The Q&A Archives: Peas Disappeared

Question: My mother-in-law and I both planted our sugar peas on March 16th. The soil was moist-not damp. We did not water and had a light sprinkling on April 1st. I watered lightly on April 2nd. We had .7 inches of rain on April 4th. Only about half the peas have come up. They are about 2 inches tall. I looked under the soil for signs of the others but did not see anything. No seeds, no remnants of seeds. I have taken 2 months off and have been in the yard everyday. I have not seen one birds or any signs of other seed eaters. Any ideas what went wrong? My mother-in law has had the same problem (she's been a farmer's wife and planting gardens for 60 years.)

Answer: We brainstormed here and came up with a few possible causes. First, peas need quite a lot of water to swell and sprout, so it could be that the half that didn't germinate didn't get enough water. What sometimes happens is that seeds start sprouting in moist soil, then the soil dries out and the newly germinated seeds die. They need a consistant supply of moisture during their first few weeks of life, until their roots get established. Perhaps some seeds sprouted within a week of planting, but then dried out before they got the rain a few weeks later. If a seed has sprouted, then died, it would be difficult to find by sifting through the soil--it would decompose fairly quickly.

Another possibility is that the new sprouts were pulled up by birds. They may have done this early in the morning, before you were out to watch. Other creatures--mice, etc.--might have dug them up, though you probably would have seen signs of that. In cold, damp soil peas can rot before they get a chance to sprout--but that doesn't sound like the case in your garden. Finally, some varieties of peas seem to have better germination rates than others.

This is a good example of why it's important to sow your seeds thickly, then once they get established you thin them down to the proper spacing. Life is perilous for a tiny seedling!

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