Snap peas are a spring treat and growing snap peas from seed is an easy and reliable way to enjoy a bumper crop of this popular vegetable. Peas thrive in cool weather and are among the first crops planted in early spring with the harvest beginning 50 to 70 days later, depending on the variety. Snap peas are often called ‘sugar snaps’ and have plump edible pods that are sweet and crunchy. This relatively new type of pea is delicious raw or cooked and can be grown in garden beds or containers. Below I cover everything you need to know when growing snap peas from seed.
What are snap peas?
Garden peas (Pisum sativum), which are also called English peas, are a popular crop in home gardens. There are three main types of peas: shell peas, sugar peas, and snap peas. Shell peas are grown for the round sweet peas produced in pods. Snow pea varieties have edible pods that are picked when still flat and crisp. Snap peas, my favorite type, have edible pods with thick pod walls. They’re harvested when the interior peas are starting to swell up and the pods are plump and sweet.
Gardeners have fallen in love with snap peas, but this type of pea is a recent introduction developed by famed botanist Calvin Lamborn who crossed snow peas with garden peas. Sugar Snap is his most popular variety, but there are other standout varieties of snap peas available through seed catalogs including Magnolia Blossom, Sugar Magnolia, and Sugar Ann.
When selecting snap pea varieties, be sure to consider your space and pay attention to plant size. Sugar Ann, for example, is a compact and early sugar pea with 2 foot tall vines and is perfect for raised beds or containers. Sugar Snap, on the other hand, has vines that grow 6 feet tall and need sturdy support. Match the variety to your growing space.
When to plant when growing snap peas from seed
Peas can tolerate light frost and are typically planted in early spring when the soil has thawed and is workable. I start to plant peas in my zone 5 garden in early April, but gardeners in warmer climates can plant earlier. The ideal soil temperature range for planting peas is between 50 F and 68 F (10 to 20 C). If your soil is still very wet from melting snow or spring rain, wait until it has dried out a bit because pea seeds are prone to rotting in saturated soil.
Where to plant sugar snap peas
Like most vegetables, peas prefer a garden site with full sun and well-drained soil. You can get away with planting snap peas in partial shade, but try to plant in a bed where they’ll receive at least 6 hours of sun. I add an inch or two of organic matter like compost or rotted manure to the soil before planting and a pea inoculant. More on inoculants below. If you prefer to use a fertilizer, avoid products that are high in nitrogen as this prompts leafy growth at the expense of flower and pod production.
If you’re short on garden space you can also plant snap peas in pots, containers, fabric planters, and window boxes. You’ll find more information on growing snap peas in pots further down in the article.
Should you soak pea seeds before planting?
Traditional advice is to soak pea seeds in lukewarm water for 12 to 24 hours prior to planting. This softens the hard seed coat and the seeds swell up as they absorb some of the water. Soaking speeds up germination but only by a few days so it’s not necessary to pre-soak seeds. If you do want to soak pea seeds, don’t leave them in water longer than 24 hours as they start to deteriorate. Plant peas immediately after soaking.
Do you need to use pea inoculant when growing snap peas from seed?
Pea inoculant is a microbial amendment that is added to the soil when you plant pea seeds. It contains millions of live naturally occurring bacteria which colonize the roots of legumes like peas and beans. The nitrogen fixing bacteria form nodules on the roots and convert atmospheric nitrogen into a type that is useful for the plants. Pea inoculant is typically sold in small packages in garden centres and online.
As noted above, these bacteria are naturally occurring but adding inoculant ensures a high population for quick root colonization. When I use an inoculant, I don’t add any fertilizers to the soil as the inoculant promotes a vigorous root system. Plus, it’s easy to apply! I place the snap pea seeds in a container and add enough water to dampen them. I then sprinkle the inoculant over the seeds and toss them in the container to ensure they’re well coated. They’re now ready to plant. You can also sprinkle the dry inoculant in the planting furrow when you sow the seeds. Water well after planting.
Growing snap peas from seed: How to plant
Growing snap peas from seed is easy with most gardeners direct sowing in furrows or shallow trenches made with a garden hoe. Plant sugar snap peas 1 inch deep and 1 inch apart in 3 inch wide bands at the base of a fence or trellis. Space rows of unsupported bush varieties 12 to 18 inches apart. For trellised vining snap peas space rows 3 to 4 feet apart.
Water the bed after planting. I don’t start pea seeds indoors as they grow well in cooler temperatures and are quick to germinate. Maximize your garden space by planting a fast-growing intercrop like spinach, lettuce, or radishes in between rows of peas.
The best supports for snap peas
Depending on the variety, snap pea plants can be bush or vining. Bush pea varieties, which grow under 3 feet tall, are often planted without support. I prefer to support all my peas – bush and vining – as upright plants have better access to sunlight, increased air flow, and it’s easier to harvest the pods. The type of support varies with the mature size of the plant. Bush peas are often supported on twigs stuck in the soil, netting, or lengths of chicken wire.
Vining snap peas, like Sugar Snap need strong, sturdy supports as the full grown plants are heavy. They climb using tendrils and easily fasten to many types of structures. I like to DIY a trellis using 4 by 8 foot panels of wire mesh, but you can also buy vegetable trellises or plant at the bottom of a chain link fence, A-frame trellis, pea and bean netting, 6 foot tall chicken wire, and so on.
Caring for snap peas
Below you’ll find a few tips and tricks for promoting healthy snap pea plants:
- Water – Snap peas like consistent moisture, but don’t overwater. I give my pea patch a deep drink each week if there has been no rain. You can also conserve soil moisture with a straw mulch.
- Fertilize – When grown in fertile soil peas don’t need an added fertilizer. The exception to this is when growing peas in pots and planters. In this case, I fertilize with a liquid organic fertilizer every two to three weeks.
- Weed – Removing weeds reduces competition for water, sun, and nutrients, but it also increases air flow around the pea plants which lessens the risk of powdery mildew.
Growing snap peas from seed for a succession crop
You don’t have to plant peas just once! I succession plant snap peas from early to late spring and again in mid to late summer for a fall crop. This allows me to get more from my vegetable garden. I plant my first crop of sugar snap peas in early spring followed by a second seeding 3 to 4 weeks later. The final crop of snap peas is sown in mid to late summer, about two months before the first fall frost date.
Growing snap peas from seed in containers
When growing snap peas in containers it’s best to stick with bush varieties. I like planting Sugar Ann, SS141, or Snak Hero in pots, fabric planters, or window boxes. Whatever type of container you choose, make sure there are adequate drainage holes on the bottom and fill it with a blend of potting mix and compost. You can also add a granular organic fertilizer to the growing medium to make feeding the plants easy.
Sow the pea seeds 1 inch deep and 1 to 2 inches apart in the containers. Set the container in front of a trellis or fence, or use a tomato cage or pot trellis to support the plants. For a non-stop crop of sweet snap peas, sow new pots every 3 to 4 weeks.
Snap pea pests and problems
Snap peas are easy to grow, but there are a few pests and issues to watch for. In my garden slugs love snap peas as much as I do! I hand pick any slugs I spot and also use beer traps or diatomaceous earth to reduce damage. Deer and rabbits can also target the tender foliage of pea plants. My vegetable garden is surrounded by a deer fence, but if you don’t have protection from these critters plant short varieties and protect them with a mini hoop tunnel covered in chicken wire. Or plant snap peas in pots and place them on a deck or patio that deer cannot access.
Diseases like fusarium wilt, bacterial blight, and root-rot can affect peas, but powdery mildew is the most common pea disease. Powdery mildew occurs more in late crops when the weather is warm and the conditions are favorable for its development. To reduce the risk of powdery mildew, practice crop rotation, plant resistant varieties, and ensure adequate spacing of rows to promote good air flow.
Do you want to learn more about growing snap peas from seed? Watch this video:
When to harvest snap peas
Gardeners grow snap pea plants for their tender pods, but there are other parts you can enjoy. I love to pinch out some of the pea shoots from time to time to enjoy in stir-fries and salads. I also harvest the pea tendrils from varieties like Magnolia Blossom which produces large hyper-tendrils. As for the pods, I start to harvest when they swell up. Depending on the variety, snap peas are 2 to 3 1/2 inches long when they’re ready to pick. Clip peas from the vines with garden snips or use two hands to harvest. Don’t tug peas from the plants as this can damage the vines. Learn more about when to harvest peas.
Once the harvest begins, pick pods daily to encourage new flower and pea production. Never leave over mature pods on the plants as this signals that it’s time to switch from flowering to seed maturing. I aim to harvest snap peas just before we want to eat them as this is when they have the best quality and flavor.
Growing snap peas from seed: 7 of the best snap pea varieties
There are many outstanding sugar snap pea varieties to grow. I plant both early maturing compact varieties as well as those that grow tall and take a few extra weeks to crop. This provides me with a very long season of tender snap peas. Check the seed packet or seed catalog for information on plant height and days to maturity.
Sugar Ann (51 days)
Sugar Ann is the variety to plant if you want an extra early crop of snap peas. The plants grow around 2 feet tall and yield a good crop of 2 to 2 1/2 inch long sugar snap peas. I like to grow this compact pea up chicken wire, but it’s also a great variety to plant in a pot or planter.
Sugar Snap (58 days)
This is my go-to snap pea for its vigorous growth and high production. The vines grow 5 to 6 feet tall and produce 3 inch long pods for weeks. I plant Sugar Snap pea seeds at the base of a heavy-duty metal mesh trellis planting several successive crops so we have lots of sweet, crunchy sugar snaps. The breeder of Sugar Snap also created a golden variety called Honey Snap II. It’s very compact and yields butter-colored pods.
Super Sugar Snap (61 days)
Super Sugar Snap is similar to Sugar Snap but grows slightly shorter so it’s easier to support. The plants are also disease-resistant, offering good resistance to powdery mildew. That said, I find Sugar Snap pods to be a bit sweeter so I stick to the classic variety.
Magnolia Blossom (72 days)
The vines of Magnolia Blossom grow 6 feet tall and produce eye-catching light and dark purple flowers. The flowers are quickly followed by crisp pods which I pick when 2 1/2 to 3 inches long. As the pods mature they develop a purple stripe down their length. However, their quality and flavor is best before that stage. Magnolia Blossom offers a second crop: tendrils! This variety has hyper-tendrils which we love fresh from the garden, or in sandwiches and salads.
Sugar Magnolia (70 days)
This unique sugar snap pea has dusky purple pods that are beautiful and delicious! The flowers are also purple and produced on 5 to 7 foot tall pea plants. Give them a strong support. I like to mix Magnolia Blossom and Sugar Magnolia seeds and plant them together for a bi-colored harvest.
Snak Hero (65 days)
Snak Hero is an award-winning variety with vines that grow under two feet yet produce a generous crop of 3 to 4 inch long pods. The stringless pods are very slender, giving them the appearance of a snap bean. Plant this variety in pots or hanging baskets.
Sugar Daddy (68 days)
This is another compact variety with pea vines that grow 2 to 2 1/2 feet tall. Sugar Daddy offers good production of 3 inch long stringless pods that have a satisfying sugar snap crunch.
For further reading on growing peas and beans, be sure to check out these detailed articles:
- Growing green beans: A complete guide
- Learn how to grow pea shoots and sprouts
- How to grow black beans
- Planting and growing lima beans
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