How to Grow and Care for Peas

peas on vine

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

Few things say “spring” like the taste of peas picked fresh from the garden. Pea plants (Pisum sativum) are a cool-season annual crop primarily grown for their edible seeds (and sometimes seed pods). There are short, bushy varieties as well as long, vining ones. There are three main types that people grow to eat: sweet peas (or garden peas), which have starchy seeds and inedible pods; snow peas, which have small seeds and flat edible pods; and snap peas, which have large seeds and juicy edible pods. Peas are typically planted in the spring, though they also can be grown in the fall. They have a fairly quick growth rate.

Common Name  Pea, garden pea
Botanical Name  Pisum sativum
Family Fabaceae
Plant Type  Annual, vegetable
Size  12–18 in. tall, 6–12 in. wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun, partial sun
Soil Type  Moist, well-drained
Soil pH  Acidic, neutral 
Bloom Time  Spring, fall
Hardiness Zones  2–11 (USDA)
Native Area  Europe

How to Plant Peas

When to Plant

You can plant seeds directly in the garden roughly four to six weeks prior to your area’s last projected spring frost date. Pea plants do have some frost tolerance, though prolonged periods of temperatures well below freezing might kill your earliest plantings. You can try using a cold frame to shelter your plants if you live in a cold climate. Many areas also can accommodate a late summer or fall planting at around six to eight weeks prior to your projected first fall frost date.

Selecting a Planting Site

Pick a sunny spot that has sharp soil drainage. Avoid a garden site where peas have been previously grown. A crop rotation of several years is best since pests and diseases that target peas can linger in the soil. Container growth is also an option. If you don’t have good soil drainage or get lots of rainfall in the spring that results in wet soil, consider raised garden beds.

Spacing, Depth, and Support 

Plant seeds about 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart. Rows should be at least 7 inches apart. If you have a vining variety, add poles or pea fencing at the time of planting.

Pea Plant Care

Light

Peas prefer full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. They can tolerate a bit of shade, though this can hinder production and affect taste.

Soil

Peas can grow in a variety of soil types as long as there is good drainage. For best results, plant your peas in a loamy soil that’s rich in organic matter. A slightly acidic to neutral soil pH is ideal.

Water

Proper watering is one of the most important factors of a successful pea crop. Don’t let the soil ever fully dry out, but also don’t let it become soggy. About an inch of water per week should be sufficient.

Temperature and Humidity

Peas do best in mild temperatures between around 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, though they do have good cold tolerance. Once the temperature is warmer than 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the plants will struggle. Humidity typically isn’t an issue as long as soil moisture needs are met.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer typically isn’t required for pea plants. But it’s helpful to mix some compost into the soil prior to planting, especially if you don’t have nutrient-rich soil. You also can give your plants a boost with some balanced organic liquid fertilizer when the seedlings first emerge.

Pollination

Pea plants are self-pollinating. There aren’t separate male and female plants.

Snow peas

The Spruce / K. Dave

dried pea still on the vine

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

Sugar snap peas

The Spruce / K. Dave

English peas

The Spruce / K. Dave

peas on the vine

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

Types of Peas

There are many different types of peas, including:

  • ‘Green Arrow’: This is a vining garden pea that produces high yields. 
  • ‘Early Snap’: This is a snap pea that’s ready for harvesting earlier than many other varieties. 
  • ‘Snowbird’: This is a snow pea that has resistance to fusarium wilt.

Peas vs. Black-Eyed Peas

Peas and black-eyed peas might share a common name, and they are of the same family. However, they’re not the same species, and black-eyed peas are actually categorized as beans. In terms of their growth, black-eyed peas prefer much warmer conditions than peas.

Harvesting Peas

Once your pea plant is in bloom, check regularly for harvestable peas. In general, most varieties take an average of 65 days after planting to be ready to harvest. Snow peas are ready when their pods show small peas inside. Snap peas are ready when the pods are plump and glossy. And garden peas are ready when the pods are fully formed but not yet dull or waxy. 

The best time to pick peas is in the morning, as they will have the most plumpness then. Gently twist the pods off the vines with your hands, being careful not to damage the vine and pods that are still developing. 

Peas are best used as soon as possible after harvesting.

How to Grow Peas in Pots

If you don’t have the garden space or the right soil conditions to grow peas, you can try a container. Use a pot with drainage holes that’s at least 12 inches wide and deep. An unglazed clay container is ideal because it will allow excess soil moisture to evaporate through its walls.

Aim to plant in a container that will fit the mature plant's size, as peas don't do well when transplanted. Use a fast-draining organic potting soil made for vegetables. Also, if you're growing a vining variety, you'll need to add a support structure to the container.

Pruning

Pruning generally isn’t necessary for pea plants. But you can trim off small tendrils or shoots for eating. They have a mild, pea-like flavor that goes well in salads and other dishes.

Propagating Peas

Pea plants can be propagated by saving their seeds. Not only is this an inexpensive way to produce new plants, but it also will allow you to propagate particular varieties that you enjoyed. Here’s how:

  1. Allow healthy pods to remain on the plant to dry. 
  2. Once they’ve browned and you can hear the seeds rattle inside, twist the pods off the plant.
  3. Remove the seeds from the pods, and spread them out on a screen indoors to fully dry for a few days. Make sure you've only kept the seeds, not any excess plant material.
  4. Store the dried seeds in an envelope marked with the date. They should be viable for a few years.

How to Grow Peas From Seed

Prior to planting, soak the seeds in warm water overnight. This will help to speed up their germination. Then, plant them in loosened soil. And make sure the soil is lightly moist but not wet, as this can rot the seeds. Expect germination in about a week if the soil is 65 degrees Fahrenheit or above. The seeds can take up to a month to germinate in soil that’s around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Overwintering

Pea plants are annuals, meaning they complete their life cycle in one growing season. So overwintering them won't be necessary.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Aphids, pea weevils, and other insects can infest pea plants, attacking both the leaves and the roots. Try organic, food-safe measures, such as knocking off the insects with a strong spray of water or using an insecticidal soap, to mitigate pest problems. You also can grow companion plants that deter insects. For example, aphids can be repelled by rosemary plants. 

Fungal diseases, including fusarium wilt and powdery mildew, also can impact pea plants. It’s typically best to destroy the affected plants to prevent diseases from spreading.

FAQ
  • Are peas easy to grow?

    Peas are fairly easy to grow, as long as you provide appropriate soil moisture and watch out for pests and diseases. Be sure to practice crop rotation, so any pests or diseases lingering in the soil don’t become a chronic issue.

  • How long does it take to grow peas?

    Most pea varieties will be ready to harvest in around two months after planting. Some varieties can even provide an earlier harvest.

  • Do peas come back every year?

    Pea plants are annuals, meaning they complete their life cycle in one growing season. However, you can save seeds for future plantings.