Peppers make a delicious addition to many salads and dishes. Whether sweet varieties like bell peppers, or spicier varieties, like jalapenos, they offer a tasty way to brighten many recipes.
They are, luckily, also fairly easy to grow. With a little bit of care and some catering to their particular quirks, you can grow many different varieties successfully in your garden. Here is a look at some of the best tips for growing peppers in your own garden this next growing season.
1. Choose disease-resistant varieties
Your pepper growing success begins with the type of peppers you choose to grow. You can choose any variety you wish to see in your fall dishes and salads. However, make sure that they are disease-resistant.
Selecting plants that naturally resist illness will make it easier to enjoy a bountiful harvest and spare you hours of spraying and examining and worrying over sick plants.
2. Use loamy soil
Soil quality is important for any plant you choose to add to your garden. Peppers, however, tend to be a little pickier than the average plant because of their moisture needs. They require lots of water, but quickly suffer if the water remains around the roots for too long.
As a result, pepper plants require loamy soil that drains well. Dense soil retains water will damage your plants. Most gardeners will not have loamy soil just sitting in their yards. You will likely need to amend your soil in order to achieve the right consistency. Try adding 1 inch of compost to your pepper patch to create the rich soil you need for your pepper seedlings.
3. Avoid adding nitrogen to the soil
Pepper plants are also a little bit particular about nitrogen. Actually, they will do well if there is an excess of nitrogen in the soil. However, you want more than lush plants. You want your plants to yield a hearty harvest of peppers. Lush pepper plants produce fewer peppers.
As a result, avoid adding too much nitrogen to your soil in the form of fertilizer. Instead, choose a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen (such as a 5-10-10 fertilizer) to ensure that your pepper plants devote their energy to making peppers.
4. Warm your soil before planting
Peppers like the warmth. That means you need to make sure your soil is nice and toasty before you put your tender seedlings in there. Make sure you warm your soil up before planting.
The best way to warm your soil ahead of time is to place a dark piece of plastic or tarp over your pepper patch about a week before you plant your seedlings. The plastic will trap the heat, creating a warm spot ideal for your new pepper plants.
5. Plant when night and day temps are warm
Remember how pepper plants like warmth? That means you also need to wait until the temperatures are warm both at night and during the day before you plant.
Ideally, you should put your pepper plants in the ground when nighttime (not daytime) temps are around 55 or 60 degrees. All danger of frost should also be past before you plant.
6. Plant seedlings
Since peppers do require warm temps to thrive, you will want to plant seedlings, not seeds, in your garden. Otherwise, you will not have enough of a growing season for your plants to reach maturity and bear fruit before the first frost sets in.
If you want to start with seeds, plan to begin them indoors, around January or February, depending upon your area and the speed with which it warms in the spring. Then transplant those seedlings when the temperatures outside are warm enough.
7. Harden your seedlings before planting
Seedlings started indoors will not immediately be able to tolerate the harsher outdoors. Instead, take the time to harden them off before planting.
Hardening off seedlings means putting them outside for longer and longer periods of time before planting them. The exposure builds their tolerance to the cooler, less regulated outdoor temperatures.
You can harden off your pepper plants by placing them outdoors in a sheltered area soba few hours every day when daytime temps reach about 60 degrees. After a few days begin to extend the plants’ time outside. Eventually, you should be able to leave them outside overnight and plant them without causing them any harm.
8. Plant on a cloudy day
Transplanting can be a stressful process for peppers. You can help to reduce some of this stress and encourage the seedlings to thrive, by planting on a cloudy day. The lack of direct sun and heat will help the plants to settle in to the garden without a lot of additional stress that could damage them.
9. Plant part of the stem
When planting your pepper plants, do not just bury the roots. Plant part of the stem as well. The stem will sprout additional roots. As a result, by planting part of the stem under the soil, you encourage the growth of a robust root system that will lead to a stronger, healthier plant.
10. Give your peppers enough space
The amount of space peppers require depends upon the variety you choose. Consult your packaging to find out exactly how much space each plant requires.
However, a good rule of thumb is to plant seedlings about 18 inches apart. This gives them room to grow and prevents overcrowding which can encourage the spread of disease and prevent each plant from getting enough sun and nutrients.
11. Water generously and evenly
Peppers require a lot of water. You should plan to give them 1 to 2 inches of water every week. Just make sure to water them evenly. Too much water around the roots at once can lead to disease and damage. Instead, spread your watering sessions throughout the week so the plants can get enough water without drowning.
You also need to be aware that your pepper plants will need even more water during periods of extreme heat or when a drought hits. At these times, you should plan to give each plant a full gallon of water every day.
12. Avoid fertilizer
Usually, you think of fertilizer as a good thing. Many plants require feeding about every 6 weeks during the growing season. Not peppers. In fact, you can and should avoid fertilizing these plants except for two times:
- Immediately upon planting
- When the first flowers come out
You can even safely forgo that second feeding if you wish. Fertilizing too much can lead to lush plants that do not put out enough peppers to make a bountiful harvest.
13. Embrace mulch
You may not want to fertilize your pepper plants too much, but you do want to embrace the mulch. Add about 1 inch of mulch around your pepper plants. Doing so will help your plants retain moisture and keep weeds down.
14. Stake your seedlings with cloth
You may not automatically think of peppers as plants that need a little extra support. However, the stems and branches of pepper plants can bend and even snap under the weight of their fruit. Prevent these problems by staking or caging your plants when you plant them.
However, make sure you tie them up with nylon or cloth bindings. These will give the stems room to grow. Other types of bindings, like twine, will eventually cut off nutrient supply to the stem as it grows and presses against the binding. You could lose the stem and its fruiting you do not choose a soft and forgiving binding when you stake your pepper plants.
15. Embrace companion planting
Companion planting is the practice of planting certain plants together. because they do better when growing near each other. For example, tomatoes often thrive when placed next to marigolds. The benefits of companion planting can include fewer pests, more lush plants, a more abundant harvest, and tastier fruit.
Pepper plants can benefit from companion planting as well. Consider planting them alongside tomatoes, carrots, or basil. Also be aware that some plants can actually be a detriment to pepper plants. Avoid planting peppers, for example, near fennel.
16. Remove the first flowers
Even beginner gardeners know that flowers lead to fruit. But when those first flowers appear on your pepper plants, don’t be afraid to pinch them off. While preventing that initial harvest seems counterintuitive, it will actually lead to a richer harvest of peppers in the long run.
When you remove the pepper plant’s first blooms, you encourage the plant to divert more energy into making fruit. In the long run, you will enjoy bigger and more abundant fruit as a result. You simply have to wait for that second round of flowers to form.
17. Wait until peppers are mature before harvesting
It can be hard to wait until your fruits and veggies are perfectly ripe before harvesting them. You might be tempted to collect your peppers as soon as they look large enough. If you harvest too early, however, you will not enjoy the rich, fully developed flavor the pepper has for you.
Instead, wait until the peppers are fully mature before you pluck them from the stem. Often, this means waiting until the pepper turns from green to its mature color (red, orange, yellow, etc.). You may not harvest as many peppers with this approach, but you will harvest delicious fruits that add as much flavor as possible to your salads and dishes.
18. Cut your peppers from the plant
When it is time to harvest your peppers, try not to pull or twist the pepper from the stem. This action can damage the stem. You may even end up tearing off entire branches in your efforts to harvest your peppers.
Instead, cut the pepper off the plant using shears. The sharp edge will leave a clean cut that will allow the plant to remain healthy.
This year, try adding peppers to your garden. No matter what variety you choose, your plants can benefit from good soil, even watering, companion planting, staking, and more. Use these tips to grow healthy, vibrant peppers you can be proud of.