JoAnne Skelly: St. Patrick’s Day reminder

JoAnne Skelly

JoAnne Skelly

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Here in Northern Nevada, we don’t have to worry about driving out snakes as Old St. Paddy supposedly did in Ireland in the fifth century.
I mention Saint Patrick because March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day, is the traditional time to plant peas in our area.
English (also known as garden), snap or snow peas thrive in a well-drained, compost-amended soil with a pH between 6 and 7.5. Since pea plants do not thrive in the heat, we have a relatively short growing season for them. Optimal growing temperatures are between 55 and 65 degrees. Pea plants will start growing when temperatures rise above 40 degrees and will stop producing when temperatures reach 85 degrees or so. However, soil temperature controls how quickly seeds germinate, with warmer soils allowing quicker germination.
Not only will peas germinate more readily in warmer soils, they will also germinate better if they are soaked in water overnight before planting. After soaking, plant the seeds one inch deep and about two inches to three inches apart. It won’t be necessary to thin seedlings later.
Plant rows seven inches to eight inches apart. Cover the seeds with soil and tamp it down to ensure good seed to soil contact. Water in gently (you don’t want to wash your seeds away), but well. As plants grow, water the soil rather than the leaves and keep soil moderately moist, but not soggy. Remember, sandy soils need water more often than clay soils. Add mulch to conserve moisture.
Peas need little fertilizer. In fact, giving them nitrogen will cause great leaf growth but few peas and pods. Keep weeds out of your pea bed, but be careful not to hoe the shallow roots of the peas. Mulching will help reduce weeds.
I like to put the supports for the pea vines into the ground before they germinate. This reduces root disturbance later. Some pole varieties may reach four feet or more in height. Bush peas grow 18 inches to 24 inches tall. You can use just about anything to support your peas – poles, tall thin branches, T-posts, all of which can be strung with chicken wire, string or netting.
Stagger harvests by planting a group of seeds one week and again two weeks later. Young plants can survive light frosts, but plants starting to flower can be damaged by frost, so watch weather and cover plants as needed. Plants thrive in full sun except in higher temperatures. They usually take about 60 days from planting to harvest.
For information:
JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Reach her at


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