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The Best Peas for North Dakota

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Pea plants climbing up a trellis
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Garden peas are a very popular vegetable grown in North Dakota. Nothing tastes better than picking a fresh pod, shelling it in the garden, and popping the sweet peas into your mouth. Delicious!

Research conducted by hundreds of families in North Dakota have identified for us some of the finest varieties of peas. Working as volunteers in the North Dakota Home Garden Variety Trials, these gardeners have rated pea varieties for germination, vine health, earliness, yield and taste qualities over 11 years. In each trial, we compare two varieties side by side in the garden. The following is a summary of our findings:

Shell Peas

Close up of Shelled Shell Peas
Shell peas are very popular in North Dakota.

‘Lincoln’ is the finest, most reliable pea for gardeners in North Dakota. We have compared ‘Lincoln’ to many different varieties including ‘Bountiful Ben’, ‘Early Frosty’, ‘Green Arrow’, ‘Maestro’, ‘Mr. Big’, ‘Progress No. 9’, ‘Sabre’ and ‘Sienna’. In each trial, more gardeners recommended ‘Lincoln’. This is an amazing track record, covering all kinds of weather conditions from year to year.

In 2019, 92% of gardeners recommended ‘Lincoln’ to other gardeners. ‘Lincoln’ germinates reliably and matures early. Its sturdy vines are productive and yield over an extended period. ‘Lincoln’ pods are large, attractive and easy to shell. Its peas are sweet and delicious.

Other noteworthy performers include ‘Green Arrow’ (large pods), ‘Wando’ (resists heat), ‘Knight’ (robust vines and yields) and ‘Maestro Improved’ (early). Good freezers noted for earliness and concentrated yields include ‘Early Frosty’ and ‘Little Marvel’.

Snap Peas

Pile of snap pea pods
The pods of snap peas are juicy and crunchy.

Snap peas were a breeding breakthrough 40 years ago. These peas have crunchy, juicy pods that do not require shelling. This saved gardeners a lot of time and their edible yields soared. The pods are eaten as a raw snack or may be lightly cooked.

‘Sugar Ann’ is the finest snap pea for North Dakota. Its vines are dwarf (do not require a trellis), healthy and productive. Yields are early and the pods are delicious. We have tested it for six years, and it was judged superior by gardeners every year. Last year it was recommended by 88% of gardeners. Among other dwarf varieties, ‘Sugar Sprint’ produces a good early crop and is good for freezing.

The most famous snap pea is ‘Super Sugar Snap’. This tall-vined variety requires trellising. It grows vigorously and produces high yields. It was recommended by 71% of gardeners last year.

New snap pea cultivars with purple and golden pods have been appearing in catalogs in recent years. In 2017, we tested ‘Sugar Magnolia’, which is the most widely available purple-podded snap pea. Its violet flowers and pods were absolutely beautiful, but its pods were tough and tasteless. This was quite a disappointment as only 32% of gardeners recommended it.

Snow Peas

Close up of plated shrimp and snow pea stir fry
The crisp, sweet pods of snow peas are delightful in stir fries.

These edible-pod peas are harvested just as the peas inside the pods begin to swell. Snow peas are wonderful when used in stir fries and salads. ‘Sweet Horizon’ produces the highest quality pods; these pods are bright green, sweet and noticeably straighter. ‘Oregon Sugar Pod 2’ will produce earlier and higher yields. For large pods, you can’t beat ‘Oregon Giant’.

Finding These Varieties

All of the varieties mentioned above are widely available in seed catalogs. You can Google them and find many seed sources. Here's a complete list of recommended vegetable varieties as well as major seed companies that offer free catalogs. Now is a great time to request for these free catalogs.

We Invite You to Join Our Team

Would you like to test promising pea varieties in your garden? North Dakota State University welcomes you to join our team of backyard garden researchers. It is one of the largest teams of agricultural researchers in the nation. Over 200 families participate every year. The trials are fun and easy to conduct.

For more information, go to the North Dakota Home Garden Variety Trials website. Request our online catalog and we’ll send it to you in March. We test over 50 different kinds of vegetables and flowers every year. All gardeners are welcome to participate. It’s a fun project for kids, too.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Photos courtesy of Dave Gunn, Julie and jeffreyw