Fresh peas straight from the garden have an unforgettable crispness and sweetness. Many varieties of peas have delicate flowers with a delicious scent that fills the air, attracting bees and other beneficial insects. Even for inexperienced gardeners, peas are relatively easy to grow if you have them in the right growing conditions. They are ready for harvest in a short time, making them a fun plant to grow with kids.
Soil and Location
Peas grow best in a well-drained soil that is light and rich in organic materials. These legumes are nitrogen fixers, which means they get their nitrogen from the air and return it to the soil. Adding extra nitrogen to the soil can result in burned pea plants or overly leafy growth and few seed pods. Peas need full sun in cooler times of year, but partial shade is fine especially during the hottest parts of the day. The plants should be 8 to 12 inches apart, with up to 2 feet between rows.
Peas germinate quickly and do not respond well to transplanting, so sowing them directly into the garden is best. Sow the seeds about an inch deep. Seedlings can rot in very wet weather, so give the soil a chance to dry after heavy precipitation. Most peas prefer cooler temperatures, although heat-tolerant varieties are available. For an early summer harvest, peas should be sown after the last hard frost has passed when soil temperatures have reached 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat tolerant varieties can be planted in late summer when the days have started to shorten and harvested in early fall before the killing frosts begin.
Peas are vining plants, so they need to be trellised to keep them from falling over and to allow good air circulation. If you have just a few plants, they can be trained to climb single stakes, but it's easier to trellis a larger planting onto a chicken wire fence. Check the seed packet for an estimate of the pea variety's height. When the plants are a few inches tall, tie them to a stake or trellis before they tip over. Continue to tie the stems as they grow until the vines start to wrap themselves around the trellis and hold the plant up.
Pea seedlings are extremely sensitive, so weed them by hand at first or cultivate them shallowly with a small hoe to avoid damaging the young stems. Water the plants at the roots only when the soil is dry to keep the stems from rotting. Avoid spraying water on the foliage or you might encourage fungus to grow. If the weather suddenly becomes too hot for the plants, mulch around their bases with leaves, newspaper or wood chips to help shade the soil and keep it cool.