Austrian Winter Peas

Austrian winter pea (Pisum sativum) is a cool-season annual legume that has long been considered a high-preference forage for whitetails. Due to its nitrogen-fixing ability, winter pea has numerous agricultural uses, and it is very easy to establish in fall food plots.

Widely Adapted Deer Forage

Winter pea is considered a cool-season annual legume, although it can be successfully grown in the spring/summer in cooler regions. It is a low-growing, viney plant that can reach 2- to 4-feet tall, depending on soil fertility and management. The stems are hollow and slender, and the fleshy leaves are pale green with toothed margins. It also contains branched, slender tendrils on the top of the plant. Winter pea produces flowers in the spring, which are pinkish-purple in color. If plants are not overgrazed, seed production can occur through pods that are 2- to 3-inches long that contain several round seeds.

Winter pea grows well virtually anywhere within the continental United States and parts of Canada. As the name implies, it has good winter hardiness and can withstand very cold conditions. It grows well in a variety of soil types, but best production occurs in light-textured loamy soils. Winter pea is somewhat sensitive to soil pH, thus, the pH needs to be maintained above 6.0, which already needs to be the goal for any food plot to maximize nutritional quality and attraction.

Germination of winter peas would be considered moderate relative to other cool-season forages, and grazing resistance would be considered moderate as well. Once established, they are capable of producing lots of quality forage for a period of seven to eight months, ranging from 1.5 to 2 tons/acre dry weight. Crude protein in the leaves and stems typically exceeds 25 percent, which is excellent. It is also highly digestible (acid detergent fiber values have been reported below 20 percent), which is an important consideration when selecting forages to plant.

With regard to deer selectivity or preference, results can vary. In Georgia, wildlife biologist Kent Kammermeyer found that deer selected for winter peas in one of his plots that contained wheat, crimson clover, hairy vetch, and winter pea, despite being in an area with a low deer density. Conversely, in Tennessee Dr. Craig Harper found that deer used winter peas sparingly when other cool-season forages were available in areas with a low deer density. However, in high deer density areas, nearly 100 percent of winter peas were consumed.

In Alabama last season, we also observed heavy use of winter peas on a property with a high deer density. Deer observation rates in the 10-acre winter pea field were consistently high. Below, wildlife biologist Seth Basinger is seen standing in the field. austrian winter pea seth

Soil Preparation & Planting

Prior to planting winter peas, a soil test should be conducted to determine lime and fertilizer needs to get nutrient levels in the high range (remember, winter peas do best with a neutral pH). Adding nitrogen (N) fertilizer isn’t necessary since winter pea is a legume and produces its own, however phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) should be applied at the recommended rates. Also, remember to inoculate winter pea with strain C unless using pre-inoculated seed. Doing so will help ensure healthy, vigorous plots that can endure adverse weather conditions and heavy browsing pressure.

Winter peas are very easy to establish and should be broadcast at a rate of 50 lbs./acre into a well-prepared seedbed, or they can be drilled at a rate of 30 lbs./acre with a no-till drill. If broadcasting peas, be sure to follow up with a light disking to cover the seed approximately 1 to 2 inches. If no-till planting, be sure to kill the existing vegetation with glyphosate a couple weeks prior to planting to eliminate weed competition and create a clean field prior to drilling seed.

With regard to planting dates, winter peas should be planted in September through October in the South. In northern states it should be planted in August, or in April for a spring/summer planting.

Avoid planting winter pea in pure stands. Instead, plant them in a mixture with other preferred species to extend the life of the food plot and minimize the risk of crop failure, overgrazing, and other problems. Winter pea is a great companion to various clover and cereal grain mixtures. Just remember to reduce the planting rates of each species according to the number of species used in the mixture. You’ll find specific recommended blends in QDMA’s book, Quality Food Plots, available in the online store.

In the full profile in Quality Whitetails magazine, I covered weed control options for Austrian winter peas. To start receiving more information about food plot management, become a member of QDMA today.

  • Osceola

    Thanks, Ryan. I understand it’s not an exact science, but that’s a helpful rule of thumb.

  • Osceola

    Hi Ryan. You wrote, “Just remember to reduce the planting rates of each species according to the number of species used in the mixture.” I often see seeding rates given with this same warning, but I’ve never seen a formula or method for doing this. How does one determine seeding rates for mixes?

    • Ryan Basinger

      Unfortunately there isn’t an exact formula that would apply to all situations, and is really based more on the desired composition and structure of the food plot. For example, you may prefer more clover in the plot compared to other species, or maybe you would prefer cereal grains to dominate the plot and only have some clover. However, a good rule of thumb is to divide the recommended seeding rate for an individual species by the number of species you are planting. For example, if you are planting wheat (120 lbs./acre individual rate), crimson clover (25 lbs./acre individual rate), and winter peas (50 lbs./acre individual rate), then divide each of the single-species rates by 3, which is the number of species included in the mixture. Thus, your new rates for the mixture would be wheat at 40 lbs./acre, crimson at 8 lbs./acre, and winter peas at 17 lbs./acre. Again, this is a good place to start and not intended for every situation but the rates can be tweaked from here according to your objectives for the plot.

  • Chip Paddock

    Whitetail Harvest Salad by Real World Wildlife Seed is a great blend that uses winter peas, winter oats, and winter wheat. Ive had great success with this blend in Central IL, I plant in early Sept. Deer start using in when it gets cold. In the spring, I mow it, and the turkeys hammer it! Planting it again this season!

  • Steve Keiler

    Great information. Will the seed company tell me exactly the mix rate?

  • Vickie Dickinson

    Can you plant wheat, oats, winter peas and red clover together.

    • Ryan Basinger

      Absolutely, just be sure to arrange the seeding rate for each forage according to the objective for your food plot.

  • Fred Pape

    In Kentucky with high deer density they rarely survive until November, i no longer plant them with my clover/wheat blend.

  • Spiider

    Welter Seed & Honey Co. also carries a wide variety of habitat seeds and mixes.

  • Deer love them in Al. so much, that we can never get a good stand before they eat all of them, even when we add them to other blends.

    • Erich Messmer

      Exact same thing with me in Ms. They pick them out pretty quick once their tasty enough. Then within a week, no matter how many I’ve planted, they’re all gone.

  • Richard

    In April, my soil pH was a pitiful 5.7. I applied 1.5 tons of lime per acre in late June. Plan to plant in mid-october (southern Alabama). Any advice as to whether winter peas might work along with some rye and clover?

    • Ryan Basinger

      Winter peas work fine in a blend with any cereal grain (wheat, oats, cereal rye) and clovers. Just make sure you do not plant “ryegrass.” Cereal rye is fine however, but personally I prefer using wheat or oats when planting cereal grains.

      • Spiider

        Winter Rye is a really good addition to this mix. Grows in temps down to 30 degrees, fights weeds, greens up fast in the Spring. A great seed for a Winter mix. RIP and many thanks, Paul (Dbltree).

  • SwampHunter

    Information is awesome! How about links to purchase sites as well? My local Southerm States store often tells me “it’s just as good as or just the same as” when trying to buy seed. After a season in the ground often it is not true…..example recently was Iron Clay Cow Peas as the request. What I got written on the bag had no match to what I was looking for. I’d be better off paying shipping and getting what you are talking about directly from where you get your seeds. Soil test, pH elevation, and fertilization is expensive and I don’t want to pay champagne prices for cheap beer substitutes!

    • Casey

      Swamphunter makes a very good point….Where can you purchase this (Austrian Winter Peas) product?????

      • Anonymous

        I have ordered from Cabela’s and johnston seed several coma he offer the. Over the net

        • Don Moore

          Ordered mine from Hancock Seed over the web.

    • Ryan Basinger

      You can find winter peas at most farmers coops or seed dealers. It is typically readily available. However, use caution taking advice from salesmen and stick to your guns. If they don’t have specifically what you are looking for, go somewhere else. A number of reputable companies produce food plot seed blends containing Austrian winter peas as well. Consider buying from those companies that support QDMA and its mission. Thanks for reading!

    • eric schneider

      kester wild game food nurseries……….. they have austrian’s and the cow peas you are looking for. They do ship however I am lucky enough to drive a couple miles down the road and pick it up. Great quality seed at a more than fair price, everything they have for seed is non-gmo, meaning they do not carry any round up ready seed. I do not know the web address off hand however their phone number is (920) 685-2929. actually I lied apparently its linked somehow in my phone, web is http://www.kestersnursery.com They are located in omro, wisconsin. paul knows his stuff!

    • Mike Strode

      Hancock seed is good, also Seedland. Look them up on the internet. I have even gotten a lot of seed off of Amazon, can’t beat 2 day shipping and there are reviews to make sure the seed and dealer are good.

  • Jack Fitzgerald

    Will try the winter peas on site northeast of Baton Rouge,La

  • Jack Fitzgerald

    Thanks for the information winter peas!


About Ryan Basinger

Ryan Basinger of Alabama is a certified wildlife biologist and the Wildlife Consulting Manager for Westervelt Wildlife Services. He has a broad range of professional experience managing wildlife populations and their habitats on public and private lands throughout the Southeast. Ryan has conducted research on a variety of species and habitats where he examined the effects of various forest management techniques on browse production, availability, preference, and nutrition for white-tailed deer. Ryan also has conducted extensive food plot research where he compared production, nutrition, preference, and availability of various forages planted for deer. He earned his bachelor’s degree in wildlife science from Mississippi State University and his master’s in wildlife management from the University of Tennessee.