Peas thrive in cool weather and young plants will tolerate light frosts. Once germinated, peas adapt well to the cold, damp climate of early spring. Peas must be planted as early as possible in the spring to get a full harvest before hot summer temperatures arrive and put an end to production. In temperate zones, the saying "Plant peas by St. Patrick's Day" holds true. Otherwise, plant peas about a month prior to your frost-free date.
For a fall crop, you'll have to nurse the seedlings through late-summer heat with shade and diligent watering until cool weather arrives.
The 'days to maturity' is determined by but soil temperature and how long it takes for pea seeds to germinate. For example, if the soil is 40 degrees F., pea seeds may take more than a month to sprout, while at 60 degrees F. or above, they take about a week. So, the days to maturity can be misleading. Use the information only as a guide for determining early, mid-season, and late varieties.
Peas prefer a fertile, sandy loam that drains well, but will tolerate most soils except heavy, impermeable clay. Work in plenty of compost to keep the soil friable. A pH level of 6.0-7.5 is preferred. Where soil is very acidic, apply dolomite or agricultural lime. If you've never grown peas before, why not try a bed of the early bush types, snap peas? If you have limited garden space, plant Sugar snap peas on a trellis or fence. This way you can get maximum yields using only a few square feet of garden space.
Although peas can be started indoors in peat pots for transplanting, they really don't make the transition well. Disturbing the young roots can diminish yields later in the season. If this is the only way to get an early start, go for it. Otherwise, sow the seeds directly in the soil about a month before the expected last frost in your area. Plant early, mid-season, and late varieties to get maximum pea production.
Fall pea crops are finicky and many gardeners end up with mixed results. But, for the reward of an extra crop, the minimal effort and expense is well worth the gamble. The trick is to finish the harvest before a hard frost. Outstanding winter pea crops can often be grown in Zones 9-11.
Sow Peas Thickly Preferably in wide rows. Peas grown close together shade out weeds, keep the soil cool, increase yields, and make the most efficient use of garden space. Simply broadcast the seed in the row, allowing the seeds to fall as they may, some even touching. Cover with an inch of soil in the spring; two inches in the summer for your fall crop. Don't thin the pea plants when they germinate.
Peas are light feeders and don't generally require fertilizer. In fact, too much nitrogen will make the plants develop lush foliage at the expense of pod production and be more susceptible to frost damage.
Water deeply once a week. Never allow the soil to dry out totally or you'll drastically reduce pea production. The critical time for watering is when the plants are blossoming and producing pods. When pods are maturing in hot weather, water daily if needed to maintain pod quality.
Pea Harvesting Tips
To determine when to pick shell peas, check the pods by eye and feel. If the pod is round, has a nice sheen, and is bright green, it's ready. If the seeds have made ridges on the pod and the pod is a dull green, it's past its prime. You can pick snap and snow snap peas at any time, but they're tastiest when the pods still have some play around the peas when you squeeze the pods. Pick snow peas before the peas start to enlarge in the pods.
Here are two things to remember as you enter the pea patch with basket in hand:
Pick pods carefully
Pea stems snap easily, and the root systems aren't very deep. If not careful, you can damage the plant or even pull it out of the soil. Use both hands - one to hold the vine and the other to pinch off the pods.
Frequent harvesting increases yields
When the harvest starts, spring or fall, pick every other day to keep the pea plants in production. Picking frequency definitely affects total yields. Pick any pods that are overly mature; if left on the vine, yields will diminish.