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Although it takes a significant amount of effort to grow, the pea vine might be one of the most prolific plants grown in the home garden. There are a few major varieties of pea vines, such as snow peas, sugar snap peas, garden or field peas and decorative sweet peas. A trait common to most pea vines is that they often need support, such as a trellis or other plants, in order to grow efficiently.
Common garden or field peas are legumes that grow in the cool temperatures of very early spring, as do most varieties of peas. The pea vine will spend the first half of the growing cycle climbing toward the sun, which is why vines are typically supported by netting. Plants shoot out tiny finger-like vines that quickly wrap around supports. The second half of the growing cycle is spent producing flowers that become the pea pod. Field peas produce rounded pods with edible seeds, though the pod itself is inedible.
Snow peas get their name from their light green pods, which can appear whitish in light, like frost. They also are able to grow productively in late winter, often surviving frost and snow. Unlike the garden pea, the snow pea vine produces an edible pod, which is harvested before the seeds reach maturity for optimum flavor. The snow pea is a popular vegetable in Chinese cooking.
Like the snow pea, sugar snap peas also produce edible pods, but they can be harvested when the seeds are full and still maintain good flavor. Some home growers prefer to grow sugar snap peas that have a “bush-like habit,” meaning that the pea vine does not climb as high and does not need support. Sugar snap peas have a “string” along the length of the pod that is removed before eating by snapping off the ends of the pod and “unzipping” the string.
Sweet peas are popular in flower gardens because they can grow to a height of more than 6 feet (about 1.8 m) when supported and have bright blooming flowers in colors such as lavender, pink, red and white. The sweet pea vine can also be grown in hanging baskets and window boxes, and it produces a sweet, pleasing fragrance. Although it is from the same legume family as edible peas, the sweet pea seeds are toxic to humans and animals and cannot be eaten. Like other peas, the sweet pea grows well in cooler temperatures, and the flowers can be cut and made into arrangements.