Pepper plants not growing

Why won’t my pepper grow?

If your peppers are fine until the transplant, it could be that they’re just not mature enough. Three inches tall doesn’t sound very mature, if you want them to get very big or be productive. It could also be a deficiency in your soil. I recommend a soil test. They might need more magnesium, manganese, nitrogen or something. They might need less nitrogen. Knowing exactly how they die would help, like if the shoots shrivel, or if the leaves turn yellow, or if they wilt. It could be an insect pest.

It could also be a pepper disease that your tomatoes are resistant toward.

It could also be that the sun is shining too brightly when you transplant them, especially if you plant them later in the season than a lot of people do. That could make them wither and die if you don’t shade them. You might try planting after the sun starts to go down, or shade them for a couple days.

If your peppers are looking sad before you transplant them, I’m guessing your peppers just aren’t getting much light. You could put them under a table lined with mylar blankets and put some CFLs in there, both 6500k and lower (lower ones help against damping off better). Or just give them an overhead light. That might be slightly easier and cheaper.

I also recommend giving them some potassium sulfate approved for organic gardening, unless the stems are already super strong, which could indicate they have enough. If they’re soft and bend easily, or ironically, if they’re getting bark, they could use more potassium. They’ll get strong fast if you give them that. It should only take a few days. Tomato stems get strong faster with potassium sulfate. Potassium, if you don’t have enough, after application, will strengthen the plants, help protect against disease and insects, help the plants grow faster, and increase fruit size, among other things. If you give them too much, they may get nitrogen deficiency, but it’s a lot easier to give a pepper plant too much nitrogen than it is too much potassium, unless you’re applying ashes or something, in which case, you don’t want to add heaps of them. I recommend avoiding ashes unless you’re experimenting, and know how much and what kind to use. Don’t listen to people who act like potassium sulfate is a lot more expensive than harmful kinds of potassium like potassium chloride. It’s not that expensive, although it is really somewhat more expensive than potassium chloride.

I don’t recommend just using an NPK fertilizer with potassium in it. In my experience, they don’t seem to add as much potassium as is helpful, or the other nutrients overpower it somehow. Just pure potassium sulfate should work fine, unless you’ve got a lot of potassium in your soil and don’t need it anyway. I’ve been using a tablespoon or a half tablespoon per gallon of water, but a teaspoon is the recommended for deficient potted plants, according to someone who answered an Amazon question about it. This is the kind I got. My plants seem to enjoy it. This will initially make your plants drink more water for a couple days, though, but it is supposed to help with drought tolerance.

Along with Wayfaring Stranger’s answer, I have also heard that peppers love Epsom salt. I haven’t verified this yet, but I have given them a little before with no negative consequences.

Why A Pepper Plant Won’t Produce Flowers Or Fruit

I had the most gorgeous bell peppers in the garden this year, most likely due to the unseasonably warm summer in our region. Alas, this is not always the case. Generally, my plants set a couple of fruit at best, or no fruit on the pepper plants at all. That led me to do a little research on why a pepper plant won’t produce.

Why a Pepper Plant Won’t Produce

One reason for a pepper plant with no flowers or fruit may be the weather. Peppers are warm season plants suited to USDA zones 9b-11b that thrive in temperatures of 70-85 F. (21-29 C.) during the day and 60-70 F. (15-21 C.) at night. Cool temps retard the plant’s growth, resulting in pepper plants that aren’t flowering, and thus, pepper plants not fruiting either.

They need a long growing season with at least six hours of full sun. Be sure to wait for the soil to warm in the spring after all chance of frost has passed in your region prior to setting your transplants, and to get a jump start on harvest, set out six- to eight-week-old transplants.

Conversely, extended temps over 90 F. (32 C.) will engender peppers that may flower but incur blossom drop, hence, a pepper plant that is not producing. So a picky pepper plant with no flowers or fruit may be the result of an incorrect temperature zone, either too hot or too cold.

Another common reason for a pepper plant not producing may be blossom end rot, which is caused by a calcium deficiency and occurs when night temps are over 75 F. (23 C.). It appears, as the name indicates, as a brown to black rot on the blossom end of the fruit with a result in loss of the pepper.

Speaking of a calcium deficiency, another problem with peppers not flowering or setting fruit is inadequate nutrition. Plants with too much nitrogen become lush, green and large at the expense of fruit. Peppers need more phosphorus and potassium to set fruit. They don’t need a lot of food, 1 teaspoon of 5-10-10 at planting time and an additional teaspoon just at bloom time. Peppers need more phosphorus and potassium to set fruit. They don’t need a lot of food, 1 teaspoon of 5-10-10 at planting time and an additional teaspoon just at bloom time.

It might be wise to invest in a soil testing kit to verify if or what your soil may be lacking. If you’ve already planted your peppers and over fertilized, don’t despair! There’s a quick fix for over fertilization. Spray the plant with 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts dissolved in a spray bottle of warm water (4 cups of water). This gives the peppers a boost of magnesium, which facilitates blooming, hence fruit! Spray the plants again 10 days later.

Additional Reasons for No Fruit on Pepper Plants

It’s also possible that your pepper won’t set fruit because it’s receiving inadequate pollination. You may want to help it out by hand pollinating your peppers with a tiny brush, cotton swab or even your finger. In lieu of that, a gentle shake may aid in distributing the pollen.

Control weeds and insects and give the peppers adequate irrigation to reduce the chance of stressing it. Lastly, frequent harvesting of peppers promotes a good fruit set, allowing the pepper to channel its energy into growing additional fruit once the others have been picked.

Feed your peppers properly, make sure the plants have at least six hours of sun, keep the area around the peppers free of weeds, plant at the correct time, hand pollinate (if necessary) and irrigate with about an inch (2.5 cm.) of water per week, and fingers crossed, you should have a bumper crop of peppers coming your way.

Miniature bell peppers like these can be easily used in a single serving.

Peppers, peppers, peppers – in summertime, I can eat my weight in peppers! From fresh salmon roasted with sweet peppers and onions, to jalapeño-spiced quesadillas, there’s always a way to use fresh peppers in my kitchen.

Peppers are easy to grow, even in small spaces, and they’re a great veggie for beginning gardeners. Here’s what you need to know to grow your own peppers in your garden.

The heat in chili peppers comes from the presence of capsaicin.

About Peppers

Native to the Americas and Asia, peppers come in varieties sure to please every palate. Sweet bells, cayenne, pimiento, tabasco, chili . . . the list goes on! You have your choice of:

  • Pepper Color: Red, purple, orange, yellow, green, take your pick! The bright colors of peppers are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, and they brighten up any dish. Did you know that what we call “green peppers” are simply unripe peppers – if left unpicked, they’ll ripen, change color, and sweeten.
  • Pepper Shape: Pepper shapes are generally classified as bell (large round), banana (long and thin), and cherry (small and round).
  • Pepper Flavor: Sweet bell peppers taste like summertime candy, but if you prefer the hot stuff, there are all degrees of fieriness, from lightly tangy to burn-your-tongue-off hot. The hot flavor is caused by capsaicin, a compound known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Mulch around pepper plants helps hold moisture and prevent disease.

Pepper Growing Conditions

Pepper plants are generally smallish and bushy, requiring very little space. This makes them perfect for containers and smaller gardens. Even if you don’t have much garden space, you can tuck pepper plants into your ornamental beds for a pop of edible color.

Peppers grow best in these conditions:

  • Climate: Peppers are warm-season vegetables, which means they grow best when temperatures are in the 70s-80s F. Peppers should be planted after the last spring frost and can be grown right up until fall. If summers are hot (90s F and above), peppers may struggle during midsummer. Peppers won’t tolerate frost and growing will slow when night temperatures drop into the 50s F.
  • Sun: Peppers require at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.
  • Soil: Peppers prefer rich, well-draining soil. Plants need plenty of nutrients in order for peppers to form. To see out how well your soil drains, perform a simple DIY Soil Perk Test.
  • Water: Peppers need to be kept evenly watered for the fruits to form.
  • Fertilizer: Use a balanced organic fertilizer, or apply compost, about once a month during the growing season. If your plants are very leafy but aren’t setting fruit, switch to a fertilizer lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus and potassium. Peppers also need adequate magnesium, which can be achieved using compost or a sprinkle of epsom salts.

Green peppers are peppers that haven’t fully ripened and changed color yet.

Planting and Growing Peppers

Follow these guidelines when growing peppers in your garden:

  • Planting Peppers: Start seeds indoors about 2 months before your last spring frost date. Since seeds can be difficult to get going from seeds, many gardeners purchase seedlings. Plant seedlings after all danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature is in the mid 60s F.
  • Spacing Peppers: Plant peppers at least 18” apart. Peppers are self-pollinating, so you can grow as little as one plant.
  • Watering Peppers: Irrigate peppers during dry spells, or install drip irrigation or soaker hoses on a timer. Like most vegetables, peppers like the soil to be evenly moist, but not soggy.

Peppers come in a wide range of shapes, colors, and sizes.

Pepper Problems

While peppers are easy to grow, they can develop the following problems:

  • Failure to Produce: If your pepper plants aren’t setting fruit, it could be due to a number of causes. The usual culprits are weather (hot nights, dry winds, cold snaps) or nutrient imbalance (overfeeding with too much nitrogen).
  • Blossom-End Rot: While usually associated with tomatoes blossom-end rot can affect peppers, too. Although technically a calcium related deficiency, blossom-end rot is caused by uneven watering practices and drought.
  • Insects and Other Diseases: Aphids, spider mites, and bacterial and fungal diseases can affect peppers. Check your plants carefully for insects, especially near the tips of branches. Keep plants mulched, and water without splashing foliage to reduce the spread of diseases.

Peppers change color as they ripen.

Harvesting Peppers

Peppers can be harvested anytime, depending on your flavor and size preference. When harvesting peppers:

  • Cut the stem, since pulling or twisting can cause damage.
  • Harvest peppers when green or white for a sharper flavor, or wait until they’re fully colored for more sweetness.
  • Peppers should be firm to the touch when harvested.
  • Wear gloves when handling hot peppers. I speak from personal experience, if you accidentally rub your eyes with peppery hands, you’ll regret it!

Storing Peppers

Enjoy your peppers while they’re fresh, or slice and pack them in olive oil to keep for a few weeks in the fridge. For long-term storage:

  • Pickle: For best results, store pickled peppers in a cool, dark place.
  • Freeze: Spread peppers out on a cookie sheet to freeze, then transfer to an airtight freezer bag or container when frozen.
  • Dry: Chile peppers can be dried by stringing them up and hanging in a cool, dry place.

Pepper plants prefer rich, well-draining soil with plenty of nutrients.

Further Information

  • Peppers (University of Illinois Extension)
  • Vegetable Gardening: Growing Warm-Season Vegetables (article)

Planning to grow peppers this season? Great! Peppers are chock-full of good flavor and nutrition. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you reap your best pepper crop ever, whether you’re starting with your own transplants or planting ones you bought at your local garden center.

1. Prep the site.

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The right site can make all the difference in how well peppers perform. Choose a sunny, well-drained spot where peppers haven’t grown recently. The soil should be deep, rich, and loamy. If yours isn’t, amend it with about 1 inch of compost.

Avoid adding too much nitrogen to the soil, however. Excessive nitrogen can cause the pepper plants to grow too fast, making them more susceptible to disease and less productive.

2. Harden off seedlings.

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Before you plant your pepper seedlings, you’ll need to harden them off by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions. This process helps seedlings adjust, so they’ll be less stressed when you plant them. And less stress means bigger, more productive peppers.

When daytime temps reach the mid-60s, set the seedlings in a sheltered location outdoors, such as next to the house or garage, for a few hours each day for three or four days. Over the next week, slowly extend that outdoor time. Meanwhile, as the pepper seedlings become accustomed to the outdoors, you can warm the pepper bed by covering it with dark landscape fabric.

3. Plant.

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Peppers like warmth, so wait to plant until nighttime temperatures have consistently reached 60 degrees and all danger of frost has passed. If possible, set out your peppers on a cloudy day to help reduce stress on the plants. Space the plants 12 to 20 inches apart, depending on the mature size of the variety, and set them a bit deeper than they were in their containers. (Like tomatoes, peppers grow extra roots from the buried portion of the stem.)

Stake or cage taller varieties so that the stems do not break in strong winds or due to a heavy fruit load. After you plant the pepper seedlings, water them well.

4. Water and mulch.

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Throughout the growing season, make sure your pepper plants receive at least an inch of water a week. Check the peppers often during periods of extreme heat and drought, when each plant can easily take a gallon of water a day. If you live in a very hot, arid region, add a thick layer of mulch to help retain soil moisture and moderate the soil temperature. But do this only after your soil has warmed — mulching cool soil will keep it too cool and stunt the pepper plants’ growth.

5. Pinch off the first flowers.

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As weird as it may seem, pinch off any early blossoms that appear on your pepper plants. This won’t harm the plants. In fact, it helps them direct their energy into growing, so you get lots of large fruits later in the season (and a higher overall yield) instead of just a few small fruits early on.

6. Harvest your peppers!

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You can harvest the peppers at their immature green or purple stage, but the flavor will be sweeter if you wait for them to reach their mature color — usually red, but sometimes golden yellow or orange.

Italian fryers, jalapenos, and Cubanelles are possible exceptions: Many people prefer the flavor of these peppers when they are full size but still green. To harvest the peppers, cut them off with hand pruners. Pulling them off by hand can damage the plant.

There are few plants in the garden more satisfying to grow than bell peppers, one of the many types of peppers to fall under the scientific name Capsicum annuum.

Rich green leaves, a compact form, and brightly colored fruit make them a contender for even the most formal gardens.

I did say fruit. So many of the plants we commonly refer to as vegetables are actually fruit, including peppers, for the simple fact that they are seed bearing.

Peppers are believed to have originated in South America and Mexico. And, if Columbus didn’t bring these world-changers across the border into North America, who knows what would have become of today’s cuisine.

From omelets to tacos, to pasta dishes and salads, sweet bells provide a tasty crunch to so many popular meals without the spice. But nothing beats the crunch of a freshly picked fruit.

It may seem intimidating for the beginner gardener but, as long as you know a few key pieces of information before getting started, bell peppers are fairly easy to grow – as long as the weather plays along, that is.

This article will walk you through it all, from starting seeds to transplanting seedlings to plant care and maintenance, so that you can grow and enjoy these beauties in your own garden.

Start Early

Bell peppers are a perennial in tropical areas. But in colder climates, they are grown as annuals and they really have no tolerance for cold weather.

They require a fairly long growing season, often up to 90 or even 100 days, so the shorter your summer, the sooner you need to start seeds indoors.

It is possible to save seeds from organic store bought bell peppers. Collect seeds from red peppers, since they are more mature then green ones, and set them out to dry for a few days. Then sow them or store them in a paper envelope and place them in a dry location for safekeeping.

Definitely consider buying seeds as well, since one of the benefits to growing your own bell peppers is choosing from a number of otherwise unavailable varieties.

The rule of thumb is to start seeds 6 to 8 weeks before the last average frost date in spring. However, if you keep plants healthy and thriving, you can sow them even earlier.

Start seeds using a seed starting mix and place them in a warm, sunny spot. Covering flats or cell packs with plastic can help speed germination rates.

Providing a consistent source of heat, like with a seedling heat mat, will also help since soil needs to be around 80°F for seeds to germinate. If soil is warm enough, germination should occur within ten days.

Once seeds germinate and grow two to three true leaves, you’ll want to pot them in larger containers filled with damp potting soil to reduce settling. Add organic fertilizer according to label recommendations as well, to encourage strong growth.

Water newly potted plants well and keep them consistently moist.

What to Plant and Where to Buy

There are many different types of sweet bell peppers available on the market today, and they can be grown from seeds or started as seedlings. Let’s take a look at a few favorites.

Canary Bell

Slow and steady wins the race, when it comes to the yellow Canary bell. These take 100 days to reach maturity, but the long wait will be worth it when you get to enjoy these prolific 3 1/2-by-4-inch sunshine yellow fruits.

‘Canary’ Bell Seeds

Tobacco Mosaic Virus resistant seeds are available in 1/4- or 1-ounce packages from True Leaf Market.

Big Red

Big Red takes about 75 days to harvest, turning from green to red as it ripens. This sweet pepper has very thick flesh with a mixture of 3- and 4-lobed blocky fruits.

‘Big Red’ Seeds

A veggie patch favorite, seeds are available in a variety of package sizes from True Leaf Market.

Coral Bell

Vibrant orange Coral bell peppers are a welcome addition to the garden, growing vigorously and producing 4-lobed fruit that reach about 4-by-3 1/2-inches at maturity.

‘Coral’ Bell Seeds

Seeds are available from True Leaf in 1/4- or 1-ounce packages. Expect 78-88 days to harvest.

California Wonder

California Wonder 300 TMR is delicious when picked green, or can be left on the plant to ripen to a sweeter red pepper.

‘California Wonder’ 300 TMR, available from True Leaf Market

This four-lobed fruit makes a delicious stuffed pepper, on the larger side at around 4-by-4 ½-inches max. The “TMR” in the name stands for Tobacco Mosaic Virus Resistant, and you can expect about 75 days to maturity.

Purple Beauty

Purple Beauty is a striking heirloom pepper with a deep purple color, thick-walled flesh, and 4-by-3-inch fruit.

‘Purple Beauty’ Seeds

These will take about 70 days to reach maturity. Packages of 1000 seeds are available from True Leaf Market. Live plants are also available via Amazon.

Chocolate Beauty

For something a little different, the Chocolate Beauty offers a luscious, deep brown color with super sweet flesh. It grows quickly, with about 67-70 days to maturity, and is Tobacco Mosaic Virus resistant.

‘Chocolate Beauty’ Seeds

Seeds are available from True Leaf. And live plants are available via Amazon.


Although you may be tempted to do it sooner, wait to transplant peppers to the garden until a couple of weeks past the last frost date. Make sure to harden them off first though, or your plants may not make it at all.

Hardening off simply refers to the process of getting plants acclimated to a new environment. Plants that have been grown indoors for months will likely become severely stressed or even die if placed directly in the garden, and we want to avoid this.

Instead, slowly introduce plants to outdoor weather. Over the course of several days, set them outside for longer periods of time. Start in the morning and bring them in later and later each day until you are confident they have adapted.

Before transplanting, make sure the soil temperature is warm enough, usually around 65°F. Transplanting can stress a plant and cause blossom drop, so you’ll want to remove any flowers that form before giving them a permanent home.

In the garden, leave at least 18 inches between plants, possibly more, depending on the variety you’re growing.

Water newly planted bell peppers really well and add an inch or two of organic mulch. Their roots are shallow and mulch will help to maintain moisture and protect roots from moisture related stress.

Growing Healthy Plants

Bell peppers generally need warm soil and warm temperatures to thrive.

To encourage faster growth in cooler areas, consider laying black plastic over the soil. Just be careful not to let the soil get so hot that beneficial soil bacteria are killed. Remember that the target temperature is only 65°F, and don’t overdo it.

Full sun and loamy, rich, well draining soil with a pH near neutral is ideal for planting.

For improved fruit production, keep plants evenly moist throughout the season. Too wet or too dry, and you’ll likely notice a decline in the plant’s overall health or fruit development.

It’s especially important to keep plants consistently watered when they are in bloom and producing fruit. Between 1 and 1 1/2 inches of water each week should be sufficient.

Unfortunately, even if you do everything else right, bell peppers won’t produce much fruit if temperatures aren’t ideal, typically between 70 and 90°F.

They will be sloth-like in growth if nighttime temperatures fall below 55°F. And if temperatures are too hot, they will likely start to drop their blossoms before ever having a chance to set fruit. This is why they’re considered a bit more temperamental to grow than some other veggie patch favorites like spinach or radishes.

Shallow roots and heavy fruits make bell peppers more likely to topple over, so consider staking them once flowers begin to form.

While fertilizing is helpful, be cautious not to over fertilize, especially with nitrogen. This is known to cause leafy green growth, but it will actually stunt flower and fruit production.

Bell peppers are in the Solanaceae family, along with tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes. This means they share many of the same disease and pest issues, as well as nutritional needs. For this reason, you’ll want to avoid rotating these crops with each other in the garden.

Managing Pests and Diseases

Bell pepper plants are susceptible to overwatering or poor draining soils. So be aware of root rot and phytophthera blight, a fungal disease that causes permanent wilt.

Another issue linked to moisture stress is blossom end rot, which shows up as a dark, sunken area on the fruit. It’s fairly common and is a result of calcium deficiency.

However, just because plants are calcium deficient, this doesn’t necessarily mean the soil is. Rather, the issue could just be that calcium present in the soil is tied up for one reason or another.

For instance, if soil pH is too low, calcium uptake can be affected. Also, inconsistent moisture levels can negatively impact calcium availability.

And, since roots are shallow, it’s easier to damage them when caring for and weeding your garden. Damaged roots aren’t going to be as effective in taking up needed nutrients.

Also keep an eye out for aphids, spider mites, stink bugs, flea beetles, and cutworms. Spray these critters with a strong stream of water, horticultural oils, or simply hand pick and squash all who are unwelcome.

The best way to mitigate all pest and disease issues is to maintain healthy plants within an optimal environment. Check your garden regularly and be quick to address any concerns. And do your best to invite natural predators into your gardens, such as birds, praying mantises, and ladybugs.


Sweet bells are unique, since choosing when to pick them is mostly up to you.

If you love the flavor of a green pepper, pick a few when they’re full-sized with thick flesh but not yet beginning to turn shades of red, yellow, or orange (or purple! or brown!). The peppers will sweeten the longer you leave them on the plant, with increased vitamin C content as well.

Make a clean cut with a knife or sharp scissors when harvesting, being careful not to topple or otherwise disturb the plant. You don’t want to knock off any fruits that are still developing, or cause any damage.

Wipe any excess dirt away with a clean, dry cloth and store in the produce crisper bin of the refrigerator for up to one week. Wait to wash until you’re ready to use them, since damp produce with become moldy and rot quickly in the refrigerator.

A Few Recipe Ideas

In addition to being delicious in a salad, or sliced into strips and served with a big bowl of homemade hummus, homegrown bells add texture and flavor to a variety of tasty dishes.

Try this recipe for Spiralized Sweet Potato Noodles with Roasted Red Peppers and Sun Dried Tomatoes , or this homemade Harissa Sauce from our friends at Wanderspice.

Fajitas are a family favorite, and this Vegetable Fajita Sheet Pan Dinner from The Domestic Dietitian comes together in minutes. And you’re sure to love this Bean-Free Low FODMAP Chili from Erika’s Gluten-Free Kitchen.

For breakfast, serve up a cast iron pan-full of this irresistible South Asian Spiced Shakshuka with Bell Pepper and Spinach from Feast in Thyme.

And don’t forget, in addition to sharing with the neighbors, a big harvest gives you a chance to show off your home preservation chops. Roasted, they can be stored in oil. Or try parboiling, peeling, chopping, and freezing in individual packages for a quick add-in to toss into weekend omelets and egg scrambles.

Peppers can also be chopped and dehydrated for use in soups, or ground into a flavorful powder that you can add to your spice cabinet.

Worth the Effort

There’s quite a bit of information provided here, and it may seem just a bit overwhelming to take on bell peppers as a home gardener. So, I want to wrap up with a few key points:

  • Start seeds early or buy good looking seedlings, and make sure to harden them off before transplanting.
  • Wait to transplant into the garden until two or more weeks past the last frost date, since soil needs to be warm for plants to really take off.
  • Mulch and keep water moisture consistent, since roots are shallow and susceptible to water-related stress.
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    Product images via True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: . With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu. Originally published by Lynne Jaques on December 31st, 2014. Last updated March 8th, 2018.

    About Amber Shidler

    Amber Shidler lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and holds a dual bachelor’s degree in botany and geography. For four years she worked as a horticulturist, but is now a stay-at-home mom. With experience in landscape design, installation, and maintenance she has set her sights on turning her tenth-of-an-acre lot into a productive oasis. Amber is passionate about all things gardening, especially growing and enjoying organic food.

    Growing peppers in your garden is rather easy, says Contra Costa Master Gardener Bonnie Dwyer, but you have to remember that the peppers can be both temperamental and finicky.

    The dividends, however, will pay richly in lots of a flavorful peppers that add color to your garden and important vitamins and nutrients to your diet. Here are Dwyer’s top tips.

    • Even when the temperatures warm up, don’t be tempted to plant your peppers in your garden. It’s the soil temperature, not the air that matters when it comes to peppers. At the very minimum, the soil must have a nighttime temperature of at least 55 degrees — 65 degrees would be best.
    • Until its warm enough to plant — probably next month — keep your peppers protected and warm. You might need to move them up into slightly larger pots to prevent them from becoming root bound.
    • If you absolutely have to plant the soil is just barely warm enough, then lay down dark, plastic sheeting on the bed a few days ahead of time, cut a planting hole and plant your peppers. The sheeting will help warm the soil and keep the heat in place.
    • You also can cut the bottoms off of gallon milk jugs and cover the plants like a cloche, which also can help the soil retain heat around the plant.
    • When it’s time to plant, harden off the peppers by bringing them outdoors for a few hours a day. Extend the time a little each day, for 7 to 10 days, then plant them in your garden.
    • Peppers do not like having their roots disturbed so try not to bother the root ball when transplanting.
    • Transplant in the cool of the evening or on an overcast day to help reduce plant stress.
    • Dust the planting hole with magnesium and work it in before planting your peppers.
    • Stake peppers now to prevent damaging the roots with stakes later on.

    Watering and mulch

    • Peppers are unforgiving when it comes to water. You need to keep them watered during flowering and fruit set.
    • Peppers tend to be shallow rooted so mulch under and around them with 2 inches of mulch. This will help regulate temperature and moisture.
    • Once the fruit has reached its full size, but before it starts to ripen, cut back on the water, which will speed up the maturing process.

    Blooms and heat

    • You want your plant’s structure to be strong enough to hold up the fruit, so pinch off the first blooms and allow the plant to direct its energy to growing strong.
    • Nighttime temperatures of 70 degrees and daytime temps topping 85 degrees will cause the plant to stop blooming, or cause the pollen to become unviable. When temperatures cool, production will start again.


    • Peppers easily cross-pollinate, and if your are saving seed, you want to prevent a hot pepper from pollinating with a sweet pepper. There are some options for preventing that, or lessening the chances. You can try to keep the peppers separated. Experts recommend doing that by 90 feet, but most gardens don’t have that sort of room. You also can stagger planting of different varieties so that they aren’t all in bloom at the same time. At the very least, put your hot peppers downwind of your sweet.

    Feed and care of growing peppers

    • Don’t give your plants too much nitrogen. If you do, you’ll produce large, leafy plants but have no peppers. The vigorous growth can also make them more susceptible to disease.
    • Other than the use of magnesium when planting, don’t fertilize your plants until the first flowers appear.
    • A side-dressing of aged compost or a low nitrogen, organic fertilizer will work well.
    • After the first feeding, feed again in the three weeks.
    • Peppers will benefit from receiving mineral supplement. Clacium produces fruits that have thick, sturdy walls; phosphorous promotes a strong root system and good fruit set, and magnesium optimizes growth and improves the uptake of nitrogen and phosphorus.
    • Peppers also like a light foliar feeding every couple of weeks, especially when the crop is heavy. Use a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen.

    Harvesting and storage

    • Peppers are susceptible to sun scald, or sun burn, so as the plants start to ripen, covering them with a protective shade cloth.
    • When peppers are the ripeness and color that you want, harvest them by cutting the stem where it meets the plant. Use scissors or pruners; twisting or tearing the fruit off can damage the plant.
    • Peppers don’t ripen well off the plant, so harvest when they are ready.
    • Peppers can be stored in the refrigerator, but avoid moisture. Don’t wash the peppers before refrigerating them, and dry them if they have dew or water from the irrigation system.
    • If the fruit is small and somewhat flat, and if there are few or no seeds inside when it’s sliced, the pepper was not completely pollinated.

    How hot is hot

    • A pepper’s hotness is measured on the Scoville scale, with bell peppers having a rating of zero on the scale while a habanero pepper could have a rating of 100,000 to 350,000. If buying seeds or seedling, you’ll see the hotness level listed as SHU, which stands for Scoville heat units.
    • The ribs and flesh of a pepper is where you’ll find the heat, not the seeds. The seeds are only hot in places where they’ve absorbed some from contact with the ribs.
    • Peppers actually contain a chemical that gives you the ability to tolerate hotter and hotter peppers the more that you eat.
    • Peppers also cause the body to release endorphins, which can make it very enjoyable to eat them.
    • If you eat a pepper that is too hot, don’t drink water or milk to try to extinguish the fire. Liquid only spreads the heat around. Instead, eat some sugar or honey, or something starchy, such as bread, crackers or potatoes.
    • Always wear gloves when handling peppers.

    Next time at Our Garden, growing vegetables in container pots. The classes are free and are offered at 10 a.m. each Wednesday at the demonstration garden, Shadelands Drive and Wiget Lane in Walnut Creek. Seedlings also are available and Master Gardeners are on hand to answer questions.

    A Guide to Growing Chili Peppers

    This guide will show you how to grow chili peppers of all types in your own home garden and includes answers to many of your growing questions, such as pepper plant spacing, sun needs, length of growing season, chili pepper growing tips and more.

    Let’s talk about growing chili peppers. Chili peppers start off a bit slow, so it is helpful to start to grow your plants indoors a few weeks (anywhere from 8-12 weeks) before transferring them outside. Keep the early soil and budding plants constantly moist, but do not over water.

    Keep them warm (80 -85 degrees F is best) and in a sunlit place. If this is your first time growing your chili peppers from seeds, learn more about growing chili peppers from seed.

    Once there is no worry of frost, you can plant your pepper plants to your garden or chosen spot. Choose a location with full sunlight, as chili peppers LOVE the sun. Mix in some mushroom compost or other organic compost to make the soil fertile and moist.

    How much space do peppers need to grow?

    Space the chili pepper plants 18 – 36 inches apart with about 2 -3 feet between rows. The plants will eventually grow to nearly 3 feet high.

    Water! Keep the soil constantly moist, but not soaking wet. Chili peppers love water as much as they love sun, but you don’t want to inundate the plants, or you run the risk of rotting. Water every other day or every third day. Include a good plant food product. Learn more about growing chili peppers in the ground or garden.

    Keep your chili pepper garden well weeded. You don’t want nasty weeds stealing the water from your chili peppers.

    Learn more about growing and harvesting chili peppers through the links below, including:

    • Growing Chili Peppers from Seed
    • Growing Chili Peppers in the Ground
    • Growing Chili Peppers in Pots
    • Growing Chili Peppers Indoors
    • Harvesting Your Chili Peppers
    • Winter Gardening for Chili Peppers and more

    Best Soil for Growing Chili Peppers

    Choose a good quality soil or potting mix for growing your pepper that allows for good drainage. Add compost or manure before planting if you’d like.

    Watering Your Pepper Plants

    As with growing chili peppers in general, keep the soil moist but do not overwater them. For pepper plants in pots or containers, do not let the soil dry out completely. When peppers start to grow, cut back on your watering schedule a bit, but again, do not let the soil dry out.

    Optimal Growing Temperature for Growing Chili Peppers

    The ideal growing temperature for chili pepper plants is between 70-90 F (21-32 C).

    Best Fertilizer for Growing Chili Peppers

    Tomato fertilizers work well for chili pepper plants, as do compost and well-rotted manure. A good 5-10-10 fertilizer is usually sufficient for peppers. Work it into the soil before transplanting, about 3 pounds per 100 square feet. We use a solution of fish emulsion and seaweed.

    Once the peppers begin to appear, fertilize one more time. You can also use manure or compost, which releases more slowly into the soil. Much, however, is affected by your soil, so you may want to consider a soil test if you are having issues.

    Diseases and Pests That Affect Pepper Plants

    Stay vigilant with your pepper plants. Keep a constant eye out for common diseases like bacterial spot, mildew or rotting. Pests like aphids or spiders are common as well, so watch out for them.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Growing Chili Peppers

    I get a lot of questions about growing chili peppers. Here are some of the most frequent.

    Do chili plants need sun or shade?

    Chili peppers grow nicely in full sun. They will grow in partial shade, but they won’t be as productive. A sunny spot is best. I have very successfully grown many varieties of chili peppers under my backyard deck, which is about 12 feet high. There is partial shade, but the garden gets a good dose of sunlight, so they grow very well.

    How long does it take to grow peppers?

    The length of growing time for chili peppers varies from pepper to pepper, though most mature in 60-150 days, which is a big range. Sweeter peppers typically mature in 60-90 days, with hotter peppers taking longer.

    Consider, though – the number of days to maturity noted on seed packets means h the days after transplanting until the pepper plant bears mature peppers. It does not take into consideration the time it takes from planting seeds to growing into a seedling that you can transplant, which is about 8-10 weeks, so keep this in mind.

    How long does a pepper plant take to bear fruit?

    The length of time for chili pepper plants to start bearing peppers varies from pepper to pepper, though most mature in 60-150 days, which is a big range. Sweeter peppers typically mature in 60-90 days, with hotter peppers taking longer, up to 150 days.

    Growing Chili Peppers – This is a New Mexican variety from my garden.

    How long can you keep chili plants?

    Most chili pepper plants will only last a season in your garden, but if you transplant them and bring them indoors, and treat them to good conditions, you can keep them through the year and possibly longer. Some people have reported keeping their pepper plants for 3 years or longer.

    Can you save seeds from your chili pepper plants and use them to grow plants later?

    Absolutely! As a chili pepper grower, you may want to save the seeds from your current batch of chili peppers rather than purchase new seeds each year. Saving seeds also saves money, and ensures your harvest will include your very favorite peppers from season to season.

    Luckily for us, chili peppers lend themselves to easy seed saving. Harvesting the seeds is a simple process, and they require very little effort to dry and store.

    Learn how to save seeds from fresh peppers to grow later

    Space your chili pepper plants properly for an optimal harvest. This is a shot from my garden.

    Chili Pepper Growing Tips

    For successfully growing peppers, keep these growing tips in mind.

    Do Not Over Water Your Pepper Plants

    Pepper plants love their water, of course, and they need a steady supply, but peppers won’t grow well in overly saturated soil. It waterlogs their roots. Use soil that retains moisture yet has proper drainage. Mulch is useful to prevent water evaporation.

    If you are uncertain about watering, don’t. Never over-water. Most diseases and growing problems are due to overwatering.

    Do Not Overfertilize Your Pepper Plants

    Using a lot of fertilizer may help the pepper plant to develop bright leaves and flowers, but hinders pepper production. A good 5-10-10 fertilizer is usually sufficient for peppers. Work it into the soil before transplanting. We use a solution of fish emulsion and seaweed.

    Pinch Your Pepper Plants for Bushier Plants

    When the pepper plant is about six inches high, clipping the growing tip will result in a bushier plant. Remove any flowers that appear early, as the early flowers diminish the plants overall energy.

    Pinch Flowers off of Early Pepper Plants for Bushier Plants

    Got any further questions? Ask away! I’m happy to help. Feel free to contact me anytime and I will do my best to answer your questions. — Mike H.


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