How to Grow Sweet and Plentiful Sugar Snap Peas

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There is nothing quite like the crisp sweetness of a sugar snap pea fresh off the vine. It’s a taste sensation that’s hard to match if you’re shopping for peas at the grocery store. And it’s just one reason why growing your own sugar snap peas at home is always a great idea.

Not only are these crunchy little legumes a treat to eat when they are grown fresh, but their love of cooler weather and ability to survive the occasional morning frost make them a perfect choice for early spring and late fall planting. Plus, they come with the added benefit of injecting your garden soil with a natural dose of nitrogen to help your other veggies grow bigger and stronger.

While the idea of growing these little climbers might seem daunting, the truth is, with the right prep, you can grow sugar snap peas in a variety of different settings from pots to rows. And, because these plants grow fast and produce early, it won’t take much time to see the fruits of your labor.

How Long Does It Take to Grow Sugar Snap Peas?

Most sugar snap pea varieties take about two months from germination to begin fruiting. But when to put your seeds in the ground will depend on your region.

For higher elevations and more northern latitudes, you’ll want to wait until after the last hard frost. Once you can easily work the soil in your garden, you are likely good to go. Once your seedlings appear, use a light sheet or garden fabric to protect your new plants if a frost is predicted.

Growing sugar snap peas with flowers
Photo credit: Reginal/Pixabay

The trick is to get your peas in the ground a little more than two months before the weather is expected to get hot. If you are in a more southern latitude, plant as early as you can and avoid areas of the garden that heat up too quickly in the afternoon sun.

Germination can be delayed if the soil is too cool, so you might consider sprouting the seeds in a window and transplanting them before they reach four inches tall. You can also clear plastic to help warm the soil before sowing seeds directly into your garden. In either case, soaking your seeds in water for about 24 hours before planting will also help speed germination and shorten your growing time.

While sugar snap peas are the quintessential early-season plant, don’t forget that these little sweeties are also great options for fall planting. Just make sure you get your second round of seeds in the ground after summer temps start to drop and about ten weeks before the first expected frost of winter.

Set Your Garden Up for a Bountiful Crop

Sugar snap peas need to climb, which means you will have to do a little planning before you put your seeds or seedlings in the ground.

First, decide which variety you want to work with. Bush peas are shorter and bushier than your typical legume but they still require something to climb up for best growth. For these types, choose a lattice that is at least two feet tall. For more traditional vine-like sugar snap peas, you’ll need to construct a fence that is about six feet tall to maximize growth.

If you do end up planting the taller varieties, it is best to situate them on the north end of your garden to avoid shading the plants behind the lattice.

Whichever variety and height you choose, you’ll need to construct the lattice with thin fencing or wire, no larger than ¼ inch in diameter. Keep the spacing between the material under an inch to give your peas the best grip on the fence. Chicken wire, strings run horizontally, and trellis netting all work well for this purpose. 

Provide the Right Amount of Water and Food

When it comes to how much water sugar snap peas need, it will depend largely on the condition of your soil, outside temperatures, and your overall set up.

In general, peas like consistently moist soil but do not do well with standing water. Planting your peas on raised mounds can help with poor draining associated with compact or clay soil. Working the ground thoroughly can also help reduce the risk of root rot and other issues associated with boggy garden conditions.  

As the weather begins to warm and your plants start to grow expect to have to water more frequently.

While peas may be able to fix nitrogen from the air, it will take your little seedlings some time to master this feat. To help give them a boost and reduce growing time, use a little nitrogen fertilizer at planting time. You can also add powder inoculant to your seeds right after they have finished soaking to help establish the strong colony of the bacteria the plant needs to fix nitrogen.

Once your peas are growing well, you can switch to low-nitrogen fertilizer and apply monthly until harvest time.

When and How to Harvest Your Sugar Snap Peas

Once your peas start to flower, it won’t be long until you can start picking fresh sugar snaps off the vine for some late spring or late fall snacking. Some types may be ready for harvesting about a week after flowers appear while others can take closer to two. Check your plant description for the approximate seed pod length and start harvesting once the legumes get to about that size.

Photo credit: Reginal/Pixabay

If you start to see tan, fibrous veins appear on your pea pods, you know you’ve waited too long. Pull these “over-ripe” pods from the plant to encourage more production. The larger peas in these pods are usually still pretty tasty but the pods themselves are likely to be too stringy to enjoy.

Continue to harvest until the summer heat starts drying out your vines or the first hard winter frost kills them off. After your late spring harvest, pull the plants from the soil and give it a good till. Then plant a nitrogen loving summer veggie like beets or chard in their place.

How to Grow Sugar Snap Peas in Containers

Of course, if you don’t have a garden that doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy fresh sugar snap peas. These pulses and many other types of legumes are actually quite easy to grow well in containers once you know how to get started.

It is best to select a bush variety pea for your patio or porch garden since they have much shallower roots and aren’t going to climb so high they tip over their containers, but either can work if you have the room.

Long, narrow pots work better than circular ones for growing peas. Choose one that is at least six inches deep for bush varieties or one foot deep for viny types. Make sure there are plenty of drainage holes in the bottom of the pot and that you choose a spot within reach of the hose or back door because you will be watering these babies frequently.

Just as with in-ground peas, your container peas will need something to climb. If you are using a taller variety or a shallower pot, your best bet is to utilize an existing fence or balcony for your lattice. You can easily run netting across a section of patio rail to give your peas something to grab onto. Secure the pot to the structure to make sure high winds don’t tip your container over and rip the vines from the roots.

If you don’t have an existing fence to use, you can build a trellis straight into the pot, just make sure you pick a heavy, deep pot for stability. Netting or string fixed between bamboo poles works well but you can also repurpose your tomato cages by covering them with netting and planting the peas around the base.

Prepare your seeds and soil just as you would for garden planting. Because you can easily move your pots inside while your peas are sprouting, you will be able to plant them a little earlier in the season.

Once your peas start growing, expect to have to fertilize more frequently with a low-nitrogen fertilizer since the frequent watering they require will leach important nutrients from the soil. Just as with in-garden peas, start harvesting once your pods reach full size and replace the plants in the summer with a nitrogen-loving patio-friendly veggie like chard or cherry tomatoes

The Best Way to Enjoy Your Harvest

While we all know the number one way to enjoy freshly grown sugar snap peas is to pop them in your mouth straight off the vine, that isn’t the only way to eat these tasty treats.

close-up of sugar snap peas

In fact, once you try our roasted sugar snap pea recipe, you may just find yourself hoarding your harvest instead of snacking on it while you’re working the garden. In addition to being super easy to make, this delectable snack or side dish is healthy, low carb, and oh-so addictive. All you need is a little oil, some thyme, garlic powder, and a preheated oven and you can be snacking on roasted bliss in just under 15 minutes.

However you decide to enjoy your peas once they’ve grown, we have a feeling you will enjoy the process of growing them nearly as much.

Sara Seitz