Most people—me included—find that the toughest part about growing peas is figuring out how to support them properly. In my garden I grow only one type of peas: edible pod peas (rather than shelling peas or snow peas). I eat most of my peas raw rather than cooked, and that’s not something you can do with the other types.
I’ve tried several different varieties of edible pod peas and always come back to Sugar Snaps. In the fall I grow the bush variety Sugar Ann, but for my main midsummer crop I find Sugar Snap produces the most peas and has the longest harvest season. The downside is that these plants get very tall, usually topping out at well over 7 feet.
And that gets me back to pea fences. It’s critical that you decide how you’re going to support your peas BEFORE you plant them. Ideally, you’re ready to put up the trellis the same day you plant your peas. If the weather is right, the seeds will germinate in a matter of days, and baby peas will start searching immediately for something to grab onto. Two things happen if there’s nothing there to grab: their growth will be arrested and they’ll flop over.
Because pea stems are extremely brittle, they often break if you try to bend them up to reach a trellis. The best thing is to have your trellis in place, with the bottom “rung” no more than 2″ above the soil surface.
Remember that peas climb, they don’t twine. At each node along their stems, they generate two or three 1″ long tendrils. These tendrils need to grab and then wind themselves around something that’s less than about a quarter inch in diameter. I have used three different techniques for supporting peas: twine, netting and galvanized fencing.
Pea tendrils love to grab onto the rough texture of natural jute twine. It’s the most versatile option because you can make your trellis as long and as tall as you wish. Start with three or four rows of twine and add more as the plants grow taller. Be sure to put in twice as many stakes or poles as you think will be necessary. I also find that natural jute twine stretches over time, so string it very tight and be prepared to reinforce as the season progresses.
I’ve used this polypropylene netting many times and am a huge fan. It’s the perfect height right out of the package (6.5 feet) and is 30 feet long, so I get two years of trellis from one package. The mesh has big, 6″ openings, which is ideal. Just like with twine, you should put in more vertical supports than you think. I have tried bamboo poles and hardwood stakes, but they’re never tall enough. My latest and greatest solution is 8’ tall green metal “T” posts.
This year we’re introducing a new galvanized wire pea fence that’s 5’4″ tall. It has eight, 12″ wide, hinged panels that can be zig-zagged down your row of peas. This zig-zag design provides extra stability, but we still recommend staking the fence at each end and once in the middle. (A 7-foot wall of peas makes a very effective sail.) We’ve been selling a shorter version of this fence for many years and it works great for bush peas.
How do YOU support your peas? Leave a comment below!