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Close up of a snow pea and leaves on a bush.
Snow peas are a must-grow cool-season veggie. They’re fast-growing and prolific producers, so give them the right conditions and you will be rewarded with an abundant crop. Grow them in pots or garden beds; if you don’t have the space for traditional climbing forms, look for dwarf varieties.

What you need to know about snow peas

Name: snow pea, Chinese pea, Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon.

Height: 1.8-2m, dwarf forms about 0.6m.

Plant type: annual.

Climate: warm and cool temperate and subtropical.

Soil: well-drained, enriched with organic matter.

Position: full sun.

Flowers and fruit: white flowers followed by flat green pods.

Foliage: smooth, waxy and ovate (egg-shaped) with strong venations. Arranged in pairs along the vine.

Feeding: well-rotted organic matter at planting time.

Watering: water regularly to keep the soil moist.

Appearance and characteristics of snow peas

Snow peas are annual cool-season veggies. They’re fast-growing and available in two forms: tall (indeterminate) and dwarf (determinate). Tall forms are vines that grow up to 2m and need to be staked for support, whereas dwarf forms generally don’t require a trellis. The flattened pods are picked when young and tender before the peas (the seeds within the pod) start to swell. They can be eaten raw – pod and all – straight off the vine and are deliciously sweet.
Close up of a pile of snow peas.

Snow peas versus sugar snap peas

Sugar snap peas and snow peas are both varieties of pea that are eaten pod and all, unlike common garden peas, which are shelled and only the peas are consumed. Sugar snap peas are a cross between snow peas and common garden peas. Sugar snap peas snap like green beans, have a sweet taste and are usually picked when the pods are fully mature and rounded.

Uses for snow peas

Snow peas are delicious raw, blanched or cooked in stir-fries. The young shoots and curly, thread-like tendrils (used for climbing) are also edible and have a fresh pea-like flavour. Use the young shoots as a leafy green substitute in salads and stir-fries or sautéed like spinach.

How to grow snow peas

In most climates, snow peas grow best in the cooler months. In cold areas, wait until the chance of frost has passed before sowing or planting, as frost can damage seedlings and impact developing pods. Avoid growing them in the warmer months as they are not heat tolerant and will stop producing.

Choose a sunny spot in the garden with well-drained soil and enrich with compost. Sow seeds directly where they are to grow, lightly cover with soil and water well. Do not water again until seeds have germinated, otherwise they may rot. If planting seedlings, try not to disturb the root ball and water in with a diluted seaweed solution to help reduce transplant shock.

Tip: Growing seed in Jiffy pots and planting out the seedling complete with the pot is a good way to ensure the roots aren’t disturbed.

Caring for snow peas

Indeterminate snow pea varieties can grow up to 2m tall, so need some support. When plants are young, hammer in stakes at both ends of the rows and run two wires or string between them 200mm and 400mm above ground level. Avoid using a timber trellis as the plant’s fine tendrils may have difficulty grasping onto the thick frame. Support is not usually needed for dwarf forms.

Raw green organic snow peas on a tea towel.

How often should you water and feed snow peas?

Snow peas are legumes and fix their own nitrogen, so don’t need a lot of fertiliser. Well-composted organic matter (such as aged manure) at planting time is usually sufficient for snow peas. If desired, handfuls of an organic fertiliser can be added as pods are forming to help boost production. Water plants regularly throughout the growing season and add mulch to help conserve soil moisture and suppress weed growth.

How and when to harvest snow peas

Snow peas can usually be harvested from about 10 weeks after sowing seed, or approximately 10 days after flowering. Pick when the pods are young, tender and flat. Once peas inside the pods begin to swell, they can become a bit tough and bitter.

Diseases and pests that affect snow peas

Snow peas can be affected by powdery mildew, a fungal disease that’s prevalent during wet or humid conditions, or if air circulation is poor. To reduce the risk, don’t crowd seeds or seedlings at planting time and, if possible, avoid overhead watering.

How to propagate snow peas

Grow snow peas each year from seed or seedlings. You can grow and save your own seed to use in subsequent years. To do this, leave some seed pods to fully mature, dry and turn brown on the vine before picking them, removing the peas and storing them in a cool, dark, dry place until the next growing season.

If you like this, then try

Beans: warm-season favourites that are available in climbing and more compact bush varieties.

Zucchini: this fast-growing vine will reward you with fruitful harvests over summer.

Tomato: the quintessential summer ‘veggie’ with forms to suit all garden sizes.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images
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