Peppers are a tender, warm-season crop with a long growing season (60 to 90 days). To give them a head start, the majority of gardeners need to begin peppers indoors. They also resist most garden pests and offer a variety of spicy, sweet, and hot tastes, as well as a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes.
Planting and Growing Information:
If you’re sowing peppers indoors, begin them in early spring to give them more time to crop throughout the summer. Start them indoors 8 to 10 weeks before your last spring frost date. Germination for peppers is quickest at 77° to 90°F. Peppers should be planted 2 to 3 weeks after the threat of frost has passed in the spring if you want to plant them outside. To achieve these temperatures (77° to 90°F), you’ll need a heated propagator or heat mat. While you can begin seeds at lower room temperatures, expect germination to be slower and potentially inconsistent. In ideal conditions, seedlings should appear within about 2 weeks. However, because some varieties take as long as 5 weeks, make sure to be patient. Should you be growing from nursery-bought transplants, plant them outdoors 2 to 3 weeks after the threat of frost has passed. Given peppers are very sensitive to cool temperatures, make sure to harden young plants off before planting outdoors.
If you’re planning to start peppers indoors, make sure to choose a potting mix that easily drains through after each watering. By mixing in some perlite, a quality, free-draining potting mix can be opened up a little more. If you’re planning to take your peppers outside for the summer, try using a soil-based potting mix, which will add additional weight to prevent containers from toppling over in the wind. The soil temperature should be at least ¼ inch deep. Separate seedlings out, and to avoid them becoming drawn and leggy, move them into their own pots. Should seedlings become a bit too tall, replant them up to their lowest leaves to support them. Make sure to keep the seedlings warm until you’re ready to plant. Peppers need to grow somewhere that is both warm and bright as they need plenty of light to encourage healthy, stocky plants and will be less prone to growing top-heavy and flopping over. Pot young plants on as the roots fill their pots. Though transplanted seedlings begin at a pot size of around 3 inches, it won’t take them for them to outgrow this. Move plants up a pot size (like a 5 inch pot) once they have around 5 to 8 leaves and you can see roots at the drainage holes. Once they’ve filled the pot, pot them on again, this time into a pot that’s about 8 inches. For most pepper plants, the final container size is around 9 to 12 inches. You can either keep the peppers in pots or transplant them outside into the garden.
To produce the largest and healthiest fruit, pepper plants require full sun, so make sure to pick a site that is shaded by trees or other garden plants. Soil should be well-draining with rich, organic matter. Since peppers don’t like to have “wet feet,” avoid planting them in locations that are prone to getting very wet. The soil pH should be on the slightly acidic side—ideally 6.0 to 7.0—and the soil consistency should be somewhere between sandy and loamy, which will ensure that the soil drains well and warms quickly. Be sure to avoid planting peppers in places other members of the nightshade family have been grown, such as tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants. Otherwise, peppers can be exposed to disease.
10 days before transplanting outdoors, begin to harden off plants. At the time of planting, the soil temperature should be at least 60°F as peppers are very sensitive to cool temperatures. To speed up the warming of the soil, cover it with black plastic or a dark mulch a week before you intend to plant. When you transplant seedlings outdoors, space them 18 to 24 inches apart. Be sure to plant the transplants no deeper than they were already planted in their pots because the stems may become more prone to rot.
Peppers should never be allowed to struggle and soil moisture is especially important in this regard. While peppers enjoy good moisture, they should be left to dry out between waterings, and this is generally done once a week. If the leaves have gone slightly limp, you’ve likely left it a little too long, but a strong watering should resolve this issue. If you’re growing the peppers in pots, you can determine whether the potting mix is dry enough by lifting the container to check its weight; it should be much lighter. To feel for moisture, push a finger down into the soil. Everyday watering is necessary if you live in a warm or desert climate, or you’re experiencing a hot, dry summer. If watering is not adequately done, peppers are susceptible to blossom-end rot.
A week before transplanting peppers into the garden, use fertilizer or aged compost in your soil; an alternative would be mixing in a slow-release fertilizer. Peppers require regular feeding using a liquid fertilizer that’s high in potassium to promote flower production and fruit set (a tomato fertilizer works well). A liquid seaweed with a good range of trace minerals also works well. A lack of these minerals, combined with overwatering, results in yellowing leaves. After the first fruit set, fertilize peppers with a low-nitrogen fertilizer. (Remember that too much nitrogen can result in the plant producing foliage opposed to flowers and fruit).
After the plants begin producing fruits, pick them immediately when they have reached their full size and color. Regular picking encourages plants to produce more flowers and fruits. As a result, the longer peppers stay on the plant, the sweeter they become and the greater their vitamin C content. Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut peppers clean off the plant.