Whether you want to grow shelling peas or peas with edible pods, these little green home-grown gems are a must in any edible landscape.
They taste great, look pretty, and are easy to grow and care for. In some climates, you can pretty well plant them all year round.
But you want guidelines, right?
When to plant peas? The traditional day for planting peas is St Patrick’s Day which is celebrated on March 17 every year. But that’s only because it’s the perfect time to plant garden peas in Ireland! And that’s because there is a very short window to plant peas in that part of the world. In reality, it depends on where you live and the variety you plant.
Here are some tips on when to plant peas in your part of the world.
PLANTING PEAS IN DIFFERENT CLIMATES
Many people say that you can plant peas in the ground as soon as the soil has thawed after winter and can be worked on. But this can be hit and miss.
Wherever you live, peas prefer cooler temperatures but they do need four to five hours of sun every day to produce flowers and the pods where the peas develop. They don’t like heat or humidity but they cope well when there’s frost.
Generally, the best time to sow seeds is four to six weeks before the last day of spring frost. Of course, it’s impossible to predict this day with 100% accuracy, but your local weather gurus will have a good idea of a likely date. Unless you are new to the area, you will probably also know when the last frost usually occurs.
The heat in a tropical climate immediately spells potential problems for peas. But you can grow peas successfully in the cooler altitudes of tropical regions and during winter in the subtropics.
A dry climate is less than perfect for peas because, quite simply, there’s not much rainfall.
Even though peas don’t need a lot of water, to maintain the quality of pea pods in a very dry climate you’ll have to water them every day in hot weather. You cannot allow the soil to dry out.
With mild to warm summers and cool to cold winters, plus moderate rainfall, a temperature climate is ideal for peas. For this reason, they are grown extensively in temperate zones globally, commercially, and in home gardens.
Peas usually grow well in a continental climate. It’s hot and cold enough when it needs to be, and there’s enough rain (or snow) to provide enough moisture.
Because of the extremely cold conditions, it’s best to grow peas in a greenhouse where the soil and air temperature can be monitored.
CHOOSING PEA SEEDS
The first decision you need to make when choosing pea seeds is what sort of peas you want to plant. Then you can buy the seed or harvest seed from growing peas. Either way, the seeds are simply peas that have dried out inside their pods while still on the vine.
Peas do get diseases, so it’s worth considering disease-resistant pea varieties.
TYPES OF PEAS
The three types of fresh peas that are commonly eaten are all varieties of Pisum sativum:
- Green, garden peas
- Snow peas
- Sugar snap peas
Garden peas, also known as green peas, are shelling peas. They have slightly curved, rounded pods that we break open, or shell, to remove the peas before we cook them fresh or dry them.
When green peas are picked early, they are smaller and sweeter, and we call them petit pois peas. When they are left on the vine to mature and dry so we can harvest their seeds, they are known as field peas.
Snow peas are also called mange-tout, a French word for “eat all”. They have a sweet taste and crunchy texture and can be eaten raw or cooked.
Sugar snap peas look like small garden peas but they are also a type of edible-podded pea. You can eat them shelled or whole.
But not all shelling peas or snow peas or sugar snap peas are the same. And when it comes to seeds, there is a tremendous choice of varieties as well as heirloom and organic seeds.
HOW TO PLANT PEA SEEDS
There’s nothing cut and dried here, but since they don’t like hot weather, it’s a good idea to plant them somewhere that provides welcome shade.
SOIL FOR PEA SEEDS
Peas should be grown in rich, loamy soil that is moist (not wet). They thrive in well-drained soil.
Soil temperature has a direct impact on the time it will take your pea seeds to germinate. They will usually take about a month to sprout if the soil temperature is about 40 degrees and cold (40°F/5°C) and about two weeks if it is 50°F/10°C.
The seeds will sprout in one to two weeks if the soil temperature is 65-70°F/18-21°C. If the soil is any warmer than this, the seeds will sprout more quickly, but the percentage of seeds that germinate will be reduced. Use a plant thermometer to check the temperature of your soil.
PLANTING PEA SEEDS
Pea seeds are big and hard, and before they will sprout, they need to absorb enough water for the seed coat to break and become soft. The older the seeds, the longer they will take to absorb enough water for germination.
Plant the seed about an inch deep in the soil and keep the soil moist. It mustn’t be too wet or it may become waterlogged and the seeds will rot.
Many successful pea growers say they prefer raised beds to avoid the risk of rotting. The soil in raised beds also warms up more quickly than the surrounding ground.
Either way, plant the seeds at least an inch (2.5 cm) deep and about two inches (5 cm) apart. The rows should be about seven inches (18 cm) apart.
PRE-SPROUTING PEA SEEDS
Even though peas don’t like their roots to be disturbed, it is possible to pre-sprout peas to get the plants growing more quickly. This is a useful tactic when a cool spring quickly turns into a hot summer.
What you do is soak the seeds overnight and then place them on damp paper towels. Fold the towels over the seeds and put them in one or more plastic bags and keep them in a warm environment. Keep the paper towels damp until the seeds sprout.
Alternatively, you can start them in biodegradable containers that disintegrate in the soil when they are transferred to the garden.
HOW TO WATER PEAS
Peas don’t need a lot of water. Unless they are wilting, water sparsely once a week. You don’t need more than an inch (2.5 cm) of water to soak into the soil.
But here’s the caveat. If you overwater your peas, this can also make them wilt! And the effects of overwatering are much worse than underwatering!
Deep watering is recommended. You should be careful of watering overhead as it can lead to powdery mildew (see below).
HOW TO GROW PEAS
Depending on the location, they can be grown successfully from winter to early summer. The optimum air temperature for germination is around 68°F or 21°C.
The optimum temperature for good growth ranges from 50°F or 10°C to 65°F or 18°C.
Peas grow in late spring and summer, so it is sensible to mulch around the base of the plant to ensure the roots stay cool and moist. Wait until the seedlings are about two inches tall. Then cover the ground with clean straw or compost.
Peas generally grow best when they have some support. The larger varieties thrive when planted alongside trellis or fencing.
You can also use bamboo stakes and run twine or netting between them to create a trellis or ladder effect for the vines. Peas have tendrils that will curl over just about any support you offer!
Since root rot can be a problem, be sure to practice crop rotation. This means you mustn’t plant peas or other legumes in the same garden bed more than once every three years.
DISEASES & PESTS THAT ATTACK PEA PLANTS
Aphids are the most common pest that attacks peas. They are commonly accompanied by ants. Growing nasturtiums as a companion plant can help attract them away.
Otherwise, knock them off with a strong water spray or wipe the leaves with a 2% dish soap and water solution every two or three days for about two weeks.
The most common disease that attacks peas is powdery mildew and it usually strikes when the weather starts to warm up. This is sometimes caused by overhead watering. Powdery mildew can also be problematic.
If peas are attacked by fusarium wilt, destroy the plants that have been infected and make sure there isn’t too much nitrogen in the soil. If your soil is acidic, raise the pH to 7.0.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GROW PEAS?
We’ve discussed how the temperature of the soil affects germination. But, overall, it’s going to take between 60 and 70 days for your peas to grow to maturity.
To stretch your pea harvest, it’s a good idea to plant different types of peas, including early, main season, and late varieties.
WHAT IS THE BEST MONTH TO PLANT PEAS?
It is usually ideal to plant peas in early spring. So, if you are in the northern hemisphere, you will plant in March. If you live in the southern hemisphere, you will plant in September.
But, as we have already pointed out, ultimately, it does depend on your climatic conditions.
Peas are not difficult to grow, despite what some people say. They like cool conditions and need minimal water and almost no maintenance.
Temperature and continental climates are the best for peas, but you can grow them virtually anywhere.
For instance, in polar regions, you can grow peas in greenhouses, and even if weather conditions are seriously dry, you can take steps to water them and get a successful crop.
Our 2021 planting guide has loads of tips to help you grow delicious peas that you can eat cooked or raw.