Peas are a wonderfully easy crop to grow and can be a big producer in comparison to the relatively small footprint they require. In addition to being a delicious addition to many different types of cuisines, pea plants produce lovely flowers and are attractive climbing vines.
There are even some ornamental pea varieties that are grown expressly for their attractive growth habits. This means you’ll have plenty of options for where to place them if they are provided with proper growing conditions.
Peas are one of the sweetest and easiest vegetables to prepare for consumption, with many types ready to eat straight off the vine. These cool-weather vegetables like to be planted early, and they are ready to harvest within as few as 55 days from germination. Here is a look at the best way to plant, care for, and harvest peas grown in containers.
Step 1: Find the Right Spot
The first order of business is to choose the right spot for your pea plants, where they will get the sun exposure they need. The amount and type of sun exposure peas need will depend upon the region in which you are growing them. Generally, peas grow best and produce the greatest harvest in full sun.
Full sun means 6-8+ hours of sun per day. Peas can and will grow in partial shade at 4-6 hours of sun per day, but they may have a leggy appearance and may produce a smaller harvest depending on the location. In most cases, full sun is best. Occasionally, plants in a more shaded location may have a longer growing season.
Speaking in terms of regions and climate, peas planted in a very hot climate will do best if the bulk of their exposure takes place early in the day. The morning sun has all the benefits of the afternoon sun without the intensity of the heat. In cooler climates, afternoon sun is perfectly fine as long as your plants get what they need in terms of water.
With container-grown plants, you have the benefit of portability. Many containers can be moved into an ideal place for the best sunlight exposure. If needed, on particularly hot days, they can be moved to shadier zones in the yard. This can be a benefit if they look like they need some afternoon shade.
Step 2: Choose the Right Container
Peas like to climb, so the most important factor in choosing a container and accessories is to provide them with something to climb on. A trellis works wonderfully, as does a tomato cage, and both can be easily incorporated into a raised bed. The Birdies 15” metal raised bed is a great option, and green is my favorite color. I especially love the Mist Green shade.
Raised beds have many advantages when it comes to growing vegetables. For one thing, there are no worries about soil quality. Planting in raised beds also provides better drainage, keeps your soil loose for good rooting, and warms faster in the spring, giving your plants an earlier start!
If you don’t have room for a permanent raised bed, a 65-gallon Epic grow bag can be a great option for a season or two. This size of grow bag has plenty of room for a great pea harvest! They can be grown in 10 or 15-gallon sizes as well.
Step 3: Select The Right Variety
There are three basic types of peas. They are snap peas, shelling peas, and snow peas. Within each group are many varieties, but we will stick to these categories for our purposes.
Snap Peas – If you want a sweet, snappy snack to dip in your favorite ranch dressing, this is the pea for you. They have a fleshy casing with a great crunch and are delicious raw but equally so tossed in a stir fry. Some popular varieties include; Sugar Ann, Sugar Snap, and my favorite, Sugar Daddy. Sugar Magnolia is a snap pea with a pretty purple shell if you want some color on your veggie tray.
Snow Peas – These are the most common peas used in Asian cuisine, and it’s no wonder. They have a delicate flavor and a tender outer shell that can be eaten raw or lightly sauteed. The Mammoth Melting Sugar variety boasts large, sweet, juicy pods.
Shelling (or Sweet) Peas – There are commonly called English peas, and when you think of the cute little round peas that make the perfect addition to a shepherd’s pie, those are shelling peas. The outer shell is very fibrous and not edible. It’s the seeds inside the shell that are wonderful for cooking. They are also great for freezing and canning. Little Marvel is a wonderful container variety that takes up very little space and produces an early yield.
Step 4: Choose the Right Soil
Peas are not picky about soil, so standard potting or raised bed soil will work. There is no harm in beefing up your soil, however. Using a good organic compost or mixing some manure in with your potting mix is a great idea for most vegetables, and peas are no exception.
Some important factors in setting up your containers with soil are the pH. Peas prefer a pH between 6-7.5, which leans toward alkalinity.
Make sure your soil is loose and drains well. Compacted soil will inhibit root development, and while pea plants like moisture, soggy soil can lead to root rot and nutrient deficiencies.
A 3-5-5 granular organic fertilizer worked through the soil at planting time should be enough to give container peas the boost that they need!
Keep in mind that container-grown plants often need to have a little extra moisture retention in their soil. Container soil tends to dry out much more rapidly than in-ground soil does.
Step 5: Plant at the Right Time
Peas grow best in cool, humid weather. Early spring is the perfect time to start peas, which will vary according to climate. In the South, you can plant as early as January and as late as March.
If you’re planting in a colder climate, plant them as soon as the ground thaws. March/April is generally an ideal month to get started.
Remember that some types of containers are more insulated than others. Plastic pots tend to be cooler in terms of soil temperature. While peas can germinate at as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, they tend to be quicker to develop when the soil temperature is 60 degrees. Unglazed ceramic or terracotta pots have more insulation and will retain the sun’s warmth for longer.
In cooler regions, a fall planting can also be successful. If you want a fall crop, start your peas about 2 months before the first frost. Generally, between August and September is the best time for fall planting. Spring harvests are typically more robust, but early-blooming varieties can be successful in the fall.
Step 6: Sow Your Seeds
In most cases, it’s best not to start your peas indoors. Peas do quite well when they are directly sown – often much better than they would in a greenhouse or indoors. While it’s possible to start them indoors if you have an incredibly short growing season, it’s better to stick with direct sowing here!
Peas germinate faster in the ground, so there is a distinct advantage to direct sowing. Transplanting disturbs their roots as well, causing their growth to slow. Make sure to soak peas overnight to speed germination.
Rows of peas should be about 7-10” apart and up to 18″ apart, with individual seeds 2” apart. Make a 1″ deep trench and place your seeds in it, then loosely cover with soil.
Peas are nitrogen fixers, so they absorb nitrogen from the air and store it in nodules on their roots, which makes them a great cover crop. As their roots decompose once you’ve removed the bulk of the plant at the end of the season, they release all of that nitrogen back into the soil. This means that whatever crop you plant after your peas will have the benefit of the decaying root system and its increased nitrogen!
Step 7: Water Properly
Peas prefer soil that remains moist but has good drainage. Overly-soggy soil, particularly during the germination stage, can reduce oxygen to your seeds or young seedlings and can cause many other issues. As a general guideline, peas need about 1” of water per week, but maintaining consistent moisture is ideal here; don’t let your peas completely dry out between waterings.
If peas do not have adequate water, they will not produce pods. Coupled with the issues that poor drainage and wet soil can cause, it is easy to see why growing pea plants in raised beds is a good idea. Raised beds typically have very good drainage, so controlling the soil’s moisture level is easier.
When growing in containers, it’s also important to be aware that they often dry out more rapidly. Keep track on your container-grown peas to ensure that they have enough moisture, particularly if you’ve planted them in grow bags.
Step 8: Keep an Eye Out for Problems
Fungal rot is the main disease-related issue to keep an eye out for. The main stem of the plant may become soft and discolored, and the plant may drop leaves and have difficulty producing pods. Under the soil, the roots will be soft and mushy with fungal rot. This is typically caused by fungal development that occurs after overwatering.
In most cases, root rot on peas is not repairable, but if there are still healthy roots, the plant may bounce back if you reduce its watering frequency. The long-term solution is to improve your soil’s drainage before planting peas next time.
There are a number of pests that enjoy feeding on pea plants. Among them are aphids and leafminers, which feed on the leaves or stems, and root-knot nematodes, which feed on the roots. Aphids and leafminers can be treated with insecticidal soap, neem oil, or horticultural oil. For root-knot nematodes, it’s trickier; adding some beneficial nematodes to your soil is the most reliable method of control of pest nematode species.
Step 9: Harvesting
Peas take between 60 to 70 days to mature but can start producing pods as early as 50 days. They should be removed from the plant gently, with care to hold the stem while pulling the pod loose. Otherwise, the vine can be easily damaged.
Snap pea and shelling pea pods will be large and nicely plump when ready to harvest. If they look swollen and ready to burst, they must be removed – don’t wait until the pods split. Harvest snow peas while they are still flat and tender. It’s done this way because they do not form large round peas and will be sweetest when tender.
After picking shelling peas from the plant, place them in a cold water bath before shelling them. Peas that you are unable to consume within 10 days should be preserved.
Fortunately, freezing peas is easy and effective. Blanch the peas in boiling water for one minute to freeze them and then transfer them to an ice bath. Drain them well, pat them dry, and place them on a cookie sheet in the freezer to completely freeze before transferring to a freezer bag or other airtight container. This keeps your peas separated rather than frozen together in a large clump.
Peas are an easy and delicious vegetable to grow in your home garden. Even the novice gardener can successfully grow a crop of peas with just a little bit of attention and care. Some things to remember when planting your peas:
- Give them something to climb on. Peas need to climb.
- Use well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter.
- Plant while the weather is cool.
- Keep the soil moist but not wet.
- Watch for signs of disease or insect damage.