Planting Peas

Sweet fresh peas straight from the garden have a taste even children will love! They’re a great crop for the home garden. They’re easy to grow, they’re not fussy about soil and they grow quickly.

Types of Peas

Pea varieties may be categorised in three ways. First, they may be either shell, snap, or snow peas. (See the “Legumes” article for further detail.) Secondly, they are grouped by height, ranging from dwarf to “tall telephone” varieties. Thirdly, peas may be either early, midseason, or late season. Early varieties are usually shorter and have a bush‐type growing habit and later varieties are usually taller.

Varieties include:

  • The very early ‘Sugar Ann’ (snap, 2′ or 61 cm, 52‐58 days)
  • ‘Dwarf Grey Sugar’ (snow, 28″ or 71 cm, 57‐59 days)
  • ‘Little Marvel’ (shell, 18″ or 46 cm, 59‐63 days)
  • ‘Oregon Giant’ (snow, 3′ or 90 cm, 70 days)
  • ‘Tall Telephone’ (shell, 5‐6′ or 1.5‐1.8 m, 68‐75 days)

‘Green Arrow’ (shell, 2‐3′ or 61‐91 cm, 65‐70 days) is a good main season pea that is resistant to downy mildew and fusarium wilt. ‘Wando’ (shell, 30″ or 76 cm, 68 days) is also a good main season pea, but for late spring planting: it can handle both cold and warm weather.

Growing Requirements

The first mistake gardeners make with peas is planting too late. Peas are a cool weather crop and can be planted very early in the spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. Pea seeds will germinate as soon as daytime temperatures reach 40°F (4.4°C), although they may take 4‐5 weeks to germinate when it’s this cold. Peas grow best in temperatures of 50°‐70°F (10‐21°C), with optimum germination at about 70°F (21°C).

Peas like well‐drained average soil rich in organic matter with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Peas are nitrogen‐fixing legumes (see “Growing Beans”) so don’t add too much nitrogen as this will create lots of foliage but hinder pod growth. Adding phosphorus and potassium can be beneficial.

For an early spring planting, it’s best to prepare the soil the previous autumn by working half an inch (12.5 mm) of compost into a raised bed. A raised bed will warm up the soil and provide good drainage.

To prepare the soil for a later planting, amend the soil as above but instead of a raised bed, use the trench planting method described below.

Planting Peas

The second mistake people make planting peas is sowing them too thinly. Pea seeds are best sown thickly, about an inch (2.5 cm) apart.

Planting peas in trenches can help peas adjust to warming temperatures by keeping roots cool as the weather gets hotter. Dig a trench about six inches (15 cm) wide and four inches (10 cm) deep with a hoe. Space the seeds about one inch (2.5 cm) apart throughout the trench and use the hoe to cover with them with about one inch (2.5 cm) of soil. Tamp the soil down with the back of the hoe and water well. The trench will still be a few inches below ground level. Soil or compost can be mounded up around the plant stems as the season progresses to keep the roots cool.

Peas can also be planted in single rows, double rows, or wide rows. Planting depth depends on the temperature, as noted above. To plant in single rows, space seeds 1‐2 inches (2.5‐5.1 cm) apart with 18 inches between rows. For double rows, sow 1‐2 inches (2.5‐5.1 cm) apart in two rows 6 inches (15 cm) apart, with 2.5‐3 inches (76‐91 cm) between each double row. Place a trellis or other support in between the double rows.

If there’s one myth to dispel, it’s that peas can only be planted in the spring. Peas can be successfully planted in the autumn since they can tolerate moderate freezes, however they’re more sensitive to freezing in the autumn than in the spring.

For autumn planting, use the same method as for spring peas, but plant seeds up to two inches (5.1 cm) deep if the soil is hot and dry. Plant one inch deep (2.5 cm) if it’s cool and damp.

Nearly all pea vines need additional support ‐ even dwarf varieties. Peas can also be grown on trellises, fences, or chicken wire spread between two posts. The traditional support is pea brush: leafless tree branches stuck into the rows for the pea vines to climb on. The best pea brush is sturdy hardwood with broad, flat branches.

Keep the young peas well watered and provide some shade if it’s hot. Have a tarpaulin or other covering ready in case of frost.

Whether it’s crisp snow peas, versatile snap peas, or classic shell peas: plant peas for that long‐awaited first taste of spring!

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