A staple of southern gardens, black-eyed pea plants are a productive addition to the vegetable garden. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is considered to bring you luck during the following year.
Easy to grow and versatile enough to suit a range of growing conditions. If you are looking to add legume plants to your garden, these may just be the plants that you are looking for.
This guide to black-eyed pea plants will take you through everything that you need to know, from sowing to growing and harvesting, this is your complete guide to black-eyed pea plants.
Cowpeas are a southern garden staple. Source: Cowpeas by Sarah R / CC 2.0
What are Black-Eyed Pea Plants?
Black-eyed pea plants are legumes or beans. Part of the fabaceae plant family, in the Vigna genus these plants are related to pea plants as well as many other types of beans including pole beans, green beans and bush beans.
A herbaceous annual, these plants originate in West Africa. Black-eyed pea plants are probably the best known of the Vigna Unguiculata or Cowpea genus.
Like other types of bean plant, black-eyed pea plants thrive in hot, humid climates. Once established they tolerate both poor soil and drought.
The name black-eyed pea refers to the prominent dark spot which is found on the inner seed at the point where it attaches to the pod. Black-eyed pea plants typically produce light to medium green colored pods which are similar in appearance to green beans. The seeds which sit inside the pods are usually a white or buff color.
White in color, the name refers to the dark spot on the beans. Source: black-eyed peas by pepperberryfarm / CC 2.0
Cowpeas are rich in fiber, protein and polyphenols. They also contain many micronutrients including iron and folate.
A versatile plant, you can grow both bush and climbing types of black-eyed pea plants. This versatility also extends to how you harvest the pods.
You can either harvest the pods early as snap beans or allow them to mature before shelling for cooking peas. Additionally, if you want dried beans, you can allow the pods to dry on the stem before harvesting.
Reaching a height of 2 to 6 ft, depending on which variety you are growing, before the pods emerge white, pink or yellow flowers emerge. Not the showiest of blooms, these fade away following pollination to be replaced by the bean bearing pods.
Depending on the variety you are growing, your growing conditions and when you choose to harvest you can begin to enjoy your crops in 80 to 100 days.
Following pollination, the flowers give way to pods. Source: Cowpea inflorescence by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture / CC 2.0
You can also grow black-eyed pea plants as a cover crop to protect the soil from drying out and baking during the summer months. The vines of trailing types shade the soil surface while the roots work to both aerate and open the soil. Growing legumes as a cover crop is a great way to enrich the soil.
However you choose to use them, the growing needs of the black-eyed pea plants are easily met.
Where to Grow Black-Eyed Pea Plants
A versatile plant, black-eyed pea plants are typically grown as annuals. The plants thrive in USDA Zones 5 to 11.
Capable of tolerating a range of soil profiles, they are best planted in a sandy, well draining soil that is either neutral or slightly acidic. A pH of 5.8 to 7.0 is ideal. If your soil is overly alkaline, there are a number of ways to make soil more acidic.
The soil should be well draining. While black-eyed pea plants tolerate poor soils, working in organic matter before planting improves both soil fertility and drainage. It also helps to boost plant growth.
Plant in a full sun position to maximize your yield. While cowpeas growing in hot climates appreciate some afternoon shade, in general black-eyed pea plants growing in shadier positions tend to produce fewer pods than those in full sun.
These crops are at their best in warm Southern summers. They also love dry, humid climates but may require more frequent watering.
Plant in an open, sunny position for the best results. Source: Cowpeas at Podding Stage by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture / CC 2.0
Black-eyed pea plants are heat loving vegetables. This means that they won’t really start to thrive until temperatures warm up and are regularly over 86 ℉. If you are planting transplants, wait until the soil temperature is over 65 °F before planting.
Black-eyed pea plants have a long growing season; some varieties require up to 100 days to mature. Starting the seeds undercover in a greenhouse before transplanting into the ground when temperatures are warm enough enables you to easily extend your growing season.
Different Types of Black-Eyed Pea Plants
You can grow either bush or vining types of black-eyed pea plants. In general, bush types tend to mature before vining varieties. Despite the name, even bush types can develop into large, full cowpeas that require support in the form of a stake or tomato cage.
There are several different types of black-eyed pea plants. If you are new to growing cowpeas, experiment with different types to see what works best in your garden and which flavors you prefer.
One of the most commonly grown varieties is the California Blackeye. A bush variety, California Blackeye can reach up to 3 ft in height and produces masses of sweet pods.
There are several different cultivars of this particular plant all of which are differentiated by numbers. Before planting, check with your local extension office to see which is most suitable for your area.
There are a range of different varieties available. Source: Cowpeas at Podding Stage by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture / CC 2.0
Other commonly grown bush types of black-eyed pea plants include:
- Cream Pea Elite is a reliable cultivar which is lighter in color than the commonly grown California variety. Producing easy to shell pods, this variety has been specifically bred to be resistant to fusarium wilt.
- Texas Big Boy is one of the most reliable and prolific podding varieties currently available.
- Queen Anne is a compact cultivar. Traditionally a bush plant, recently vining cultivars have also been developed.
- Phenomenal is a showy type that produces purple-pink flowers and yellow pods. Each pod can contain up to a dozen beans that are mottled in brown hues. This heavy yielding plant requires a lot of space. Mature specimens can reach 2 ft in height and spread 2 to 3ft wide.
Vining types are all known as black-eyed pea plants. They can be differentiated from bush types by looking at the description on the seed packet or plant label. Vining plant descriptions usually include the word vining or sprawling.
Should you choose to purchase transplants your choice is limited to what varieties the garden store or nursery has in stock. When selecting, try to pick the healthiest looking specimens. Don’t be afraid to look in the foliage for signs of disease or infestation.
If you want to plant immediately, select the largest specimens. If you have the space and time, picking up smaller varieties earlier in the growing season can be more affordable than purchasing large transplants.
Cheaper still is growing from seed. Growing from seed may take a little longer but enables you to choose from a wider variety.
How to Sow and Germinate Seeds
Black-eyed pea plants do not transplant well. For this reason they are best sown in their final growing position.
If you want to extend your growing season and start the seeds undercover, sow them in Winemana Biodegradable Peat Pots filled with fresh potting soil. These pots can then be transplanted directly into the ground. As your balck-eyed pea plants grow the pots break down, enabling the root system to spread.
Whichever type you grow, in favorable weather, sowing a handful of seeds every few weeks during the summer months, known as succession planting, enables you to enjoy a regular supply of fresh beans.
Start your seeds undercover 4 to 6 weeks before the last predicted frost date before transplanting when the soil has sufficiently warmed up.
Harden off your seedlings before transplanting.
Remember to allow the soil to.warm up before sowing the seeds. The soil should ideally be between 75 and 95 °F when you sow.
To help warm the soil, cover it during the winter months with a dark plastic permeable membrane such as HOOPLE Weed Barrier Fabric. This traps any remaining warmth in the soil whilst absorbing heat from the sun, further warming your growing area.
Covering the soil also deters weed growth.
Before sowing the seeds, prepare the soil by weeding and removing any stones.
Watering the soil before sowing helps the seeds to stick in place.
Sow the seeds 4 to 6 inches apart and roughly 1 inch deep. Space the rows 2 to 3 ft apart. Remember, the larger the variety you are planting the more space it needs.
If you are practicing square feet gardening, sow 4 seeds per square.
After covering the seeds with fresh soil, water and mulch. Finally, install some form of support such as a trellis.
Plant in a light, sunny position. Remember to stake your transplants. Source: Cowpeas by Pacific Northwest Caribbean Gardens / CC 2.0
Best planted in the ground you can grow bush varieties in containers but they won’t be as productive as black-eyed pea plants growing in the ground or raised beds.
Caring for Black-Eyed Pea Plant
Once established these are low maintenance crops. They just require a little regular water, light weeding and no fertilizer.
When to Water
Water your black-eyed pea plants regularly. This is particularly important when flowering starts.
After watering, wait until the soil has started to dry out before watering again. While it is important not to overwater your crops you should also not let the soil dry out.
Water your crops only when the top few inches of soil feel dry. If you are unsure, a soil moisture sensor can help you to determine the best time to water your crops.
When watering your cowpeas try to keep the foliage as dry as possible. Wet foliage is a breeding ground for fungal disease.
A regular drink of water promotes healthy growth. Source: Black eyed peas by Kimberly / CC 2.0
Do I Need to Fertilize?
If you are growing your black-eyed pea plants in good or rich soil there is no need to apply any fertilizer.
If you are growing in poor soil keep an eye on the color of the leaves. Pale foliage can indicate a nutrient deficiency. Apply either a nitrogen rich fertilizer or an organic fertilizer such as blood meal or fish emulsion.
Taller, vining types may appreciate a mid-season boost. Instead of using a chemical product, dress your black-eyed pea plants with compost.
Weed the soil around your growing black-eyed pea plants regularly. Not only does this prevent vigorous weeds, which harvest moisture and nutrients from the soil, from establishing themselves, it also helps to maintain airflow around your crops. Good airflow reduces the risk of fungal infection such as powdery mildew developing.
A layer of organic mulch around the base of the crops not only reduces weed growth, minimizing the time you need to spend maintaining your garden. It also helps to boost plant growth and improve soil moisture retention.
Keep the soil around the crops weed free. Source: Cowpea seedlings emerge from the ground by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture / CC 2.0
Supporting Growing Black-Eyed Pea Plants
While bush or determinate types rarely exceed knee height, vining varieties are taller. Whichever type you choose to grow you will need to support your black-eyed peas plants.
Training them to grow vertically prevents the vines from sprawling over the soil. Pods can start to rot if they are allowed to contact wet soil for an extended period.
Supports, such as Cambaverd Bamboo Garden Stakes are best installed when sowing seeds or planting transplants. Allow your cowpeas to reach a height of 4 to 5 inches before you start to encourage them to entwine themselves on the support.
Companion planting is the process of growing mutually beneficial crops or flowers together, black-eyed pea plants can be grown as part of the 3 sisters trio.
The 3 sisters trio consists of beans, corn and squash. Each plant helps the other two to thrive and survive.
Plant your corn first. Once the corn crops are roughly 5 inches tall sow 4 bean seeds around each stalk. As the beans grow the taller corn stalk acts as a support, encouraging the beans to grow upright.
Allow the beans to germinate and establish themselves before planting your squash nearby. As they grow the beans and corn shade the squash.
The taller crops also help the soil to retain moisture. This also benefits your thirsty squashes by helping to prevent them from drying out during warm spells. In return the large leaves of the squash plant act as a living mulch, reducing weed growth and helping to preserve moisture and nutrients in the soil.
A good companion plant, corn can support growing legumes.
How to Identify and Prevent Common Pests and Diseases
Despite being easy to care for there are a number of issues that can affect black-eyed pea plants.
These crops are also known as cowpeas because cows, as well as deer and other grazing animals, love to feast on them. If grazing animals are common in your area, you should fence your crops in. There are also a number of effective deer repellent solutions that you can make at home to protect your crops.
Leaf-eating insects can also target black-eyed pea plants as can specialized pests such as the Cowpea Curculio (Chalacodermus aeneus). The Cowpea Curculio pest only targets black-eyed pea plants.
In the southeastern states, that is from Virginia to Florida and west to Texas and Oklahoma, the dark, small weevil is another common pest. Adult insects feed on pods before laying eggs inside them. These then hatch and destroy the developing seeds.
Spraying your crops with an insecticide which contains bifenthrin, carbaryl, or malathion when flowers are forming and again when the pods are filling out helps to protect them. Growers outside of the southeastern state will rarely have a problem with weevils.
Aphid infestations can stunt growth, sucking sap from the plant and coating the leaves in a sticky substance known as honeydew. If allowed to remain on the leaves this can lead to sooty mold forming.
Aphid infestations can be treated with a solution of neem oil or soapy water. You can also wash the pests from the leaves with a blast from a garden hose.
Regularly check the leaves and stem for signs of infestation. Improved cowpea variety by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture / CC 2.0
Bean beetles (Callosobruchus maculatus) are black and yellow or orange insects, similar in appearance to ladybugs. The larvae of the bean beetle feed on the roots of legumes but rarely cause significant damage.
Adult bean beetles feed on the underside of leaves creating small holes. They can also eat the pods. To prevent or deter bean beetle infestations apply diatomaceous earth around the stem.
Should an infestation develop, treat the leaves with neem oil or a homemade insecticidal soap. Persistent infestations may require more than one treatment before the plant is fully cured.
Leafhoppers are tiny, sap sucking bugs that belong to the Cocadellidae family. Infestations of leafhoppers can damage leaves or create a mottled, white pattern to develop on the remaining foliage. Not only does this detract from the visual impact of the crop, it also makes the leaves inedible.
While leafhoppers damage the leaves, the pods remain undamaged. Agfabric Floating Row Covers can be used to protect your crops.
Infestations can be treated with repeated applications of insecticidal soap. At the end of the growing season, dispose of any damaged crops. This stops the leafhoppers from overwintering in the plant debris.
Root knot nematodes are small soil-borne pests that attack lots of different crops. Infestations can stunt growth and cause foliage to turn yellow. Infected roots can also develop unsightly galls.
You can’t save crops affected by root knot nematodes. Instead pull up and destroy the entire plant and root system. Do not place any affected crops or soil on your compost heap or in your green waste.
Regularly rotating your crops helps to limit the chances of nematodes affecting your crops. Our guide to crop rotation explains how to implement a simple but effective system in your garden.
If your soil is poor or infected, raised beds enable you to safely and successfully grow a range of crops.
If root knot nematodes are a persistent problem you can try solarizing your garden soil. Covering the affected soil with a clear plastic sheet bakes the soil, killing the nematodes.
However, the solarization process also kills the beneficial nematodes and bacteria that inhabit your soil. Another option is to construct raised garden beds over the affected areas. These can be filled with rich, healthy soil enabling you to grow whatever crops you desire.
One of the most common diseases that can affect the black-eyed pea plants is the bean mosaic virus. Commonly spread by aphids, this virus causes leaves to pucker and curl. Mosaic-like light and dark patches can also develop on the surface of the leaves.
Infected crops are unlikely to produce masses of seed pods. Impossible to treat, dig up any black-eyed pea plants affected by the bean mosaic virus and dispose of them. Again, do not place infected or diseased crops on your compost pile.
Mosaic virus can cause patternation to form on the leaves. Passionfruit Cucumber mosaic virus by Scot Nelson / CC 1.0
Fusarium wilt, a fungal infection which can live in the soil for many years, causes leaves to turn yellow and wilt. Again, this issue is impossible to cure.
As fusarium wilt develops the plant slowly fades and dies. Dig up and destroy affected crops. While there is no cure, if fusarium wilt is a problem many types of black-eyed pea plants such as Cream Pea Elite are resistant to the infection.
Finally, powdery mildew is another common fungal issue. Usually developing in warm, humid conditions powdery mildew causes white or gray powdery patches to form on the leaves. This fungal disease spreads quickly in crowded areas where airflow is limited.
Correctly spacing your crops out and keeping the foliage as dry as possible when watering them helps to prevent powdery mildew from developing. Should powdery mildew develop, our guide to treating powdery mildew explains how to resolve this unsightly issue.
How to Harvest Black-Eyed Pea Pods
When you harvest your crops depends partly on what you want to use them for.
Fresh snap beans can be harvested just before the pods start to bulge. At this stage the flavor is at its most intense. Snap pods can be harvested after 70 days of growth when they are 3 to 4 inches long.
When harvesting the pods, be careful not to damage the plant or the pods. Damaged pods can’t be stored.
When harvesting snap pods be careful not to pull both the vine and pods from the stem. This can damage the plant. To prevent this, use garden scissors to snip away the pods.
If you are growing black-eyed pea plants for shelling or drying beans allow the pods to mature on the stems for around 80 to 100 days. Harvest your pods when the beans inside have swollen up, filling the pods.
Some growers who cultivate black-eyed pea plants for dried peas allow the pods to remain on the plant and dry out before starting to harvest. If you are drying the pods on the vine, aim to harvest them just before they break open.
Fresh pods keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Freshly shelled peas do not have as long a lifespan. Even in the refrigerator they rarely keep for more than a few days.
To keep the beans, allow them to completely dry out before storing in an airtight container such as a glass Kilner Jar.
Freezing freshly harvested beans extends the storage period further. To freeze the beans begin by blanching them. This is done by placing the beans in just enough boiling water to fully cover them.
Blanch for around 2 minutes before plunging them into either cold or ice water. Drain the beans and spoon them into freezer safe containers or Hefty Slider Storage Freezer bags.
Storing the blanched black-eyed peas in portion sizes makes it easier to use them when cooking. Simply remove a portion and use.
You can also can the beans.
Finally, you can harvest and steam the young leaves. Best used fresh, young leaves can also be stored either in a plastic bag or wrapped in a damp dish cloth and placed in the refrigerator. This keeps them fresh for a few days.
However you choose to use your black-eyed pea harvest don’t forget to save some seeds to sow on next year for new crops.