If you appreciate a spicy, fiery kick in your food or prefer the sweeter, milder variety, you must grow peppers at home. The homegrown crop is far superior in taste and freshness to those found in the supermarket, and the glossy, colorful fruits add a decorative touch to your home garden.
While you can also grow peppers in containers, this article focuses on growing peppers in the ground from seeds for a rewarding harvest.
Following are the materials and equipment you need to grow peppers outdoors.
- Pepper seeds
- Small pots
- Seed starting mix or potting soil
- Stakes or cages
- Fleece, black trash bag, or landscape fabric
Step 1: Starting Seeds
Pepper seeds require soil temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and above 55 degrees Fahrenheit at night to germinate. Thus, it is better to start your seeds indoors, where you can control the temperature to ensure germination. Sow your seeds six to eight weeks before you transplant them outside. The ideal time to transplant your seedlings will be two to three weeks after the last predicted frost date in your area.
First, fill small pots (biodegradable peat pots or small containers with drainage holes) with moist seed starting mix or potting soil. Plant the seeds at a depth of 1/4 an inch. Maintain the soil temperature by placing the planted seeds in a heated propagator or on a warm windowsill covered with clear plastic to keep in warmth and moisture.
It can take approximately two weeks for the seedlings to appear. Once you see this move them to a sunny location while you prepare their outdoor space.
Step 2: Choose and Prepare the Site
Peppers require a lot of sunlight to grow, so choose a spot exposed to at least six to eight hours of full sun. They also prefer well-draining, enriched, loamy soil with a slightly acidic pH of 6 to 7. Avoid planting the peppers on a site where you planted related crops, such as tomatoes, eggplants, or potatoes the previous year, as it increases the probability of diseases.
Prepare the planting site by adding well-rotted manure about 8 to 10 inches deep and raking the soil multiple time. Avoid using fresh manure as it can promote leafy growth, lesser fruits, or possible disease. You can add a fleece, a black trash bag, or landscape fabric over the soil about one week before transplanting to keep the soil warm.
Step 3: Transplanting Seedlings
The seedlings are ready for transplanting once they have five to eight leaves. However, before planting them outdoors, acclimatize or “harden them” over 10 to 14 days. Leave them outdoors in a sheltered area with sunlight for a couple of hours on the first day, gradually increasing the duration. This will allow your crop to get comfortable in their new environment and prevent shock.
Once the soil temperature is 65 degrees Fahrenheit, make holes about three to four inches deep, spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. The rows should be a good 12 inches apart from one another.
Now, gently unpot the seedlings and place them in the holes about one inch deeper than the soil line. Fill the space with soil and pack it loosely. If you plan to insert stakes or cages to support the pepper plant, do it soon after transplanting as not to damage the roots later.
Finally it’s time to care for your pepper plants and watch them grow!
Step 4: General Care Instructions
Now that the seedlings are in, you need to establish a care routine to help the crop reach fruition.
Water regularly, about one to two inches weekly; If there isn’t enough rain, attempt to keep the soil moist but never soggy. Water early in the day to allow the leaves to dry completely before nightfall, or use a soaker hose to irrigate the roots directly. Inconsistent watering can lead to blossom end rot, which develops a dark, sunken spot on the bottom of the fruit.
Since the pepper plant requires moist soil, use mulch to maintain moisture and keep the plant happy. You can use organic mulch, such as straw or herbicide-free lawn clippings. Mulching also helps keep the soil cool and discourages weeds from growing.
Fertilize the seedlings immediately after transplanting using a high-potassium, low-nitrogen liquid fertilizer — Excess nitrogen can reduce fruit set. Apply fertilizer weekly after the first flush of peppers and not before that, as premature fertilizing can cause the leaves to grow excessively at the cost of the fruits.
The optimal temperature for growing peppers is between 70 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is extremely hot during the daytime, with temperatures exceeding 85 degrees Fahrenheit or nighttime temperatures dropping below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, it can reduce cropping and cause immature fruits and flowers to drop.
If you live in an exceptionally hot climate consider keeping your pepper plants in containers so you can easily bring them inside.
Peppers are most susceptible to spider mites and aphids. Thus, weekly inspections of the plants can keep pest infestation at bay.
Spider mites appear as fine webbing on the leaves’ underside and flourish in dry, hot conditions. Thus, if you notice any such signs, spray the areas to eliminate the pest. Aphids are also found on the leaves’ underside near the growing branches. They appear as sticky honeydew, and you can remove them by wiping the infected areas with a cotton swab.
Step 5: Harvest
After months of putting in time and effort towards your plant, you are ready to reap the rewards! You can harvest your peppers as soon as they have turned green or reached a usable size, which can vary for different pepper varieties. It happens around late summer to early fall when the temperatures start to drop but the best indication for harvest is coloring.
You can also leave them on the plant longer to allow them to develop more flavor. For example, jalapenos are spiciest after turning red, while bell peppers become sweeter the longer you wait.
When harvesting use clean scissors or hand pruners to cut the fruits from the plant instead of plucking them to avoid damage. Make sure to wear gloves when handling spicier varieties.
Regular harvesting leads to more bountiful produce since it encourages the plants to grow more flowers.
Plant a Pepper for Some Punch
Peppers are among the most intriguing culinary homegrown crops, as they can be unbearably hot and enticingly sweet, depending on the variety.
They are also simple to grow from seed. Simply plant the seeds in a seed starting mix indoors in late winter and transplant them outside once the soil is warm enough. Water, mulch, and fertilize routinely to keep your peppers satiated and enjoy the fruits of your labor in late summer.
Share below if you have any tips and tricks for growing them!