Time to plant the sugar snaps

6-1-08-1Sugar snap peas are one of my favorite crops. The trellis is an attractive center point in the veggie bed. The twining vines are pretty and the flower blossoms smell wonderful. Everything from flowers to vines and the pods are edible. Best of all they are easy to grow in Wisconsin.

Sugar snap peas and beans are similar. Both sugar snap peas and beans grow as vines or bushes. Bush varieties of both mature quickly and are easy to harvest, but are generally less productive than vines.

Peas are frost hardy. They’re one of the first crops we can plant. I like to set my seeds as soon as the ground can be worked. Wisconsin’s growing season is short; quickly going from a cool spring to a very hot summer. Peas have about a 60 day growth before harvest and don’t produce as many blossoms and pods after temperatures go above 85°F.

Here are some guidelines.


  • Establish the trellis or vine support structure before you begin.
  • Sow seeds outdoors 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost, when soil temperatures reach at least 45°F.
  • Plant 1 inch deep (deeper if soil is dry) and 2 inches apart.
  • A second planting may be made a week later, and another a week after that, for a longer harvest period.
  • Treat the pea seeds carefully. Cracked seeds are unlikely to germinate, especially in moist soil of early spring.
  • Peas are best grown in temperatures below 70°F.


  • Make sure that you have well-drained, humus-rich soil.
  • Water sparsely and only if plants are wilting. During dry springs, proper watering will enhance good production. Water the soil, not the vines, to prevent disease. If plants dry out no pods will be produced.
  • Mulching three to four inches deep will help retain soil moisture and help suppress weeds.
  • Poke in any seeds that wash out back into the soil.
  • Don’t over fertilize. Peas are sensitive to too much nitrogen, but they like phosphorus and potassium.
  • Do not hoe around plants to avoid disturbing fragile roots.


  • Snap peas are usually ready to pick soon after the flowering stage. For the best flavor, pick your snaps before the peas inside are fully mature.
  • The sugar in peas starts turning to starch soon after they’re picked, so cook or freeze them within two to three days after harvesting.
  • Sugar snap peas left on the plant past their prime become starchy and lose their sweetness

At the end of the season

  • To get the best head start, turn over your pea planting beds in the fall, add manure to the soil, and mulch well.
  • Do not plant peas in the same place more than once in every 4 years.
  • Avoid planting where in places where peas have suffered before from root rot.
  • Do not use high-nitrogen fertilizers. Too much nitrogen will result in lush foliage but poor flowering and fruiting. As with other legumes, pea roots will fix nitrogen in the soil, making it available for other plants.

0I can’t close this article without mentioning my greatest failure at sugar snaps… chipmunks. They love the seeds and will dig them up as fast as I plant them. They will eat the new shoots as soon as they emerge from the soil. They will climb the trellis and eat flowers and pods. Evidentially sugar snap peas are ambrosia to chipmunks.

I sprinkle pepper in the soil around the base of the trellis. I set out my little Havahart trap. I’ve even put dog fur in my garden. And it is still a battle to see if I can get a nice harvest or if the chippies will beat me again.

Wish me luck this season.


About Kary Beck

Mother and wife, gardener, wine enthusiast, avid online bargain hunter, and owner of two black-and-tan cocker spaniels.
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