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Tips for Choosing Peas for the Vegetable Garden

Cool weather–loving garden peas, Pisum sativum, are usually divided into two groups, based on their pods. Non-edible-podded, or "shelling," peas are the most commonly thought of pea variety. The peas are allowed to get plump in the pod before harvesting. Removing the peas from the pod can be a lot of work, so take that into consideration when planning your garden. If you are planning on growing shelling peas, look for varieties, such as 'Canoe', that produce more peas per pod, saving you some effort.


Edible-podded varieties include snap and snow peas. Snap peas are enjoyed similarly to green beans, by simply trimming the ends and removing any string before cooking. Since both plump pea and tender pod can be enjoyed, snap peas give you the best harvest per planting area.

Snow peas are also eaten pod and all, but most are picked before the peas inside have much of a chance to develop. These are the peas you will find in stir-fry dishes.

Of course there are some crossover varieties. The purple-podded 'Blauwschokker' can be harvested small like a snow pea or allowed to get plump and shelled. Similarly, the heirloom 'Golden Sweet' pea is usually harvested as a snow pea. If left on the vine, the peas can be shelled and dried for winter storage. This is our personal favorite because we do enjoy stir-fry dishes often, and we also like to keep a great supply of homegrown goodness on the pantry shelves.

Versatile plants like these are also helpful if you cannot spend as much time in the garden as you would like. Whether you harvest it early or late, it’s all good.

The growing conditions are the same no matter which you choose. They love the colder temperatures, and can be planted in early spring, mid-March in many areas. Most varieties are climbers and need a pea trellis or netting for support. There can be quite a difference in vine height amongst peas. Varieties such as 'Serge' and 'Green Arrow' only get to be about 2 feet tall. Comparatively, 'Champion of England' can boast 10-foot-tall vines.

There are also varieties that are well suited for small space growing, such as 'Peas in a Pot' and 'Tom Thumb'. You can still get a good harvest even in potted plant.

Pea flowers are already fertile when they open, so they are a good crop even where pollinators are scarce. Harvest by gently removing the pods from the vine, never pulling.

Do you have a favorite variety that you would recommend? Gardeners love trying new plants.

Gardening Jones is a master gardener in Pennsylvania. Learn more at


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