St. Patrick’s Day marks traditional pea planting day

Posted on: March 17, 2020 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

It’s wonderful to think of my grandmother saying, “St. Patrick’s Day is when pea seeds go in the garden.” It’s funny the things that stick with you, but for as long as I’ve gardened, that’s when I plant peas. It’s a tradition which must be followed in my garden, although I planted some on March 16th for my In the Garden video. More peas will be planted on the official day.

Laura Stilson, who is a photographer for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds learned how artichokes grow while photographing this variety called 'Purple of Romagna.' The photography in the catalog is great.

A pea sprouts in the early spring garden. It’s fun to find a unique variety to plant while looking through seed catalogs. Photos by Doug Oster

How to plant in wet soil

The garden is usually too wet to turn over. If the soil sticks to the shovel when digging, leave it alone. Working soil that’s too wet will create ugly clumps that persist all season.

A five dollar bag of compost from a nursery or garden center can be put down over a bed. It’s the perfect place for the seeds as it’s filled with everything they will need when they emerge.

Soak the seeds overnight in water to hasten germination. Push the seeds about an inch down and cover them by simply dragging your hand across the compost.

These 'Oregon Sugar Pod II' peas have sprouted and will be ready to pick in late May or early June.

These ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ peas have sprouted and will be ready to pick in late May or early June.

Golf clubs as stakes?

The peas can be planted a couple inches apart in straight rows or tossed over the bed to create a carpet of sprouts. Either way, the plants will need some support in the form of a short fence or even sticks pushed into the bed. I use golf clubs, believe it or not. It’s an idea from a gardener I did a story on who worked at a golf course. All the clubs which weren’t claimed in lost and found became his garden stakes.

Peas need cool weather to thrive, but they can be planted well into April if need be. ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ is one of my favorites. The plants will stop producing and give up when warm weather arrives. Even if you don’t get started on the holiday, there are still a few weeks left to start the seeds.

Warm the soil to help germination

A pea seed sprouts in the early spring after a St.Patrick's Day sowing. Photos by Doug Oster

A pea seed sprouts in the early spring after a St.Patrick’s Day sowing.

I will often cover a bed with some clear plastic skylights that were given to me by a reader, floating row covers or even three mil plastic drop cloth from the hardware store. The row covers are made of a lightweight translucent fabric available at garden centers. The skylight, row cover or drop cloth will help warm the soil and speed sprouting.

I’m trying a new variety this year from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds called ‘Shiraz Purple Snow.’ The cultivar has pink and purple bi-colored flowers with lots of sweet, deep burgundy pods on three to four foot vines which are resistant to powdery mildew.

Although peas are the traditional first crop planted, gardeners also can think about lots of other cool weather crops for early sowing. Lettuce, radishes, arugula, other greens, beets, carrots, onion sets and spinach are all good choices for planting outdoors in late March. Use the compost technique or wait until the soil is ready. These seeds will sit in the cool soil and sprout when the time is right.

Instilled by my grandmother, I’m always thrilled to continue this traditional planting.

Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at

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