What Does a Peanut Plant Look Like?

The peanut plant, scientifically known as Arachis hypogaea, is a fascinating tropical plant that traces its origins back to South America. With its vibrant yellow flowers, this extraordinary plant resembles a sweet pea bush, standing at about 1 to 2 feet tall and spreading out over 3 feet. But what lies beneath its charming exterior is even more intriguing.

Planting the Peanut

To cultivate peanuts, it’s essential to choose the right time for planting. Anytime between April and late June is suitable, with the first week of May being ideal, as it ensures warm and moist soil conditions. The temperature range of 68 to 95 °F provides the perfect germination environment.

Planting depth depends on the soil type, with light-textured sandy soils requiring a depth of 2 to 3 inches, while clay soils call for a depth of 1½ to 2 inches. Sow five seeds per foot of row, spacing the rows at least 20 inches apart. For those who want to maximize space, twin rows spaced 7 inches apart on 36-inch centers are a great option. These twin rows can also be spaced 10 to 12 inches apart to enhance row closure and weed control. Consistent moisture is essential after planting to ensure even germination.

Planting Dates

The appropriate planting dates vary depending on the region. In the Piedmont area, it’s recommended to plant between May 1 and June 30, while in the Coastal Plain, April 1 to May 31 is the ideal window.

Piedmont Area: Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Chester, Chesterfield, Edgefield, Fairfield, Greenville, Greenwood, Kershaw, Lancaster, Laurens, Marlboro, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Saluda, Spartanburg, Union, and York Counties.

Coastal Plain: Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Clarendon, Colleton, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Lee, Lexington, Marion, Orangeburg, Richland, Sumter, and Williamsburg Counties.

Variety Selection

South Carolina offers three primary types of peanuts: Virginia, Valencia, and Runner. Each type has multiple varieties, and selecting the right one depends on factors such as soil type, growing season length, and personal preferences.

Virginia types are exceptional for both boiling and roasting. They have large pods and are often referred to as “ballpark” peanuts due to their popularity at sports events. Virginia types yield high quantities and possess excellent flavor.

Valencia types, known for their distinctive flavor and attractive red seed coats, are often boiled. They have 3 to 5 seeds per pod and produce smaller kernels compared to Virginia types.

Runner types, as the name suggests, have a running growth habit. They are commonly used in making peanut butter and have excellent flavor, containing two medium-sized seeds per pod.

Further reading:  12 Best Garden Plants with Purple Leaves

Recommended Cultivars

For home gardeners, any commercially grown variety can be used satisfactorily. However, in South Carolina, specific varieties are recommended:

  • Runner: C-99 R, Florida 07, Georgia 06G, Georgia 07W, Georgia Green, TUFRunner 297, TUFRunner 511
  • Virginia: Bailey, Champs, Gregory, Sugg, Sullivan, Wynne
  • Valencia: Georgia Red, Georgia Valencia, N. Mexico Valencia A, N. Mexico Valencia C

Soil Preparation

To achieve the best results, it’s crucial to prepare a deep and loose seedbed. In the fall, chop up the debris from the previous crop and either compost it or till it under the soil surface. In the spring, till the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches, breaking up any clods and smoothing the surface. Planting peanuts in areas previously occupied by corn in the last one or two years reduces disease problems. Avoid planting peanuts after legume crops such as beans or peas whenever possible.

Fertilizing

Before planting, it’s advisable to test the soil in the fall or early winter. Applying the recommended rate of limestone and working it into the soil two to three months before planting is vital. Peanuts prefer a soil pH between 5.8 and 6.2, with lime also providing additional calcium. If the soil lacks calcium, agricultural gypsum can be applied. A soil test through your local Clemson Extension office can determine all fertilizer, lime, and calcium requirements.

Peanuts are legumes, benefiting from nitrogen obtained from the air with the assistance of bacteria. Rhizobium bacteria on the roots convert atmospheric nitrogen for the plants’ use. It is recommended to inoculate peanut seeds with a bacterial inoculant specifically for peanuts, which can be obtained from feed and seed stores. Yellow-leaved plants in a garden that hasn’t grown peanuts in the last four years may indicate a failed inoculant, in which case applying 3 to 4 pounds of 34-0-0 per 1,000 square feet can correct the nitrogen deficiency. Peanut plants respond better to residual fertility, so planting them after a well-fertilized crop is preferable.

Watering

Water is vital for peanut production, and maintaining adequate moisture during specific periods is crucial:

  • At planting, water is needed to encourage germination and establish a healthy stand.
  • Between 60 and 110 days after planting, when pegs enter the soil and pod development begins, water becomes even more critical.
  • From pod filling at 110 days until harvest, water must be consistent.

Avoid wetting the leaves when watering, and stop irrigating 10 days to two weeks before harvest.

Further reading:  A Comprehensive Guide to Watering Your Fiddle Leaf Fig

Plant Growth

Under optimal conditions, peanut plants typically emerge from the soil surface in about 5 to 10 days after planting. The first 40 days after planting are characterized by slow growth, followed by a more rapid growth phase from 40 to 100 days. Flowering starts approximately 25 to 40 days after planting, with the fascinating aspect being that the pods and seeds develop from the flowers’ base, underground. The flowers originate in the leaf joints or axils above the ground. Once fertilized, the ovary elongates and bends toward the soil, resulting in the formation of a structure called the peg. The peg becomes visible about a week after fertilization. Eventually, the pegs penetrate the soil to a depth of 1 to 2 inches, with the peanut fruit developing at the tip of the peg if adequate water and calcium are present.

Once the pegs stop elongating, the peanut pods start to enlarge, and the seeds mature. Peanuts near the plant’s taproot that enter the soil early in the season reach maturity faster than those located farther away.

Harvesting & Storage

Several factors influence the time required for peanuts to reach maturity, such as weather conditions, planting dates, and overall plant health. It’s advisable to start checking for maturity 15 to 20 days before the anticipated harvest date. Green, boiling peanuts typically mature between 90 and 110 days after planting, with Valencia types having a shorter growing season than Virginia types.

To determine maturity, randomly select three or four plants from the garden and lift them from the soil. Check if the pods are filled and examine the color of the seed coat and inside of the hull. Pods that are not filled or have a dark internal hull color are not yet mature. Harvest the peanuts when most of the pods fall within the desired maturity range. Some prefer more mature, firmer boiled peanuts, while others enjoy less mature, mushy kernels.

Dry, roasting peanuts are ready for harvest when at least 65 percent of the pods have turned dark inside the hull, and the seed coats are pink to copper-red in color. The immature seed coats are white to pale pink.

Another method of determining maturity is by scraping the middle or “saddle” of the pod’s outer surface with a knife. Harvest for roasting when 70 percent of the pods have a dark brown to black color in the scraped area. As peanuts mature, the hull color in the scraped-away saddle area changes from white to yellow, orange, brown, and finally black. However, color progression may not be consistent every year, especially during periods of drought.

Further reading:  When is the Best Time to Plant Caladium Bulbs?

Weak pod stems or yellowing plants losing most of their leaves indicate that harvesting should begin immediately, irrespective of the percentage showing a dark hull or seed coat color.

To harvest peanuts, loosen the soil around the plants with a shovel or fork, lift them by hand, and shake off loose soil from the plants and pods. Invert the plants with the taproot facing upward and allow the pods to partially dry in the sun for about a week. After this initial drying period, remove all pods from the vines and spread them in a cool, dry area for further curing over two to three weeks. Prevent molding during drying by avoiding excessive moisture. Finally, bag the peanuts in loosely woven containers and store them in a cool, dry area free from insects and rodents. When stored properly, peanuts can remain of good quality for several months.

Dealing with Pests

To achieve maximum yields and high-quality peanuts, it’s essential to manage pests such as weeds, insects, and diseases.

Weeds can be naturally managed through mulching and planting in narrow rows, allowing the plants to shade the ground efficiently. Hand-weeding, careful hoeing, or cultivation around the plants can also help. Be cautious not to disturb the soil beneath the branches of the peanut plant once pegging has started.

Two classes of insect pests commonly attack peanuts: leaf-feeders and soil-inhabiting insects. Leaf-feeders mainly consume the above-ground parts of the plant, causing significant reductions in yield when excessive defoliation occurs. Soil insects are more difficult to detect and control as they feed on developing pods below the soil surface. Proper identification of any pest and evaluation of the damage it causes is crucial before employing control measures.

Peanut leaf spot diseases manifest as brown to black spots on the leaves, sometimes surrounded by a yellow halo. Severe cases can result in complete defoliation before harvest. Combining less susceptible varieties, earlier planting dates, and keeping the leaves dry during irrigation can help reduce the occurrence of this disease. Fungicides may be applied if necessary to achieve higher yields and better quality peanuts.

By understanding the growth, planting, and harvesting processes of peanuts, along with effective pest management strategies, gardeners can enjoy bountiful yields of peanuts that are not only delicious but also highly nutritious.

This article is based on information provided by the Ames Farm Center. For more details, visit Ames Farm Center.