Learning how to grow the best peppers is as easy as following a few tips. From seed to plate, you’ll be absolutely amazed at your results!
When it comes to growing peppers in your home vegetable garden, your choices are pretty much endless. You can grow super sweet peppers like the Chocolate Beauty and Sheepnose Pimento varieties to screaming scorchers such as the Apocalypse Scorpion and Buena Mulata.
Whether you’re a true “chilihead” or you’re just looking for tasty peppers to grow, your garden can flourish with delicious peppers this season. All you need to know is how to start them, care for them, and harvest them. Follow the tips here and you’re almost guaranteed to increase your harvest.
How to Start Your Peppers
Start Your Seedlings
If you’re not planning to start your own seeds, you can just buy your plant starts when you’re ready to plant (after your last frost). Skip ahead to the next section.
For those who want to plant your own seeds, start your pepper seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. I always plant 2-3 seeds per cell in these seedling starter trays to ensure germination. If more than one does come up, you can either thin them out by saving the best-looking seedling in the cell and pinching the others off at the soil level or separate them carefully and plant them all.
As warmer weather approaches, and your seedlings are thriving, begin to move them outdoors little by little to harden them off. If you’re not quite ready to plant your seedlings in their permanent home for the season, you can pot them up into larger pots (these are the ones we use).
Additional Reading: 10 Steps to Starting Seedlings Indoors | Grow a Good Life
Now that your seedlings are well on their way, you need to find a good location to plant them. Pepper plants love the heat of summer and require full sun to grow (6-8 hours of sunlight). You can grow your peppers in containers, raised beds, or in-ground plots, so get creative!
Peppers thrive in fertile, well-draining soil with a pH between 6.2 and 7.0, though they can grow in slightly alkaline conditions close to 7.5. Mix some nutrient-rich compost, aged manure or rotted hay into the soil to give the plants the good organic matter they need. If your soil is composed mainly of clay, the addition of some sand will help the soil drain better.
Planting Your Peppers
When pepper seedlings are 4-6″ in height, they’re ready to be planted. Space smaller peppers (like Shishito) 12″ apart with 30″ between rows, and larger peppers (like Bell Peppers) 18″ apart with 36″ between rows. If you’re planting in raised beds (like with the Square Foot Gardening method), you can plant the seedlings in blocks, disregarding the row spacing.
I always recommend companion planting, so plant some onions, basil and sweet alyssum with your pepper plants. These plants will help deter pests attract more beneficial insects and pollinators.
Additional Reading: The Best Companion Flowers for Your Vegetable Garden
How to Care for Your Peppers
Peppers are heavy feeders. While the organic material that was added to the soil will help the plant get a good start, you’ll still need to feed them regularly. When peppers begin to set fruit, you’ll need a fertilizer that contains more phosphorus than nitrogen to help boost fruit growth.
Organic fertilizers with NPK values like 3-5-3 or an all-purpose 4-6-2 will help the growth of new fruit as well as the overall health of the plant. Be sure to apply as directed from the manufacturer – more does not always equal better!
While peppers love the heat of summer, they also need plenty of water. With the right amount of water, the peppers you grow will be plentiful and taste better. Aim for 1-2 inches per week until the weather is constantly 85°F or higher daily, then increase watering to about 2-3″ per week. Never let the soil dry out around your pepper plants.
Adding a layer of mulch will help retain moisture in the soil, keep the soil cool, and suppress some of the weeds that are bound to infiltrate your garden. Bark mulch, woodchips, and straw are all great options to cover the soil around your plants. Spreading a layer 2-4″ across your garden will ensure good coverage, but more may be needed as the season progresses.
Bonus Tip: You can also add a layer of cardboard or newspaper over the soil before adding mulch to help with the weed suppression.
Support Your Plants
Pepper plants, like the other plants in the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplants, etc.) need to be supported. As they mature and set fruit, the fruit will be heavier than the branches of the plant, and if they’re not already leaning over, they soon will be.
While tomato cages sound ideal for tomatoes, they are actually better suited for peppers. Alternatively, you can use stakes made of bamboo, wood, or other material. We actually use these plastic-coated metal stakes on our pepper plants, and they work great!
Among the various plaguing pests your peppers may have, aphids top the list. Aphids love to feed on soft parts of plants including stems, branches, buds and fruit. They prefer the tender new growth over established foliage which may be tougher.
Aphids pierce the plant and suck out nutrient-rich sap, leaving behind curled or yellowed leaves, deformed flowers, or damaged fruit. Depending on the level of infestation, they can cause serious injury to individual plants or even entire crops. Because they produce multiple generations in one year, infestations can get out of hand rapidly.
Aphids also spread mosaic virus which usually appear as irregular leaf mottling (having light green or yellow patches or streaks on the leaves). Leaves may be stunted or curled, and leaf veins may be lighter than normal. Mosaic virus will cause plants to be dwarfed, with fewer fruit and flowers than usual that may also be deformed and stunted.
Blossom end rot is another issue with peppers, caused by a calcium deficiency. You’ll see all over the internet “if your peppers (or tomatoes) have blossom end rot, add some eggshells or Tums to the base of the plant!” While this doesn’t hurt, it also won’t fix the problem.
The main reason for plants to end up growing fruit with blossom end rot is inconsistent watering. Peppers need 2-3″ of water per week to maintain a healthy plant. Be sure you’re not overwatering or watering too much at one time after a long drought period.
When young pepper plants are still small, many of them will begin to produce flowers. You’ll want to pinch off those flowers so the plant can redirect more of its energy into growing larger instead of fruiting at this point. Pinching off the flowers won’t harm the plant, nor does leaving them, but the benefits of pinching the flowers off far outweigh leaving them on.
How to Harvest Your Peppers
Most peppers start off green (not all but most). Leaving the pepper on the plant longer will result in the fruit either changing colors or increasing its sweetness or hotness in flavor. For these reasons, that is why you literally have unlimited options when it comes to peppers.
Peppers typically mature between 8 to 10 weeks after transplanting into their permanent home.
Tip for Handling Hot Peppers: Wear gloves to reduce the potential for transfer of capsaicin from pepper to hands to whatever body part you may touch inadvertently.
If you have a bumper crop of peppers, you’ll need as many ways to store them as you can find. For starters, you can store fresh peppers in a crisper drawer for 3 to 5 days. After that, you’ll need something more long-term.
- Freezing – Cut your peppers into the shapes and sizes you need depending on the way they’ll be used later.
- Freeze Dry – Make your harvest shelf stable for decades.
- Dehydrating – Dehydrate and grind peppers for chili powder or combine in a jar with other dehydrated veggies as a nutritional boost when added to any dish.
- Ferment – Fermented peppers make delicious hot sauces.
- Pickling – Pickled peppers are a mainstay amongst homesteaders who can foods.
If you have a particularly delicious heirloom variety of pepper you’d like to grow again, it’s simple to do.
- Choose a fully ripened pepper.
- Cut open the pepper and remove the seeds.
- Spread seeds on a glass or porcelain plate.
- Allow to dry for 5-7 days in a well-ventilated area.
- Store your pepper seeds in a paper seed envelope.
Next season, you’ll be able to plant your saved seeds and grow the same delicious peppers!
Now you know how to grow the best peppers!
Get out into your garden, plant some peppers, and wow the neighbors with your basket-after-basket harvests. You’ll have them thinking you’re a gardening wizard, for sure!
Patrick & Jessie homestead in Middle Georgia with two of their four children and their three dogs. They love gardening, food preservation, and keeping their family prepared for any disaster that may come.