JoAnne Skelly: Pea planting plans

I love to eat fresh shucked peas like candy. I enjoy munching on tender pods right off the vine. Fortunately, peas are easy to grow. St. Paddy’s Day is pea-planting time, because peas are a cool season crop. They must be planted early, so they flower and set pods before the heat of summer. However, we may have to delay planting a week or so this year if soils are excessively wet or cold.

Garden or English peas are grown for their seeds; snow peas, sugar peas and sugar snap peas are grown for their edible pods. Garden and snow peas can be either climbers that need the support of a trellis or bush-like low-growing varieties. Sugar snap peas grow as tall vines and should have a trellis for support.

Peas require good-draining soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.7. If you mix in an 8-16-16 (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) fertilizer just before planting, your peas shouldn’t need any further nitrogen during the growing season. Peas thrive with regular watering, particularly at flowering.

Soak peas overnight in warm water prior to planting to improve germination. Sow the seeds about one inch deep and two to three inches apart. Later, thin plants to four inches apart. Low-growing varieties can be grown in rows 18-24 inches apart. Climbing varieties should be planted with three feet between rows. Planting in succession, rather than all at once will extend your harvest.

Some good varieties for shelled peas are Dakota (57 days to harvest), Freezonian (60 days), Green Arrow (68 days, cold-tolerant), Lincoln (67 days, heat-tolerant) and Little Marvel (60 days, cold-tolerant).

Edible pod types good for high desert gardening include Oregon Sugar Pod (65 days, bush type plant, flat pods), Sugar Ann (56 days, compact plants) and Sugar Snap (66 days, vining habit, cold- and heat-tolerant).

Once peas and pods are ready for harvest, pick daily for several days or even weeks with succession planting. To eat garden peas raw, pick them young, as soon as the pods are well filled. More mature peas still cook up nicely. Eat snow peas when they are very young, just as the seeds start to form. If you wait too long, the pods will be tough. However, the seeds can still be eaten even though they are starchier and less sweet than garden peas. Sugar snap peas have a thicker pod than snow peas with larger and sweeter seeds.

Believe it or not, it’s gardening time again!

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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