little Snowpea White is a fast-growing pea plant that can start producing before you know it. Grows to 40 inches tall; 30 days to maturity from planting.

Oregon Sugar Pod is a dwarf variety of snow pea that makes harvesting easy. Prolific plants produce large pods known for their mild flavor. Grows to 30 inches tall; 50-54 days.

Growing Sugar Snaps

Sugar Daddy is a popular sugar snap pea because it produces tender, sweet, and stringless pods. The curved pods can be enjoyed raw in the garden or lightly steamed. Grows to 24 inches; 65 days.

Cascadia is known for the abundant sweet pods it produces. Short vines produce plenty of pods that are especially delightful. Grows to 32 inches tall; 60 days.

Shelling or English Peas

Green Arrow is a favorite shelling pea because it’s easy to grow and easy to harvest. The taste is superior, too. Grows 24 inches tall; 70 days.

Lincoln is an old-fashioned heirloom shelling pea that some gardeners say is the sweetest pea of them all. Easy-to-shell pods grow on 30-inch plants; 67 days to maturity.

Vine or Bush Peas

Within each type of pea, you’ll have the option of choosing vining peas, which require some sort of support, or bush peas, which remain low in the garden and can get by with little to no support. Some growers use pea sticks sunk in the ground to offer just a little support without requiring a full trellis.

Snow pea growing on leafy vine in sun.

Snow peas growing in the sun

How to Grow Pea Plants

Peas are a cool weather crop that can be planted in early spring and again in the late summer for a fall harvest. Pea seeds germinate in soil temperature between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Before planting, soak pea seeds in water overnight to help speed germination. Another way to help peas get a good start and to increase overall yield is to use a bacteria inoculant powder, available from seed suppliers. The powder gets mixed in with the peas or into the soil right before planting to help increase pea growth and production.

Sow seed several inches apart and no deeper than 1-1 ½ inches. Space them about 2 feet between rows. If you need to thin the pea seedlings to keep them 3-4 inches apart, be sure to toss the thinnings into a spring salad.

As soon as peas sprout and start to grow, add a support for young plants to climb. You can build a simple structure such as a three-sided teepee trellis or an A-frame, or buy a trellis system that fits your garden space.

Snap peas growing on a chicken wire trellis.

Snap peas growing on a trellis

Requirements for Growing Peas

Soil requirements

Peas are hardy spring vegetables that can adapt to a variety of soil types. Make sure that the soil has good drainage or be sure to amend the soil with compost or other organic matter.

Light requirements

Plant peas in full sun to partial shade. Some shade will help protect pea plants from harsh sunlight if temperatures warm too quickly in spring.

Fertilizer and water requirements

Peas are one of the few garden vegetables that don’t need regular applications of high-nitrogen fertilizers; however, give plants a good start by digging in a balanced fertilizer along rows.

Avoid overwatering, especially when young to keep plant roots from rotting in soggy soil. As vines grow, keep soil evenly moist to keep pea vines productive. A lack of consistent moisture will result in smaller pea crops.

Preventing Pea Problems

Here are several ways to ensure a healthy crop of peas:

Rotate the area where you plant peas each season. Rotating crops helps prevent soil-borne pathogens from infecting repeat crop plantings.

Be sure to plant peas where the soil is prepared to be well-draining. Amend the soil with compost and avoid planting peas in low-lying spots where water can pool and keep the soil soggy.

Plant pea seeds according to the recommendation for each variety. Avoid planting peas too deeply in the soil to prevent damping off, a soil-borne fungal disease that kills stems and roots of seedlings. Plant pea seeds no deeper than 1 ½ inch.

Peas growing on vine, with open shell.

Ripe peas

How to Plant Peas in Containers

Peas can be planted in containers if you use a large enough pot with drainage holes in the bottom. Select the pea variety of your choice that grows either bush-type peas or dwarf pea varieties that grow as compact plants, like Little Snowpea white or purple.

Place the container in a sunny spot and fill it with a potting mix meant for outdoor container growing. Be sure to plant peas no deeper than 1 ½ inch and space 3-4 inches apart.

Once peas spout, place a trellis in the container that will be tall enough for plants to climb. Keep soil moist and harvest as you would garden-grown peas.

How to Harvest Peas

Harvest peas while they’re still tender and fresh, about three weeks after the vines have bloomed. Keep harvesting to keep plants producing. Don’t leave pods on the vine too long or peas will lose their sweet flavor. Pods should be bright green, unblemished, and have fully formed peas inside.

Use scissors or pointed pruning shears to remove pods from the vines—don’t pull pods to keep vines from tearing or breaking.

Using Peas in the Kitchen

Plan to prepare and eat peas as close to harvest as possible or store whole pods in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Wait to shell peas until just before using. If you have more peas than you can eat, preserve peas by canning, freezing, or fermenting.

Peas in pods in a bowl and on cutting board, and shelled peas in a jar.

Prepping peas for eating

  • Fresh shelling peas are deliciously eaten in soups, pasta dishes, salads, and Asian dishes.
  • Prepare snow peas in their pods either raw, steamed or added to stir fries or other recipes for a crunchy crisp taste.
  • Snap peas are best eaten raw or quickly steamed, blanched, or sautéed as a side dish. Remember to remove the string before eating the whole pod.

Saving Pea Seeds

Let varieties of heirloom or open-pollinated peas mature on their vines to dry outside. However, if the weather turns cold and damp, pull up mature plants to dry in a warm space indoors.

When pods are dry, remove peas from their pods. Spread peas on a screen to ensure they dry completely before storing.

Store peas in a moisture-proof container in a dark, cool and dry spot. Pea seeds should be viable for several years if carefully stored.

Close up of a snow pea on a vine, with "how to grow peas in your garden" in white words overlay.

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About the author: Jodi Torpey is an award-winning vegetable gardener, a Craftsy gardening instructor, and a Colorado Master Gardener. She’s the author of Blue-Ribbon Vegetable Gardening and The Colorado Gardener’s Companion. Her writing also appears in digital and print media, and she’s a popular speaker at gardening conferences and events around the country. Reach her at www.JodiTorpey.com.

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