Learning how to grow peas in containers is a great way to enjoy the sweet taste of freshly picked peas. One of the easiest vegetables to grow, growing peas in containers is just as easy as cultivating tomatoes in containers. This is also an ideal solution if you have only a small garden or outdoor space.
Pea plants are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. Cultivating in pots allows you to make the most of limited space while still enjoying fresh, homegrown produce.
Varieties of Peas
Before we discuss growing peas in containers, we will first explore which varieties are best suited to this purpose.
There are 3 varieties of pea plant.
Garden or English pea plants are the most common variety. They are grown for their pea pods, which are then shelled to release the plump peas inside. Depending on the variety they have a moderate to intense sweet taste. Cultivars such as Tom Thumb, Little Marvel and Early Frost are particularly suited to container gardens.
Snow peas are also sweet but also very small. The pods of snow peas are also edible. Snow peas are commonly used in soups, salads or stir-fries.
Sugar snap pea plants are a cross between the first two varieties. The most versatile variety they can be shelled or used in their pods. The cultivar Oregon Sugar Pod does particularly well in container gardens.
Choose a variety for container gardening based on your own personal preferences. Each variety has a pleasing number of sweet tasting cultivars for you to choose from. If you decide to grow a mixture of varieties, make sure you separate each into its own pot.
All three varieties are suitable for growing peas in containers. Whichever variety you choose, growing peas in containers is possible for gardeners in USDA zones 2-11.
When making your decision, take into account your conditions. If you are cultivating in a small or confined space, select bush varieties. Like vining varieties, tall bush varieties take up less ground space. Gardeners in windy positions should plant short or dwarf varieties. These are less likely to be damaged in the wind.
If you decide to grow more than one variety, separate each variety into its own container.
Choosing a Container
As with all container gardening tips, choosing the right pot or gardening container will increase your chances of successfully growing peas in containers.
When planting peas, remember pea plants only have a shallow root system. This means that when you grow peas, they happily grow in moderately deep planters. While depth isn’t a necessity, width is far more important when you grow peas. This means that you can also successfully grow pea plants in window boxes or troughs.
The variety of pea plants you choose to grow will also have some influence on which pot you choose. Taller or bush varieties require planting to a depth of 8-12 inches. Aim to space the plants 3-5 inches apart.
Dwarf varieties can be planted to a depth of just 6 inches. Space smaller plants 2-3 inches apart.
When selecting your pot make sure it is large enough to hold your plants. It should also have drainage holes in the bottom. Remember, also, that the soil in terracotta or clay pots dries out quicker than in plastic pots.
Your pots should be clean and have drainage holes in the bottom. If you are planting in shallow pots, try using a fast-draining potting mix. This helps to ensure that the plants won’t develop root rot.
Growing Peas in Containers from Seed
Growing peas in containers from seed is quick and easy.
You can sow seeds either into trays or small pots filled with fresh, general purpose potting mix. Plant the seeds up to 2 inches apart, and no more than 2 inches deep.
Cover the seeds and water well. Place the seeds in a partial sun position and keep the soil moist, not wet, until germination.
Germination usually occurs within 30 days. In warmer conditions, where the soil averages over 60 ℉, germination may be quicker.
Some people like to soak the seeds in warm water for 24 hours before sowing. This helps to soften the shell of the seed and encourages germination.
When the seedlings are about 5 inches tall they can be transplanted into their final position.
When to Sow Pea Seeds
Growing peas in containers is largely the same as cultivating the crop in the ground. Whichever variety you choose, these plants do better in cool weather. Pea seeds are best sown in early spring as soon as the last local frost date has passed.
Growing peas in containers allows you to keep the crops undercover while the temperature warms up. It also allows you to grow temperature sensitive crops during the colder months. If you are planting outside, protect the seedlings with a mini-greenhouse or cloche.
In cooler climates you can continue to sow well into the summer months. This allows you to enjoy a successional harvest, and a steady supply of fresh vegetables, until the fall or early winter. Gardeners in the mildest USDA zones can continue sowing until around 8 weeks before the first frost of the year.
Once your seedlings are about 5 inches high they are ready to be transplanted into their final position. If you are growing peas in containers outside wait until the last frost date has passed before planting out. Remember to harden off, or acclimatize, your seedlings before transplanting.
Fill the pots with fresh, well-draining commercial potting mix. A loam based mix is also ideal.
Space your garden peas at least 3-4 inches apart. The exact spacing your seedlings require depends on the variety of plant that you are cultivating. Check the information on the seed packet before transplanting.
This is also the ideal time to also place support, such as a trellis or bamboo pole in the container. Providing support from an early stage allows you to easily train the growth habit of the plant. Zebery’s stainless steel tomato cages are a great way to support and train your plant’s growth habit.
How to Care for Peas Growing in Containers
Once transplanted growing peas in containers is a largely trouble free process. It is also largely similar to cultivating the plants in a raised bed or border.
Positioning Your Plants
Pea plants do best in full sun positions. They also grow in partial sun locations. In the warmest USDA zones, pea plants will appreciate some protection from the intense afternoon heat. If the temperatures get too warm, your plant’s growth will slow or stop.
Ideally the plants will sit somewhere away from temperature extremes. Pea plants do best when the temperature averages between 60 and 75 ℉.
As well as light, pea plants also like positions with good air circulation.
Planting in bright, airy positions encourages lots of healthy growth. The healthier the plant the more flowers, and pods, it will produce.
Pea plants do best in cool, moist soil. Don’t overwater your plants. Aim to keep the soil evenly moist. In warmer climates you may need to water the plants up to 3 times a day.
Plants in overly soggy soil produce a lower yield. They may also rot.
Don’t let the soil dry out. Growing peas in containers, like other container based plants, requires frequent watering. Ideally, the topsoil should always feel damp to the touch.
Pea plants in the ground don’t require fertilization. In fact, the plants are among the best nitrogen producers. This means that they can help to enrich the soil as they grow.
Unlike cultivation in the ground, growing peas in containers does require some fertilization. This is because the regular watering container plants require can wash nutrients from the soil.
Apply a half strength dose of general purpose, 20-20-20 fertilizer, such as Jack’s All Purpose, when the plants are established. This will be around two weeks after transplanting. If you have sown the seeds in their final position you can apply this dose of fertilizer about 14 days after germination. Liquid fertilizers are easily incorporated into your watering routine. Homemade liquid fertilizers can also be used and are just as effective.
Alternatively you can work in an organic fertilizer such as compost or well-rotted manure. Apply the organic matter by side-dressing. Do this twice during the growing period.
Growing peas in containers requires lots of watering. Mulching is a great way to help the soil conserve moisture. To mulch simply lay a thin layer of organic matter such as grass clippings or straw, over the top soil.
Training Growing Peas in Containers
Pea plant vines tend to grow towards the sun. This can cause them to clump together, stunting or preventing flower and fruit production. Training the plants to grow up trellising or some other form of support helps to prevent this.
The best time to install support in the pot is when you transplant the seedlings. Alternatively place the container next to a trellis fixed to a wall or other structure. As the vines grow gently wrap them along the trellis or support.
Aim to evenly space the plant’s vines, preventing the foliage from becoming too densely clumped in certain areas. Supporting and spacing the plant also improves air circulation, helping to keep the plants pest and problem free.
Training pea plants along a trellis can also create an edible extension to a living wall.
Supporting and training the growth habit of your plants allows them to spread freely. This allows the plants to produce lots of full, healthy pods.
Companion planting is the process of cultivating mutually beneficial plants or crops together. This is a great, natural way to keep plants healthy and improve yield.
To improve the plants growth habit try growing peas in containers alongside carrots, radishes and turnips. If you are growing peas in large containers try planting leafy greens such as spinach, celery or lettuce, with the plants.
Avoid placing onions, garlic and chives close to your pea plants. These combinations can stunt the growth of pea plants.
Common Pests and Problems
Growing peas in containers allows you to protect them from many common pests and diseases. Additionally climbing varieties of pea plants are more disease resistant than bush varieties.
Regularly check the plants for aphids and other pest infestations. Wash away infestations with a blast from a hose pipe or an application of insecticidal soap. Spider mites can also target pea plants. Applying neem oil is an effective way to get rid of these pests, as is blasting with a hosepipe.
One of the biggest problems encountered when growing peas in containers are slugs and snails. Regularly check the rims of the containers for snails that are hiding there.
To keep snails and slugs away from your plants try greasing the pots with a thick band of petroleum jelly. Fruit tree grease can also be applied. This makes the surface too difficult for the creatures to navigate, protecting your plants without the use of chemicals. Alternatively beer or cider traps are also effective controls.
How to Harvest Peas Growing in Containers
Harvesting peas growing in containers is exactly the same as harvesting plants growing in beds. After the plants have flowered, their spent flowers will be replaced by pea pods. Continue to water and feed the plants as the pods develop.
When you harvest will depend on the type of pea plant you are cultivating. Shelling varieties should be picked when the pods and plump. Sugar snap varieties are picked slightly earlier, before their pods have fully swollen. Finally snow peas should also be picked early, before the pods have begun to swell.
When you harvest your pods will depend on the variety you are cultivating. Pick when the pods are ripe for the best flavor.
To harvest the pods gently pull them from the plant.
Growing peas in containers may yield a smaller harvest but it is still an easy, accessible and effective way to grow your own. Favouring the cool temperatures of spring and early summer they are one of the earliest crops to be harvested. Meanwhile gardeners in cooler climates will be able to enjoy a supply of fresh peas throughout the year.
Growing peas in containers is a great addition to any small or container garden. As long as you remember to provide support, and water regularly, growing in containers is a largely trouble free, low maintenance solution.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.