Pepper Plant Care Guide
Are pepper plants among the variety of fruits and veggies chosen for your garden this season? If so, here are some great tips to follow in order to keep them happy and gain the most yield.
GROW MULTIPLE VARIETIES
Growing several different varieties of peppers will help lengthen the harvest period, as some varieties mature more quickly than others. Also, by growing an assortment 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 large fruit 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.
PEPPERS LOVE THE HEAT
From sweet, crisp peppers that come in all colors of the rainbow, to habañeros hot enough to bring tears to your eyes, all peppers share a preference for a long, warm growing season. Get your plants growing as soon as possible, and start setting them outside 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.
EVEN PEPPERS NEED A LITTLE SUPPORT…
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. Support your pepper plant by using a wire cage or stakes. Small wire tomato cages make good supports for large bell pepper 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, such as Permagreen Pro Organic Mushroom 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 Fertilome Ultimate Potting Mix. In raised beds, try Permagreen Pro Organic Raised Bed Garden 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.
FEED YOUR PEPPERS
For bigger harvests, it’s helpful to feed plants with a continuous-release fertilizer like Espoma Organic Garden-Tone Herb and Vegetable 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.
As peppers change from green to yellow, orange, or red, both their vitamin content and flavor improve dramatically. This is when they are ready for harvest! 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 that have turned completely red pack the most heat.
Gardeners in hot climates may need to be patient with big bells and sweet roasting peppers, which often wait to load up with fruit until late summer when nights become longer and cooler. Help the wait go by faster by occupying your time with the less flashy, yet phenomenally productive, banana peppers! While the bigger varieties take their time, this variety ripens quicker and will give you something delicious to combine with your tomatoes and basil in a cool summer salad.
THE QUICK GUIDE TO PLANTING PEPPERS
For all my skimmers out there, here is a quick little overview on how to best care for your pepper plants, ensuring that they will produce fruit for you all season long.
- 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.