Growing Peas in Southern California
Is there anything better than walking through the garden, plucking a pea from the vine, and devouring it as a sweet and crunchy snack? Today I’m here to share my tips for growing peas Southern California. Believe it or not, peas are usually touted as being an “easy to grow” vegetable, but because of our unique climate, there are some things you should know before attempting to grow peas.
It actually took me a couple years to learn this, but peas are better when planted in Fall (and can be sown through Winter) in zone 10b. For example, the first fews years I tried growing peas in my Southern California (Orange County) garden, they stayed very small and produced very little—but that’s because I was growing them according to seed packets that said to sow in Spring! If there is anything you take away from my website, I really hope it’s that gardening in California is extremely unique and we follow a planting schedule all our own. Once I started sowing my peas in Fall (usually in September or October), I was able to grow huge and prolific plants!
While Fall might be the ideal time to start growing peas in Southern California, you can still sow your peas throughout the entire cool season (or early Spring for those of you in colder garden zones). For more ideas of what you can grow in the cool season here in Southern California, check out my Fall & Winter Gardening Guide.
Types of Peas to Grow
There are a few sub-types of edible peas that have different culinary preparations and uses.
Most importantly, do not confuse the edible peas I’m discussing below with sweet pea flowers. Sweet pea flowers are purely ornamental and used for cut flowers/bouquets, but you do not want to eat them as they are toxic. You can read about sweet pea flowers and why I grow them in this article HERE.
Also known as sugar snap peas, the entire pod is edible as a crunchy snack. For instance, you might be familiar with them as part of those vegetable trays you frequently see at the grocery store. The pods of sugar snap peas are slightly swelled, but can be eaten whole, raw, and lightly stir fried. Depending on the variety or age of the pea, you might need to remove the string of the pod before eating.
As with snap peas, the entire pod of snow peas is edible. Snow pea pods are flat and frequently used in stir fries. In fact, one of my favorite Chinese dishes is stir fried snow peas with baby corn and chicken. Snow peas can be eaten raw as well, but sugar snap peas are more common for raw snacking.
As the name implies, shelling peas need to be removed from their pod or “shell.” They are bright green and delicious in soups, stews, and as a side dish topped with a pat of butter. Shelling peas are the peas you’ll find in bags in the freezer section of the grocery store—but they taste sweeter and more delicious when grown at home!
I like to grow some of each kind of pea because, although we eat a lot of cooked dishes through the cooler months, we also enjoy grabbing a snack straight off the vine as we work in the garden! Word of warning: it takes A LOT of pea plants to grow enough food for a sizeable meal. For example, last year I grew 12 shelling pea plants for just two people, and I would have probably doubled that. In regards to determining how many pea plants are needed per family, I would say to plant anywhere between 10-20 plants per person.
Sowing Pea Seeds in Southern California
Once you have chosen what varieties of peas you are growing and have determined how many plants to start, we can sow the seeds!
Now, some gardeners soak their pea seeds, but I have never needed to and find that they germinate very easily. You can either sow your pea seeds directly in the garden (which is ideal if you aren’t dealing with pests or space constraints) or you can start them in pots for transplanting later. The majority of the time, I start my pea seeds outdoors because our Fall and Winter are so mild. However, if we are experiencing a cold front, I’ll start them indoors and then bring them outside during the day to get sunshine. Of course, always make sure to follow harden off procedures before transplanting outside, especially if your seedlings have been indoors the whole time. For starting indoors, I sow my peas in six-pack seed trays.
Choose a full sun location that will allow you to prepare a trellis for your peas. Most peas are climbing and vining plants, so a trellis that can accomodate anywhere from a 6-10 foot vine might be necessary. Similarly, if you are curious about growing vertically using trellises and how to grow more in a small space, I hope you’ll read my Guide to Growing Vertically.
Being cool season plants, peas do like water (think of Spring rains) so don’t let them dry out completely. Additionally, peas like rich loamy soil like may crops, so we follow our usual Steps For Amending A Garden Bed before planting our peas.
Want to grow a lush wall of peas?
If you want to grow edible peas as a lush wall, ignore the seed packet recommendations for spacing and plant your transplants approximately 4-6 inches apart. To directly sow peas seeds, sow them 1-2 inches apart and thin the vines as they grow larger to a final distance of 4-6 inches apart.
Remember, it takes a lot of pea plants to make a sizeable harvest, so plant more than you think you need—as many as 10-20 plants per person.
Companion Planting with Peas
As I have continued to garden, I’ve come across some great companion plantings year after year. One of my favorite companion crops for growing with peas here in Southern California is CARROTS! Peas grow very well with carrots. In fact, you can see in the photo below, that I let the tall pea plants be a backdrop for a lush carpet of carrots in the foreground. PS: if you’d like to learn how I grow carrots, you can read all about it in my Carrot Growing Guide.
In contrast, I will never plant peas with garlic or onions ever again! While the logic behind companion planting isn’t always foolproof, my experiences have indeed shown that peas do not grow well when planted next to garlic or onions. The first year I tried this, my onions completely stopped growing and never grew thicker than a pencil! The second year, I planted garlic in front of my peas and the peas became stunted and never grew more than a couple feet tall. Needless to say, I’ll be avoiding that pairing from now on!
Pests & Growing Peas
As of now, the only problems I’ve ever had with pests and my peas are…birds! Can you blame them? In fact, pea shoots are often sold at farmer’s markets for salads and stir fries which explains why birds might like them as a tasty snack too. To protect your seedlings, you might need to temporarily cover with netting or mesh until your seedlings are more mature. Above all, it’s still possible for peas to survive after being clipped by birds. I’ve had the tops nibbled off by birds before, but then the peas grow back.
Update 8/2021– After making my DIY fabric row covers, I’ve been able to fend off birds much more easily in my garden. During the hot months, they do retain too much warmth and need to be clipped up on the sides, but they do work well in the cooler months for directly sowed peas or young seedlings.
Some of my favorite varieties to grow…
Shelling pea varieties:
Tall Telephone– a prolific grower here in zone 10b.
Snow pea varieties:
Golden Sweet Snow Pea– such a beautiful color for an edible garden, and tasty!
Melting Sugar Snow Pea– vines grow strong and produce the sweetest flat peas for stir fries.
Desiree Dwarf Blauschokker – A stunning purple snow pea that is prolific here in zone 10b! Only grows a couple feet high.
Royal Snap II– the purple color of this sugar snap pea makes it easy to spot and harvest. Plants stay small. I love to grow this variety with the ‘honey snap’ variety (below) for a beautiful color scheme.
Honey Snap II – a yellow colored sugar snap pea which makes it easier to spot for harvest! Plants stay small, under 6 feet.
What else can I grow during the cool season?
If you are planning to grow peas right now in Southern California, chances are that there are lots of other cool season vegetables you can grow during this same time. Check out my Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for Southern California for a list to get you inspired!
Additionally, Fall is also the time to plant ranunculus, anemones, and narcissus in Southern California. Get my grow guide for these Spring flowers!
There are also some wonderful Cool Season Annual Herbs that should be in every Winter garden here in SoCal!