How To Plant, Care For & Harvest Peas In Your Garden

From planting to harvesting, we share the best tips for growing your own garden peas. Growing peas is easy and you can enjoy a successful pea harvest with these expert tips.

snap pea in the garden

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One of our favorite garden crops is the snap pea. Our kids pick and eat them straight from the vine. They’re crispy, crunchy, juicy and perfect as is, but we also love them in salads.

Peas (including English, snap, and snow) are about the earliest crop you can plant in your garden and are worth growing because they’re so much better than what you can find in the grocery store.

Types Of Peas

There are two categories of peas—edible pod and non-edible pod.

Within each category, you’ll find dwarf types, also called bush, which get to a height of about 18 to 30 inches at maturity. We grow bush peas in our garden and use a simple stake for the tendrils. Tall types, also called telephone, can grow three feet or taller and will need to be trellised.

  • Non-edible Shell Garden or English peas have non-edible pods and must be shelled before the peas inside are eaten.
  • Edible Shell Snow peas and snap peas have edible pods. Snow peas are flat and typically used in stir fries. We love crisp, plump snap peas that have a sweet flavor and a juicy bite.

Planting Peas

  • When to plant Peas can be planted 6 weeks before your last frost in a sunny location.
  • Prepare your bed for planting We prepare the bed by adding compost and a small amount of a balanced organic fertilizer.
  • Germination Although not mandatory, we’ve found that germination is more rapid if you soak the seeds overnight before planting. Peas are legumes whose roots form mycorrhizal associations with fungi in the soil. The fungus fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere and supplies it to the plant. If it’s the first year you’ve planted peas in a particular site, it doesn’t hurt to coat the seeds with a mycorrhizal inoculant before planting, although most healthy soils already contain these beneficial fungi. In subsequent years, you don’t need to do this since the fungi will survive in the soil over winter.
  • Plant Push the seeds 1 to 1 ½ inches deep in the soil with your finger and one inch apart. Each row should be spaced about 12 to 18 inches apart. After the seedlings emerge, thin them to two or three inches between each.
  • Spacing Final plant spacing should be about 3”.

Caring For Peas

  • Cold Peas are highly tolerant of frosts and cold weather, so don’t require much in the way of protection.
  • Support As a vining plant, peas do need support, especially if you are growing standard types, which can get up to 6 feet tall. We recommend sowing seeds along the front of a trellis or fence. We grow dwarf varieties, which get only about half as tall as standard varieties. They can be grown without support, but we find they do best with some minimal support structure. We place thin bamboo sticks (about 3’ tall)  throughout the planting area. The stakes are available at garden centers. Plants will latch onto the stakes with their tendrils, which provide just enough support to keep them from falling over.
  • Soil Keep soil slightly moist.
  • Sun Full sun or partial shade.
  • Supplement Since peas fix nitrogen, we do not fertilize them over the growing season.
  • Pests We’ve never had any problems with pests or diseases in our Colorado garden, but aphids can be a problem. Learn more about controlling aphids here.

snap pea flower

Harvesting Peas

Once pea plants start flowering, you’ll be eating peas pretty soon after. Pods develop over the course of a few days. Once they’re plump, they are ready to pick. For snap peas, you don’t want to leave them on the vine any longer or they will get tough and stringy. We are usually able to pick and enjoy snap peas for a few weeks every season.

If you’re growing English peas, pick them before the peas have completely filled the pod. English peas should be shelled and eaten as soon as possible, as they don’t last more than two or three days in the fridge.

Tip: Plant several pea varieties with different maturity dates to spread out the harvest. Peas are finished producing pretty early in the season, so this makes a great spot in your garden to practice succession planting. We pull plants once they are finished producing and immediately reseed the area with another rapidly maturing crop such as beets or kohlrabi.

Our Favorite Snap Pea Varieties

Sugar Snap peas are arguably the best tasting and highest yielding variety, but the vines grow tall and require substantial support. We opt for dwarf varieties such as ‘Cascadia’ or ‘Sugar Ann.’ They are still delicious and require much less effort.

first image via depositphotos

Green pean on vine in garden