By: Kathee Mierzejewski
Sugar snap (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon) peas are a cool season, frost hardy vegetable. Snap peas are great in salads while raw, or cooked in stir fries with other vegetables.
Growing sugar snap peas is best when the temperature is 45 F. (7 C.) or higher, so wait until you’re sure chance of frost is past. The soil should also be dry enough to till without the dirt clumping up and sticking to your garden tools. After the early spring rains is definitely best.
Sow your snap peas planting seeds 1 to 1 1/2 inches (2.5 to 3.8 cm.) deep and 1 inch (2.5 cm.) apart, with 18 to 24 inches (46-60 cm.) between pairs of plants or rows. Early on when growing sugar snap peas, cultivate and hoe shallowly so you don’t injure the plants.
When growing sugar snap peas, mulch around the plants, which will prevent the soil from getting too hot in summer afternoon sun. It also prevents too much moisture from building up around the roots. Too much sunshine can burn the plants, and too much water can rot the roots.
A little weeding is required, but growing snap peas don’t require a lot of fuss and muss. Minimal fertilization is necessary and soil prep in the beginning consists of simple raking and hoeing.
Knowing when to pick sugar snap peas means paying attention to the pods and pick once they are swollen. The best way to know when your snap peas are ripe enough is to pick a couple each day until you find them suitable to your liking. Don’t wait too long, though, because the peas can become tough and unusable.
Snap peas planting isn’t difficult and the peas pretty much take care of themselves. Just plant the seeds and watch them grow. It takes very little time before you are enjoying your sugar snap peas.
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There are 3 different types of peas – choose which ones you want to plant.
Shelling or Sweet pea (not to be confused with the flower sweet pea) – Inedible pod with full-sized edible peas shell before eating. Varieties to try: Wando, Iona Shelling Petite Pea Seeds, Desiree Dwarf Blauwschokkers Garden Peas
Snow pea – Edible pod with small peas. Varieties to try: Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow Peas, Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Peas
Sugar snap pea – Edible pod with full-sized edible peas. Varieties to try: Sugar Magnolia Snap Purple Peas, Sugar Snap Peas, Cascadia Snap Peas
Once you have determined which type to plant, choose disease-resistant varieties if possible. Before planting peas, consider inoculating the seeds with Mycorrhizae. Inoculating the seeds gives the plants a boost, produces larger yields, and helps roots to ‘fix’ the nitrogen in the soil.
Plant peas at the right time. Peas grow best at temperatures under 70 degrees. In Maricopa County, Arizona, plant peas beginning in September and continue planting peas until February. In other areas, for spring planting, plant seeds outside about 4 to 6 weeks before your last spring frost. Check your local planting guide to see if fall planting is an option for peas in your area.
Peas grow best started outdoors. They have a fragile root system and it’s best to direct seed them. To avoid pests and diseases, rotate where you plant peas each year and do not plant in the same spot more than once every 3-4 years. Peas do best in loose soil that is not too high in nitrogen. Plant pea seeds 1 inch deep and about 2 inches apart. For square foot gardening grids, plant 8 peas per square.
Maybe I should have planted my snap peas while I still had bare ground in my garden! Now we are expecting our third nor’easter in two weeks. Fortunately, snow is good for growing snap peas.
I had a neighbor years ago—an old farmer who always planted his peas as soon as the ground could be worked in the spring. Many years his newly planted pea rows were soon covered by a foot or more of wet spring snow. He would calmly remark that it wouldn’t bother the peas and in fact was helpful. “Poor man’s fertilizer” is what he called it and he always had the earliest and tastiest peas in town.
There actually is some truth to this bit of gardening lore. Falling snow absorbs ammonia from the air which breaks down when the sun melts the snow, releasing a small amount of nitric acid into the soil. Since in the spring most of the ground has thawed it is able to absorb the meltwater rather than having it run off. French peasants believed that a spring snow was as beneficial to the garden as a coating of manure and old-time farmers took it a step further, plowing a spring snowfall under to capture all its goodness.
Peas actually don’t need this extra nitrogen boost since as a legume they can take nitrogen directly from the air with the help of nitrogen-fixing bacteria on their roots. You can aid this process by inoculating the seeds with rhizobial bacteria before you plant them. Most garden centers and seed catalogs sell it just be sure to get the one specifically meant for peas and beans. Don’t worry about sticking each little seed with a needle, you only need to moisten the seeds and roll them in it before planting. Easy-peasy.
Sugar snap peas are a cross between garden peas and snow peas. (Snow peas are the flat ones.) With snap peas, the whole pod is eaten and has a crunchy texture and very sweet flavor. Remove the “strings” at the end many snap peas varieties have the strings removed now.
If you are a fan of ‘Sugar Snap’ peas like me, you might have noticed that the seeds have not been growing true to type. The past few years, no matter where I source my seeds from, my plants yield as much as 30% snow peas mixed with the snap peas. Because of this lack of reliable seed stock, many companies have discontinued ‘Sugar Snap’ in favor of other “improved” varieties. Since I am always skeptical of anything claiming to be an improvement, last year I planted half the bed with regular ‘Sugar Snap’ and half with ‘Super Sugar Snap’.
The super variety really was better! The peas were ready to harvest much earlier and delivered a higher yield than the regular ‘Sugar Snap.’ Plus, all the pods were the fat crunchy ones we have come to love. This year it will be all ‘Super Sugar Snap’ for me and maybe I will try ‘Sugar Magnolia’ for a touch of color.
Photo: Sugar Magnolia Peas. Credit: Territorial Seed Company.
It bears a little later but has purple pods that will look great in a veggie platter or salad and it has lovely two-tone flowers as well.
Better get my shovel ready for the next load of poor man’s fertilizer that is headed my way. The garden should be amazing this year!
See the Almanac’s Pea Growing Guide for more information about sowing, growing, and harvesting.
Plant the pea seeds after the last spring frost, while the temperatures are between about 45 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Sugar snap peas, Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon, are an easy-to-grow, cool weather crop. Insects and diseases don’t usually bother them.
If you live in a cool climate, plant the seeds directly into the garden in a well-drained spot that gets full sun for most of the day. In warm regions, plant them in an area that gets full morning sun and partial shade during the hottest part of the day.
'Little Crunch' is a sugar snap pea that grows 24 to 30 inches tall in containers.
Photo by: Renee’s Garden Seeds at ReneesGarden.com
Renee’s Garden Seeds at ReneesGarden.com
'Little Crunch' is a sugar snap pea that grows 24 to 30 inches tall in containers.
To help increase your yield and encourage the plants to grow vigorously, apply a powdered inoculant with a beneficial bacterium to the peas. Sprinkle the inoculant over the pea seeds when you’re planting them or dust them with it before you plant.
Plant the pea seeds 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep and about 2 inches apart, with 18 to 24 inches between rows, or follow the directions on your seed package for the variety you’re growing. Rows of bush sugar snaps can usually be planted 12 to 18 inches apart. Most varieties will sprout in seven to 10 days. In some areas, you can plant pea seeds in the summer, about two months before the first fall frost. Don’t worry if the temperatures dip below freezing or a light frost hits after the peas sprout. They can tolerate cold and frost for short periods of time.
Once the plants are up, water them enough to keep the soil evenly moist, and expect to water more often if rain is scarce. Mulch around the plants to help retain moisture and prevent weeds from popping up. Hoe lightly to weed or simply pull weeds and grasses by hand.
Choose from climbing or bush sugar snap pea varieties. Bush peas can grow to three feet tall, so give them something to climb on or they’ll sprawl onto the ground. Varieties that are compact enough to grow in containers may not need supports at all. Climbing varieties can reach six to eight feet in height and should be trellised. Since the pea tendrils will wrap around supports about 1/4-inch in diameter, add twine, string, small wire mesh or netting to the trellis to help them climb.