Peas are a great vegetable to tart with and grow over fall and winter. They are easy to grow if they are fresh, grown in light, friable soil and are not overwatered. Pea seeds will not germinate well if they are older than their used by date, are of low quality, are too dry, damaged or are eaten by pests.
Taking care of pea seeds is easy if you make sure the seeds are fresh and only watered once after planting. Wait until the shoots show through the soil before watering them again so the seed does not rot in the soil.
This article will explore the top reasons why pea seeds will not germinate and what you can do to solve each one.
Top reasons why pea seeds will not germinate
Here are the most common reasons why pea seeds will not germinate in your home garden. Check out each to see if it is the problem with your seeds.
1. Pea seeds are out of date
Seeds will be marked with a use by date and if they are planted after this date they are less like to be viable and germinate. Seeds will sprout most reliably when they are fresh so if you choose to plant them after the date marked, they may not germinate.
Depending on how old the pea seeds are, some may still germinate but they may not ever grow to their full size or produce as well as fresh seeds. The best thing to do is to store seeds in a glass jar or buy them fresh each year.
2. Seeds are of low quality
Low quality seeds will not germinate reliably. Seeds that have not been stored correctly or are poorly harvested will not grow well. The cheaper brands can be great value and as low cost as $2 per pack. The problem is they may not always reliably sprout.
Note: I like to look out for seeds that are not treated with fungicide and are still their natural color. If the seeds look bright pink then it is likely that they have been treated with fungicide before packaging.
3. Seeds are damaged
If the seeds have been damaged in transit or have become wet in storage they will no longer germinate reliably. Check the seeds to see if they have marks, scratches or splits in the shell. This can indicate that they have been exposed to water and have started to sprout. They may have been knocked or split which can stop them from germinating properly.
4. The seeds are not wet enough to germinate
Pea seeds are dry when they are packed and need to be rehydrated and exposed to water before they will germinate well. Seeds can be soaked overnight in cold water to help them to rehydrate or they can be watered thoroughly after planting.
If the seeds are not exposed to enough water, the seed shell will not split and the pea seed will not sprout.
Pre-soaking is a great way to ensure that pea seeds more reliably germinate.
5. Pea seeds are too wet in the soil and rot
Pea seeds that are exposed to too much water in the soil can rot before they germinate. If seeds are watered everyday after planting or if you get heavy rain the seed can turn brown, black and the new shoot will die off.
After planting pea seeds, water them in well so the water and the seed is thoroughly soaked. Avoid watering the seed again until you see a sprout poke through the ground. This will happen anywhere from 7-12 days depending on the soil temperature.
Seeds will grow faster when the soil temperature is above 40 degrees F (5 degrees Celsius). When soils are warmer in autumn peas will reliably germinate before the winter frosts hit. I like to plant my pea seeds at the start of autumn so the soil and weather is still warm. This will support them to establish before the cold weather of winter appears.
6. Soil temperature is too low
Peas will fail to germinate if the soil temperatures are too low. Cold soils in winter will slow pea germination and they may not sprout at all. The ideal temperature for peas to germinate is between 40°F-85°F or 5-30 degrees Celsius. If leave it too late in the season to plant pea seeds they will not germinate well.
7. Pests chewing on the peas
Pests can bury into the ground and eat pea seeds after they have been planted. Parrots love to eat fresh pea seeds and will dig them up if they can find them. Mice and rats are also great at digging into the soil to find pea seeds.
I find that the best way to protect the seeds is to cover them with a thin layer of mulch. Straw works well but this year I have used a fine bark mulch. The pea seeds can easily sprout through the soil and the mulch and it works to hide the seeds better than just soil.
8. Compacted soil
Peas that are planted into heavy clay soils can struggle to break through. Once clay soils are watered they can form a thick crust which can stop the seeds from breaking through and germinating. It is important to dig through compost or other organic matter to lighten clay soils so seeds can break through.
9. Seeds are buried too deep
Pea seeds that are planted too deep may not sprout from the ground reliably. If the seed is buried too deep then the sprout may not reach the soil surface. Plant the seed around ½ an inch deep or about 2.5cm into the soil so the sprout can reach the light before it runs out of stored energy in the seed.
How to get pea seeds to germinate better
Here are my top 5 tips to get pea seeds to germinate more reliably. Each of these will help you to get a better crop with more seeds that sprout and grow.
1. Use fresh seeds
The first step is to use fresh seeds. Choose seeds from your garden center with a long use by date or use seeds that have been stored correctly from your last harvest. Check the seeds to make sure they are not marked or damaged before planting.
2. Pre-soak pea seeds
Pre-soaking pea seeds overnight in room temperature water is a great way to make sure that they are well hydrated. The water will penetrate the seed coating and help it to split more reliably for the shoot to grow through.
3. Lighten heavy soils
If your soil is very heavy clay then add organic matter like aged cow manure or compost. These are low in nutrients but will add lots of air pockets and make it easier for pea seeds to sprout through.
4. Bury them at the right depth
Plant pea seeds in the soil ½ an inch deep to make sure the seed is covered but the sprout can still reach the surface quickly. I like to make a small row with my shovel and then sprinkle the seeds in. I like to plant seeds close together and then thin them out if they need more space.
5. Water them once before they sprout
After planting pea seeds, water them thoroughly only once until you see the sprout poking through the soil. Watering them more often before they sprout can rot the seed and cause the sprout to fail.
6. Sprout them in a greenhouse
Grow pea seeds in a piece of guttering in your greenhouse for an easy way to transplant them into the garden. You can protect the seeds from passing birds or mice and plant them out when they are 3-4 inches tall.
Slide the seeds out of the gutter to avoid disturbing the roots. They can be planted in a prepared hole and watered in well.
Why Pea Seeds Are Not Germinating | Summary
Pea seeds will not germinate reliably if the seed is damaged, old, buried too deep, overwatered or planted in very heavy soils. Pea seeds are easy to grow if you buy fresh seeds. I like to plant pea seeds directly in the soil because they don’t like to have their roots disturbed. I like to interplant peas with other plants like strawberries to help to improve the soil over winter.
This year I am growing peas in the garden bed that has just finished growing tomatoes. Lots of tomato seeds are starting to pop up in the garden bed which are easy to prick out.