Do Pea Plants Need To Be Covered Before the Frost?

If gardeners could predict the weather, we’d have the perfect harvest every year. Unfortunately, the farmers’ almanac only goes so far. Sometimes, we accidentally plant our earliest crops too soon and put them at risk of frost or freeze. 

Pea plants need to be covered before frost. Though they are fairly resilient and do well in colder conditions compared to other plants, frost can damage your pea plants. Cover your peas with a sheet, winter cover, or shade if you are expecting frost.  

Below, I’ll talk about the ideal conditions for your pea plants regarding temperature, sunlight, and cold. Additionally, I’ll give some solutions and product recommendations for protecting your peas during frosting conditions. We’ll wrap up some info on pot planting your peas to avoid snow and other frequently asked questions about peas. 

Covering Your Peas During a Frost

There is a big difference between a little frost and a full-on snowstorm.

Frost is defined as anywhere between 30 and 32 °F (-1.11 to 0 °C) that leaves a light dew covering your garden. This dew will freeze and likely damage your plants by freezing the water molecules in them and stressing them out. This is different from snow, though, which will absolutely damage your crop by crushing them.

Your peas are a pretty resilient crop. If you’ve been planting them for a while, you already know some of the big differences between your early spring peas and your mid-summer okra.

Typically, no matter the variety, you’ll plant your peas in early spring or late fall to get the best yield. With that being said, you should always cover before a crop. 

Ideal Conditions for Peas

Your peas prefer a temperature between 55 and 65 °F (12.78 to 18.33 °C). Peas don’t do great in hot weather, so you don’t plant them in your summer garden. However, frost also isn’t great for them. Peas can withstand temperatures as low as 20 °F (-6.67 °C), but there might be some consequences even then. 

Snow Peas 

Though the name is misleading, snow peas still don’t do great in the snow. They do okay with frost when they are little plants, but the older they get, the worse they’ll do with frost. For this reason, people usually plant them at the beginning of the season but not earlier. 

Just because they can handle a little frost doesn’t mean they should, unless you are going to plant them inside and then put them outside before the first frost. 

Your snow peas need at least six hours of sunlight to grow. If you use one of the shade or sheet methods below, make sure you still give them enough sunshine.

English Peas

English peas also follow that 55-65 °F (12.78-18.33 °C) rule of thumb for temperature, but they too can survive a light frost. As with snow peas, they do better if they are younger when exposed to the frost. Most gardeners will suggest you let the ground completely thaw before attempting to put any English peas in. 

English peas also need six to eight hours of sun, so if you use a method from below, try to get the covering off in time to get a little sunlight. Without sunlight, your plants won’t grow as strong as they should. 

Sugar Snap Peas

Snap peas are a little more lenient on temperature than English peas, as they can do okay, even when the temperatures are under 45 °F (7.22 °C). They’re also okay with less sun, between four and six hours. If the weather in your area tends to be unpredictable, and you aren’t sure which pea variety you want to choose, snap peas would be a good bet. 

Tools That Can Help Peas Stay Warm

It’s important to inventory how your plants are doing before the frost comes. If the weather has been colder and they aren’t doing great, a blanket isn’t going to bring them back to life when it frosts.

A sheet won’t do much if you’re getting more than a frost (think of a small snowstorm or even a blizzard). However, it’s still best to try to keep them warm, since it’s better to be proactive than to sit back as your hard work shrivels up.

We can’t control the weather. So if the peas are in the ground and the frost is coming, you’ve got to move fast.

One of the easiest ways to protect your pets from the cold weather is to simply place them under a light sheet, but there are a few other methods we can go over:

Using a Bedsheet

If you don’t want to buy anything fancy (or you don’t have time because the frost is coming), you can use a bed sheet to cover up your garden. Use the light sheet or the fitted sheet, not your comforter. The nature of these sheets makes them easy to carry with the wind!

Make sure not to smother your plants or crush them with the blanket, but do tie it down or put rocks around the perimeter to ensure it doesn’t go anywhere.

Taking the Pot Inside 

I don’t mean to state the obvious. Still, if you have your peas in a plant pot (which is a great method for gardeners who have unpredictable weather, we will talk more about this below), you can simply take the plant inside overnight and bring it back out when the danger of frost is gone.

Using a Cover

You can buy some fancy products for your garden if frost is a danger for you. I know that these can be difficult to invest in – why buy a sheet for your garden when you can buy a new set of gloves or a new packet of seeds – but you might find it comes in handy year after year. Worrying about frost holds many of us back from starting our crops early, and a cover will help that fear subside. 

There are garden covers that look like fitted sheets but are gentler on your plants (and won’t ruin your guest sheets!), and there are some that you can build to stand up, so the blanket won’t be touching your plant at all. 

Avoiding Planting in Frosty Conditions

Of course, if you can, avoid planting your peas when there is still a danger of frost. Just because they can survive during a frost doesn’t mean they should. Even plants that survive the frost might taste bitter, not yield as much, or not grow as big as they should. 

Most of the time, you can just look up “the last frost in my area” with the previous year, and it’ll give you an exact date. Take this date and cross-reference it against what the weather apps say, giving you time to plan when you’ll put your seeds in. Consult your local farmer’s almanac or analyze weather trends to avoid planting before frost.

It’s also important to know what zone you are in. Beginner gardeners may hear that a friend has already put down their peas without realizing their friend was in California or Texas, where the weather is more consistent and warmer. Check your state’s zone before planting. 

Planting Peas in Pots to Avoid Adverse Weather

Peas typically do well in pots, and you might find you would like to keep them in the pot for the entirety of their growth journey. If you live in a place where it’s cold one day and hot the next (I’m looking at you, mid-west), then you can begin your plants in pots rather than sowing them directly into the ground.

Check out this YouTube video to see how it can be done:

You can just pick them up and take them inside when the weather starts to get a little chillier. 

Using Raised Garden Beds

A garden bed won’t protect your plants from frost, but it’ll make it easier. Covering a ground-level garden bed with a sheet can be difficult and risks the sheet hitting your plants. You can make a garden bed with a winter cover or a greenhouse cover, keeping the heat in when it gets cold out.

This YouTube video shows a greenhouse garden bed that protects plants from cold:

It’s more expensive and time-consuming to do this, but it’s worth it if you worry about excess snow or frost. 

Invest in a Greenhouse

Then again, if you’re willing to put in the time and money to make a raised garden bed with a greenhouse hoop like the one above, maybe you’re also willing to consider a greenhouse. Greenhouses aren’t as expensive as you think, though some will be pricey.

The pretty ones you see on Pinterest boards or in Home & Garden magazine aren’t the only kind available. Some greenhouses fit most budgets.

Final Thoughts 

Your peas are resilient and can do better in colder temperatures than most of your garden plants. However, cold temperatures and frosty conditions aren’t the same. Frost can greatly damage your plants and mean a no-pea harvest season. You should cover your plants with a light sheet or purchase a garden cover for those surprise winter storms.

Consider planting your peas in a pot next year if you aren’t sure how the weather will play out. When you use a pot for your peas, you can move them into a warmer location if a surprise snowstorm occurs. 

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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