pea pods in a basket - how to grow peas

How to grow peas

Fresh peas picked straight from the garden are a revelation! Once you've tasted how sweet they really taste, you'll never want to eat frozen peas again. Better still, growing your own peas is incredibly easy and you can achieve a good yield in a small space.

How to grow peas

Fresh peas picked straight from the garden are a revelation! Once you've tasted how sweet they really taste, you'll never want to eat frozen peas again. Better still, growing pea plants is incredibly easy and you can achieve a good yield in a small space.

In fact, you can even grow them in containers on the patio for a really space-saving crop. Follow our guide on how to grow garden peasand find out when to plant them so you can enjoy the taste of your own home grown crop.

Different types of peas

Don't be fooled into thinking that all peas are the same. There are shelling peas, edible-podded peas and even purple-podded peas.

Different types of peas in an open hand

Shelling Peas- As the name suggests, shelling peas are grown for the peas inside the pods. Once shelled, the pods are discarded.These fall into two main types, early and maincrop. Early varieties such as Pea 'Misty' and the ever popular Pea 'Kelvedon Wonder' can be harvested just 12 weeks from sowing. Maincrops such as Pea 'Oasis' take 15 weeks to crop. Shelling peas are often divided into 'wrinkle seeded', which tend to be sweeter, and 'smooth-seeded' types which are often hardier varieties.

Edible-Podded Peas - Mange Tout and Sugar Snap Peas are both edible-podded types that are harvested at different stages of maturity. Flat-podded Mange Tout is harvested while young, whereas round-podded Sugar Snap Peas are harvested when they are semi-mature. There are plenty of varieties to choose from including the very pretty Pea 'Shiraz' - the first purple-podded Mange Tout!

Where to grow peas

Choose an open, weed-free site in full sun. Grow peas in a moist, fertile, well drained soil. Try to dig plenty of well rotted compost into the soil several weeks before sowing to improve soil fertility and help retain moisture. It's best to avoid sowing peas on cold, wet soils as they tend to rot away.If space is at a premium then try growing peas in containers or patio bags. Choose a compact, bushy variety like Pea 'Bingo'.

When to grow peas

pea plant growing in a container

Peas are a cool season crop, enjoying temperatures of 13 -18C (55-64F) so they are well suited to the UK climate. Peas can be direct sown outdoors from March to June once the soil has warmed to about 10C (50F). Using cloches will help the earliest crops to germinate.

In mild areas, some hardy, early maturing cultivars can be sown in late autumn for overwintering and producing particularly early crops. However, mice are quite partial to overwintered pea seeds so keep an eye out for hungry rodents. For a continuous crop of home grown peas it's a good idea to sow a new batch of peas every 10-14 days. Alternatively, try growing different early and maincrop varieties that will mature at different times throughout the growing season.

How to grow peas

pea plants growing up supporting sticks

  • • Protect seed - Birds love to steal pea seed so cover trenches with chicken wire or netting after sowing. This can removed once the seeds have germinated.
  • • Provide supports - Peas produce tendrils to help them climb upwards. Erect wire netting, or push upright twiggy sticks into the ground along the length of each trench to provide your peas with supports to cling to.
  • • Water regularly- Once pea plants start to flower it's best to water thoroughly once a week to encourage good pod development. You can reduce water loss by applying a thick mulch of well rotted manure or compost to lock moisture into the soil.
  • • Don't over-feed - Don't feed peas with nitrogen rich fertilisers as can cause lots of leafy growth instead of producing pea pods. In most cases peas won't require any extra feed, especially if you added plenty of organic matter to the soil before sowing.

Watch the video below to find out more about how to grow Peas:

mange tout plant

Harvesting peas

Peas should be harvested regularly to encourage more pods to be produced. The pods at the bottom of each plant will mature first so begin harvesting from low down and work your way up as the pods mature. All peas can be frozen but they are sweetest and tastiest when eaten freshly picked from the garden.

Early varieties can be harvested 11-12 weeks from sowing while maincrop varieties need 13 -15 weeks to mature.

Mange Tout is best harvested young while the pods are still flat, and before the peas inside begin to swell.

Sugar Snap peas are best harvested when semi-mature, as the peas inside each pod begin to swell.

Fix Nitrogen for next years crops

Peas are legumes, which take in nitrogen from the air and 'fix' (store) it in small nodules along their roots. When growing garden peas, don't be tempted to pull the plants up from the roots at the end of the season. The leaves and stems can be cut off at ground level and added to the compost heap, before digging the roots into the ground. As the roots break down, they release nitrogen into the soil. The nitrogen is then free to be taken up by next year's crop in a normal rotation system - try growing brassicas in this spot next year!

Sue Sanderson T&M horticulturalist

Written by: Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.


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