An Alaska garden isn’t complete without peas

Who doesn’t like peas? They are so easy to grow. The sweet peas provide lots of different-colored flowers and, of course, can have the strongest perfume odor you can grow if you plant the fragrant kind. Fresh, edible peas, be they pod or shelling, are such a summer treat.

You may not be aware that there are at least two ways to grow these wonderful, nitrogen-fixing annuals. Most of us employ the first method: We plant starts in the ground early. We provide netting for tendrils to cling to. We pick the resulting flowers or harvest the pods when we remember to. Sound familiar?

The second method is a bit counterintuitive. The plants are again put in the ground early. And netting is again the best support. (By the way it should have at least 2 inch squares, nothing smaller.) Instead of allowing tendrils to cling to whatever support you supply, they are removed! Instead, “weave” the plant into the netting and hook the vines onto it using leaves.

Why would you want to remove pea tendrils? These wiry structures move around in the air until they contact something to grab. Then they curl around it and form a spring-like coil so the stem can adjust the degree of tension so it can withstand wind, the weight of rain and even the weight of flowers and fruits.

Anyhow, the tendrils will cling to your netting and grow upward, but they also grab onto neighboring pea plants and even other things growing nearby which actually pulls the plant in directions other than up. You supposedly get a better and more plentiful crop.

Sure, removing pea tendrils and physically training a vine involves doing a bit of work. It doesn’t take much of either, however, and the result is a set of nice, tall plants that bloom constantly. As long as you remove spent blooms, which you should do regardless of how you grow your peas, they will continue to produce right up to the end.

Listen to the “Teaming with Microbes” podcast:


What to do with your flowers? You make nosegays — or tussie-mussies. These small knots of pleasantly fragrant flowers were worn during the Middle Ages to deal with putrid smells associated with diseases. Since sweet peas actually need harvesting every day, you can see how the fragrant ones fit the posy bill!

Perhaps there was another reason to remove tendrils, at least on young edible peas. You can harvest them as “pea shoots.” There isn’t much meat on tendrils, but add in a few leaves and you have as tasty a garnish or participant in a salad as you will ever taste!

Tendrils and leaves get bitter when the plants mature. And you lose flower power when you harvest them. The way to get delicious pea shoots is to plant seed specifically for that purpose.

Plant seeds in a shallow — 2-3 inch — container. When they get a set or two of leaves, harvest to the ground and replant for a new crop. Or, let the seedlings grow more leaves, harvest the top three or so sets along with tendrils, but this time leave a set of leaves so the plant will branch and sprout again.

I don’t know about you, but I am off to pick a few tendrils and pop them into my mouth.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar:

Alaska Botanical Garden: Oh, oh, oh. So much going on! Not the least of which are blooms, flowers, and more blooms! Visit for a list of events. Join, for goodness sake!

ID plants: You can ID plants, including weeds, using your phone. Take its picture and open it up and then look for an icon that when clicked, tells you what you are looking at. What a world.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.