Growing Peanuts in the Home Garden

Peanuts are a crop that can easily be grown in a home garden.  Being successful just takes a little attention to a few needs of the crop and some help from Mother Nature.

The peanut is actually not a nut at all – it’s a legume with compound leaves similar to clover and has yellow, pea-like flowers.

Peanut varieties are classified by nut type.  For the home garden, four types may be grown.  They can be ordered online, but difficult to find seed at home garden centers.

Virginia – this type has large pods usually containing 2 large kernels per pod.  Most are

                    roasted and eaten in-shell. 
Spanish – this type has smaller pods which usually contain 2 or 3 small kernels  

                    per pod with a reddish-brown skin. Spanish peanuts have a high oil content 

                    and often used for peanut oil.  The OLé Spanish variety was released in 2015  

                    and is high in Oleic Acid.  High Oleic peanuts are excellent for candy bars and 

                    snack peanuts due to their increased shelf life.

Runners - the dominant peanut grown in the U.S., a little larger peanut size than

                   Spanish types.  A high proportion of runner peanuts are used for

                   peanut butter.  In many countries runners are the main peanut type consumed.

Valencia - usually have 3 or more kernels per pod with a red skin color. They are sweet

                   peanuts and often roasted and sold in the shell.  Valencias make up less than

                   1% of the U.S  production and are grown mainly in New Mexico with some

                   production in the   Texas panhandle.  

Peanuts grow best in loose, well-drained soils. Avoid poorly drained, clay type soils. Note – clay soil is hard to remove from the pods while sandy soil readily falls off the pods.

Peanuts usually need a minimum of 140 frost free days to reach maturity so plant after the danger of frost is past. Early-maturing peanuts (minimum of 110 days to maturity) are also available to home gardeners.  Peanuts can be planted any time during May or early June and are usually ready for harvest from mid to late October.  Don’t plant in cold soil - peanuts require a soil temperature of 65 F for germination.

Some examples of early-maturing peanuts for home gardeners:

Place peanut seeds 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep in the soil and 6 inches apart in the row.  Make the rows about 24 inches apart.

Peanuts are unique in the plant world - The flowering and fruiting of peanuts are unique. Plants flower above ground, but the pods develop below ground. Peanut plants begin to bloom about 30 to 40 days after emergence. The small, bright yellow flowers are pea-like in appearance. After pollination and fertilization occurs, the stalk (peg) below the fertilized ovary elongates and curves downward and starts moving into the soil. It takes about 10 days for the peg to penetrate into the soil. A week after soil penetration, the peg tip enlarges and pod and seed development begin (right on the tip of the peg). The fruits (seeds) mature in 10 weeks or so with warm temperatures and favorable moisture conditions. Since the peanut plant produces flowers over several weeks, all of the pods do not mature at the same time, so don’t be too anxious about starting to harvest the crop.

Early in the season, stir the soil (shallowly) around the peanut plants to control weeds but don’t damage the plant roots. Don’t stir the soil after the pegs begin to penetrate into the soil. Weeds can also be hand pulled.

In late summer or early fall, the peanut foliage will begin to yellow. This “usually” happens around mid to late October.  A spading fork works great for digging up the plants but a shovel will also do the job.  Carefully shake off loose soil. If the weather is non-threatening, the plants can be left in the garden for 3-4 days so the pods can begin to dry down.  However, freshly dug peanuts are a favorite for all sorts of critters (mice, squirrels and birds among them) so don’t leave them out if you are concerned about competition for your crop.

The peanuts can also be cured (dried down) by hanging the plants in a warm, dry place such as a shed or garage. After drying the plants for a week or two, shake off any remaining soil and carefully pull the peanut pods from the plants. Depending on how moist the pods and kernels are, it may be good to continue air drying the pods for another week or two.

After the peanuts are dried down, place the pods in mesh bags and store them in a cool, well-ventilated place. 

Now the most important suggestion - Roast in the oven, boil, or eat raw.  But any way – ENJOY the fruits of your labor!

Prepared by Dr. Ron Sholar, Executive Director, Oklahoma Peanut Commission