How to Grow and Care for Chickpeas

Chickpea plant (Cicer arietinum)

shelma1 / Getty Images

You don’t need to live in a tropical climate to grow your own chickpeas for hummus; in fact, chickpeas prefer moderately warm summers. Chickpeas are an annual legume that is planted in the spring and harvested in the late summer after a long growing season. What we call chickpeas or garbanzo beans aren’t botanically peas, they are seeds that grow in small seed pods. Most chickpeas are harvested after the seeds have dried on the plant. 

Chickpea plants are bushy and short. Staking or trellising is unnecessary and their size also makes them good container plants. Similar to tomatoes, chickpeas are indeterminate—they continue to grow new leaves after they have started to flower in purple, white, pink, or blue color depending on the chickpea variety.

 Common Name  Chickpea, garbanzo bean
 Botanical Name  Cicer arietinum
 Family  Fabaceae
 Plant Type  Annual, vegetable
 Mature Size  8-24 in. tall and wide
 Sun Exposure  Full
 Soil Type  Loamy, sandy, well-drained
Soil pH  Acidic 
Bloom Time   Spring
 Hardiness Zones  3-9 (USDA)
 Native Area Asia, Africa, Middle East

How to Plant Chickpeas 

When to Plant

Chickpeas are planted when the soil temperature in the spring has warmed up to at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit. After that, they need a long, warm growing season. If you live in a cold climate, you should get a head start on the outdoor growing season because waiting that long may reduce your chances that the plants reach maturity before the end of the summer. You can start chickpeas indoors two to four weeks before your average last frost date, as long as you use coir or paper pots that can be transplanted into the ground without disturbing the roots.

Selecting a Planting Site

A location in full sun with well-draining, fertile soil is a must for chickpeas. Make sure you follow crop rotation rules and don’t plant chickpeas in the same place where you grew other legumes the year before.

Chickpeas lend themselves to outdoor container-growing on a sunny patio or porch. 

Spacing, Depth, and Support

Plant the chickpeas 4 inches apart. The planting depth varies, 1 inch for small-seeded and 2 inches for large-seeded varieties. Chickpeas are bush-type plants and by being planted densely, they support each other, therefore no trellising or staking is needed. 

Chickpea at flowering stage
Chickpea at flowering stage

Sahil Ghosh / Getty Images

Chickpea Plant Care

When grown in the right conditions, chickpeas don’t require much care and they are moderately easy to grow.

Light

Chickpeas need a spot that gets 6 to 8 hours of sun daily. In hot southern climates, the plants do better with afternoon shade. 

Soil

The soil should be nutrient-rich with plenty of organic matter and have excellent drainage. Chickpeas can grow in a pH range from 5.3 to 7, around 6 is ideal. 

Water

To grow chickpeas, the soil needs to be evenly moist at all times. If it does not rain, give the plants about one inch of water per week in areas with moderately warm summers. In hot climates, they need more water until the top 2 inches of soil feel moist. Water the plants slowly and deeply to reach the root. Drip irrigation is best. 

Temperature and Humidity

Chickpeas need warm weather but they are not a hot-weather crop, they do best in daytime temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures between 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Moderate humidity does not bother the plants. In cool climates, an early fall frost can cut the growing season short if the chickpeas haven’t fully matured yet.

Fertilizer

Chickpeas are nitrogen-fixing legumes so any fertilizer you apply should be high in phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients yet not in nitrogen, which promotes foliage growth. If you start with rich, fertile soil, you might not need a fertilizer at all but only a detailed soil test done in a laboratory will tell you if and what the soil needs. Without a soil test, you can support plant growth with a light application of granular organic fertilizer every six weeks. 

Pollination

Chickpeas self-pollinate and don’t require insects for pollination. 

Types of Chickpeas

The two main types of chickpeas are Kabuli and Desi. Kabuli are small- to large-seeded chickpeas and the plants usually are taller. The chickpeas have a white to cream-colored seedcoat. Desi chickpeas are small and have a tan or brown pigmented seedcoat.

Another way to keep the two types apart are the flowers and bloom time. Kabuli chickpeas have white flowers, and Desi have purple flowers. Desi chickpeas flower and mature a week or two earlier than Kabuli chickpeas.

Dried chickpea pods close to harvest
Dried chickpea pods close to harvest harvest

SafakOguz / Getty Images

Harvesting Chickpeas

Depending on the weather conditions, chickpeas are ready to be harvested in 85 to 100 days after planting, in the late summer. You can harvest them when the pods are still small and green and prepare them like snap beans.

The most common way of harvesting them is dried. Wait for the leaves to wither, dry, and brown, then pull the entire plant including the roots. Place the plant on a flat surface in a warm, dry, well-ventilated location such as a garage. Let it dry further until the pods start to split and you can see the seeds inside. Remove the seeds from their pods.

Before being stored, the chickpeas must be treated to kill any insects and their eggs. To do this this in the oven, distribute the chickpeas in a single layer on a baking sheet and pasteurize them at 160 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Or, place the chickpeas in freezer bags and leave them in the freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below for at least 48 hours. Afterwards store the chickpeas in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. 

How to Grow Chickpeas in Pots

Because chickpea plants are short and bushy, they lend themselves to container-growing. Use a container with large drainage holes and well-draining potting mix. Just like chickpeas in a garden setting, start with more plants and thin out the 3-inch seedlings so you end up with a maximum of four plants per square foot. Also keep in mind that container plants need more frequent watering and fertilizer applications than plants in garden soil. Feed the plants about once a month with a granular organic low-nitrogen fertilizer. 

Chickpea seedlings
Chickpea seedlings

eurobanks / Getty Images

Pruning

While chickpeas do not require pruning, they need to be thinned out. When the seedlings are 3 inches tall, cut any extra seedlings at the surface level to leave 6 inches of space between each plant. Do not pull out the seedlings like you’d pull weeds because that can disturb and damage the roots of the plants you want to keep. 

Propagating Chickpeas

As chickpeas are an annual crop with a long growing season, there is no point in propagating the plant vegetatively to produce new plants in the same growing season. Instead, set aside some chickpeas from your harvest to use as seeds the next year. 

How to Grow Chickpeas from Seed

Chickpeas should not be soaked before planting. The use of an inoculant, however, is generally recommended. Treating a legume seed with an inoculant ensures that the correct type of beneficial nitrogen-fixing bacteria is available to the plant when it germinates. Different legumes require different bacteria; in the case of chickpeas, you need Mesorhizobium ciceri or M. mediterraneum. Inoculants can be purchased from garden supply companies.

After you have planted the chickpeas—1 to 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart—water them thoroughly and keep the soil evenly moist. The seeds should sprout within 10 to 21 days depending on weather conditions.

If you have started the seeds indoors, plant them in the garden with their pots when the soil has warmed and any danger of frost has passed. 

Overwintering

Chickpeas are an annual crop. The plants die after the harvest so the question of overwintering does not pose itself. 

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Like other legumes, chickpeas are prone to fungal diseases such as Ascochyta blight, Rhizoctonia root rot, Pythium rot, Fusarium wilt, white mold, bacterial blight, as well as certain viruses which are transmitted by aphids. These diseases are often exacerbated by high humidity, hot temperatures, and lots of rain. One way of preventing their spread is proper plant spacing to ensure air circulation, and no overhead watering.

Because chickpea leaves, stems, and pods are hairy and secrete malic acid, insects tend to leave the plants alone.

FAQ
  • Can you grow chickpeas indoors?

    Chickpeas are not suitable for indoor growing. They need full sun and even in optimal light conditions indoors, the plants will likely become leggy.

  • Are chickpeas and garbanzo beans the same?

    Yes, they are the botanically the same plant. The name garbanzo bean comes from the Spanish term for dried seeds (“garau antzu”).

  • Can you use chickpeas from the grocery store as seeds?

    You can get store-bought chickpeas to sprout but unlike chickpeas from a seed company where you know the days to maturity and other specific growing requirements, you don’t know which type you are getting. Therefore using them for growing your own chickpeas might be a hit and miss.

Article Sources
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  1. Chickpea (Garbanzo bean). University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension.