Bell peppers are a delicious addition to any home garden. They can be particular to grow, but with some care and attention to detail, just about anyone can have bell peppers thriving from spring to fall. Here’s how to grow bell peppers to help get your home pepper crop going strong.
BELL PEPPER VARIETIES
Bell peppers come in dozens of varieties that include different shapes, colors and sizes. Some are sweet. Some are spicy. The most important thing is to choose a variety that is proven to thrive in your climate. Some peppers are more resistant to extreme temperatures or disease. Try consulting local grow experts to find out what types of bell pepper are best for you. You can also choose based on color and flavor if you feel your growing conditions are ideal. If you live in a northern region and have a shorter growing season, you may choose a variety that is quicker to mature or which bares all of its fruit at once.
WHEN TO GROW
Peppers need a long, hot growing season to be successful. They are planted in the spring and harvested well into the fall. They can be damaged easily by cold spells and frost will kill them. Peppers are best if grown indoors and transferred outside once the danger of frost has long passed. Wait at least 2 weeks past the last frost date for your area before transplanting seedlings outdoors. If you are growing in a cooler zone, be prepared to provide warming blankets or black plastic to protect them from the cold.
WHERE TO GROW
Bell peppers are best grown in an area of the garden that hasn’t grown peppers, eggplants, tomatoes or potatoes for the last 3 seasons. Be sure plenty space can be given to the peppers for the entirety of the growing season, from spring through fall. Bell peppers need lots of direct sunlight and should be grown in a place with lots of sun exposure.
Bell peppers do best in loamy, sandy soil. Be sure that it is well drained. Raised garden beds do great with peppers if that is an option. If possible, test your soil to be sure it has plenty of calcium, potassium and phosphorus. Fortify soil with mature compost or organic fertilizer before planting. The heavier the soil, the more compost you will need to add. A neutral soil pH of about 7.0 is ideal for bell peppers.
Sow bell pepper seeds indoors about 8 weeks before temperatures will allow you to transplant outdoors. Follow the instructions on your specific seed packet. You’ll usually sow seeds ¼ inch deep in a good potting soil. Water. Keep the soil warm and moist and give the seedlings lots of light once they germinate (6 to 8 days). Try to keep soil temperatures at around 75° F. Use a heating pad if necessary. Use grow lights to supplement natural light from windows.
Transplant your bell pepper seedlings outdoors once the soil temperature in your garden is at least 70° F (warmer is even better). Do not transplant them too soon. Introduce them gradually to the outdoors to harden them off. Try placing them outside during the day only and bringing them in at night for about a week before planting.
Seedlings should be planted 18” to 24” apart and about 2 inches deep. Immediately fertilize and water after planting.
Bell peppers need about 1.5 to 2 inches of water per week. Keep the soil moist but do not let it get muddy. Check it often, particularly in hot, dry regions to ensure it does not dry out, which can lead to bitter tasting peppers.
Fertilize after the first fruits set. Try a fish emulsion or kelp extract, particularly when feeding seedlings early on. Bell peppers like a fertilizer that is rich in potassium, phosphorus and calcium. A little nitrogen is good too, but not too heavy or they will bare lots of leaves but little peppers. Leaves are good though; they help protect the peppers from harsh sunrays.
Some larger plants may need stakes or cages for support to prevent bending.
Most peppers take 70 to 90 days to harvest. Some will yield all their fruit all at once but most varieties continue to produce until the first frost of the fall. Bell peppers are mature once they’ve developed their final color (they’ll be green until then). Immature peppers can be harvested too if they are large enough to eat. This can be helpful early on to thin the plants for better aeration and to encourage more production. Be sure to clip the peppers off with shears—breaking them off by hand can damage the plant.
TIPS & ADVICE
Many pepper plants will need a nitrogen boost in mid-July to ensure they bear fruit for the entire growing season.
Mulch early on to ensure the soil is moist and warm.
If you plan to save seeds, do not plant sweet peppers and hot peppers near each other as they may contaminate each other’s seeds.
Peppers can be susceptible to many different insects, especially caterpillars. Check them often. Pick off any insects and use an organic spray if necessary to deter them.
Do not store peppers next to fruits that produce ethylene gas, such as apples and strawberries.
Have your own tips on how to grow bell peppers? Let us know in the comments section below!