How to Grow Peas


Peas prefer mild, cool weather – not too hot, not too cold. Here in Horowhenua, I can sow them Autumn through Spring. When temperatures rise, peas stop/ reduce flower production. Find your own perfect pea moment by trying all the timings. Regular sowings of peas throughout, brings a steady supply of natures sweetest of treats.


spring peas shooting away in their trays

In my clay soil, peas do far better tray sown and transplanted as seedlings. Legume seeds can easily rot in heavy/ wet soils, and if they do make it through they face off against birds, who love freshly sprouted pea shoots and slugs, if they’re prevalent at your place, and mice, who will gobble the seed up. Everyone it seems, love peas!

Sow peas in plug trays or toliet rolls. Either way, there’s minimal root disturbance. Plug trays are perfect because you can easily pop them out in one nice bundle, as is a toliet roll because you plant it out roll and all.

Sow 3 pea seeds per plug or roll. Pea stems are so fragile they perform way better in a group. 3 in one hole also takes productivity up, making the most of your space.

Take care not to overwater at this early stage. The seed easily rots before germinating if it gets too wet. After the initial watering at sowing, you may not even need to water again until sprouting. Err on the side of slightly dry.

Soil Prep

peas and newly planted saladings in the october vegie patch

Peas need free draining soil. They don’t need rich soil and therefore are at their best after a heavy feeder.

If soil is good, you wont need to add anything, because peas are light feeders + nitrogen fixers, able to source nitrogen from the air and fix it in their roots. On heavy or poorly drained soil, make a mound of compost or vermicastings or cheats compost – something wholesome and mature. If your soil is light and sandy and wormless, simply spread a lovely layer of homemade compost on top the existing soil. 2 – 5cm depending on how poor the soil is beneath. Bought compost is too rich, on the whole. Mix it 50/50 with existing soil and/ or vermicastings.


peas in plug trays ready to be popped out and planted

Peas need a 2m trellis to climb on. They grip on with tiny tendrils, so netting of any kind suits them well. Not so poles, that are better suited for beans that wind round and round. Set your trellis up first.

When pea seedlings are 5 – 7cm tall, pop the little group of pea seedlings out of the plug and plant them just like that, in a hole at 10cm spacings. If in toliet rolls, plant them out roll and all.

If you live somewhere wettish, perhaps forgo the mulch for now in a bid to reduce slugs. If you live somewhere dry-ish, mulch away. Or plant low growing companions to stack the production and create a living mulch.

Get the Rhizobia going

nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots of a lupin

Peas – infact all legumes, have a symbiotic relationship with the soil bacterium, Rhizobium leguminosarium. This is the relationship that enables nitrogen fixation to take place and may be what’s missing if your peas fail to thrive. Pull out a plant and check the roots. Look for small whitish, pinkish balls (nodules). These show you the bacteria are present.

In most good soil, they are in abundance, but can be absent where environmental stresses like drought or flood have occurred, herbicides or artificial fertilisers have been used or in new gardens where legumes haven’t been grown.

I prefer a general innoculant rather than specific. Track one down and dose the seeds with it pre sowing. Once should be enough to get the ball rolling.


flowering sweetpeas

Peas are such an amenable crop, growing happily with most. Low growing companions make sense to fill the gap at the base, preventing weeds and creating the community that plants prefer. Leafy greens, salads, nasturtium, phacelia and calendula – you choose your perfect fit. I always send a few flowering sweet peas up the trellis as well, simply for the joy of it.


Shannon school peas from the garden

Regular harvest promotes, flowering and keeps your vines more productive, for longer. When the pods are swollen and the shape of the peas visible, get out there every morning and pick. Get your eye in for harvesting perfect peas everytime, by sampling a few. Its a tough job, but someones gotta do it.

If they are floury and a bit tough, it means they’ve been on the vine a day or so too long. Use these in soups or stews.

Even if there are but a few ripe, get them in to keep stimulating new flowers to form.


  1. A GREAT website! thank you so much!

  2. Christine says

    Fantastic, finally some good suggestions how to grow peas. I have been trying for years and every time it’s a big disappointment. Timing, root disturbance, too much fertiliser, water and the wrong climbing structure might have been the cause. Thank you for your suggestions. I am looking forward to Autumn and Spring.

  3. Kevin Darragh says

    Simple question (I hope ) I’ve not done well with silver beet this summer but Comfrey is growing well, can I feed it to my chooks ?

    Thank you.

    • Indeed you may! So too kale, old broccoli plants, perpetual beet – make a mixture! If they dont take the comfrey its because they dont need it.

  4. Sarah Thompson says

    keen to know what your favourite peas are and does the same apply to Mange tout and sugar snap peas?
    this all makes a lot more sense now!

  5. Hi Kath
    Just checking in with your advice on peas. I grew beautiful ones in the greenhouse then hardened them off and put them in the soil at the end of Autumn. Since then the frosts have come and they’re really struggling. Should I have put them out or not? Will they recover? Did/do they need a frost cover? (I’m in Tasman)

    • Hey Bo, sorry to hear about your peas! If you get repeat hard frosts yes that’s going to be hard on most crops. Peas are a more mild temp crop – really cold isnt to their liking. Are you hooked up with a local group? Local knowledge is so useful.
      But even so -it’s generally a combo of things
      How’s your soil? Make soil your first port of call when a crop struggles. Heavy, wet or hard, that’s not at all to your peas liking.
      After planting did they continue to steadily grow? If not then either your soil isn’t suited as mentioned or your soils missing the rhizobia bacteria (see the article).

      This is all part of the journey Bo, learning these nuances about your unique climate, your soil and your crops …. the things that dont do so well bring the greatest lessons.
      cheers K

  6. we’re in North Canterbury and I thought I could only plant peas in summer?? Would it be better to leave until late summer here, so growing over autumn or spring?? How come I was lead to believe that they need warmth?? like beans?? Thanks Kath, you’re an awesome help with this newsletter!!

    • Hey Lisa, thing is to figure out what the crop enjoys best then match it in with those conditions at your place = success! Have a play around with different times and watch and see with your own eyes, there’s really no better way. You may discover a timing that suits your unique climate and is contrary to every bit of advice – mine included!