- Seed Starting 101: Growing Peppers from Seed
- How To Grow Bell Peppers
- Growing Bell Peppers From Seeds
- How To Plant Bell Pappers Indoors
- Transplanting The Seedlings
- Prepare Your Bell Pepper Bed
- Taking Care Of Your Bell Pepper Plants
- Diseases And Pests
- Harvesting Your Bell Peppers
- 8 Ways To Enjoy Bell Peppers
- Novice Gardeners Can Enjoy Great Success With Growing Bell Peppers
- Gardening in Tucson, Phoenix, Arizona and California Back to Menu
- All About Growing Peppers
- When to Plant Peppers
- How to Plant Peppers
- Harvesting and Storing Peppers
- Saving Pepper Seeds
- Pepper Pest and Disease Prevention Tips
- Pepper Growing Tips
- Cooking With Peppers
- A Tropical Herb Garden
- Black Pepper Information: Learn How To Grow Peppercorns
- Black Pepper Information
- How to Grow Peppercorns
- Pepper Vine: an important food source
Seed Starting 101: Growing Peppers from Seed
Peppers are easy to start from seed. Even if you sow them in pots on a windowsill, without heat or lights or precautions against damping-off, you’ll probably end up with some plants for your garden. The following tips and tricks can speed up the process and create stronger, sturdier pepper plants.
Selecting your seed is the first (and possibly the biggest) challenge. If you’re new to growing peppers, you’ll be amazed at the varieties available at seed racks, in catalogs, and on online websites (including our own DG Marketplace). If you have a short summer season, be sure to look at the “days to maturity” in the description. With peppers, that’s the time from planting out seedlings to harvesting the first green peppers. Ripe peppers will take a couple more weeks.
With peppers, unlike tomatoes, you may notice little difference between the flavor of heirlooms and hybrids. In some areas, you may need to choose more disease-tolerant varieties, such as hybrid TMV (tobacco mosaic virus) tolerant bell peppers. Hot peppers seem more resistant to pests and diseases, but hot hybrid varieties may still offer increased size and yield. If you’re mostly familiar with bell type peppers, you might take a look at some non-bell varieties.
When should you start your seeds? Begin by deciding when you’ll plant the pepper in your garden. Pepper plants will survive as long as there’s no frost or freeze. However, if you plant them out before the soil warms, they will just sulk. It’s better to leave them inside under the lights if the weather is still cool. A good rule of thumb for peppers is to plant them out at least a month after your average date of last frost, or 2 weeks after setting out tomatoes.
Count backwards on your calendar to find your seed starting date. I start sweet peppers eight to ten weeks before planting out. Hot peppers are sometimes a little slower, so they get a twelve week head start. Here, I transplant them into the garden around Memorial Day, so I’ll start sowing seeds the first week in March.
Soaking pepper seeds speeds germination. Try a two to eight hour soak, until seeds sink to the bottom of the cup. Although you could use plain water, a solution of hydrogen peroxide or weak chamomile tea may help to break down the seed coat as well as to disinfect the seed. Use one to two teaspoons of standard 3% hydrogen peroxide per cup of warm water.
Although you could sow your seeds into individual pots, managing moisture levels is easier in a seed starting tray. Seed starting trays don’t have to be high tech. I punch holes in the top and bottom of a shallow take-out container with a clear lid. Sow seeds at least half an inch apart in an inch or two of barely moist, sterilized potting mix with a pinch of added polymer moisture crystals. Lightly cover the seeds, or just press them down onto the surface of the mix.
Peppers love heat and seem to germinate best at around 80 degrees. Most pepper seeds will still germinate at cooler temperatures, but they’ll take longer. The first year I used a seedling heat mat, I was amazed when habanero seedlings were ready to transplant twelve days after sowing, less time than they’d taken just to germinate in the past.
Lights ensure stocky seedlings. As soon as you see the first sign of sprouting, if not before, put your seed starting tray under lights. You don’t need fancy grow lights for seedlings; inexpensive cool fluorescent “shop” lights will work fine. The lights should be as close to the developing seedlings as possible.
What about a windowsill? Even the sunniest southern window isn’t as bright as you think. If your seedlings try hard to stretch up to reach the light, you’ll get spindly, leggy seedlings. Also, direct sun can broil your seedlings, since seedling trays with lids can heat up like miniature greenhouses
Transplant your little pepper seedlings when they have two pairs of true leaves. If you have room for four inch pots, that’s fine, but pepper seedlings will do fine in two inch pots. I use 606 deep sheet pots, extra tall cell pack inserts that come 36 to a tray. I can grow a lot of peppers on one light shelf!
Handle little seedlings gently by their leaves, planting them a little lower than they were growing in the seed starting tray. Water them in, and put them back under the lights. As when you soaked the seeds, adding chamomile tea or hydrogen peroxide to the water may be useful. Bottom watering from now on is best and will help prevent damping off.
Harden off your plants before planting out in your garden. I space peppers 12 to 18 inches apart, depending on the variety. Close spacing often allows the plants to support each other, with no need for caging. Grass clippings or straw makes an excellent mulch for peppers. Although plants may tolerate some dryness, you’ll get more peppers if you water them regularly.
As with any gardening topic, there’s no “one true way” to start peppers from seed. You’ll find a wide variety of tips and techniques shared in the Pepper Forum (subscribers only) and in the Beginner Vegetable Gardening forum.
I hope you’ll pick pecks of peppers from your garden this year, with the added satisfaction of knowing you grew them yourself, from seed to harvest.
More DG Seed Starting Articles by Jill (you’ll also find links in the text above)
Seed Starting 101: Setting up Light Shelves
Seed Starting 101: Seedling Heat Mats and Inexpensive Alternatives
The Dreaded Damping-Off (and How to Prevent It)
Seed Starting 101: Sowing Seeds and Clump Transplanting for Sturdy Seedlings
Seed Starting 101: Hardening off Seedlings Before Planting Out in Your Garden
Seed Starting 101: Planting Out – Tips for Transplanting Seedlings into Your Garden
Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus. Move your mouse over image and links in this article for captions and additional information.
So you’re interested in growing bell peppers!
We find bell peppers in red, green, yellow and purple, plus they are loaded vitamin A and C.
Another nice fact is that the crop cycle is not very long. In fact, you can harvest them in about 10-12 weeks with multiple peppers per plant.
Gardening beginners can’t go wrong with growing bell peppers. Anyone can achieve great results with occasional watering and some extra care. In this article, we will share expert advice on growing peppers.
This content also includes information on storing and consuming your harvested fruits. Read on to learn more.
How To Grow Bell Peppers
Even though it appears green and red bell peppers come from two different kinds of plant, this is not the case.
Red bell peppers are just ripe green bell peppers just like in tomatoes. Most people prefer the taste of a red bell pepper because the extra maturing time allows them to develop a higher level of vitamin C.
When growing bell peppers, always keep the climate in mind.
Other factors to consider include speed of growth, ability to bear fruits and development. In addition, a gardener must not forget about the remaining time to plant peppers.
Fast-growing, quick-maturing bell peppers make great propagating choices for everyone. We recommend the following varieties of bell peppers:
- Early Crisp
- Lady Bell Pepper
- Bell Boy
- Jalapeno peppers
The crop can be harvested either as green pepper plants or be left alone for some time until it turned into red. If you like yellow bell peppers, try the Golden California Wonder.
Although they fall under the same species capsicum annuum, bell peppers of any color belong to the sweet bell peppers or sweet pepper plants category. Hot pepper lovers must try a different type of peppers.
Those who prefer hot pepper may also like bell peppers when cooked with other spices. But if you really want a scorching hot pepper, try searching for varieties of chili peppers such as the following:
- Carolina Reaper
- Ghost pepper
- Rocoto pepper
- Tabasco pepper
Growing Bell Peppers From Seeds
You should not plant the bell pepper seeds directly outdoors unless you live in the deep southern part of the US. As they need a longer growing season to reach maturity, plant the seed indoors and let them stay there for two months. Furthermore, do not transfer the seeds to the vegetable garden until two or three weeks after the last frost.
Read on to learn more about how you can grow bell peppers.
How To Plant Bell Pappers Indoors
Most types of bell pepper seeds will sprout within a week of planting if kept at warm temperatures (70-80 degrees) with ample sunlight, a good growing medium and the right amount of water. But before they sprout, hydroponics or making use of soilless culture leads to a good start in growing bell peppers.
Place the seeds in damp paper towels sealed inside a plastic bag to make them sprout quicker. Keep the bag in a warm place such as the top of a refrigerator. After you grow peppers in a couple of days, transfer the seeds to peat pots or DIY starter pots for seeds using a light, sterile seed starting medium.
When transplanting to peat pots, crowd them a little bit. Start out with three in each starter pot and thin out the weakest one after the first true leaves start to appear. Leave the other two together permanently.
Two pepper plants growing together may help protect the fruit from sunscald with their combined leaves.
This method significantly increases your yield. In fact, keeping the two plants together gives you two times more bell peppers than planting them apart. You can also grow them in group quarters.
Maintain the pots in a warm place with bright, indirect light to avoid burning the tender, young seedlings.
When the seedlings develop their first true leaves, move them to a sunny setting. A southern window should give enough ample sunlight for optimum growth.
Remember tender crops like bell peppers need warm weather to live.
To protect your seedlings against the chill, maintain the moist of seed starter medium by watering them regularly. Turn the plants every couple of days to promote balanced growth.
Keep a close eye on the weather forecast and monitor the soil temperature.
When the last predicted frost has passed, and the soil is reliably between 55° and 60° degrees Fahrenheit overnight, you can begin transplanting your seedlings to the outdoors. Learn tips on reducing transplant shock to pepper plants.
Transplanting The Seedlings
To transition your seedlings for the outdoors, you will need to “harden them off.” Ten days before planting, place them under a shade outdoors for a few hours during the warmest part of the day. Do this for a couple of days and then move them to an area of light shade.
Gradually increase the amount of exposure to sunlight before transferring the seedlings to a sunny area. This slow transition to a greater amount of sunlight ensures success in growing bell peppers. Moving them outdoors too quickly will wither most of them due to shock.
If you don’t have the space to grow seedlings indoors or you get a late start, purchase the seedlings at a local garden center or online.
Local gardening clubs provide bell pepper seedlings in varieties that are sure to do well in your area. When you get your seedlings from another local gardener, you can also enjoy the benefits of expert advice and other details you haven’t heard about.
Prepare Your Bell Pepper Bed
Because bell pepper plants appear attractive, and their fruit looks quite festive, you may wish to mix them with ornamental for an interesting and unusual appearance. These plants like lots of sun, light and sandy loam soil giving good drainage. Choose a setting for your pepper bed that gets at least six hours a day of bright sunshine. Incorporate a generous amount of organic material into the potting soil for adequate nutrition.
Fertilize the pepper bed soil one week before the transfer of seedlings. A slow release commercial fertilizers could help, but naturally, an aged compost would be better. Keep your paired plants together during transplant, but leave about a foot-and-a-half of space between the pairs for ample room to grow.
Maintain the soil warm as tender young pepper plants cannot survive nighttime temperatures lower than sixty-five degrees. In areas where winter lingers, warm up the soil by covering it with row covers or a black plastic mulch. It also guarantees warmth in the case of an unexpected cold snap.
When you transfer your seedlings, give them a boost of nutrition by dropping two matchsticks and a teaspoonful of organic fertilizer in the planting hole. The matchsticks provide a healthy dose of sulfur which is good for the plant.
Taking Care Of Your Bell Pepper Plants
For the medium in growing bell peppers, use a soil mixture abundant with organic matter. A well-drained soil provides balance as it stays lightly and evenly moist. Grow pepper plants on a thick layer of mulch to help retain just the right amount of moisture in the ground.
Water With Care
Peppers need a consistent supply of water, but they should never be allowed to become waterlogged. It takes a lot of water to produce tasty, juicy bell peppers, so you must supply a moderate but steady supply of water throughout the life of your plants. Keep an eye on the amount of water flowing through as bell peppers can’t thrive in soggy soil.
You should provide one to two inches of water once a week. Be vigilant, though as if you live in a humid and dry area, your plants may need water more often. In a desert setting, daily watering may be necessary.
If you notice signs of wilting, or if the soil feels dry, increase your watering schedule accordingly. For those who like to grow pepper plants, plan on how you can supply your pepper plants with a reliable source of water
Adding organic material to the soil beats making use of a slow-release commercial fertilizer.
Organic matter feeds the plants and helps condition the soil so that it drains well and simultaneously retains the right amount of water.
Fish emulsion for plants usually serves as an organic fertilizer.
You can get a concentrated formula for fish emulsion at Amazon or at the local hardware store.
Mix it with water and apply it to your pepper plants for a boost of nitrogen.
Mulching prevents loss of moisture through evaporation. A good layer of mulch will also help keep the soil at a consistent temperature.
Choosing organic matter over commercial fertilizer can be a good thing for your pepper plants.
One of the known reasons is commercial preparations may be too rich for your pepper plants.
Over-fertilizing may only provide you with beautiful leaves and no fruits. For commercial fertilizer users, a small amount of 5-10-10 added at transplanting time will be enough. Avoid giving too much nitrogen as this may result in a poor fruit set.
If your plants seem hungry, give them a little side-dressing of fertilizer when they begin to blossom. Also, conduct foliar fertilizing for extra nutrients.
On the other hand, spraying your plants with a mixture of one gallon of water and one tablespoon of Epsom salts will help increase fruit size.
Provide this treatment when your plants start blooming. Repeat it for ten days.
Use Dark Plastic Mulch On Growing Bell Peppers
Consistent temperature is essential for steady pollination. Additionally, pollination may decrease if the temperature drops below sixty degrees or climbs above ninety degrees.
Plastic mulch helps keep the soil temperature warm in areas where spring arrives in late.
A week before transplanting, apply a thick layer of polyethylene mulch. Darker colors attract and hold heat best.
Use Companion Planting Wisely
Bell peppers do exceptionally well when planted alongside these varieties:
In your vegetable garden, do not grow pepper plants near:
- Apricot trees
Your bell pepper plant could suffer from damage if loaded with fruits. Make use of tomato cages to support the stems. Use discarded nylon stockings to hold the plants in place. Due to its full, soft and stretchy quality, nylons make a great choice in carrying bell pepper plants. As your plants grow, the nylons will provide a good backing for the stems.
Due to being non-flexible, use of twine or twist-ties won’t provide enough security. They cannot stretch to give enough support for the stems and space for growth as peppers grow extra roots. In growing bell peppers, prepare a resilient post for the plant to lean on.
Diseases And Pests
Bell pepper plants can resist many diseases and pests. However, they may encounter the same ailments which also plague other members of the nightshade plant varieties such as eggplants, tomatoes, and potatoes.
Pests such as aphids and flea beetles may infest your bell peppers. On the other hand, diseases such as blossom-end rot and cucumber mosaic virus will also affect their growth.
What To Do About Pests
Use the good bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to combat destructive caterpillars such as borers, cutworms, corn earworms, and large green tomato worms.
This caterpillar-specific remedy will not harm friendly fauna in your garden, except butterfly caterpillars.
Use Pyrethrum or Rotenone pesticides against pepper maggots, leafminers, flea beetles, weevils, and aphids.
Apply these pesticides with care to avoid killing off insects that would help in growing bell peppers. Insects such as ladybugs can help you get rid of aphids on pepper plants and control other pests.
Another efficient and inexpensive solution would be creating your own insecticidal soap.
Spray it directly to a harmful insect or to the leaves of your bell pepper plants. Homemade soap insecticides are safer to use and won’t harm beneficial insects.
What To Do About Diseases?
Grow pepper plants with resistance against several diseases. Knowing this will help if fungus and bacteria already contaminated the soil in your area.
Ask your County Extension agent, gardening clubs or neighbors with a beautiful garden to be sure about it.
Plant viruses can quickly pass from one host to another in a muddy or watery setting.
To prevent the spread of diseases, avoid working in your garden if the soil is muddy or if the plants are wet. Additionally, do not tramp on a wet ground to prevent having a compacted soil.
Weeds must be kept under control as it serves as a perfect habitat for pests. Moreover, weeds can harbor disease and fungus could decimate your bell pepper.
Apart from providing pests a good place to hide, weeds also steal nutrients from surrounding plants so pull them out immediately.
Harvesting Your Bell Peppers
After eight to fourteen weeks of care, the most exciting part of growing bell peppers has come. Time for a bountiful harvest!
You can harvest your fruits whenever they get big enough to eat. In fact, farmers usually harvest this type of pepper prematurely. Green bell peppers are delightful to eat, but they are still unripe. If you leave them on the plant a little longer, you will get the benefit of sweeter, richer flavor, deeper color, and better nutritional value.
The drawback of leaving your bell peppers on the plant to ripen is this practice reduces your harvest. If you collect very frequently, your plant will only keep on producing fruit. If you leave the fruit in place, your plant will not strive to bear more.
Naturally, if you wait to harvest all your peppers, you will be without peppers for a while. Otherwise, you will stock more peppers than you know what to do with!
At this point, experts recommend plenty of pepper plants. Harvest from some plants on a regular, ongoing basis and leave others to mature so that you will reap something special to enjoy late in the season.
When you pick your peppers, be sure to cut through the stem cleanly rather than pulling the fruit off the plant. If you just harvest by hand, you could break branches and damage your plant. Always use sharp scissors or knives as a clean cut will help reduce the amount of damage to your plants.
8 Ways To Enjoy Bell Peppers
Either you will do this for business purposes or fun of growing bell peppers, at some point, you will yield into tasting the fruit of your hard work. Fresh, ripened or dried, have it your way!
For the best flavor and maximum nutrition, eat the bell peppers after harvest. Keep the bell peppers out in the open at room temperature within 24 hours in duration. A basket or coarse cloth would provide well for air circulation.
The best way to enjoy a sweet bell pepper is to eat it fresh. A green pepper has a good and refreshing taste. However, a red bell pepper has a richer flavor.
Leave the green pepper in the open air in a coarse cloth or basket until they become ripe. Turn the green pepper occasionally to avoid soft spots from developing. You will notice some changes in color after a couple of days.
The amount of time spent before eating the bell peppers may cause a slight decrease in vitamin C. However, the increase in flavor is a nice trade-off.
For longer term storage, keep the bell peppers in your refrigerator for a maximum of two weeks. To prevent mold and soft spots, wrap each fruit individually in a paper towel and them in a plastic bag. Finally, store the bag in the vegetable keeper of your refrigerator.
To enjoy dried bell peppers, start with washing the fruits, removing its core and taking the seeds away. Cut the flesh into strips half an inch wide and steam for approximately ten minutes. Afterward, spread the strips on a cookie sheet.
Place the strips of bell peppers in a warm oven (140 degrees). Check it occasionally and turn the cookie sheets to ensure even drying. When the pepper strips are brittle, the process is complete.
Finally, remove the peppers from the oven and allow them to cool thoroughly in the open air. You can store the dried peppers in sealed glass, metal or plastic containers, or plastic bags.
Someone who likes a hot pepper would appreciate it dried for a smoky and intense taste. Also, dried hot peppers get often pulverized to create the best pack of chili powder.
If you happened to collect a huge harvest, you can freeze bell peppers. They will lose some texture, but they will still be good for cooking. To freeze, you would prepare the peppers as you would for drying.
You can get them cored, seeded, and sliced into strips. Afterward, spread them out on paper towels to wick away excess moisture. Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper and lay the pepper strips out, not touching.
Place the cookie sheet in your freezer for a few hours until the strips become stiff. Package them in a sealed plastic bag or container. Store the container in your freezer.
If this sounds like too much work, you should know all these exact steps are intended to help the peppers retain some of their appearances. If you just plan to use your frozen bell peppers as a seasoning in stews and casseroles and the like, you can only clean them, chop them up and freeze the pieces in plastic bags in the freezer.
If you like stuffed bell peppers, add stuffing in advance and place them in the pan in which you will cook them. Cover it with freezer wrap and freeze the whole thing until you are ready to cook it.
For hot pepper lovers, you may add a cayenne or any hot pepper varieties inside the stuffing.
You can pickle bell pepper strips using a standard cucumber pickling recipe. Also, try simple refrigerator pickle recipes if you intend to eat up your pickled peppers quickly. This may last for weeks, months or even a year.
Farmers who worked hard growing bell peppers would like their green or red pepper plants to remain sweet. Although green pepper already tastes sweet and the red pepper comes with a stronger flavor, they need enough supply of water to maintain their sweet taste. Otherwise, they go bitter even when they become ripe.
Some varieties like these of bell pepper may taste sweeter than the others. Orange and red pepper possess more refreshing sweetness than purple and brown peppers.
The pH level also plays a role on the outcome of taste. The soil must remain acidic with pH level from 5.5 to 7.0 for the fruits to stay sweet. Garden owners must conduct soil tests to ensure that the ground has good growing conditions.
Novice Gardeners Can Enjoy Great Success With Growing Bell Peppers
Growing bell peppers makes a great planting choice for new gardeners. Bell peppers take up tiny garden space, grow easily, add colors to a garden, and give more flavors to dishes. Growing pepper plants in your vegetable garden provides you with a lot of experiences about gardening. Once you improve, there is almost no end to the pepper varieties you can explore!
Grow Several Varieties of Peppers
Planting different kinds will lengthen harvest time, as some varieties mature more quickly than others.
- Set pepper plant seedlings out after the last spring frost. They grow well in raised beds, containers, and in-ground gardens.
- Plant them 18 to 24 inches apart in a sunny, well-drained spot. Pepper plants need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.
- Mix compost or other organic matter into the soil when planting.
- Water immediately after planting, then regularly throughout the season. Aim for a total of 1-2 inches per week (more when it’s hotter).
- Feed plants regularly with either a continuous-release fertilizer or liquid plant food.
- Spread mulch (such as chopped leaves or straw) around the plants to help keep the soil cool and moist.
- Support each pepper plant with a stake or small tomato cage, to help bear the weight of the fruit once it begins to produce.
- Harvest peppers with shears or a knife, then store in the fridge. Be sure to pick all peppers before the first fall frost comes.
(Read on for more information about and tips for growing peppers.)
From sweet, crisp peppers in rainbow shades to habañeros hot enough to bring tears to your eyes, all peppers share a preference for a long, warm growing season. Set out plants a week or two after your last frost, when the weather is settled and warm. While cool weather reigns, keep seedlings indoors at night, and move them to a protected sunny spot outdoors during the day.
By growing an assortment of varieties of peppers, you can have mild, meaty peppers for salads or stir-fries, slightly spicy peppers for fresh salsas, and hot peppers for bold jolts of flavor. Under hot summer conditions, varieties that bear huge fruits may shed their blossoms, but small, thin-walled peppers often keep going strong. Small-fruited peppers also ripen faster, which is important in cool climates where summers are short. Get help picking which peppers to grow with our Pepper Chooser.
As peppers change from green to yellow, orange, or red, both their vitamin content and flavor improve dramatically. People who think they don’t like peppers often change their minds once they have tasted fully ripened, garden-grown peppers. For many hot peppers, the ripest fruits (the ones that have turned red) pack the most heat.
Soil, Planting, and Care
- Give your pepper plant support using a wire cage or stakes.
- Small wire tomato cages make good supports for large bell pepper plants.
- Growing peppers is easy in any sunny, well-drained spot, and they are good candidates for roomy containers, too. Peppers have a naturally upright growth habit, so they often benefit from staking, which keeps brittle branches from breaking when they become heavy with fruit. Colorful peppers also make great additions to beds planted with flowers and other edible ornamentals, where they can easily serve as specimen plants. In beds or rows, the best spacing for most pepper plants is 18 to 24 inches apart (check the tag for exceptions). Peppers grow best in a soil with a pH between 6.2 and 7.0, although they can tolerate slightly alkaline conditions near 7.5. For in-ground gardens, mix a 3- to 5-inch layer of compost into each planting hole. A generous amount of organic matter helps the soil retain moisture, and moist soil is crucial for good pepper production.
- Planting in a container or raised bed requires different, lighter soil. When planting in pots, fill them with a fluffy, premium quality potting mix like Miracle-Gro® Moisture Control® Potting Mix, which helps protect plants from under- and over-watering. In raised beds, try Miracle-Gro® Raised Bed Soil, which provides excellent drainage and an ideal environment for root growth. Wherever you plant, be sure to put a few inches of mulch down around each pepper plant to help keep the soil cool and moist.
- For bigger harvests, it’s helpful to feed plants with a continuous-release fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Shake ‘n Feed® Tomato, Fruit & Vegetable Plant Food both at planting and regularly throughout the growing season (see label directions for timing). Simply pull back the mulch, scatter fertilizer around the base of each plant, and replace the mulch before watering well. Or, use a liquid fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® LiquaFeed® Tomato, Fruits & Vegetables Plant Food both at planting and every week or two afterward to keep plants well fed.
- Gardeners in hot climates may need to be patient with big bells and sweet roasting peppers, which often wait until nights become longer and cooler in late summer to load up with fruit. The wait will go by faster if you have less flashy (yet phenomenally productive) banana peppers to combine with tomatoes and basil in cool summer salads while bigger varieties slowly load up with fruits.
in Tucson, Phoenix, Arizona and California
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Chili (including Bell) peppers belong to the Nightshade family (Solanaceae), genus Capsicum (chilies), and originate in the Americas. A tropical perennial bush, chilies are normally grown as an annual in the United States.
The word Chili comes from the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs meaning Capsicum fruit. Pepper is actually a misnomer because these plants are not related to the Black Pepper of India nor the Szechuan Pepper of Asia.
Chilies were first introduced to Asia by the Portuguese after the year 1500 and have become a standard part of the diet. Some of their appeal is that the capsaicin heat in the chilies is anti-microbial, killing bacteria by the millions and making food without refrigeration safer to eat.
There are five domesticated and 23 wild chili species. Three species are most common in North American grocery stores. Capsicum annuum (a perennial south of the United States) is the most widely domesticated and includes nearly all familiar varieties, among them Bell and Jalapeno. Capsicum chinense (originating in the Amazon basin) includes Habanero and its even hotter cousins. Capsicum frutescens is found in Tabasco sauce. Other species are increasingly available to the home gardener.
The leaves and stems of all Chili plants are poisonous.
Selecting Seedlings and When to Plant
At a nursery, choose large, robust seedlings that do not yet have fruit. While seedlings without blossoms are often recommended as the best choice, plants with blossoms but no fruit are okay as long as you snip off the blossoms as soon as you get home. The plant should still be in a growth mode and not switched to fruit production mode.
If Bell-type peppers are desired, consider the smaller pod ‘Carmen Sweet Pepper’ which is prolific in high temperatures. Like Bells, Carmens have no heat. Bells often do not set fruit when temperatures are over 90°F but may begin to set fruit once the weather is cool.
Unless the nursery kept them in full sun, harden seedlings off before planting by leaving them out during the day, and then bring them inside next to a sunny window. One hour outside the first day, two hours the second, four hours the third. On the fourth day plant them in the morning. Be sure to water the newly planted seedlings.
Put chili plants in the ground when the danger of frost is past. In case a late frost is predicted, be prepared to surround each plant with Wall O’ Water or plastic bottles filled with water. Chilies are badly damaged or killed by frost.
Chili Plant Location
Place chilies in well-draining soil in raised garden beds or pots with bottoms not resting in saucers. Chilies do not like wet toes.
Do not crowd chilies. They should be 18-24″ apart in rows 24-36″ apart, depending on pod size. In other words, 3-6 square feet is needed per chili plant to at least 2 feet deep. The larger the pod produced by the plant, the more space is required. Bell and Poblano chilies need 6 square feet of space for each plant.
When putting seedlings in the ground, remove the entire pot, whether peat moss or plastic. Peat moss pots do not rot in our dry soil and retard root growth, regardless of claims that roots can grow through them.
Set seedlings in the ground at the same depth that they were in the pot. Do not place their crowns (stem-root junction) above soil level.
Shade new seedlings with 50% shade for the first four days to prevent wilting. After that, provide full sun.
Rotate plants yearly so that the same garden bed does not see nightshade family members more than one year in four. This can be done by dividing the garden into four equal quarters. In any one year, three-fourths of your garden should NOT be growing nightshade plants. Nightshade family members include chilies and Bell peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, potatoes, and golden berries. This will discourage the build-up of soil-borne diseases common to nightshades.
Use containers only for plants that produce small chili pods such as Chiltepins and ornamentals. The roots of large pod plants need more space than a container can provide. If using containers, the sides should be white or a light color to prevent the sun from baking the roots.
Avoid planting chilies near beans, any cabbage family member, or fennel. The roots of these plants produce chemicals in the soil that stunt or harm chilies or vigorously compete for the same nutrients.
Good nearby companions for chilies are basil, carrot, geraniums, onion, marjoram, oregano, and parsley. Their aromas deter some insect pests. Allow some of the parsley and basil to flower. This will attract hoverflies which prey on aphids. Because aphids prefer them, geraniums in pots are used as a trap crop, sacrificed to protect chilies and other edibles.
Chili plants do best with support. Cylindrical cages with vertical sides made of field fence, or concrete reinforcing mesh, about 19″ in diameter and 3 to 4′ tall, with 6″ long wire spikes on the bottom to anchor them into the soil, are best. Avoid wire supports that are wider at the top than at the bottom. These easily topple over in strong winds.
Concrete reinforcing mesh can also be used like a fence. Attach it, or field fencing, to steel T-posts. Tie vines loosely along the fence. Check the ties periodically to ensure stems are not being constricted.
Sun and Shade in the Chili Pepper Garden
Provide full sun in the morning and 50% afternoon shade. Chilies need 6 hours or more of sunlight. However, always provide at least 50% afternoon shade when temperatures are over 90°F. Growers in Phoenix have reported good success growing chilies on the east side of their houses.
Experiments have shown that seedlings grown in 50% shade until they were allowed to flower had more fruit per plant, a greater mean weight per fruit, and a much greater total weight of fruit per plant.
Chilies are not particularly sensitive to soil acidity, but best results are obtained in the 6.0 to 6.8 pH range. Soils in valleys often range from pH 7.5 to 8.0. Do not use ammonium sulfate to acidify the soil because this is a high nitrogen fertilizer. For further information, see Soil Preparation.
Place chilies in raised garden beds or pots with bottoms not resting in saucers. This is the best way to prevent overwatering, especially during heavy rains. Chilies do not like wet toes.
Adjust the frequency and amount of watering to rainfall cycles. Do not water if there has just been a heavy downpour. Make sure the rainfall has penetrated deeply and not just wet the surface. A moisture meter purchased on the Internet can help with this.
Water consistently to avoid blossom end rot.
Use mulch around chili plants to retain soil moisture. During the hottest days of June through August, many plants experience water loss by transpiration , no matter how wet the ground is. The results are wilting, flower drop, and sometimes even fruit drop. The simplest method of fighting transpiration water loss is to increase the humidity around the plants by wetting thick layers of mulch and by growing in 50% afternoon shade. Chilies are tropical and love high humidity.
For chili plants in containers, use a wider than normal saucer filled with small gravel to the brim. Place the pot on top of the gravel and keep water in the saucer at all times to provide humidity around the leaves. The gravel must keep water from entering the pot from the bottom.
Water soil and mulch, not leaves, to cut down on bacterial and fungal diseases.
Flowering and Pollination
Cut off all blossoms for the first six weeks after planting. This forces chili plants to devote their energy to producing more leaves and roots, resulting in larger plants that produce more market-sized fruit.
Blossoms do not develop or open in cold temperatures. Wait for warmer weather. In the fall, fewer blossoms are likely as the weather turns cold.
If flowers aren’t being visited by pollinating insects, several finger taps on the stem just behind the flower will cause pollination.
All About Growing Peppers
Ornamental peppers may feature spicy, brightly colored fruits, purple or variegated foliage, or both.
See our chart of pepper types for more information to help you find the perfect pepper for your garden.
When to Plant Peppers
Start seeds indoors under bright fluorescent lights in early spring, eight to 10 weeks before your last spring frost date. If possible, provide bottom heat to keep the plants’ containers near 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure the seeds stay slightly moist. Seeds should sprout within three weeks. Transfer seedlings to larger containers when they are about six weeks old. Don’t set peppers outside until at least two weeks after your average last frost date, during a period of warm weather. (To find your last spring frost date, see Know When to Plant What: Find Your Average Last Spring Frost Date.) Always harden off seedlings by gradually exposing them to outdoor weather a few hours each day for at least a week before transplanting them outdoors.
How to Plant Peppers
All peppers grow best under warm conditions, but gardeners in cool climates can keep peppers happy by using row covers. Choose a sunny site that has fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5. Loosen the planting bed to 12 inches deep, and thoroughly mix in a 1-inch layer of mature compost. Dig planting holes 12 inches deep and at least 18 inches apart, and enrich each with a spadeful of additional compost. Partially refill the holes, and situate plants so they are planted slightly deeper than they were in their containers. Water well.
Harvesting and Storing Peppers
You can eat peppers when they are mature yet still green (green peppers), although the flavor and the vitamin content of peppers improve as they ripen to red, yellow or orange. Use pruning shears to snip ripe peppers from the plant, leaving a small stub of stem attached. Bumper crops can be briefly steam-blanched or roasted and then frozen, either whole (for stuffing) or chopped. Peppers are also easy to dry. Dried peppers quickly plump if soaked in hot water, or you can grind them into powders for your spice shelf.
Saving Pepper Seeds
Harvesting seeds from open-pollinated pepper varieties couldn’t be easier. Allow a perfect fruit to ripen until it begins to soften. Cut around the top of the pepper, and use the stem as a handle to twist out the core. Use the tip of a knife to flick out the largest, most mature seeds. Allow them to air-dry until a test seed breaks if folded in half. Store seeds in a cool, dry place for up to three years.
When growing peppers for seed saving, keep in mind that insects can transfer pollen, creating crosses between varieties. Genes that create a pungent flavor are dominant in peppers, so it is best to ban insects from plants being grown for seed. The easiest way to do this is to use “cages” made of row covers or lightweight cloth, such as tulle. The cages can be removed after the plants have set several perfect fruits.
Pepper Pest and Disease Prevention Tips
Tobacco etch virus (TEV), cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) and potato virus Y (PVY) can infect peppers grown in warm climates. Transmitted by thrips and aphids, these viruses cause leaves to become thick and crinkled or narrow and stringy. The best defense is to grow resistant varieties, such as ‘Tam Jalapeño.’
Margined blister beetles may suddenly appear in large numbers in midsummer, especially in warm climates. These large beetles are black with gray stripes, and they devour pepper foliage. Handpick beetles, making sure to wear gloves to prevent skin irritation. Use a spinosad-based insecticide to control severe outbreaks.
Pepper weevils can also be a serious problem in warm climates. Clean up fallen fruit daily to interrupt the life cycle of this pest, and trap adult pepper weevils with sticky traps.
Pepper Growing Tips
Be careful with nitrogen when preparing your planting holes, as overfed peppers produce lush foliage but few fruits. Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer only if you’re growing peppers in poor soil.
In cool climates, use black plastic mulch in addition to row covers to create warm conditions for peppers. In warm climates, use shade covers during summer to reduce sunscald damage to ripening peppers.
Provide stakes or other supports to keep plants upright as they become heavy with fruits. Cover surrounding soil with a mulch of clean straw or grass clippings so ripening peppers don’t come in contact with soil, which can cause them to rot.
Always wear gloves if handling hot peppers, and avoid touching your eyes or nose. If you do handle hot peppers bare-handed, immediately scrub hands with soap and warm water, rub them vigorously with vegetable oil, then wash them again.
Cooking With Peppers
Pasta, pizza, salads, sandwiches, chili, salsa — shall we continue? Bring refrigerated, ripe peppers to room temperature to enhance their flavors before eating them. Peppers’ flavors become richer and more succulent when they are grilled, roasted, or smoked. If you bite into a pepper that sets your mouth ablaze, reach for milk or sour cream to quell the heat.
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.
A Tropical Herb Garden
LEONIE NORRINGTON: One of the advantages of living in the tropics is that you can grow some of the greatest and most widely used herbs and spices in the world – some that just won’t grow in southern states. I need a sunny spot, which is why I’m going to build my herb garden right here beside my studio.
I’m building mine using steel uprights so they’re safe from the termites. Then two hardwood timber beams are attached horizontally. Finally, vertical timber slats are fastened on with tech screws.
This is Pepper or Piper nigrum. It’s a creeper so it needs to grow on a trellis. I’m going to plant my Pepper Vines in full sun at either end of the trellis. That way, as they grow, I can train them along the trellis and when they start to fruit, the pepper will be easy to harvest. Now don’t forget that pepper is a jungle plant, so the roots need to be cool, so we want plenty of mulch. They’re also quite hungry, so you need to folia fertilise them three or four times a year.
In about three years, the trellis will be filled with vine, then flowers, then berries. If you pick the berries when they’re fat and green like these and then dry them, you’ll end up with black pepper, but if you let them mature until they turn red, and then peel that red skin off to reveal the white seed, that’s white pepper.
In the wild, pepper flowers are pollinated by the rain, so it’s important to have some irrigation that replicates this in the garden.
Vanilla is one of the most popular spices and it actually comes from the tiny seeds of an orchid. I’ve stored these cuttings in my shadehouse for the last two weeks so that the ends will heal and there’ll be less chance of infection. I’ve also taken the bottom leaves off so that they’ve got a nice bit of room to attach them to the trellis.
Vanilla is an epiphyte. This means it doesn’t rely on roots in the ground. In the wild it grows on other trees. I’m using the other side of the trellis from the pepper because it prefers semi-shade. These horizontal pieces of timber will give it something to cling to so it feels at home. You can either anchor the cuttings with charcoal, or you can tie them directly to the planks. Vanilla needs to be eight metres long before it flowers, so you want it to go backwards and forwards along these planks until it’s long enough. You can also cut it and encourage it to branch and that will make it flower much more quickly.
This big pot is for my water-loving plants – things like Vietnamese Mint and Indian Pennyroyal. I’ve also got this Pandan in a pot which I’ll just sit on top and it can take up as much water as it wants.
Pandan is a small, fragrant Pandanus that’s used all over Indonesia in cooking. It will take care of itself. Just push a slow release fertiliser tablet down into the soil once a year.
I can’t wait until all these plants get big enough so that I can try them out in my kitchen.
STEPHEN RYAN: Great stuff. And if you’d like to know more about how to grow Vanilla, why not check out Leonie’s article in the Gardening Australia Magazine for October. And now we’re off to Western Australia where Josh visits an artist’s garden that is both eclectic and low maintenance.
Black Pepper Information: Learn How To Grow Peppercorns
I love fresh ground pepper, especially the mélange of white, red, and black corns which have a slightly different nuance than just plain black peppercorns. This mix can be pricey, so the thought is, can you grow black pepper plants? Let’s find out.
Black Pepper Information
Yes, growing black pepper is possible and here’s a little more black pepper information which will make it even more worthy beyond saving a couple of dollars.
Peppercorns have a good reason for costing dearly; they have been traded between East and West for centuries, were known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and served as currency in some European countries. This prized spice stimulates salivation and the production of gastric juices and is a revered food flavoring throughout the world.
Piper nigrum, or peppercorn plant, is a tropical plant cultivated for its black, white and red peppercorns. The
three colors of peppercorn are simply different stages of the same peppercorn. Black peppercorns are the dried immature fruit or drupes of the peppercorn plant while white pepper is made from the inner portion of the mature fruit.
How to Grow Peppercorns
Black pepper plants are actually vines most often propagated through vegetative cuttings and interspersed among shade crop trees, such as coffee. Conditions for growing black pepper plants require high temps, heavy and frequent rainfall, and well-draining soil, all of which are met in the countries of India, Indonesia, and Brazil — the greatest commercial exporters of peppercorns.
So, the question is how to grow peppercorns for the home environment. These warm loving plants will stop growing when temps drop below 65 F. (18 C.) and do not tolerate frost; as such, they make great container plants. Situate in full sun with 50 percent or greater humidity, or inside the house or greenhouse if your region does not fit these criteria.
Feed the plant moderately with a 10-10-10 fertilizer in the amount of ¼ teaspoon (5 mL.) per gallon (4 L.) of water every one to two weeks, excluding winter months when feeding should cease.
Water thoroughly and consistently. Do not allow to dry out too much or overwater since peppercorn plants are susceptible to root rot.
To stimulate peppercorn production, keep the plant under bright light and warm — above 65 F. (18 C.). Be patient. Peppercorn plants are slow-growing and it will take a couple of years before they produce flowers that lead to peppercorns.
Pepper Vine: an important food source
Pepper Vines fruit over the summer months and do so annually. Compared to many fruit-bearing rainforest trees, Pepper Vines provide a consistent and reliable summer food source. Attracting large numbers of frugivorous birds to your patch is likely to result in some seed input from adjoining patches of forest where the birds have been foraging.
While many rainforest revegetation efforts include a range of tree species that produce fleshy fruits it is not often that you see vines included in the planting palate. Indeed some native vines can be temporarily undesirable (Cissus spp.) in the establishment stages of revegetation due to their vigorous growth and smothering habits. Pepper Vine however is not so vigorous, and it can be introduced once trees are over head height and are providing sufficient shade and climbing opportunities. Pepper Vines can also be planted on protected edges such as the southern side of a rainforest patch.
Hawkins BA (2014) Birds, fruit and nectar: spatio-temporal patterns of regional bird abundance and food availability in subtropical eastern Australia. Monash University Doctorate Thesis.
Hawkins BA. The Year of the Topknot. Australian Birdlife Vol. 3 No. 2, June 2014.
Lassak, EV & McCarthy T (2011) Australian Medical Plants. New Holland Publishers.
Cribb AB & JW (1975) Wild Food in Australia. William Collins Publishers.
Jones DL & Gray B (1977) Australian Climbing Plants. Reed Books.
Article by Nick Clancy Land for Wildlife Officer Sunshine Coast Council. All photos by Glenn Leiper.