Thursday, March 19, 2009

Peas please

Peas are a snap when you plant early. In fact, research shows you can enjoy a 50 percent higher yield by planting April 1 or earlier than if you delay until May 1. The name of the game really is to sneak peas in during cool spring weather before Front Range summer heat arrives. We don’t tend to have too much mild temperature weather in-between to keep vines going.

You are cleared for planting anytime after soil temperatures have warmed to at least 40 degrees at a four inch depth. Choose a variety from one or more of the three main types of peas.

  • Snow peas have small, underdeveloped peas in tender pods and are used extensively in Chinese cooking.
  • Snap peas produce edible pods or you can allow pea seeds to partially mature before harvest.
  • Shelling or garden peas contain tender sweet peas nestled in tough, inedible pods. Early and mid-season varieties may do better here than late types due to our hot summers.

Well-drained soils are necessary for good pea growth so prepare soil well before planting. Fertilizers are generally unnecessary unless you garden in a nutrient-poor sandy soil. Soak seeds in water overnight to speed germination. Dust before covering if using optional nitrogen inoculant. This inoculant, which is available at most garden centers, is the companion bacteria that enable pea roots to absorb nitrogen directly from the air. It may be useful the first time you plant peas in your soil. Cover with one inch of soil and water seeds to firm the soil around them.

Young peas are vigorous growers and will require about a half inch of water a week until bloom time and one inch a week until pods fill out. Water carefully, especially with clay-type soils. The soil should never become waterlogged, a condition that promotes seed rot. Too much water before flowering will usually reduce yields.

Dense plantings both increase your harvest and enable the plants to support themselves. This is especially true of the bush or dwarf types like 'Petite Pois'. Because of our winds, varieties that reach 18 inches or more will require some type of support.

Netting the height of the pea variety stapled to wood posts is easy. Some folks use a frame with twine anchored in the ground with a nail. Others use cut wood brush for a rustic but quickly obtained support.

Late snows and frosts are not a problem for these tough plants. Tough, that is, until summer heat takes down the plants of gardeners making late plantings. You can add more soil or mulch such as dried grass clippings on top of the soil when plants reach 6 inches tall. This helps to keep the roots cooler as the season warms.

When harvesting, pick only the peas you can eat that day. They don’t keep well and begin losing their sweetness the moment they’re harvested. Just-picked freshness can't be bought at any supermarket.

Harvest snow peas when the pods are tender and supple and before the peas mature. Snap peas are ready when the pods are still crisp. Shelling peas are ready to pick and shell before the pods harden and fade in color.

When peas are finished, you are ready to plant another vegetable crop (“succession planting”). Pea roots enrich the soil for later crops and the vines make excellent compost.

Insect problems generally are few with two exceptions. Pea aphid (left) is common and can be controlled with a good dousing of water to knock them off or insecticidal soap sprays. More problematic is thrips (right, magnified) that cause a silver scarring on leaves and pods. Control with washing plants, insecticidal soap sprays, and yellow or light blue sticky traps.

With planting early you should be enjoying peas at their prime by late May to early June

[Both peas photos credit Carl Wilson] [Pea aphid phto credit, Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series,] [Thrips photo credit, Jack T. Reed, Mississippi State University,]


  1. Informative post -- thanks so much! By coincidence, I planted my first peas today.

    Look forward to reading more,

    Fort Collins, CO

  2. I'm going to plant my peas today!! -- thanks for the post.

    I didn't see a place on the blog for general comments, so I'll just write it here. I'd love to a lesson on mulching around vegetable plants during the growing season... which plants to mulch, what mulching material to use, etc. Thanks!

    Beth, Lafayette, CO

  3. Thank you so much for this site! I think it's one we could all use a bit of help on. In my last 3 homes in different areas of the country, I simply seemed to throw seed on the ground, and had a cornucopia of vegetables to harvest. And after 10 years here, I still struggle!

    Diane, CMG Colorado Springs

  4. great to know that I can plant SOMETHING before mother's day- thanks for the information!