How to Grow: Peppers
Updated: Jul 30
THE BEST VEGETABLE: The Pepper, in my opinion.
The Pepper is a native of the tropics and the centers of origin appear to be Mexico and/or Central America. It is related to many crop plants such as potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant.
The beautiful part about peppers is that there are one 50,000 varieties. The endless amount of possibilities makes growing them all that much more sweet, or spicy.
Once you've gotten your pepper seeds picked out, purchased and brought home, it's now time to start those seedlings indoors.
When to Plant Peppers
Peppers are a warm-season vegetables and need a long, hot summer. Meaning unless you live in a tropical zone you only have one season to start them, late-winter or early spring. Peppers can take around 80-100 days to fully fruit and change colour, ensure you have a long enough timeline to get what they amazing plants have to offer.
Starting Seeds Indoors
It is advised to start your seeds indoors rather than in the garden. Peppers are not frost hardy and will die from the cold. Peppers germinate and grow slowly, compared to most other crops. They have specific needs:
Sow seeds in shallow flats of soilless mix.
A temperature of 27 to 29°C is required for good seed germination
They should be sown 9 to 10 weeks before transplanting outside.
Learn how to: Sow seeds
There comes a point when your seedlings start to get bigger and need to be repotted.
When the first TRUE leaves are about 1.5 cm long, repot them into a 2"or 4" pot in fertile compost soil.
When the plant has four TRUE leaves, repot them into a 6" or 8" pot in fertile compost soil.
Pinching Your Pepper Plants
Do you want more Peppers from your plant? Pinching them more than once can help create bushier and heavier producing plant. It's really easy to do, but feels painful at first but it will pay off in the end.
The plant on the left was only pinched once, the plant on the right was pinched twice.
Before planting your Pepper transplants in the garden, you have harden them off. What does that mean?
Hardening off: is the process of introducing your seedlings that were started indoors to the outdoors gradually. Since they both have very different condition this exposure will help give the pepper plants resistance to wilting.
- Harden off your pepper plants one week before transplanting them in the garden in early to mid-June, 45cm (18”) apart.
- On a warm day, bring the plants out for an hour to be in the sun and wind.
- Do that again but next time let it be 2 hours, then 3 hours, then 4 hours, until you are able to plant them in the ground when the nights are above 13-16°C overnight.
- Never leave the plants overnight as it may dip below the freezing.
Planting Spot & Soil Preparation
Being a tropical plant, they like full sun to produce all those beautiful fruits. Pick the warmest spot in your garden to plant them, one where the snow melts first. Trust me, I have tried on the part-shade part-sun spot, they didn't grow very much. However, when I did grow them in full sun, I had a Jalapeño plant grow up to 6 feet tall.
Soil should be well-draining and rich in organic matter. Before we plant anything outside, work some aged manure or compost into the soil.
Avoid picking a planting spot that has a lot of shade and that has had previous members of the nightshade family — such as potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants.
Being that peppers grow the most beautiful fruit, the branches can't always bare to hold their weight. Like tomatoes, peppers will also benefit from being staked. I advice staking them the moment you transplant them in the ground or growing container/pot/grow bag.
For the pepper plants with small fruits stake the plant using a bamboo stick and tie the plant stem using twine, but never too tight to give the stem some room to enlarge.
If your plants get to be gigantic or will set big fruit, I advise that you use a cage to help support it all. Like you would for you big tomatoes!
Mulching & Watering
Peppers require an adequate and regular supply of water. Being tropical and all, they tend to be very thirsty plants. Like most plants, best advice:
- Moderate supply of water from the moment they sprout until the end of the season.
- Peppers DISLIKE wet feet. So waterlogged roots aren't an option, avoid overwatering.
- They need well drained soil, but hold enough moisture to keep the plants alive.
Peppers are susceptible to blossom-end rot if not adequately watered.
One way to help maintain moisture and prevent excessive evaporation in the soil is to add mulch or compost at the base of the plant.
Peppers responds to a good fertilization program. The small fruited peppers are medium feeders and the larger fruited peppers are heavier feeders. You can work in a 5-10-10 fertilizer into then soil prior to transplanting, don't be heavy with it as it will burn the plant (see picture below). When the flowers start to come in you can also sprinkle another 5-10-10 if need be. NEVER DO THIS DURING THE DAY, heat will cause undesirable damage and could kill your plant. Make sure you water the fertilizer in after dressing the plant with it.
Make sure that any perennial weeds be controlled before planting. I advise never to use any herbicides to control weeds, it's not healthy for you nor is it healthy for the planet. If weeds get bad, cultivating and/or hoeing them are advised.
Sweet peppers and Hot peppers can be harvested whenever they reach the desired size or colour.
Peppers are harvested when they reach full size, are firm and have a thick flesh.
Usually you want to pick them when they changed to their desired colour. Whether that be green, red, orange, yellow, purple, brown, even black! Check your seed packet for details on that.
Sweet Peppers, harvested as green are bitter, but if left on the plant to ripen to yellow, orange or red usually becomes sweeter.
Hot Peppers are harvested after they have changed colour, if left on the plant to ripen actually becomes hotter.