Caring for Peas

by National Gardening Association Editors

Peas don't need as much attention as other vegetables, but do need support, weeding, some fertilizing and care.

Support for Climbers

'Alderman' and 'Super Sugar Snap' peas are both climbing varieties. Because they grow five to six feet tall, these peas usually need some type of support, like a fence, trellis or brush.

In single rows, position the support about three inches behind the row. For double rows, put it in between the rows, so the peas can grow up either side of the support. Or, to maximize space, you can plant a double row on each side of the trellis.

Supports are easy to make. A simple one uses 4- to 5-foot-long stakes placed five feet apart down the row. Run three wires horizontally between the stakes, one foot apart. If you prefer, use chicken wire with a 2-inch mesh instead of the separate wires.

Unlike other climbing vegetables, peas naturally grasp the support with their tendrils, though you may need to guide them gently towards the support as they become tall enough to reach it.

Fertilizing

Because peas are good foragers, they don't need much fertilizer - especially nitrogen. A day or two before planting, broadcast three to four pounds of 5-10-10 commercial fertilizer over each 100 square feet of garden space. Then work it into the top two to three inches of soil.

You may prefer to use organic fertilizers, such as well-rotted or dehydrated manure or bone meal. Spread a one- to two-inch layer over your raised beds and work in the material. If you use local manure, be sure it's well aged. Animals' digestive tracts don't destroy weed seeds, so if you put fresh manure on your garden, you'll probably also be planting weeds.

The primary ingredients of synthetic fertilizer are three nutrients that are vital to all plants: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). If you have a 100-pound bag of 5-10-10 fertilizer, it contains five percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus and 10 percent potassium. (The order is constant.) The remaining 75 pounds is sand or other filler plus some trace minerals.

Each of the three major nutrients contained in fertilizer has a unique job to accomplish while your plants are growing. Nitrogen helps plants have healthy lush green foliage. However, too much nitrogen can burn seeds or plants if it comes in direct contact with them, and it can also generate too much vine growth rather than pods with peas inside. Phosphorus is necessary for the development of strong, healthy roots. Potassium, or potash, helps the plant to grow, bear fruit and resist diseases.

It's important to mix chemical fertilizers thoroughly into the soil before you start planting.

Weeding

Once your seedlings start to emerge, weeds also appear. Weeding is the scourge of gardening for most people, but it doesn't have to be. If you stay ahead of it, which is easy with wide rows, you won't have to bribe the neighborhood kids to do it for you.

With wide-row growing, you can usually drag an iron rake across the row as soon as the seedlings emerge in order to thin the row and get rid of early-germinating weeds. Do not do this with peas or beans. These plants are tender, and they may break. However, peas and beans grow quickly, forming a canopy that soon shades weed seedlings from the sun, which inhibits their growth.

Mulching

When your single- and double-row plants are a few inches tall, you can sharply curtail weeding by putting mulch in the walkways. A 3- to 6-inch layer of mulch completely shades the ground, preventing weed growth.

Mulch also conserves moisture and helps to keep the ground at a constant cool temperature. Mulch is almost a necessity if your soil is sandy, warm and too dry. You can use black plastic, or organic mulches, such as bark, straw, lawn clippings, leaves or pine needles.

To keep moisture in the soil and weeds out, apply mulch soon after you cultivate following a soaking rain. Be sure not to add trouble where there wasn't any before. Use only mulch that's free of weed seeds.



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