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5 Best Ways How to Grow Peas Without a Trellis

Our garden is the farm's pride and joy. We love spending time in it and preparing meals out of our fresh produce.

Taking a break from weeding to eat peas off the vine is one of the best parts of working in a vegetable garden. But do these vines need trellising?

Not only can trellises be expensive and time consuming to erect, but they are not necessary for growing peas. Peas can be grown successfully without a trellis by choosing a dwarf variety, letting them sprawl on the ground, growing them up companion plants, planting them in a block, or creating a vertical garden.

Keep reading for tips on the best ways to grow peas without a trellis.

Peas on the vine

Peas on the vine

Growing Peas Without a Trellis

Peas are a vining plant that has weak stems and a shallow root system. As the vines grow, they send out tendrils that curl around anything in reach to help the vine creep upwards. If the vines tip over, they can easily break their stem causing them to wither and die or lay on the ground where mould and fungi thrive and rodents can easily reach the peas. To keep this from happening, most people grow their peas up a trellis.

However, there are a number of advantages to growing peas WITHOUT a trellis:

  • Free: Trellises can be expensive. While you can build them out of scraps you have on hand, this isn’t always possible. Growing peas without a trellis doesn’t cost anything.
  • Practical: If you grow a lot of peas, it can be difficult to have enough trellises for all of them. Growing with a trellis means you can grow however you want without being constrained by trellising.
  • Labour: Trellises take time to erect. If you are like us, time is one thing you don’t have a lot of in early spring. No trellis means more time and less work.
  • Unlimited Crop Rotation: Crop rotation is an important part of healthy garden management, and it can be difficult to make a trellis that is sturdy enough to support your bountiful crop, yet light enough that you can move it to another spot in your garden next year. When you are not bound to a trellis, you can rotate your peas around the garden as needed.
  • Aesthetics: While some trellises can be a beautiful addition to a garden, ours often end up being a bit of an eye sore. Peas without a trellis can have a very attractive and natural look all on their own.

Here are the best ways to grow peas without a trellis and some tips for keeping your plants healthy and productive.

Tendrils on a pea vine

Tendrils on a pea vine

1. Grow A Dwarf Variety

Dwarf peas are short varieties that are under 1m (3 feet). They are short enough that they can stand up on their own or with very little help. Dwarf varieties are sometimes called bush peas because of their stocky, bush-like growth, but they are actually just short vines.

Dwarf peas have determinate qualities similar to determinate tomatoes where the max growth height is limited, and most of the pods ripen as a concentrated set. However, the vines will produce several crops with continuous picking.

Here are some great dwarf varieties to try:

  • Sugar Anne: Snap pea – 60cm (24 inches)
  • Cascadia: Snap pea – 60cm (24 inches)
  • Sugar Daddy: Snap pea – 60cm to 75cm (24-30 inches)
  • Little Marvel: Shelling pea – 30 to 45cm (12-18 inches)
  • Penelope: Shelling pea – 85cm (34 inches)
  • Lincoln Garden: Heritage Shelling – 75cm (30 inches)
  • Avalanche: Snow pea – 1m (36 inches)
  • Royal Snow: Purple Snow pea – 75cm (30 inches)

Most dwarf varieties of peas will mature in around 50 to 65 days and can be cultivated just like their vining cousins.

A Bountiful Harvest

Did you know that all parts of a pea plant (Pisum sativum) are edible and surprisingly healthy. But don’t try to eat sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) as they are poisonous.

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2. Grow Along the Ground

The easiest way to grow peas is to let them grow along the ground. This is especially practical in very windy areas which can blow over your heavy-laden vines. They can be left to grow willy-nilly as a ground cover, or they can be trained to grow where you want them.

There are a few problems to watch out for when growing peas along the ground. Peas on the ground create a damp, cool environment that is perfect for diseases and other pathogens to thrive. Rodents and other critters will shelter under the vines and eat the peas. And since some vines can reach 2.5m (8 feet), a single vine can take up a lot of space in the garden.

Here are a few tips to successfully grow peas along the ground:

  • Don’t grow the peas in a clump. Space out your peas to allow air circulation amongst the foliage, and let in sunlight to warm and dry the soil. This will help minimize disease. Spacing your plants out will also help eliminate shelter where small animals can hide.
  • Mulch. Put down an organic mulch or ground cover to keep the plants from sitting directly on the soil which can harbour disease or soil-dwelling pests (slugs, snails, etc.)
  • Harvest your peas regularly to keep rodents such as mice, rats, raccoons, and ground squirrels from eating the crop.
  • Lay your pea vines along the edge of a path, or let them grow in a spot that is usually uncultivated, so you don’t use valuable growing space.
Peas growing on a young sunflower

Peas growing on a young sunflower

3. Grow Up Other Plants

The Three Sisters is a well-known companion gardening practice, where beans would grow up tall corn while squash spread along the ground. A similar practice can be used with peas by growing tall plants with your peas to act as a natural trellis. Peas will wrap their tendrils around anything they can and use it to pull themselves up and we even had one pea plant work its way up a very sturdy grass stem.

Here are a few of our favorite plants for peas to climb:

Sunflowers

We always have sunflowers in our garden. They are beautiful, add height to the garden, attract pollinators, and we plant them amongst our peas to create a living trellis.

Because peas are sown so much earlier than sunflowers, timing can be a bit of a challenge since you want the sunflowers to be large enough to support the peas. Consider starting the sunflowers indoors and transplanting them amongst your peas when they are big enough to support the other.

Alternatively, with succession planting, sunflowers might be better direct sown with a second or third planting of peas.

Using Last Year's Stalks

We like to leave our sunflowers in the garden all winter as food for the wild birds. The following spring, remove the heads but leave the stalks in place. Plant your sunflowers under the stalks and let them climb. With a bit of planning, you can grow sunflowers where you want to sow peas next year as it works with your crop rotation.

Corn

In our cold climate, we do not have much success with corn. But if you regularly grow corn in your garden then you can use it as a living trellis, or leave the old stalks from last year for this year’s pea crop.

Radishes

We don’t eat that many radishes but we always plant a lot in our garden to let some of them fully mature and go to seed. Not only are the seed pods edible, but the plants are very tall and strong and well rooted in the ground: a perfect companion for peas climb.

Trees

Trees add valuable diversity to the garden. Not only that, they can be a strong support for several pea plants growing around their base.

Be careful not to smother the tree with peas as this can be a breeding ground for disease or rodents that can damage the tree.

Vines climbing last year's sunflowers

Vines climbing last year's sunflowers

4. Block Planting

This is one of our favorite ways to grow peas and can be seen on pulse farms across the country. The peas are grown close together and climb each other. The tendrils of one plant will wrap around another as they pull each other up.

To grow peas in a block:

  • Prepare an area that is up to 1.2 meters (4 feet) deep and as long as you want. Any deeper than this and the plants can suffer from disease and are very difficult to harvest.
  • Plant a pea seed every 8-10cm (3-4inch), in rows that are the same distance apart. This works out to roughly 16 seeds per square foot.
  • If you grow a taller variety, the vines might benefit from a few sticks stuck in the middle of the block to help hold the whole batch erect. (This is a lot easier than building a whole trellis!).

5. Vertical Garden

Vertical gardening is a great way to grow the most food in the least space possible. There are many DIY vertical garden planters, or you can purchase them. Either way, you can let your peas grow up the side of your planters, which is a lot more economically than having a support dedicated to only holding peas.

There are a lot of other tall objects in the garden that only have one purpose such as an umbrella, or even a bird bath. Why not make them multipurpose and let your peas climb them.

Who Needs a Trellis?

Every few years we like building a trellis to hold up tall vining varieties of peas, but on the whole we prefer to grow short vines in a block or on our sunflower stalks. Growing "free peas" gives us a lot more flexibility in the garden because we can grow them wherever works best with our crop rotation, and our plot sizes are not limited by the size of a trellis.

What is your favorite way to grow peas without a trellis?

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.

© 2022 Bellwether Farming

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