Days to germination: 10 to 15 days
Days to harvest: 65 to 100 days
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Regular and frequent watering
Soil: Rich soil with added calcium
Container: Ideal for containers
For the home gardener, there are really 2 basic kinds of peppers to choose from: sweet bell peppers, or hot chili peppers. This article deals with the larger bell peppers. Their care and harvest differ, so don’t confuse the two.
Bell peppers can be grown in a rainbow of colors, including red, yellow, orange, green, and even chocolate brown. Fresh peppers are excellent raw and can be used in a number of cooked recipes too. Their round and hollow shape makes them perfect for stuffing once the seed core is taken out.
They are fairly easy to grow, but they are finicky about temperature. If you have an irregular climate that isn’t always warm enough, you may not get a huge pepper harvest.
Sweet bell peppers are well-known for their extremely high vitamin C content, and they have significant levels of vitamin A and B6 as well.
Starting from Seed
Your plants should not be out in the garden until the weather and soil is warm, so start your seeds indoors in order to get a harvest before winter. Find your expected last frost date, and plant your pepper seeds about 8 weeks before that.
Be prepared to pamper your seedlings because they like it warm. Seeds should go in the soil about half an inch deep, and you need to keep your seed pots around 80F for the best germination. Once sprouted, you can let the temperature drop down to around 70F, but no lower than 62F at nights.
If you start your seedlings in trays, move them to 3″ inch pots after a few weeks to give their roots ample room to grow.
You’ll be putting your little pepper plants outside about 3 weeks after the last frost date.
Dig your soil thoroughly, and add extra compost to feed your peppers. Lime can add the extra calcium your plants will need and prevent blossom rot (see below). The holes should be deep enough to accommodate the roots of the seedlings, but don’t plant any deeper. The stem shouldn’t be covered. You’ll only need about 8 to 10 inches between your plants since they don’t grow all that large.
When you select a location for your plants, they will need full sun and protection from the winds. Near a wall is ideal as long as it doesn’t actually shade the plants.
If you let your plants dry out too much or too often, you can get bitter peppers. Make sure you water your plants frequently to keep the fruit developing right.
You can fertilize throughout the growing season, but don’t use a high-nitrogen formula. Too much nitrogen will produce very leafy plants with small fruit, or even no fruit at all. Some fish emulsion will improve the phosphorus level too.
Once you have growing peppers on your plants, you might want to stake them. Large peppers can be pretty heavy for the small plant and may bend the plant down. Tomato cages can be a great help for this, but you need to put the cages in place when the plants are small. Don’t try to cage a full-grown plant or you will likely damage the roots as well as the branches.
Because of their love of warmth, many gardeners use a black plastic cover over the soil instead of regular mulch. It helps keep both the heat and moisture in the soil, and also keeps out the weeds.
Though peppers do love the heat, they will drop their blossoms without any fruit development if the temperatures get over 90F during the day or over 75F at nights. It won’t do any lasting harm to the plant, and they will start setting fruit again once the weather goes back to their preferred temperature range.
Peppers produce fairly small plants, and work very well in containers. A pot that is 12 inches across can handle 2 pepper plants. Mix your potting soil with some compost for nutrients, and water the pots regularly. Set your containers along a sunny wall, and the wall can reflect its heat onto the plants for added warmth.
Some varieties like Blushing Beauty are smaller for containers, but really any variety of bell pepper can be grown in a pot.
Pests and Diseases
Tobacco mosaic virus can effect pepper plants, so never touch your plants after handling any kind of tobacco. Yes, that includes cigarettes. The symptoms are yellowed and mottled leaves, and stunted plant growth.
Aphids can also spread mosaic, so take care to control any aphid infestations with insecticide sprays. Ladybugs will eat aphids and can be a great help keeping the little pests away from your plants. You can purchase pepper varieties that are naturally resistant to mosaic virus.
Once the fruit starts to grow, you might see that the end where the blossom was starts to turn black and rot. It’s appropriately called blossom end rot, and happens because there isn’t enough calcium in your soil. You can’t save the rotting fruit, but adding lime to the soil may prevent the continued problem with further peppers on your plants.
Southern blight is a fungus that can attack your peppers, causing rotten patches along the stems near the soil. Don’t let water or leaf debris to accumulate under your plants, and treat with a fungicide if you see this developing. Once the lesions have grown right around the stem, the plant will likely die.
Harvest and Storage
On an average healthy bell pepper plant, you can likely harvest between 5 and 10 good-sized peppers. The fruit will be firm, and will have turned whatever color your variety of pepper is suppose to be (red, yellow, green). You can pick them smaller (all will still be green) as long as they are firm enough to be used, but they will have a much reduced vitamin content at that stage.
Be gentle when picking the peppers so you don’t harm the rest of the bush. Either snip them off with garden clippers, or twist them off while you hold the plant with your other hand.
When your peppers are large, and have turned their final color, don’t leave them on the plant for too long. It will trigger the plant to stop flowering and can cut your harvest period short.
Fresh peppers can be stored in your refrigerator for about a week. Raw bell peppers can also be frozen, once they are cored.