Plant Peas on Presidents Day – Really?

Peas are just the right plant to launch our blog Sweet Ground!

Peas exemplify the pure pleasure that can be had from just a small patch of earth, producing multitudes of beautiful, sweet smelling flowers or succulent pods that cover a fence or wall from a few plants. Sweet Peas produce colorful flowers & inedible pods, whereas most edible peas have plain white flowers.

Sweet Peas in situ with a complement of Poppies, Purple Ninebark, Fairy's Wand & Ox-eye Daisy

Ever heard of “nitrogen-fixers”? Pea roots support bacteria that take elemental nitrogen from air and rainwater - which plants can’t utilize - and transform it into plant food. They are a wonder for the soil geek as well as the aesthete!

Over the years we have saved seeds and replanted many generations of Sweet Peas from heirloom seed originally passed along to us by a friend. Unlike the hybrid varieties usually sold on seed racks which tend to revert to all blue flowers after a generation or two of seed-saving, our own seeds produce an extravagant mix of pink, red, blue, white and velvety purple flowers year after year. It is tradition in our garden to plant way more that we can use, so we can give away armloads of flowers to friends and neighbors. Sharing the abundance is the greatest gift of a garden, without a doubt.

For edible peas we buy fresh seed for each year to avoid buildup of diseases and keep the varieties straight.

 Do I need to Plant Peas on Presidents Day?

There is a ritual among Northwest gardeners to plant peas on Presidents Day weekend. Why? It’s probably just because we can, we are eager to climb out of our dark winter caves and start gardening. But is it too late to start peas in March or April?

In our experience, peas started throughout March and into April grow stronger than those from earlier planting dates, they even start to bloom and fruit about the same time. The longer days and warmer soil promote rapid germination and quick growth, so the later sown peas easily catch up with their presidential peers that struggle in saturated soils and the frosty nights of February.

To give them a fighting chance we start seeds indoors in pots or flats filled with potting mix. Besides the ability to control temperatures and protect seeds from birds or other critters, starting the seeds this way also buys us extra time to work up garden beds and build a trellis for the peas to climb on. We are lazy gardeners at heart.

It helps to soak the Sweet Peas in water for a couple hours prior to sowing—but don't soak the edible peas which can quickly rot. Both can be planted an inch or two apart, and easily teased apart to transplant into the garden when they are a few inches high. We set them in a dark warm corner of our barn office, and move them out to a sunny window ledge as soon as they start to germinate so they don’t grow spindly. Gently petting them a few times a day keeps the plants nicely stocky and full - really!

So Give Peas a Chance but don't sweat the date.