A Gardener's Guide to Growing Peas

There’s something special about the taste of newly harvested peas. We’ve heard them described as incredible, sublime, and as The Old Farmer’s Almanac puts it, “glorious…nature’s candy off the vine.” And we agree.

Even better, peas are easy to grow. They require minimal care, and they’re generally resistant to pests and diseases. Peas even give you a hand with fertilizing: They naturally add nitrogen, a vital nutrient for plants, to your soil.

The only challenge to keep in mind when it comes to growing peas is they have a short growing season. They prefer cooler early spring and fall temperatures. 

But if you time your crops strategically, there’s no reason why you can’t experience these delectable veggies for yourself. And we have some advice to help you.

Know your options

If you’re thinking of growing peas, you have several varieties to pick from:

  • Garden peas, or English peas, require shelling to release their sweet peas.
  • Snap peas have edible pods and are a tasty cross between garden and snow peas.
  • Snow peas, often used in Asian dishes, have flat, edible pods with tiny peas inside.

When to plant

Peas can be planted for both spring and fall harvests, the key is to time your plantings carefully since peas don’t do well in hot temperatures.

For a spring crop, sow your pea seeds about four to six weeks before the last estimated spring frost date in your region. Pea seeds germinate when soil temperatures are between 45°F and 75°F (7°C to 24°C), and they’re resilient enough to withstand light frosts. If you can easily work the soil with your fingers without it being frozen or overly soggy, it's a good sign that it's planting time.

For gardeners looking to enjoy peas in the fall, you can plant in the late summer or early fall, about six to eight weeks before your first expected fall frost date. If you’re in a region with hot summers, you’ll want to wait until the soil cools a bit, though.

Since climate conditions can vary widely, we recommend consulting with your local extension service or checking online planting calendars tailored to your area to find the best planting dates.

Freeze warning

Garden peas tolerate frost, but not hard freezes. So, for your fall crop, make sure your peas have enough time to mature before the temperatures plummet too far below freezing. How much time should you allow? Generally, peas are ready for harvest about 60 to 70 days after you sow their seeds, though it’s always a good idea to check your seed packet for details about the variety you’re growing..

Soil requirements

Give your peas a good foundation by providing loamy soil — a balanced mix of sand, silt, and clay rich in organic matter — that drains well. Test the soil for its pH level. For peas, you want a range of about 6.0 to 7.0. 

Seed depth and spacing

Plant seeds 1-inch deep and 2-inches apart in rows 18-inches apart, or 8-inches apart for trellised varieties.


Compost or balanced fertilizer works well at planting. Avoid high-nitrogen formulas, but a little phosphorus and potassium promotes healthy roots and pods.


Applying a thin layer of organic mulch will help you retain soil moisture in your garden and keep your peas’ roots cool.


Water thoroughly at planting, then provide about an inch per week, checking soil moisture beforehand.

Pest and disease management

Keep an eye out for common pests like aphids and use organic pest control methods if necessary.

Time to harvest

If you’re worried about harvesting at the right time, look to your peas’ pods for guidance. They should be swollen, a good sign that the peas inside are full, but still smooth and bright green. Over-mature pods might look yellowish and feel bumpy. 

For shelling peas, you want the individual peas to be visible through the pod, but not so large that they cause the pod to bulge. With snap and snow peas, the pods should be full-sized, but the peas inside should only be just beginning to form.

One helpful test is to gently squeeze the pod. It should feel firm and round, with the peas inside offering some resistance.

If you’re still not quite sure, taste a pea. It should be tender and sweet.

Exploring warm-weather legumes: Southern peas

We’d also like to put a word in for Southern peas like cowpeas, black-eyed peas, and field peas. They’re a different species (Vigna unguiculata) than the green peas we’ve been discussing (Pisum sativum), but Southern peas are legumes, too, and delicious when freshly harvested. 

Southern peas are well-suited to higher temperatures, making them perfect for warm climates. They're an excellent choice for gardeners looking to rotate crops during the summer months, a time when traditional peas may not fare as well.

Like their cool-weather counterparts, Southern peas are proficient nitrogen fixers, contributing to soil fertility and setting the stage for future planting. The indicators for when they're ready to pick are also similar — look for full, plump pods.

If you're intrigued by the prospect of growing Southern peas, consult local planting calendars to determine the best time to sow in your area.

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