Pea (Pisum sativum) belongs to the legume family. It is a cool season crop that may be planted as early in the spring as the soil becomes tillable. Field pea is commonly grown as a cover crop, or, in more arid regions, for its smooth dried seeds used as food or feed crops. Garden pea is more commonly grown in New England for fresh market use. Garden peas contain higher sugar and lower starch contents than field peas and have wrinkled mature seeds. 

Types and Varieties

Three types of garden peas are in demand, all of which come in dwarf and tall vining forms:

  • English Pea - only the seed is eaten.
  • Snow or Edible-Podded Pea- the pod is eaten with undeveloped seeds.
  • Sugar Pea or Sugar Snap - both pod and seed are eaten.


Pea Varieties
English Pea Snow Pea
Strike (49) - F Oregon Giant (60)
PLS 534 (58, afila type) - F Avalanche (60)
Knight (62) - CW, PM, PEV Blizzard (61)
Progress #9 (62) Oregon Sugar Pod II (65) - CW, PM, PEV
Maxigolt (62)  
Green Arrow (65) Sugar Snap Pea
Lincoln (67) - CW Sugar Ann (52)
  Sugar Spring (58) - PM, PEV
  Sugar Snap (62)
  Super Sugar Snap (66) - PM, PLR
  SL3123 (70)

The number in parentheses is the approximate number of days to maturity from seeding.

Resistant or tolerant to: CW: common wilt, DM: downy mildew, F: Fusarium wilt, PEV: pea enation virus, PLR: pea leaf roll virus, PM: powdery mildew

Soil Fertility

Apply lime according to soil test results to maintain soil pH at 6.5-6.8.

Most research suggests that 20-30 lb of nitrogen per acre should be available at planting time, but that higher levels are not helpful. Peas can fix anywhere from 50-300 lbs. of nitrogen per acre, depending on plant density and availability of the appropriate species of Rhizobium bacteria. These bacteria, if present, live in root nodules of legumes, including peas, and convert atmospheric nitrogen into forms available to plants (nitrogen fixation). Nitrogen obtained in this manner is used more effectively than applied nitrogen. Therefore, plant vigor and production may be higher when the seed is inoculated with the appropriate species of Rhizobium bacterium. Inoculant can be purchased from most seed companies and should be listed in their catalogs. It is usually applied by mixing it with the seed at planting time. Pea inoculants are the same as those for vetches and lentils. Those used for alfalfa, beans or clovers will not work with peas. If peas or vetch have recently been grown in the field, inoculation may not be necessary. Note that many seed treatments may be toxic to the bacteria.

Nitrogen fixing can be slow in a cool, wet spring, so there may not be adequate nitrogen for high yields through nitrogen fixing alone. In this case, additional nitrogen may help to increase yields. However, applying excess nitrogen may reduce bacterial nitrogen fixation. If Rhizobium is not present, if leaching has occurred, or for early peas, sidedressing with an additional 25 lbs of nitrogen per acre may be beneficial.

Less nitrogen fertilizer will be needed if legume sod was plowed down or if manure was applied (see Table 1 and Table 7).

Broadcast/Planter 50-75 150 100 25-50 0 150 100 50 0
TOTAL RECOMMENDED 50-75 150 100 25-50 0 150 100 50 0


Seeding rates for peas vary considerably depending on the size of the seed. For fresh market, peas should be spaced 1.5-2" between seeds and 24-36" between rows at a seeding rate of 90-150 lb/A (about 1 lb per 100 feet of row).

For processing peas, seed 200-250 lb/A at 1" between plants and 7" between rows.

Field Culture

Pea seed will germinate well at soil temperatures as low as 50º F, but germination is slow. Extended periods of cool, wet weather during the germination period may cause rotting of the seed. For this reason, fertile, well-drained, sandy soils are best for early plantings. Finer-textured soils with high moisture-holding capacities are preferred for late spring crops. The use of treated seed is helpful in overcoming the problem of seed decay.

Several root rot organisms that attack peas usually begin at the tips of the feeder roots and progress towards the main roots, or occasionally show on the stem slightly above ground level. Rotation can reduce problems with root rot in peas.

Peas that mature during hot, dry weather frequently show reduced yield and quality. If hot, dry conditions normally occur in your area, pea planting should be suspended in mid-May and resume in July for fall harvest. If hot, dry summer weather occurs for only short periods in your area, plantings can be made throughout the summer using heat-resistant varieties for mid-summer harvest.


A trellis should be installed at the time of planting. Nylon mesh netting using twister bands to attach to 2"x 2" stakes makes a good trellis for tall varieties. At least a 6' high trellis is needed for all vining varieties. A double row can be planted for more efficient use of netting.

Harvest and Storage

Pods of shell peas should be rounded and still have a glossy sheen; if dull, they have passed their prime. Snap peas should also be glossy, and swelled, but not rounded. Pods of snow peas should be expanded to their fullest extent but still be flat. Peas should be stored at 32º F with 95-98% relative humidity.