For the beginner gardener, growing sugar snap peas is a great way to get a crop of tasty, tender vegetables early in the season. They’re great in a stir-fry or served fresh as a snack. I even like them chopped to about 1/2 inch in length and tossed in a salad. They add a delightful crunch and burst of sweetness.
The sugar snap pea is a member of the legume family and, like snow peas, is eaten pod and all. The main difference between the two is the thickness of the pod at harvest. While snow peas are flat, sugar snap peas are round.
Where to grow sugar snap peas
These peas grow best in well-drained soil. Rich in organic matter is best for growing sugar snap peas, and fine dirt is needed, so add in some compost or aged manure, and make sure you remove any rocks and sticks from your growing area.
If your soil consists of heavy clay, it can be helpful to add some sand to aid in drainage, but other than that, sugar snap peas are very hardy, and while it can be helpful to get a soil test to determine if amendments are needed, they will grow in most types of soil.
Another consideration in where you plant them is sunlight. Peas can adapt to full sun or partial shade depending on your climate. In warmer climates, peas do best in an area that gets 4-6 hours of morning sunlight and shade in the afternoon.
When to grow sugar snap peas
Snap peas are a cool weather crop and need to mature before summer heat sets in.
Your growing area and plant hardiness zone will determine a lot when growing sugar snap peas.
While some more southern climates might plant them before the beginning of the year to winter over, you may need to wait until real spring if you live in more northern areas.
For us living in Tennessee, we sometimes planted as early as January but had the most success waiting until the end of February. Now in Texas, it’s almost always early February.
You can see in our What to Plant in March and What to Plant in April articles that it varies by area. The general rule, however, is to plant them as soon as the soil can be worked and the soil temperature is above 50º Fahrenheit. You do not need to wait until the chance of frost has passed.
For fall planting, you will need to plant your peas 8-10 weeks before the first expected frost.
This means that you can probably expect to get cold fingers while picking peas. I have one memory seared into my brain of picking peas in freezing cold rain when I was a teenager. My fingers were freezing, but we had a bumper crop of peas that year, and it was glorious!
Misconceptions about growing peas
I’ve come across a few misconceptions about growing peas.
One is that “they like snow”. This is false. While peas can tolerate frost and some snow, they do not thrive in it but rather survive. While they do not tolerate summer heat, the weather needs to warm up some for them to truly grow their best.
The second misconception is that they must be trellised. While a trellis is ideal, it’s not 100% necessary. I think this is an important distinction to make for those of us busy home gardeners. Sometimes things have to fall by the wayside, and it’s okay if pea trellising is one of those things.
They will grow straight upward for quite a while when untrellised but eventually fall over due to the weight of the plant not having adequate support. In this case, you will need to lift the plants some to pick what is now the underside. Your peas may also come in contact with the dirt as they grow untrellised. But we all wash our veggies before we eat them anyway, right?
Planting Sugar Snap Peas
Pea seeds should be direct seeded to about 1/2-1 inch deep and 2-3 inches apart in rows.
Direct seeding means putting the seeds directly into the ground rather than potting them in a greenhouse first.
This is easy to do by using the corner of a hoe to scratch a small trench in tilled garden soil, dropping in the seeds, and recovering the row again using the hoe, your hands, or, as my kids like to do, shuffle walking behind the planter, using your feet to cover the row back up.
Each row should be at least 18 inches apart. As peas are thin plants, they do not need to be thinned.2-3 inches between each plant is plenty of room.
It will typically take 7-14 days for your peas to sprout.
Harvesting Sugar Snap Peas
Harvest your peas when the hull begins to swell, but before the peas are big enough to be considered shelling peas. This is partly subjective as there is quite a range in size that is acceptable for sugar snap peas. I personally like them a little on the young side as they seem sweeter and more tender than more mature peas.
I’d say test them at different stages and decide your preference.
Varieties to grow
These days there seems to be unending varieties of every type of plant, so it can be hard to know what to choose. What if you pick one when a different one would have been better?
All you can do is try them out.
I have had a lot of success with seeds from Johnny’s Seeds, and like the Sugar Ann, partly because it’s an early variety, as well as Sugar Snap.
There are also novelty types you can try, such as purple or yellow peas.
The reality is that most pea varieties from reputable seed growers are going to be pretty good, so just commit to a few varieties, and go from there.
I wish you great success growing sugar snap peas this year! They really make a wonderful snack for kids and are a great addition to so many vegetable mixes, or even just steamed or stir-fried by themselves.
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