Fresh homegrown peas picked straight from the plant are a real delicacy and one of the most rewarding treats in the garden. Learn how to sow, plant and grow these sweet goodies for yourself.
Peas (Pisum sativum) are annuals in the legume family (Leguminosae) and are very easy to grow. Peas taste fantastic picked fresh and are of much superior quality to ones bought from a shop. The crop comes in a variety of forms, with climbing and dwarf varieties meaning peas can be grown in a plot of any size.
The traditional peas are podded or shelled types that are grown for the peas in the pods. These are harvested when they are fresh and immature or ripe and dry. Alternatives to traditional peas include mangetout and sugar-snap varieties that are picked and eaten whole as immature pods. Pea shoots are also popular; these are harvested from immature plants and can be used in salads or as a garnish, with the benefit of being tasty and nutritious.
Planting peas: when is the best time?
Peas can be sown from spring to early summer. There are many different varieties to choose from, as well as two different types of pea seeds. Varieties with smooth, round seeds are hardier than those with wrinkly seeds.
Peas are classified into different groups according to the length of time it takes them to mature once they are planted. From sowing to picking, ‘First Earlies’ require 11-13 weeks, ‘Second Earlies’ 12-13 weeks, and ‘Maincrop’ 13-14 weeks.
Moreover, the different classifications dictate when to sow peas. ‘First Earlies’ are sown from March to early June, while both ‘Second Earlies’ and ‘Maincrop’ are sown from March to June. The earlier types tend to be dwarf varieties.
There are winter peas varieties that are sown from September to the end of October. These cultivars are frost-hardy to -15°C and can either be harvested as greens in winter or will bloom in spring for an extra early crop.
The ideal location for peas
Peas prefer an open sunny spot with well-draining soil. The ideal soil for peas needs to be fertile, so work compost or well-rotted manure into the soil before planting. Good drainage is key to successfully growing peas.
Growing peas in pots
If you do not have a lot of space, you can grow peas in pots very successfully. However, expect a smaller harvest than those grown out in the garden. It is best to plant dwarf varieties when growing peas in containers.
To plant peas in pots: choose a deep container that is at least 30 cm wide and fill it with multi-purpose compost. Our Plantura Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost is ideal for growing peas in pots as it is free-draining and provides the peas with all the essential nutrients for a healthy start in life.
Water your peas growing in pots regularly, this might be mean daily watering during summer. They also need feeding from time to time to maintain a high level of nutrients in the soil. Feed the peas in pots at least twice during the season using a low-nitrogen fertiliser.
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Good companion plants for peas
Peas have nitrogen-fixing nodules on their roots that actively put nitrogen into the soil. This is beneficial to many other plants and means there is a whole host of great pea companion plants.
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa), radish (Raphanus sativus), brassicas (Brassica), and cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are all good companion plants for peas. They all benefit from the extra nutrients supplied by legumes. Additionally, carrots (Daucus carota), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) are excellent neighbours for peas.
However, alliums including onions (Allium cepa), leeks (Allium porrum), and garlic (Allium sativum) are not good pea companion plants. Alliums actively stunt the growth of peas, so do not grow them together. Also, sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum), aubergine (Solanum melongena) and potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are not good companions.
Growing peas: instructions
Growing peas is a simple, enjoyable and rewarding gardening task. You have two main options for sowing peas, you can start the pea seeds indoors for an earlier crop if you have a protected space or sow them directly in the bed outdoors in spring.
You can also grow tender pea shoots. They are quick and nutritious treats packed full of vitamins. If you want to grow peas shoots, you can grow them indoors in a container on a windowsill, in pots, or outside in a bed. Planting peas for shoots requires little space and they are generally ready to harvest just two weeks after sowing. Growing pea shoots indoors means you can grow and harvest them year-round.
Pea seeds can be sown directly into the soil in spring once the ground temperature hits a minimum of 7°C. Peas are ideal for direct sowing in the bed, but you can raise plants in pots indoors for an earlier crop. The optimum temperature for germination is 12 – 20 °C and the seeds should germinate within 10 – 12 days.
Make a drill 5 cm deep and 10 – 15 cm wide. Sow the seeds in it about 10 cm apart, cover with soil and press down lightly. Water well. If planting several rows of peas, make sure to space the rows apart at least 45 cm apart. This gives the plants enough room to grow and prevents one row from shading the other and hampering growth.
For earlier crops, sow peas indoors in spring to be ready to plant out when the ground warms up. Fill deep pots or alternatives like root-trainers or growing tubes with seed compost, such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seeding Compost. Sow two seeds per pot.
Another popular method is to sow pea seeds in a length of guttering filled with compost. When it is time to plant these peas outside, simply dig a trench and slide the row straight out of the guttering.
Sow peas little and often about every two to four weeks to enjoy a steady supply of fresh peas from late spring right through to the middle of autumn.
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Planting out peas
Peas grown indoors for an earlier crop can be planted out when the weather warms up and the risk of frost has passed. Harden off the plants to acclimatise them to the outdoor temperatures and light intensity. Start planting out peas when the seedlings are about 20 cm tall.
Dig a wide trench to plant the pea seedlings in. Space the seedlings around 10 cm apart. If the variety needs a support, put it in place while planting the peas out to give them something to attach themselves too quickly so they do not flop on the ground.
How to support peas
Most peas have a climbing habit and need a support or structure to grow up. The exceptions are the dwarf varieties. When it comes to how to support peas, the height of the support needed will depend on the variety. Check the seed packet to see how tall your crop will ultimately grow. Smaller varieties can scramble up twiggy branches or pea sticks inserted beside each plant in the row. The taller varieties need a trellis to climb, such as netting or chicken wire held up by strong bamboo canes.
How to care for and harvest peas
Water the pea plants regularly during the summer, especially when they are in flower and growing pea pods. The plants need a lot of water to ensure the pods swell.
If you are growing peas for pods wait until the pods are full of peas before harvesting. Pick other varieties, like mangetout, when it looks like peas are just starting to form in the pod. Peas mature up the plant, so start harvesting at the bottom of the plant and work your way up.
Want to know more expert tips on growing mangetout and sugar snap peas? Read our article on growing and caring for sugar snap peas.