Growing Peas in Iowa

Freshly harvested, shelled, and cooked peas are a late spring treat. Many types of peas can be grown successfully in Iowa.  Learn more about selection, planting, care, and harvesting of garden, snow, and snap peas.

Types  |  Planning  |  Site Selection  |  Planting  |  Care  |  Potential Problems  |  Harvest & Storage  |  More Information

Peas in the garden By Tricky Shark AdobeStock


There are three main types of peas. The garden pea is grown for shelling. Snow and snap peas are edible podded peas.  

The garden or English pea has been widely grown for years. Garden peas are harvested when the pods are well-filled, and the seeds are sweet and tender. (The seeds in over-mature pods will be hard and starchy.) The pods of garden peas are not edible.  

Snow peas (sugar peas) are harvested when the pods are long and thin, just as the seeds begin to develop. Young pods are tender, stringless and may be stir-fried in Chinese dishes, steamed or cooked like snap beans. If the seeds are allowed to develop fully, they may be shelled and used like garden peas.  

Snap peas are best picked when the seeds are nearly full size. The pod walls are thick, fleshy and crunchy. Snap peas may be eaten raw in salads, snapped and cooked like snap beans, or shelled for garden peas. They also freeze very well.

Pea Type Comparison Photo by Sandra van der Steen  Norman Chan  nathanipha99Recommended Cultivars

Suggested garden pea cultivars for home gardens in Iowa include ‘Little Marvel’ (early season, short vines), ‘Spring’ (early season, short vines), ‘Knight’ (early season, short vines), ‘Lincoln’ (mid to late season, very sweet), ‘Green Arrow’ (mid to late season, 24 to 28-inch vines) and ‘Wando’ (mid to late season, heat tolerant). ‘Oregon Giant’ (mid to late season, large pods), ‘Snowflake’ (late season, flat pods) and ‘Super Sugar Pod’ (late season, long vines) are excellent snow pea cultivars, while ‘Sugar Ann’ (early season, short vines), ‘Sugar Bon’ (early season, short vines), ‘Sugar Sprint’ (early to mid-season, short vines), ‘Cascadia’ (mid-season, short vines) and ‘Super Snappy’ (mid-season, large pods) are good snap peas.


Garden, snow and snap peas are cool season crops. They tolerate cool temperatures and can even survive a light frost.  Peas see the most growth with temperatures between 55° and 65°F.  While plants can be very cold hardy, flowers and developing pods are sensitive to freezes or frosts.  If a late spring frost is forecasted, provide protection.  

Peas are not tolerant of warm temperatures.  When temperatures exceed 85°F, very little growth will occur.  This makes the plants perfect for early spring and late fall plantings.  

Using Inoculum

Peas are members of the legume (Fabaceae) family.  Through a symbiotic relationship with a soil bacterium (Rhizobium), peas can “fix” atmospheric nitrogen in nodules on their roots. 

Peas will grow and produce a crop without inoculation.  However, inoculation with a nitrogen-fixing bacterium may be beneficial if peas have not been grown in the garden in the past.  Pea inoculants can be purchased at garden centers and from mail-order catalogs.  Inoculate pea seeds immediately before sowing.  Place a small amount of the pea inoculant into the seed packet and shake. 

Site Selection

Peas grow best in full sun. Provide at least six hours of direct sunlight a day for best growth.  Plants tolerate a range of soil types provided they are well drained. Peas grow well in soils of average fertility.  

Compact varieties can be successfully grown in a large container (the larger the container, the better) with a trellis added for support.  Utilize regular potting soil and provide full sun and adequate moisture.


Peas should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in spring. Appropriate spring planting dates are late March in southern Iowa, early April in central Iowa, and mid-April in northern portions of the state.  A fall crop can be planted in late August or early September for an early to mid-October harvest.

Sow seeds 1 to 1½ inches deep and 2 inches apart. Peas can be planted in single or double rows. Double rows should be spaced about 6 inches apart. Double rows allow bush cultivars to cling and hold up one another. Place wire netting or a trellis between double rows of tall cultivars to provide support. When planted in single rows, the dwarf or bush-type cultivars should be sown in rows 2 feet apart and the tall growing cultivars 3 feet apart.

Plantings can be made in succession to help spread out the harvest.  Consider planting up to three successions each separated by one week.


Peas grow best in consistently moist, well-drained soil.  Since spring tends to be cool and wetter than other times of the year in Iowa, plants typically only need to be watered when conditions are abnormally dry.  When watering, avoid wetting the foliage to prevent disease issues.  Apply a mulch around plants to help conserve soil moisture.

Be sure to plant in a weed free bed and remove weeds as you see them.  Since peas grow early in the season, they tend to outpace many weeds. The most effective ways to weed include light cultivation (be careful not to damage the shallow root systems) and hand-pulling.  A layer of mulch, especially between the rows, can help reduce weed issues.

Peas rarely need additional fertilizer but if a soil test shows the need, apply an all-purpose fertilizer (such as a 10-10-10) at a light to moderate rate within a few weeks of planting.

Potential Problems

Powdery mildew can be a problem, especially in hot weather.  Leaves and pods become covered in a powdery, white substance.

Cutworms may severe young plants off at the base.

Aphid populations can grow to large numbers quickly on pea plants.  They typically cause leaf curling, discoloration, and sticky leaves.  Aphids are often found near the growing points.

Hot temperatures will halt flowering and pod production.  Warm temperatures, especially at night, can cause the flower to abort or lead to poor pollination, leading to smaller yields.  

Harvest and Storage

Depending on the cultivar, peas are typically ready to harvest 50 to 75 days after planting.  Proper timing with harvest is important to get tender, sweet peas.  Over-mature peas are starchy in flavor, thick, and tough with a firm or hard interior.  Garden peas are best picked just as the pods swell and round out, but before they make a hard, bumpy outline in the pod.  Harvest snow and snap peas just as the seeds begin to form but while the pod is still flat.

Peas can quickly decline in quality after harvest.  It is important to cool the peas as soon as possible after harvest.  This can be done by dunking in ice water, drying, and storing in the refrigerator.  Keep the peas in a vegetable bag in the refrigerator's crisper drawer.  Fresh peas can be stored for up to three days with little loss in quality.  If quickly cooled and properly stored, they can last up to one week.  They can also be processed and frozen for more long-term storage.  

Garden peas can be shelled and then cooled or cooled and shelled later.  To shell garden peas, press the pod on the rounded end to split the pod open along the seam.  Run your thumb down the open pod to pop the peas loose.  For those types with edible pods, the string may have to be removed on certain cultivars.  With a pairing knife or your fingers, snap the very tip of pod off and pull the string from along the seam on the concave side of the pod. Repeat the process from the other end/tip.

More Information

Last reviewed:
April 2024