Peas are a spring garden staple, loved for their easy-to-grow nature, delicious seeds, and nutritional value. There’s something magical about harvesting peas fresh from the garden and tasting their sweet, fresh flavor.
If you’re planning on planting peas, you’ll first need to pick the right type for you. This no-fuss vegetable comes in three types: English peas, snap peas, and snow peas. English peas, also called pod or shell peas, are the traditional type. They bear thick pods with delicious seeds inside. The seeds need to be removed from the pod (a process referred to as shelling) and eaten, cooked, or frozen quickly—once harvested, the sugars begin to convert to starches. Snap peas have been bred to have edible pods, so you don’t need to shell them. Snow peas, popular in Asian cuisines, also have edible pods but are harvested when they’re still young before the seeds develop.
You can also harvest tips of the pea plants’ new growth, called pea shoots.
Garden Plans For Pea
Most peas grow as small climbing vines, so they're best supported on trellises, teepees, or other structures in the yard or vegetable garden. They offer delightful blue-green foliage with a fresh spring hue that accents other spring vegetables like broccoli, radish, and spinach. Cheerful pansies are a pretty and edible floral accent to spring peas. Planting calendula at the base of your peas adds color and attracts pollinators for better harvests.
Pick shelling peas when pods are full and rounded but before the peas inside become tough and starchy. Harvest snap peas when pods first start to fatten but aren't completely full. Some varieties have a tough string along the pod suture that must be removed before eating the entire pod. Harvest snow peas when pods are still flat and the seeds inside are small and undeveloped. If the peas inside enlarge too much, harvest and shell them similar to English peas.
Pea Plant Care
Because peas are cool-season plants, they need to be planted in early spring a couple of weeks before the last expected spring frost in your area. Start them from seed and plant them directly into the garden; you don't need to worry about starting them early indoors.
Like most vegetables, peas do best in a spot with full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours of direct light per day). Water peas regularly to keep the soil moist but not wet and soggy. If your yard has clay soil, amending liberally with organic matter can help produce better harvests and reduce the chance of seeing root rot in periods of wet weather. You can also grow peas in containers or raised beds to offer the conditions they need to thrive. Growing them in containers or raised beds makes them easier to harvest, too, as you don't need to bend down as far to pluck the pods from the plants.
Like many legumes, peas are able to produce their own nitrogen with the help of beneficial bacteria in the soil, so they don't typically require much fertilization.
Once summer heat arrives, pea plants naturally begin to decline. Once plants begin to yellow, remove the plants, add them to the compost pile, and plant heat-loving vegetables in their place.
Tip: Peas can also be planted as a fall crop in areas that typically see long, cool fall seasons.
More Varieties of Pea
'Maestro' English pea is loved for its long, large pods that are easy to spot as they hang on the plant and harvest. It's high-yielding and disease-resistant. 60 days to harvest.
This classic variety grows large—to 3 feet tall—and bears tender, flat pods on disease-resistant plants. 60 days to harvest.
A fabulous heirloom variety, it grows as a compact plant that doesn't require staking. The 2-foot-tall plants produce 3-inch-long pods. 52 days to harvest.
An exceptional award-winning variety, Sugar Snap is a snap pea with delicious, stringless pods and seeds. 65 days to harvest.
'Wando' is an heirloom English pea that offers excellent heat tolerance, making it good for gardeners in regions with short springs. 68 days to harvest.