Cover Crops: Field Peas

Table of Contents

  1. Description: Family
  2. Growth Habits
  3. Control Options
  4. Sensitivity to Herbicides
  5. Weed Control
  6. Benefits and Cautions
  7. Getting Started
  8. Related Links


Figure 1 - Cover Crop of Field Peas

Figure 1. Cover Crop of Field Peas


  • Winter annual legume
  • Pisum sativum L.

Growth Habits


  • Large, spheroidal-shaped seeds
  • Germinates best in cool(4.5°C) moist - yet well-drained conditions
  • Germination is higher at warmer(24°C) temperatures - but seeds are at a higher risk of infection from soil-borne diseases

Top Growth

  • Viney, growth with weak stems - may reach a height (or length) of 1 m
  • Growth is rapid under cool conditions
  • Requires a supporting crop (like oats or rye) to stand
  • Flowers in pairs - white, pink or purple

Root System

  • Shallow root system
  • Susceptible to drought


  • Can withstand freezing temperatures (-12°C) but do not overwinter consistently - particularly in areas of low snowfall and extended temperatures

Site suitability

  • Grows best on well-drained loamy and clayey soils
  • Does not do well on poorly drained soils and droughty, sandy and gravelly soils
  • Has a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5
  • Prefers fertile soils

Control Options

  • Mow and incorporate after flowering
  • Chemical control

Sensitivity to Herbicides

  • Certain varieties tolerant of MCPA and metribuzin

Weed Control

  • Peas are generally not as effective as grass cover crops for weed suppression, particularly under warm conditions.
  • Use narrow rows and appropriate agronomic practices to establish a vigorous crop canopy as soon as possible.
  • Registered herbicides for Austrian winter peas include Basagran and Tropotox Plus.
  • Registered broadleaf herbicides include Treflan, Tropotox Plus and Basagran as well as Poast for grasses.

Benefits and Cautions

Nutrient Management

  • Fixes nitrogen - adding up to 100 lbs/ac

Pest Management

  • Can release an allelopathic compound as a root exudate (Beta alanine) which has been documented to cause reduced growth in some grass seedlings and germinating lettuce
  • Peas are an attractive host crop for nematodes.
  • Peas often have high aphid populations, but can also provide cover for a number of beneficial insects, including predatory mites and lady beetles
  • Bees are attracted to fields of flowering peas
  • Can reduce incidence of wheat-disease - take-all

Organic Matter

  • Adds considerable biomass to soil - from the seed and stubble
  • Crop residue readily breaks down
  • Can be used as feed - either as forage or as dried seed supplement

Getting Started


  • Seeding rates vary with seed size, 100 to 150 kg/ha
  • Ensure good soil moisture and seed to soil contact
  • Create fine seedbed with smooth surface to ensure uniform planting depth

Cost & Availability

  • Expensive seed and requires high seeding rates widely available

Related Links


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
Author: Anne Verhallen - Soil Management Specialist (Hort Crops)/OMAFRA; Adam Hayes - Soil Management Specialist (Field Crops)/OMAFRA; Ted Taylor - Technical Coordinater, BMP Program/OMAFRA
Creation Date:
June 2001
Last Reviewed:
24 April 2012