With a Master's degree in Sustainable Development, Susette has taught herself, and now teaches others, how to live a sustainable lifestyle.
No matter what kind of trellis you use in your garden to hold up peas, it will involve some tying. This is because peas do not grow like beans, where they wrap around a support and grow straight up. Peas sprawl. They need to be lifted up and tied onto some kind of support to make them grow upright. This article will show you how.
When I was nine years old, my father planted a small garden in order to show his children where food comes from and how it grows. My siblings grew corn, tomatoes, and strawberries. He assigned me to grow peas. I learned how peas grow, how to tie them up, and the incredible fresh taste of homegrown peas. Now I have a master's degree in sustainable living, and I still love the taste of homegrown peas.
Building a Homemade Pea Trellis
Because peas are different from beans, providing proper support is both easier and more complicated. Peas produce branches that crawl along the ground, so you can build the support, but only peas closest to the support will utilize it. The others will still sprawl, so you’ll need to tie them up.
Bush Peas vs. Pole Peas
Bush peas grow small and compact—from 18 to 30 inches tall—and are generally considered ground peas. However, when they get thick it’s easier to pick the pods if the plants are standing up. Hence you can build a simple trellis that utilizes stakes and string. It may not be the prettiest, but it works.
Taller varieties of peas prefer trellises or fences to hold onto. Depending on the variety, they will grow from 3 to 7 feet tall, so your trellis needs to be built accordingly. Like the bush peas, you’ll tie them to the trellis when small and continue to tie up the new growth as the plant grows.
The materials you’ll need to build a simple trellis are few and can be purchased cheaply (and—with the exception of the string—reused from year to year).
- Strong stakes to provide support. The length will depend on the type of pea you plant. Check the estimated height on your seed packet and acquire stakes at least ¾ of the height (e.g., if your peas will grow to 5 feet tall, you’ll need stakes at least 4 feet in length).
- Heavy-duty string or light rope (jute or cotton are best)
- Scissors to cut the rope
- Shovel to soften the ground, so you can push the stakes in
What Kind of Wood Should I Use for a Pea Trellis?
You can use bamboo or any kind of rough wood stakes you have around the house. Cedar works, and so does pine, but it's best not to have anything that’s seriously treated with chemicals. Metal stakes can be used as long as they have a surface that a rope can be tied onto or a shape that stops the rope from slipping.
The nature of stakes is that they have a point at one end, so they can be easily inserted into the ground. If you don’t have stakes, but do have 6-foot lengths of 1x1 or 2x2, you’ll have to dig a 2-foot deep hole for each one. The longer lengths need to be buried deeper to keep them upright. If you saw one end into a point, that will help you “plant” the stake into the ground more easily.
How to Build a Trellis for Bush Peas
Bush peas are best started without a trellis. Once they’ve grown about five inches, then you can tie them upright. Here's how to build a trellis once your peas have firmly established themselves.
- Plant two stakes 2 feet into the ground, 3–5 feet apart.
- Tie one end of the rope to one of the stakes, then take it over to the other stake— pulling it taut—and wrap it around the stake.
- Bring the rope back to the first stake, lifting your pea plants up to stand between the ropes so the ropes are holding them upright on either side.
- Tie the rope again to the first stake and cut the remainder.
- After your peas have grown another several inches, come back to tie the plants up again higher up (see the video below).
An Easy DIY Bush-Pea Trellis
This video is from Australia. She's focusing on growing bush peas, and shows us how to build the trellis I just introduced.
How to Build a Trellis for Pole Peas
Pole peas are best planted after you’ve erected a trellis, not before, if not just so you don’t step on them while building the trellis.
A Simple Trellis for Shorter Peas
Here’s the simplest way to build a trellis for climbers, usually for peas that will grow up to 4 feet tall, but not taller. In addition to the materials above, you’ll need a lighter string, as in the photo at the top of this article.
- Plant your stakes 2 feet into the ground, 3–5 feet apart. The number of stakes you use will depend on how many peas you want to plant, i.e., how long you want your row to be.
- Tie rope to the bottom of one, about 2” above the ground, then take it to each subsequent stake and wrap it around once, pulling each length taut, until you get to the last stake.
- Tie it off at the last stake.
- Do the same again at the top of the stakes.
- Now tie the lighter string to the bottom rope. Keeping it taut, lift it up over the top rope, back down and around the bottom rope, up to the top rope, back down to the bottom, etc., about 3” apart, moving along until you reach the last stake. Tie it off there.
- Plant your peas along the bottom rope about 2” apart.
A Stronger Trellis for Taller Peas
Taller peas need a taller, stronger trellis to grow onto. For this, you’ll need the basic materials above, plus netting or chicken wire instead of the lighter string. Your stakes should be about 6 feet high.
- Drive your stakes 2 feet into the ground, 3–5 feet apart. The number of stakes you use will depend on how many peas you want to plant, i.e., how long you want your row to be.
- Cut a piece of netting long enough to stretch from the first stake to the last one.
- Tie the netting to the first wooden stake at the bottom and top.
- Stretch the netting over to the next stake and tie it on, top and bottom.
- Keep going until you’ve got netting all the way down your row.
- Plant your peas 2” apart at the bottom of the netting.
- Tie the main stalk of the plants to the netting as the plants grow tall enough. This will encourage the tendrils to wrap around, helping the plant continue to grow upright.
How Tall Should a Pea Trellis Be?
The height of your trellis will depend on the size of pea you are growing. Snow peas don’t grow very tall, so the trellis can be 4–5 feet tall, but most regular peas will need a 6–8 foot tall trellis.
Building Trellises for Taller Peas
The Difference Between Trellises and Lattices
Lattices do not work for peas. Why? They are made of wood slats that crisscross in fairly tight patterns, and most of the slats are too wide for pea tendrils to grab onto. Lattices are generally used more for doorways, decor, and plants like climbing roses that need a structure to hold them up, but not necessarily to twine around.
How Do You Train Peas to Climb?
You train peas to climb by tying the main stalk lightly to your trellis. Their tendrils will wrap around whatever you’ve given them that they can reach, as long as it's less than an inch wide. New branches will hang out in the air and start to drag the plant down, so after your peas have grown another several inches, you’ll need to tie the stalk to the trellis again higher up.
If you're only growing a few pea plants for your family, purchasing a tomato trellis can work too. You can buy them easily at your local hardware or plant store. Amazon even has a cute, leaf-shaped trellis that stands 72" high made of iron. They include a sturdy, 8" stake to hold it steady in the garden.
Types of Peas You Can Grow
There are four main types of peas grown in the United States:
Dwarf or Bush Peas: This is a short pea plant, growing 18–30” tall, that sprawls across the ground. It produces its inedible pods all at once. The peas inside are big and juicy.
Snow Peas: Snow peas grow only 2–3 feet tall. They produce tiny peas in a thin pod that is easy to eat. One generally eats the whole pod, rather than the tiny, individual peas. This is the pea most often used in Asian cooking.
Sugar Snaps: These slightly taller peas grow to 3–4 feet tall (although they can be taller). They produce plump peas in a thick, edible pod.
Garden or English Peas: These are the really tall pea plants, growing up to 7 feet tall. These peas are the normal big ones you see in the frozen pea section of your grocery store. Their pods are not edible.
3 Types of Peas and 3 Types of Trellises
How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Peas (10 Tips)
If you follow a few simple instructions, peas are an easy crop to grow. Here are some tips for growing healthy peas.
- Time planting carefully. Plant early in the year, just as night frosts are subsiding, usually February or March. To time fall plantings, find out how long the plant takes to mature, then count backwards from the time the first frost is expected. In warmer regions, peas can be planted during the winter.
- Plant them in the right place. Plant in full sun, unless you live in a hot, dry area. Then plant in a location where your peas are shaded during the heat of the day.
- Tinker with your soil. If the soil is heavy clay, add sandy dirt or bark mulch to lighten it up. If the soil is sandy, add bark mulch to enrich it. If it’s too acidic, add agricultural lime powder.
- Avoid fertilizing. Most fertilizers have nitrogen as their main ingredient, but peas are legumes that provide nitrogen for the soil. Too much nitrogen will kill them, so don’t add fertilizer, unless your soil is really decrepit. Then it’s best to add bark mulch instead (not manure).
- Avoid transplanting. Plant peas where they are intended to grow. Their weak roots don’t take transplanting well. To give them a kickstart, you can soak the seeds overnight to soften their outer, protective layer. If you must start growing inside, due to weather or a short season, and you only want a few pea plants, start them in a biodegradable pot and transplant the pot itself into the soil when ready. If you intend to plant a whole row, check the last video for a unique tip on how to transplant without disturbing the roots.
- Give them something to climb. Provide a trellis or fence for them to climb. This makes harvesting a lot easier and discourages insects. Pea tendrils are small, so if you’re growing them on a fence, give them string to climb up.
- Deter insects with onions and alyssum. Plant chives, onions, or alyssum interspersed among the pea seedlings to deter insect populations.
- Water a little more when they start blooming. This is the time for watering a little more to make sure you get lots of pods with juicy peas. Note that peas self-pollinate, so it's not a problem if there aren't many bees around.
- Harvest the pods when they're shiny. When pea plants flower, you’ll know it will be time to harvest soon afterward. It doesn’t take long to fruit. Harvest the pods when they’re still shiny. Pick them early in the morning for the best freshness.
- Rotate your pea location. As with most plants, nutrients in the soil get depleted if the same plant stays too long in the same place. Better to change locations every four years or so.
Pea Plant Characteristics
Like any plant, the characteristics of the pea plant will determine how best to provide for their growth. Here are some pea plant characteristics:
- Peas are an annual plant. They grow fresh from seed every year.
- Peas like cool weather, not hot.
- They’re a nitrogen fixer, meaning that they provide nitrogen to enhance the soil in which they grow.
- They have shallow, fragile roots that don’t like being disturbed.
- They use tendrils to climb and latch onto each other.
- The pea plant self-pollinates.
- Once the plants flower, the peas are quick to mature.
- Shiny pods indicate ripeness. Dull ones mean the pea has grown old.
An excellent resource for how to grow peas is The Old Farmers Almanac. Not only does it have good tips, but you can also find out when the weather is good for planting various crops.
Remember to check your peas periodically to see if they need tying up again. Water them regularly, but don’t drown them. Pick them early in the morning. And enjoy the taste of fresh, homegrown peas at the table.
Tips for Growing Rows of Peas
This farmer has a unique way of growing peas inside and transplanting them without endangering their roots. He also uses bamboo sticks in an A-frame as his trellis. It's an interesting video. Note the "pea sticks."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Sustainable Sue