Peas love the cold and can handle the morning frost. What they don't like is prolonged wet, cold, soggy, soil. It often leads to their death. A bit less dramatically said... they mold, rot and of course don't germinate. I am in Maryland Zone 7 and you can give peas a try, starting in mid February if you want to push them early into the ground. But... container plantings can help you start peas and other vegetables a few weeks early with more success. Why? Containers drain better and warm faster than spring earth beds.
If you think the ground planted peas in the introduction picture for this blog entry are huge, check out the first video and see a massive container garden of peas.
The key for figuring out the planting date for peas in your area is to plant them several different ways over a period of several weeks. This includes direct sowing to the earth beds, planting seed starts and using containers. See what works best! Start a little earlier than you might normally do, just when the soil is no longer frozen and begins to drain well. You will notice which batch of peas sprout nicely and which ones establish themselves. In my area you can start mid to late February and plant through mid April for best success and prolonged harvesting.
The key for peas is to get them in the ground when the soil isn't frozen and isn't soggy. When you are getting 40 degree nights fairly regularly and day temperatures are in the 50’s… you can get your peas into the ground. If the ground doesn't look ready then use containers. Once the peas get established, they can do their thing and handle frost, cold and rains.
Late winter and early spring plantings can be tricky when it comes to weather. A rainy, cold, soggy week could knock out most of your pea seeds that were just planted. That is why it is important to plant a patch every week or 7-10 days until some take. You don't want to be waiting around for them to sprout when they died out.
I recommend planting peas in the late winter and early spring using different methods. The way I most recommend in the early part of the planting season is in 5 gallon containers.
Peas fix their own nitrogen and can handle old container soil. But if you have the option, new container soil is the best way to go. Any basic bagged gardening soil will work. Just fill a 5 gallon container with soil and poke drainage holes in the bottom. You can put in a few tablespoons of your favorite fertilizer. I now recommend staying around a 5-5-5 NPK.
The peas should be planted about 1 inch deep and you can plant 5 to 8 peas per container. You can plant two peas to a hole and thin as you see fit. It is good practice to use 2 seeds in case one doesn't germinate. You can always remove plants If needed but I do find you can really pack them into a container.
Peas, although they can handle the frost, are fragile and have hollow stems. They need to climb and grow up some sort of support. They break/bend very easily if they don't have something to grab onto to support themselves from the wind. I recommend a tomato cage or several stakes. They fit well in containers.
The containers help to mitigate the cold, wet, sogginess of late winter and early spring. Container peas warm faster and the conditions are better suited for getting those early pea seeds germinating and growing. Grab a 5 gallon container or any larger container and makes sure you have some loose soil that drains well. If you get some peas in early, you will be rewarded with what else… early peas!
Here are some of my favorite videos on planting peas in containers.