How to Grow Peas

I don’t know about you, but for me, learning how to grow peas (Pisum sativum / Leguminosae) was all about having something in the garden that would grow and produce right away. Give me a garden full of slow growers and I’ll pester and micromanage those poor slackers into hiding. But, when I plant peas, I don’t need to worry about that: The prolific and fast-producing nature of these rugged legumes distracts me long enough that I leave my slow growers be.

And, if you have kids or are a new to growing vegetables, there’s another reason to learn how to grow peas: Because peas are hardy and forgiving, they make great training-wheel crops for children and new gardeners. And, because they can draw nitrogen from the atmosphere and fix it to your soil, they’re natural, food-producing soil amenders. Basically, if you can, find room to grow these great legumes: You’ll be glad you did.

Tips for Growing Peas

Growing peas is relatively easy because they’re not very nutrient needy, they don’t attract many pests, and they’ve been cultivated for so long that many hardy, fast-growing varieties exist. Even so, you may want to mind your peas and Qs with these growing tips:
Growing Peas with Vines and Tendrils

  • Before you plant your peas, inoculate them with the bacteria (Rhizobium) that they use to fix nitrogen in their roots.
  • You can plant peas as soon as the soil is warm enough to be worked but remember that the warmer the soil, the faster pea seeds will germinate. So, while pea seeds will germinate in soil temperatures anywhere from 40-75°F, temperatures at the higher end are better for speedy germination.
  • Do not plant where pea vines will overshadow other crops (as pea plants can grow over 6 feet tall).
  • Plant peas in full sun in well-draining soil, spaced to allow for good air circulation (which, depending on variety, could mean anywhere from 1″ – 3″ depending on planting pattern).
  • When harvesting, pick all pods that are ready at once. If you let seeds ripen, pea plants will stop producing.
  • If you are container gardening, be sure to use the right size container for peas, which would be at least 12″ deep.

A few notes about using pea inoculants: Pea inoculant is cultivar specific (although most inoculant powders contain a mix of inoculants for popular legumes like peas, snap beans and lima beans), so you’ll need to find the right inoculant for your type of peas. And, if you’re growing in an established garden, you may not need to prep your peas with inoculant. But, if this is a new garden, using inoculant on your peas can dramatically improve their yields (and ability to fix nitrogen to your soil).

How to Grow Peas Vertically

If you’re looking for a dream vertical crop, grow peas. Most types of peas are natural climbers that will readily twist, twirl and clamber their way up any properly-sized pole or trellis. Even so, be sure that you mind the following to keep these creepers creeping:
How to Grow Peas in a Garden

  • Make sure that your growing frame (be it a trellis, pole or stick in the ground) is the right wrapping diameter for your growing peas. Most peas use tendrils to wrap and cling to suitable surfaces, so if their tendrils can’t wrap around the angles of your frame of choice (because the diameter of the surface is too large), your peas won’t make it.
  • Go tall. Pea vines can grow over 6 feet tall. Only give them a few feet of frame to cling to, and you’ll miss half of your potential pea harvest.
  • A common way to help your peas ladder to the next step in a frame is to connect sections with string or twine. Twine is relatively inexpensive (at least it’s much less expensive than metal and wood supports), plus it’s useful for “filling in the gaps” that searching pea vines seem to be so good at finding.
  • If you choose to tie your peas to affix them to a frame, make sure that you tie your ties loosely so that growing peas have plenty of room for stem growth. You don’t want to see your pea vines choked off at the roots by too-tight collars.

Different Types of Peas to Plant

A pea is a pea, right? Well, not quite. There are a lot (and I mean a lot) of different types of peas to plant. Open any seed catalog and you’re sure to find pages of peas. Snap peas, English peas, snow peas, shelling peas. (And that’s not even thinking about beans.) If you’re not sure which type of pea to plant, consider the following:

How to Grow Pea Sprouts

  • Snap peas (also called sugar peas) yield more crop than other types of peas. They’re sweet, and they grow sweeter as their pods ripen and grow. They’re delicious cooked or eaten straight off the vine.
  • Snow peas are the flat, tender peas often found in Chinese stir-fries and Thai curries. While they’re not as sweet as snap peas, they’re still delicious if properly harvested and prepared.
  • Shelling peas (also called English peas) are the peas your mother pestered you about. Fat and tasty, shelling peas are ideally suited for soups, canning, steaming, drying and freezing.

For planting specifications for growing peas (like preferred soil pH, planting depths and more), check out my Gardening Guides page.

Thanks to Amanda B,  Jessie Hirsch and Linda for images!

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