Pea (Pisum sativum)-Hort Answers - University of Illinois Extension
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University of Illinois Extension

Hort Answers


Pisum sativum

Peas are classified broadly in two groups, garden peas (English peas) and edible podded peas (snow peas). Most garden pea varieties have smooth and wrinkled seeds. The wrinkled-seeded varieties tend to be more sweeter than smooth-seeded varieties. The other type is the southern pea (cowpea, black-eyed pea, and crowder pea), which is a warm-season vegetable belonging to the bean family and they are grown in the same manner as beans. Peas belong to the legume family that has the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen in their root nodules so they require less nitrogen fertilizer so long as the right strains of rhizobium is present in the soil. However, soil test need to be done before planting to determine the amounts phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients. Peas need to be rotated with vegetables from different families to control soil borne diseases such as root rots. Peas require adequate amounts of soil moisture hence needs to be irrigated during prolonged dry periods. Irrigation should stopped during pod set as this can cause pod drop or poor filling of the pod. Control weeds by cultivation or putting straw mulch around the base of the plant. Do not cultivate deeply closer to the stem.  

Garden pea varieties:

  • Early varieties - Spring (52 days; freezing or fresh; tolerant to fusarium wilt),  Improved Laxton's Progress (55 days; dark green pods; bushy), Strike (56 days; long dark green pods; tolerant to fusarium wilt and pythium root rot), Knight (57 days; large pods; tolerant to common wilt, mosaics and powdery mildew; vines), Progress #9 (60 days; large pointed pods; tolerant to fusarium wilt), Paladio (62 days; large; dark green pod; tolerant to fusarium; vines)
  • Main season varieties - Encore (64 days; very sweet; tolerant to powdery mildew and fusarium wilt), Lincoln (65 days; bushy; tolerant to common wilt; sweet), Eclipse (66 days; bushy; tolerances to fusarium wilt and powdery mildew), Bolero (66 days; disease tolerance; freezing), Sundance (70 days; bushy; tolerant to fusarium wilt and root rot), Utrillo (71 days; large podded; dark green; very sweet; vines), Mr. Big (72 days; tolerance to fusarium; large pods; very sweet)

Edible podded pea varieties: Little Sweetie (60 days; compact vines; stringless), Oregon Giant (60 days; high yield; flat pods; disease tolerance; vines), Sugar Sprint (pods or pods plus seeds are edible; 61 days; tolerant to powdery mildew; vines), Cascadia (pods or pods plus seeds are edible; 58 days; compact bush; disease tolerance)

Southern pea varieties: Pinkeye Purple Hull (60 days; white with maroon eye), Brown Crowder (65 days; high yielding; intermediate disease-resistance), Mississippi Silver (65 days; pale silvery pods), California Blackeye #46 (95 days; intermediate disease resistance)

Planting Time
Pea is a frost-hardy cool-season vegetable. Peas thrive well in cool, moist weather. Peas may be planted in spring as soon as the ground can be worked, and soil temperature is 45 degrees farenheit or higher. Plant when the soil is dry enough to till but not sticking on garden tools. Early planting yields are higher than late plantings. Peas require a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.7. 


Harvest Time

Garden Peas: Can be harvested when the pea pods are swollen and appearing round in shape. Start by picking a few pods to test if they are ready. Peas are good quality when they immature and fully expanded. It is advisable to pick peas immediately before cooking as their quality deteriorates very rapidly. Pods on the lower portion of the plant mature earlier than pods in the upper portion of the plant. Pull the entire plant during the last harvest to make picking easier.

Edible pod peas: Pods are picked 5-7 days after flowering. Remove pods missed in earlier pickings. Remove fibres a long the edges of larger pods, and from blossom ends before cooking. Pea pods can be stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator. 

Southern peas:  They are ready for harvest when the pods are firm and plump. Pod color depends on the variety. They are ready to be harvested in 60-70 days after planting. Pick the pods twice a week, and the pods in the lower portion of the plant mature first. When the pods dry, they can be shelled, and seeds storedin the same manner dry beans are stored.



Plant the seeds one inch deep and two inches apart  in the row. The rows can be 18-24 inches apart for low growing varieties. Climbing varieties can be planted in rows three feet apart or double rows six inches apart on either side of trellis.


Soil Conditions
Moist, Well-Drained
Exposure/Light Requirements
Full Sun
Pests and Problems

Environmental Damage

Additional Notes
Pea seedlings can be easily injured by direct contact with fertilizer or improper cultivation when controlling weeds. Cultivate shallowly when cotrolling weeds during the early stages of growth. Most dwarf pea varieties are self supporting but the taller varieties needs to be trained on a pole or fence for support. Peas can be planted in spring and fall but don't plant fall peas on the same spot you planted spring peas. Peas can be mulched with straw to conserve soil  moisture and to control weeds. Do not plant pea seeds in soaking soils or watering  immediately after planting as the seeds are liable to cracking before gaermination.


Related Resources
Home, Yard & Garden Pest Guide
U of IL - Distance Diagnosis through Digital Imaging
U of IL - Plant Clinic