How to Grow Pea Plants

growing peas

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

Few things say "spring" like that first taste of peas, picked fresh from your garden. Native to southern Europe, peas are easy to grow in any size garden or in containers. The only real trick to growing peas is planting them in early spring before the heat of summer hits and providing them with plenty of water.

Manage those two things and your pea plants will grow rapidly, sprouting in just around 20 days and ready for harvest in around 50 to 70 days. From there, you're ready to eat them straight from the garden, whip up some pea soup, or add them to a fresh spring salad.

Botanical Name  Pisum sativum
Common Name  Pea, garden pea 
Plant Type  Annual 
Mature Size  12–18 in. tall, 6–12 in. wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun
Soil Type  Moist but well-drained
Soil pH  Neutral 
Bloom Time  Summer
Flower Color  White, light purple (flowers not showy)
Hardiness Zones  2–11 (USDA)
Native Area  Europe
peas on the vine

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

dried pea still on the vine

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

English peas
English peas

The Spruce / K. Dave

Snow peas
Snow peas

The Spruce / K. Dave

Sugar snap peas
Sugar snap peas

The Spruce / K. Dave

Pea Plant Care

The traditional advice is to plant peas on St. Patrick's Day. Like most traditional wisdom, it's true—some of the time. While you do want to plant your peas as early as possible to take full advantage of the cool, ideal pea-producing weather, if you plant them too soon they may not germinate. Peas don't like very cold, waterlogged soil, so a good rule of thumb is to try and plant your peas directly in your garden about four weeks before your last frost date.

When your peas are ready to harvest, use two hands to remove them from the plant, with one hand holding onto the vine while the other plucks the pea from the plant. Trying to pull the peas off with one hand damages the vines, and you could end up ripping off more vine than you intended.

Light

Pea plants can tolerate a variety of sunlight conditions, including partial shade. However, for the best chance at a bountiful harvest, aim to plant your peas in a spot that gets at least six to eight hours a day.

Soil

Pea plants are pretty flexible and can adapt to a variety of different soil types, as long as your mixture isn't super heavy or clay-like. For best results, plant your peas in a well-draining, loamy soil blend that is rich in organic matter or compost. Once the vines are about a foot tall, mulch them heavily with straw to keep the soil as cool as possible and help retain moisture.

Water

Proper watering is one of the most important factors of a successful pea crop. Your pea plant should be watered deeply and regularly, especially as it's first getting established in your garden. A good rule of thumb is to water your pea plants deeply once a week, though you may have to increase that cadence if your plants are subjected to especially warm water. Never allow your pea plant's soil to dry out—doing so can negatively impact your crop almost instantly.

Temperature and Humidity

Peas are a cool-weather crop and will do best in a mild environment that ranges from 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're starting your peas outdoors in your garden (as many gardeners do), you want the soil temperature to be consistently about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, which will also the seeds to germinate properly. Once the weather gets consistently hot, your pea plant vines will likely stop producing. Additionally, peas have no special humidity requirements.

Fertilizer

Pea plants do not need fertilizer applications in order to thrive, especially if they are planted in nutrient-rich soil with lots of compost and organic matter. If you want to give your plants an extra boost, feed them when the seedlings first emerge with a balanced liquid fertilizer.

Pea Plant Varieties

When many people think of peas, they think of shelling peas but there are actually many different types of peas. If you're a fan of Asian cuisine, you've no doubt become familiar with snow peas as well. Snap peas are also delectable, with their crisp, edible pods. And soup peas, which don't get enough love, are necessary if you like a good bowl of split pea soup in the middle of winter.

  • Shelling Peas: Sometimes also called "English peas," shelling peas are grown to harvest the tiny round peas inside the pods. They are ready to pick when the pods are plump and begin to develop a waxy-looking sheen.
  • Snap Peas: Snap peas have edible pods, and are ready to harvest when the pod is starting to plump up. They are delicious in soups, stews, or fresh as a snack.
  • Snow Peas: Tender snow pea pods are mature when they are around 3 inches long and the peas inside are just starting to plump up.
  • Soup Peas: These peas, also known as "split peas," are left to dry on the vine. They're ready to harvest and store in airtight containers once the pod has dried to a tan color.

How to Grow Pea Plants From Seed

To plant peas, you should first soak the seeds in water overnight to help speed up their germination. If you haven't grown peas in your garden before, sprinkle the seeds with legume inoculant (which you can buy at any garden center or nursery). Select an area in full sun, and prepare the soil by loosening it to at least 8 inches.

If space allows, it's a good idea to install a trellis, as most peas need something to climb up as they grow. Plant your peas in two rows, one on each side of the trellis—the peas should be planted 1 to 2 inches apart. You won't need to thin them—they will grow perfectly with this spacing. Keep the soil moist until your peas germinate, which usually takes about a week to ten days, though it can be sooner if you've soaked them first.

Common Pests and Diseases

No matter the specific varietal of pea plant you grow, you may have to contend with the same pest and disease issues. The most common problems when it comes to pea plants are various fungal issues like bacterial blight, asocochyta blight, root rot, and damping off. Several of these issues cannot be treated with a fungicide, so your best protection is buying disease-free seeds or plants from a reputable nursery, and removing any diseased plants at the first sign of infection.

In addition to the above diseases, your pea plants may encounter pests such as aphids and pea weevils, both of which attack the roots and leaves of the plant. If you notice signs of a pest infection (spider mites and thrips are also possible), treat the plant using a mild insecticide or horticultural oil like neem oil.