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Jessica Walliser

Start planting sugar snap peas early

Jessica Walliser
| Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018, 8:55 p.m.
There are three basic types of garden peas (Pisum sativum): shell peas, sugar snaps, and snow peas. Both sugar snaps and snow peas have edible shells while shell peas do not.
Jessica Walliser
There are three basic types of garden peas (Pisum sativum): shell peas, sugar snaps, and snow peas. Both sugar snaps and snow peas have edible shells while shell peas do not.

Question: I would like to grow sugar snap peas and snow peas in my garden this year. I understand they are early season vegetables, but how early is too early? And do I need to start the seeds indoors on my windowsill and then move the plants outside at a later date?

Answer: There are three basic types of garden peas (Pisum sativum): shell peas, sugar snaps, and snow peas. Both sugar snaps and snow peas have edible shells while shell peas do not.

No matter which types of peas you decide to include in your garden, the growing technique is the same. Begin by selecting high-yielding varieties, ideally with good disease resistance. For sugar snaps, I recommend “Sugar Ann,” “Sugar Star” and “Sugar Daddy.” For flat-podded snow peas, I suggest “Oregon Sugar Pod II” and “Dwarf Grey Sugar.”

Once you've selected the varieties you'd like to grow, determine the best planting time. Peas thrive in cool weather, and it's best to plant the seeds outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. They'll germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees F, but slightly warmer soil results in higher germination rates. Here in Western Pennsylvania, that's typically around late March or early April. Some gardeners plant peas as early as St. Patrick's Day, but during wet years, very early planting like this may result in seeds that rot before even germinating.

While some gardeners do start pea seeds indoors under grow lights — typically in plantable peat pots — there's really no need to take this extra step. It might allow you to harvest pods a week or two before crops that were directly seeded into the garden, but other than that, there's no reason to put forth all that time and effort. Pea plants resent transplanting, so starting them indoors and then transplanting the seedlings into the garden can actually result in a slight delay in growth. Direct seeding is the best planting method.

Choose a well-drained site in full sun for your peas, and plant the seeds in rows spaced about 1 to 2 feet apart. Seeds should be planted 1 inch apart and 1 inch deep. For faster germination, soak the seeds in tepid water for 8 to 10 hours prior to planting. This helps soften the seed coat.

Covering pea seeds in a pea inoculant before planting introduces beneficial bacteria that help the plants absorb nitrogen. With the help of these beneficial soil bacteria, members of the pea and bean family have the unique ability to convert nitrogen from the air into a form that's available to plants to fuel growth. Coating seeds with a powdered form of this bacteria improves yields and plant growth rates. Pea inoculant is available from most local garden centers and seed catalogs.

For pea varieties that grow tall, be sure to provide the plants with growing support soon after the seeds germinate. Erect a chicken wire fence or string trellis for them to climb and position it right next to the row of pea plants. Their tendrils will easily find the structure so there's no need to train or tie the pea vines to it.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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