Gardening Guide: How To Grow Peppers

It’s Easy To Grow Peppers And You’ll Have Fun While Saving Money

Grow peppers correctly and you’ll have delicious, fresh, peppers all summer long. They go great in salads and recipes. Try stuffing them with your favorite filling or grilling them with fresh sausage.

Peppers are easy to grow but need the right balance of fertilizer, water and sun to maximize yield. We’ll teach you how to grow peppers and how to protect your plants from insects and animals. You’ll be an expert gardener in no time.

If you haven’t grown peppers in your garden before, why not try it. It’s fun and once your pepper plants start to produce, you’ll be saving money on your grocery bill every week.

How To Grow Fresh Peppers

Table of Contents

  • Choose A Good Location For Your PeppersStep
  • Start With Good SoilStep
  • Plant Your PeppersStep
  • Water And Feed Your PeppersStep
  • Watch Out For PestsStep
  • Harvest And Enjoy
  • Classic Grilled Stuffed Peppers

Step 1. Choose A Good Location For Your Peppers

They love full sun and good drainage.

Peppers need six to eight hours of full sun a day and should be planted in a well-drained location.

A mature pepper plant can be up to four foot high and up to two feet in diameter. Allow at least 18 inches between each plant for proper air circulation and to leave enough room for you to step around the plants and harvest the peppers.

Pepper plants will become quite heavy as they mature and become laden with ripening fruit. Provide support in the form of a stake, cage or other structure. If you use stakes, use one per plant. Drive the stake into the ground before planting seedlings and leave three to four feet above the ground. Use thin strips of cloth or old pantyhose to loosely tie plants to the stake. Do not use twine.

A tomato cage also works especially well for pepper plants. They provides just enough containment and support to prevent the pepper plant from splitting and ending up on the ground.

Hot, hot, HOT !

What to do when your mouth is on fire… What Makes A Pepper Hot? Capsaicin and The Scoville Scale. Many different compounds can give a pepper its “heat”. The most common is capsaicin.

Capsaicin is found in the flesh of the pepper nearest the seeds. The amount of capsaicin, or the overall heat of a pepper, is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), named after American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville who developed the test to measure the capsaicin content in a pepper.

Pure capsaicin is rated at 16,000,000 SHU and the scale ranges all the way down to 0 for a common bell pepper which contains no capsaicin. The habanero pepper pictured above is pretty high up on the scale, rated at 250,000 SHU . The hottest pepper, recently announced in February 2012, is the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion at 2,000,000 SHU, nearly double the previous holder of the # 1 spot, the Bhut Jolokia from India.

Because capsaicin is not water-soluble, drinking water after eating a hot pepper will not stop the burning. The capsaicin is soluble only in alcohol and fats. Food or drink containing these will ease the burning. Yogurt or milk (not the fat-free varieties) are good choices. Ice cream will also help put out the fire.

Step 2. Start With Good Soil

Build on top of a good foundation…
Just like everything in life, from buildings to relationships, you need a good foundation. When you grow peppers, that foundation is well-balanced, nutrient-rich soil.

If you have a compost pile, mix in generous amounts of your own fully-decomposed compost into the soil along with a slow-release fertilizer. We recommend Osmocote Multi-Purpose Plant Food. It is an all-in-one solution that provides up to 6 full months of 11 essential mineral nutrients. Rake smooth and your all set to plant.

If you don’t have your own compost pile or mulch available to you, purchase compost or manure by the bag from your local garden store. Instructions on how much to use for new and established gardens will be printed on the bag.

If your soil is in especially poor condition, consider supplementing the soil with a good quality top soil, peat, vermiculite and compost, all available by the bag for smaller gardens. For larger gardens, check with your local gardening center for possible suppliers of some of these ingredients by the truckload.

Peppers will also grow well in containers. One 12-inch or larger container will support one pepper plant. Use a premium potting soil specifically formulated for vegetables, also available from your local gardening store.

If you have your own compost pile, make sure the material is fully-decomposed before mixing it with soil to plant in. Never use fresh organic material. It will starve your plants of vital nitrogen as it decomposes.

Learn How to Create Your Own Compost

It’s cost-effective, promotes recycling and it’s good for your garden. One of the keys to being a successful home gardener is creating and using your own compost. It’s easy but you need to know how to do it.

Step 3. Plant Your Peppers

Choose from seed or seedlings and hot or mild…

The first choice you need to make is whether to start your pepper plants from seed or purchase seedlings. There are benefits and drawbacks to each method.

Variety is not a problem if you start from seed. There are hundreds of varieties or pepper seeds available at your garden center or online. Starting peppers from seed, however, will take a little extra work. Unless you live in a very warm climate with a long growing season, you will probably have to start the seeds indoors up to 8 -10 weeks before the average last frost date date for your area.

Starting pepper plants from seed also requires a delicate balance of sunlight, moisture and warmth. Check the instructions on your packet of seeds for timing and growing instructions.

Unless you are an experienced gardener, I suggest purchasing seedlings. You will fast-forward the process by nearly 2 months and can plant them right outside in the ground 4 to 6 weeks after the average last frost date has passed.

The next choice you need to make is the variety of pepper you will grow. Varieties will be limited at your local nursery but they should at least have a few to choose from with varying degrees of heat. You might want to check the ChiliWorld Pepper and Sauce Heat Ratings.

If you want peppers with absolutely no heat, bell peppers are your best choice. Anything else will have some warmth. How much is up to you to decide. Check the chart, jot down the names of a few different varieties you would like to grow and head off to the nursery. They should at least have bell pepper seedlings and will also usually have one or more peppers with a little heat in them.

Look for stocky, dark green generally healthy-looking seedlings. Avoid thin, lanky plants or seedlings that have yellowed, chewed or spotted leaves. Leave at least 18 inches of space between seedlings and remember to install stakes, cages or any other supports BEFORE you plant the seedlings.

Step 4. Water And Feed Your Peppers

Peppers can get thirsty and hungry…

Peppers should always be kept well-watered and occasionally fertilized.

Provide 2 inches of water per week. A deep soaking once or twice a week is better than several shorter watering sessions. Use a rain gauge (pictured right) or a cup placed near your plants to measure how much water you (and Mother Nature) have applied and how much more is needed.

The ideal method for providing water to your plants is through a soaker hose placed under plastic mulch below your plants. This method delivers water right to the roots where it is needed most and prevents water and dirt from being splashed up onto the plant which promotes disease.

If you must water the whole plant with a sprinkler, do so in the early morning hours so the plant dries before evening. Wet plants at night promote fungus and disease.

Even if you mixed in a slow-release fertilizer into the soil before planting, it is still a good idea to provide one or more mid-season feedings. If you didn’t mix fertilizer into the soil before planting, then it’s very important that you provide one or more feedings per month.

When the plants begin to mature and start producing peppers, fertilize with a quality organic fertilizer such as Dr. Earth Organic Vegetable and Herb Fertilizer. Follow the instructions on the package for specific application instructions.

4 pounds of the best fertilizer you can buy

Dr. Earth 704P Organic 5 Tomato, Vegetable & Herb Fertilizer Poly Bag, 4-Pound

I have used this for 2 years and my vegetables produce so much more than without it. My two cherry tomato plants have produced nearly 40 pounds of cherry tomatoes in plain old dirt mixed with Dr. Earth. Every time I plant new seeds I always mix in a scoop.

Step 5. Watch Out For Pests

Insects, animals and disease can all attack your pepper plants…

Do a weekly inspection of your pepper plants. Turn over a few leaves. Take note of the general appearance of the plants. If something doesn’t look right, you may have a problem.

The good news is peppers are resistant to many common garden insects that usually cause major damage to other garden crops. Some of the more common pests that affect peppers are cutworms, aphids, hornworms (pictured) and whiteflies. If you suspect a problem, treat with a general-purpose organic garden dust. We recommend Bonide Organic All Purpose Garden Dust. This product also contains a fungicide that will prevent or treat diseases triggered by fungus.

If you see a big green caterpillar (hornworm–tomato worm–tobacco worm) eating your pepper or tomato plants, AND it has little white projections on its back, those are the oval cocoons of a gardener-friendly 1/8-inch long wasp. The larvae of that wasp eat and kill the big ol’ worm. So, leave the worm alone and the tiny wasps can mature and go on to do more good work in your garden.

I have had problems with cutworms in the past and they can be tricky. They don’t usually give any clues before hand. You’ll just wake up one morning and they have already done their dirty work, cutting a young seedling right off at soil level. Unfortunately there is no way to recover but there is a way to prevent them from damaging your plants. Wrap a cardboard collar around the base of the seedling and gently press it about 1/2 inch into the soil. This will usually protect the plant from cutworms.

Many other pepper plant diseases can be prevented by simply choosing disease-resistant varieties of seeds or seedlings. Most seeds are clearly marked if they are disease-resistant. Most seedlings are not marked but are quite-likely disease-resistant. Ask your nursery if you are not sure.

Another way to prevent disease is to rotate crops from year to year. Never plant peppers in the same spot you planted them last year. If you do, soil-borne disease that weathered the winter can attack plants. If you have the room, use a 3-year rotation and include related crops such as tomatoes and eggplant in that schedule.

If your plants do exhibit signs of disease (yellow leaves, stunted growth, overall unhealthy appearance or spots on leaves), it is probably caused by a fungus. Treat affected plants immediately with a fungicide. We recommend Garden-Safe Fungicide Concentrate or a combination insecticide/fungicide like Bonide Organic All Purpose Garden Dust.

An even better way to address fungus is to prevent it. Fungus is usually caused by excess moisture. Water only in the early hours of the day, don’t over water and make sure there is no standing water near the base of the plants.

Although not related to disease, “blossom drop” is also a common problem with bell pepper varieties during very warm weather. Plants will only set fruit when temperatures are between 60 and 65 degrees F. If the day time temperature is regularly above 85 degrees or the night time temperature doesn’t drop to at least 65 degrees, the plants will not set fruit and may drop all of their blossoms in response to the heat.

No need to worry. When temperatures cool down, the plants will recover quickly and begin blossoming and setting fruit again.

The last threat to your peppers is from animals that may invade your garden. Although peppers tend to be one of the last crops they’ll eat especially if you are growing hot varieties, deer, rabbits and squirrels can all be a problem.

Step 6. Harvest And Enjoy

The best part after all your hard work…

When it is time to harvest your peppers, use a good pair of garden or pruning shears to cut the stem holding the pepper sharply and cleanly.

If you are not sure if the pepper is ripe, it’s a good idea to refer to the picture on the seed packet or a picture on the web of a mature, ripe pepper for the specific variety you are growing.

Peppers will continue to produce until the first frost of the fall. If a frost is forecast, cut any remaining peppers off the plant. Once frost kills the plant, peppers will turn mushy and will be inedible.

Once the fresh peppers start rolling in, enjoy them !.

One of my favorite recipes is below…grilled stuffed peppers.

Classic Grilled Stuffed Peppers

A delicious way to enjoy your fresh peppers…

Serves: 6
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hr, 20 minutes
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup uncooked long grain white rice
1 cup water
6 green or red bell peppers
2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1. Place the rice and water in saucepan, bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, cook 20 minutes.
2. In a skillet over medium heat, cook the beef until evenly browned.
3. Preheat grill or oven to 350 degrees F.
4. Remove and discard the tops, seeds, and membranes of the bell peppers.
5. Wrap bottom of each pepper with foil or arrange in baking dish, hollowed side up.
6. In a bowl, mix browned beef, cooked rice, 1 can tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper.
7. Spoon equal amount of mixture into each pepper.
8. Mix remaining tomato sauce with Italian seasoning pour over peppers.
9. Cook on grill (or bake in oven) 1 hour, baste with sauce every 15 min.

Red Peppers Rule !

Red bell peppers have lots of vitamins and nutrients…
nine times as much carotene and lycopene and twice as much vitamin C as a green pepper and three times as much vitamin C as an average orange.

Support Your Peppers
Tomato cages are the perfect size for mature pepper plants.
Tomato cages are the perfect size and shape to support your mature pepper plants loaded with fruit from being knocked down by a gusty summer thunderstorm.

Learn How To Successfully Grow Other Vegetables In Your Garden …and other helpful gardening information here.

Happy Gardening !