Packed with flavor and full of nutritious goodness, the pea plant is an elegant addition to the vegetable garden. As well as introducing height and structure, a row of peas is a great way to shade, low growing, cool weather specimens. They are also pleasingly easy to grow.
Adding to the attraction of the pea plant is the sheer range of available varieties. Meaning that whatever your growing conditions or whether you like shelling peas or those with edible pods, such as snow or sugar snap peas, there is at least one pea plant variety to suit you. There are also a number of smaller or dwarf cultivars, which are ideal for pots and raised planters.
If you want to add a pea plant row, or two, to your garden, this is your complete guide.
Nothing tastes sweeter than a freshly picked, homegrown pea pod.
Different Varieties of Pea Plant
You will find, either online or in your local garden store, a wide range of different pea plant varieties. This means that you are certain to find at least one cultivar that suits your growing conditions. If space is at a premium, dwarf varieties, such as Amethyst and Hestia, are ideal for container growing.
If you favor shelling peas, they are usually divided into early and maincrop varieties. Early varieties can be planted from March until early June. These cultivars typically require 11 to 13 weeks of steady growth before they are ready for harvest. Common early varieties include Little Marvel, Early Onward and Feltham First.
Maincrop cultivars can be planted from late March onwards. These take a little longer to mature and produce edible pods, usually around 16 weeks. Reliable main crop pea plant varieties include Kelvedon Wonder, Onward, Cavalier, Greensage and Purple Podded.
Shelling peas can also be classified into either round or marrow fat varieties. Round varieties are smooth when dry. They tend to be hardier than the marrow fat or wrinkled varieties. Mainly dwarf varieties, round shelling peas are ideal for early sowings. Some varieties can also be sown in October or November for a late spring harvest. Marrow fat peas wrinkle as they dry. These tend to produce heavier crops than round varieties but aren’t as hardy.
In addition to shelling pea plant varieties, you can also grow edible pod varieties such as mangetout and sugar snap peas. Mangetout varieties produce flat pods which contain a row of small peas. Common mangetout varieties include Sugar Pods, Oregon and Dlikata.
Finally, sugar snap peas also produce an edible pod. This is typically rounder than the mangetout pods and has a distinct crunch. Sugar snaps are also sweeter. Common sugar snap varieties include Sugar Snap and Sugar Ann.
Take the time to find a variety that you like and suits your growing conditions.
Preparing Your Planting Site
The pea plant does best in a full sun position, in well draining soil.
Work in some compost to loosen the soil before planting. You can also work in mushroom compost or well rotted manure. Enriching the soil before planting helps to give the young seedlings a nutritious boost. However, compared to some other members of the vegetable garden, these are not heavy feeding specimens.
The pea plant does best in an alkaline or neutral soil. If your soil is acidic, it can be amended by working in lime in late winter. A soil test kit tells you the makeup of your soil, allowing you to make necessary amendments before planting.
You will also need to install a trellis or some form of support for the vines to climb up.
Growing from Seed
While transplants are available from garden stores, the pea plant is easily grown from seed.
Before sowing, check the seeds for signs of mould or softness. Discard any seeds that are not suitable.
The pea plant is a cool weather loving vegetable. This means that you can sow them as early in the growing season as possible, either undercover or in their final position. If you are sowing peas in their final position you can begin as soon as the ground is workable. You can continue sowing peas from early March until July. In milder climates you can also sow in fall or late winter for a late spring harvest.
Use a hoe or shovel to make a shallow trench roughly 8 inches wide and 1 inch deep. Space the seeds roughly 3 to 4 inches apart. Cover and water well.
If you are starting the seeds undercover, sow roughly 1 inch deep in biodegradable pots like these MT Products Peat Seed Starter Pots. Fill the pots with a good quality, fresh potting soil.
Keep the soil moist. Seedlings should appear within 2 weeks. Following germination, continue to keep the soil evenly moist.
Harden off the seedlings before planting out as soon as the last frost date has passed and the soil temperature reaches 45 °F. Don’t worry if an unexpected late season frost strikes. The young pea plant can tolerate a light to medium frost.
Transplant the seedlings still in their biodegradable pots into the prepared soil. To do this, make a hole large enough to hold both the plant and its biodegradable pot. Place the pot in the hole, the top of the pot should sit level with the soil.
To ensure a straight row, some gardeners like to sow the seeds in a length of old guttering. This can then be slid into a prepared trench in the ground when the soil is warm enough and the seedlings are ready to transplant.
You can also grow your pea plant in a container. Sow the seeds directly into deep pots filled with fresh, multi-purpose compost as described above.
Do I Need to Use an Inoculant?
Some growers like to treat peas and other legumes with an inoculant before planting. Inoculants are a natural bacteria and are freely available at most garden stores. They help legumes convert the nitrogen present in the air into a more usable form in the soil. While an inoculant can help to improve growth, particularly if you have never planted legumes in this area before, the pea plant will grow just as well without it.
Supporting Growing Plants
Don’t forget to install some form of support for your seedlings to climb up. This helps to control the growth and spread of the vines. It also helps air to circulate freely around the vines and foliage.
Supports should be installed at the same time as either sowing or transplanting. Your chosen supports should be thin enough for the tendrils to easily wind around them. Large twigs or pea sticks are ideal. You can also use bamboo stakes such as Mininfa Natural Bamboo Stakes.
Supporting the central stem helps to encourage an upright growth habit. It also helps to keep the vines tidy and frees up ground space for other crops.
How to Care for a Pea Plant
Once planted care is simple. Remember to protect young seedlings from pests such as slugs and snails. Organic solutions such as copper tape are just as effective as chemical controls.
Organic mulches can also deter slugs and snails. Additionally, mulching the soil helps to prevent weeds from growing and smothering young specimens. Mulching also helps the soil to retain moisture.
Protect young specimens from slugs and snails.
When to Water
Water only when it doesn’t rain or the soil shows signs of drying out. Growing peas require about 1 inch of water a week.
When watering, water only the base of the plant and the surrounding soil. Try to water early in the day and keep the foliage as dry as possible. This helps to prevent fungal diseases such as powdery mildew.
Do I Need to Fertilize?
The pea plant is not a heavy feeding vegetable. If planted in moderately rich soil it can thrive without any fertilizer. If you do need to fertilize, whether because you’ve planted in poor soil or you just want to give the vines a boost, a high potash fertilizer can be applied once a week starting when flowers appear. If you make your own liquid fertilizer make sure it is either balanced or rich in potash.
Good companions include aromatic herbs such as mint and cilantro. Leafy greens such as spinach and lettuce are also good companions as are most brassicas. Other good companions include:
Avoid planting near alliums such as garlic and onions. Peas also struggle if planted too close to gladioli.
Planting near aromatic herbs helps to encourage pollinators to the flowers. This improves pollination and fruit yield.
Common Pests and Problems
Pleasingly resilient specimens, the pea plant can sometimes suffer from infestations of aphids and cutworms. Regularly check the vines and foliage for signs of infestation. A homemade insecticidal soap can be used to treat most pest problems.
The pea moth can cause maggot infestations. If this is a persistent problem, you can reduce the risk by either sowing early, between October and February, or later in the season, during June and July. You can also protect your crops by covering them with a fine mesh, such as Ultra Fine Garden Mesh Netting, or a horticultural fleece.
Fusarium wilt and root rot can be common problems if the soil is poor to drain or heavy. This can cause plant growth to stunt or foliage to yellow and wilt. Before planting you can improve drainage by working in compost, to loosen the soil.
Why is my Pea Plant Failing to Produce Pods?
A failure to produce pods can be caused by a number of factors.
Too much nitrogen in the soil can cause excess foliage production, often at the expense of fruit production. When fertilizing use a balanced fertilizer or one low in nitrogen. You can prevent the issue by using a soil test kit to measure the nitrogen levels in the soil before planting. If nitrogen levels are excessive, amend the soil before planting.
If your specimens seem small and slow to grow, it could be a sign of a nitrogen deficiency. Composting pea plantings into the soil directly after harvest can help to boost nitrogen levels. You can also inolucate the seeds with rhizobium leguminosarum bacteria. This helps to fix nitrogen in the soil, boosting growth.
Other nutritional deficiencies such as a lack of phosphorus can also deter pod production. Again, a soil test kit can be used to measure the nutrient content of your soil, allowing any necessary amendments to be made.
Pinching back the growing tips can also encourage blossoms to form.
Healthy specimens happily set flowers. Following pollination the flowers fade, to be replaced by seed pods.
Signs of Poor Pollination
The flowers of the pea plant need to be pollinated before they produce pods. This can happen either by self pollination, occurring before flowers open, or by cross pollination from visiting pollinators. Poor pollination is more common in polytunnels or greenhouses. To encourage pollination, gently shake the stems. This encourages pollen to spread around the flower. You can also use an indoor fan to stimulate air flow and pollination.
If you are growing your pea plant outside, plant pollinator friendly flowers close by to encourage pollinators. You can also build a bug hotel.
Finally, pods can fail to appear if growing conditions are not favorable. Both cold, wet periods and too much hot or dry weather can impair flowering and pod production. Planting too late in the season can cause cold weather to damage the growing vines before pods can form. To prevent this, try to select varieties that do well in your climate. Plant either in early spring for a summer crop or fast growing varieties in late summer for fall crops.
When to Harvest
Pods are usually ready for harvest about 3 months after planting. This can vary depending on the variety you are growing and the conditions you are growing in.
It can be tricky to know when to harvest. Leaving the pods on the plant for too long can lead to them becoming over ripe and inedible. Starting from when they begin to flesh out, check your pods every day. Harvest the pods when they reach their maximum size. If you are unsure, pick one pod from the plant and open it up. If the peas taste sweet and tender then it is time to harvest the crop.
Snap style peas are ready for harvesting when the pods begin to flatten.
When harvesting, pick pods from the bottom of the plant first, working upwards. Lower pods form before the pods higher up, and usually mature earlier. To remove a pod, use both your hands to separate the pod from the vine. Try not to damage either the pod or the plant as you harvest.
Peas store best if you cool them after harvesting. Dunk your peas in cold water as soon after harvest as possible before storing in the refrigerator. You can also freeze or can the peas to extend their storage time.
Full of flavor and easy to grow the pea plant is a fabulous addition to the vegetable garden.
Nothing compares to the sweet taste of freshly picked garden peas. Growing your own pea plant is pleasingly easy. They are also an attractive addition to the garden that don’t take up too much space. Why not add some to your vegetable garden today?
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.