Snap Peas versus Snow Peas

Snap peas and snow peas are both types of edible-podded peas, also known as sugar peas. Their pods are less fibrous than garden peas—which must be shelled before eating—so you can eat the pods with the peas still inside. Snap peas and snow peas require many of the same growing conditions as shell peas, but mature faster and yield more pounds of produce per plant because the pods aren't discarded.

Snap Pea Basics

Common snap pea varieties include the sugar snap and Oregon sugar pod. Snap peas are harvested when the peas have filled out the peapods almost, but not quite, completely. Snap peas are so named because, when harvested at their peak, the crisp pods will easily snap in half. Most varieties of snap peas require about 70 days to mature and should be harvested as often as every 2 to3 days. Left on the vine too long, snap pea pods become fibrous and the peas become starchy, but overripe ones can still be used as shell peas.

Snap peas are often served as a steamed vegetable side dish, accompanied by herb butter. They can also be eaten raw in salads or as a crudité.

Snow Pea Basics

The most popular snow pea cultivars are snowbird and dwarf grey sugar peas. Snow peas are harvested when the pod is fully formed (3 to 5 inches long), but before the peas inside develop and fill out the pod. The flat pods mature up to 2 weeks earlier than snap peas.

Snow peas need to be harvested more frequently than snap peas, as often as daily at the peak of the season, because the ideal maturity window is short. If you miss harvesting a few pods and the peas start to enlarge inside, you can use snow peas as you would snap peas, but you may need to remove the fibrous string that develops along the pod seams.

Snow peas are used frequently in stir fries. Because a snow pea pod does not have maturing peas inside, the pods keep longer than snap peas. In a plastic bag in the refrigerator, snow peas will keep up to 2 weeks with little noticeable deterioration of quality.

Growing Snap Peas and Snow Peas

Snow and snap peas are both cool-weather crops. Pea growing conditions are at their best before the weather warms up for late spring and early summer, but in areas with cool summers, edible-podded peas can grow all season. The plants can tolerate frosts.

Sow peas 2 inches apart 2 two inches deep in inoculated soil. Do this as soon as you can work the soil in the spring, or when the soil temperature reaches 45 degrees. You can plant as early as 6 weeks before the frost-free date. For continued harvests as pea plants exhaust themselves, plant more snow and snap peas every 3 weeks. Take steps to protect the young seedlings from rabbits and other wildlife foraging for food in the early spring.

Many varieties of snow peas are dwarf or bush plants, so they don't require any support structures and are suitable for wide-row planting. Snap pea vines grow up to 6 feet tall and require some support. Trellises, chain-link fence or well-forked branches stuck upright allow the pea vines to climb and make harvesting easier. You can plant a double row of snap peas on either side of the support structure. Square foot gardeners generally plant 8 pea plants per square.