How to Grow Peppers: Planting, Growing, Harvesting
Peppers are a warm season crop that deserves a spot in any vegetable garden. Rich in vitamins and minerals, you can eat them raw, add them to salads or cooked dishes, and even use them as seasoning.
Whether you’re growing sweet, crunchy bell peppers or tongue-sizzling chilies, any pepper plant needs three things to grow: full sun, well-draining, fertile soil, and plenty of water.
In this guide, we’ll reveal our top growing tips for how to grow big bell peppers and spicy chilies from seed, how to water and fertilize, and how to harvest peppers and store them for later. We’ll also discuss the importance of pruning peppers, how companion planting can help you grow healthy plants, and how to plant pepper in a pot — indoors or outdoors.
There are two main types of pepper plants you can grow in your garden: bell peppers and hot peppers, or chilies. Both are varieties of the same plant, Capsicum annuum, but come in different shapes, sizes, and most importantly, flavors.
Also known as sweet peppers, they usually have a rounded, bell-like shape, although some varieties, such as kapia or paprika peppers, are pointy. Bell peppers have a distinctive, fruity sweetness, and a crisp, juicy texture. You’ll also find them in a wide range of colors, from the iconic red to yellow, orange, green, and even purple or brown.
Although they are varieties of the same plant, red and green peppers are not the same pepper. A green pepper variety will stay green even when ripe. There are also subtle differences in taste and texture between them. Red bell peppers are sweeter, while green bell peppers have a noticeable bitterness and crunchier texture.
Check out our individual growing guides for each type:
The iconic hot peppers, chilies have high levels of capsaicin, a chemical used by the plant as a self-defense mechanism against pests, diseases, and animals. Unfortunately for the chili peppers, we have developed a taste for this hot, spicy chemical, and for many gardeners, the hotter the pepper, the better.
Here are some fun chili pepper varieties you can grow in your garden:
When Is the Best Time to Plant Peppers?
Peppers are a warm-weather crop that is deathly sensitive to frost. The ideal temperature for growing peppers is between 70°F and 80°F (21°C to 80°C). They need temperatures of at least 66°F (19°C) while flowering to set fruit. And, although they need a warm climate to thrive, hot weather is also harmful, and the peppers will not produce fruit if daytime temperatures are higher than 90°F (32°C).
The best time to start growing peppers depends on the variety you want to plant. Hot peppers take up to 120 days to reach maturity so, for best results, sow them indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost. The bell pepper growing season is shorter, and you can start them indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost. You can move the plants outdoors when nighttime temperatures are above 60°F (15.5°F).
If you want to plant peppers outdoors, make sure the soil temperature is at least 65°F (18°C) for sweet bell peppers or 70°F (21°C) for chili peppers. For best results, always wait at least 2 weeks after the last frost, or check out our planting calendar to see which planting times apply in your hardiness zone. Our garden planner will help you further to make the best out of your growing season.
Where Should You Plant Peppers?
Pepper plants need full sun to grow and produce an abundant harvest. Always plant them in a part of your garden that receives at least 6 hours of direct sun per day. Peppers do not tolerate partial shade, and will not set fruit if the planting site is too dark.
How to Plant and Grow Peppers
Peppers belong to the nightshade family and have the same growing conditions as eggplants and tomatoes. Although not as pretentious as these two plants, peppers have a long growing season and need direct sun, well-draining soil, regular watering, and plenty of nutrients to produce a bumper crop.
Let’s take a closer look at the chili and bell pepper growing conditions and how to start growing them at home.
Prepare the Soil
Peppers grow best in fertile, moisture-retentive, slightly acidic, and well drained soil. Loamy soil amended with plenty of compost or well-rotted manure is ideal. The soil pH range for growing peppers is between 6.5 and 7. You can use a soil test kit to make sure that what you have in the garden passes the mark, and add either lime or sulfur to bring it to the correct pH level.
If you live in a cool climate, it’s worth warming up the soil in spring. You can raise the soil temperature by covering it with dark mulch or a black plastic tarp at least 2 weeks before you start planting.
Sow Pepper Seeds
Unless you live in a frost-free climate, it’s always best to start your pepper seeds indoors. The seeds are very sensitive to cool weather and will need minimum soil temperatures of 65°F (18°C) to germinate.
For indoor sowing, start with a few compostable seedling pots at least 2 inches (5 cm) wide. Pepper plant seedlings have delicate roots, and using compostable pots is the best way to ensure that the roots aren’t damaged when transplanting.
Fill each pot with a nutrient-rich, well-draining potting mix, plant one pepper seed per pot, and sprinkle some soil on top. Water them well, and keep them in a warm, sunny room.
If your growing zone allows it, sow pepper seeds outdoors when the soil temperature reaches 65°F (18°C). Plant the seeds ½ an inch deep and 6 inches (15 cm) apart, in rows that are at least 2 feet apart (60 cm). Give them plenty of water, but avoid drowning them. When the seedlings have at least 2 pairs of true leaves, thin them out to 18 inches apart (45 cm).
On average, pepper seeds take 7 to 21 days to germinate. Soaking the seeds in lukewarm water overnight can help them sprout faster, but keeping them warm is more important. If you can bring the soil temperature to 70°F (21°C), the seeds will germinate in a week.
Transplanting Pepper Seedlings
Pepper seedlings are ready to transplant when they are at least 3 inches tall (7.5 cm) and have at least 2 pairs of true leaves. Always transplant peppers at least 2 weeks after the last frost. The exact transplanting date for pepper plants will vary depending on your hardiness zone, but it’s best to wait until the end of May before planting them outside.
Dig a hole that’s slightly wider than the seedling pot, and at least an inch (2.5 cm) deeper. If you’re using compostable pots, simply plant the pot directly in the soil. Otherwise, gently remove the seedling and try to keep as much soil on the roots. Plant the seedlings deeply, until the soil level reaches the bottom leaves, then give them a thorough watering.
Like tomatoes, pepper plants grow adventitious roots from the stem. Deep planting helps the root system grow strong, which means that the plants can access more water and nutrients, and will be more stable as they grow.
The secret to successfully growing peppers is regular, deep watering. Although peppers are not as sensitive to drought as tomatoes, young plants will need consistent watering to become established. If you let pepper plants wilt, especially in hot weather, they may struggle to recover and will produce a smaller harvest.
Always water the peppers at the soil level, to prevent fungal diseases. A drip-feed irrigation on a time, running for an hour or so in the morning, is ideal if you want to keep them well-watered. Mulching also helps preserve soil moisture and suppress weeds.
Regular fertilizer applications are a must if you want to grow healthy pepper plants. They need a nitrogen-rich fertilizer a couple of weeks after the seeds sprout, to stimulate the plant’s growth. Once they start growing flowers, cut back on the nitrogen, otherwise, the peppers will keep producing lots of stems and leaves but less fruit.
If your soil has been amended with plenty of organic matter, there’s no need to give your peppers any additional fertilizer after transplanting. Wait until they start flowering, then feed them an organic fertilizer, such as kelp meal or liquid seaweed.
Peppers need regular pruning to help increase air flow, remove wilted or sick leaves, and encourage the plant to produce more pepper fruits. You can start pruning bell pepper plants when they are at least one foot tall (30 cm).
Use a sharp pair of pruning shears, and remove any stems that are facing towards the plant or growing in crowded sections. Cut the tips of the remaining stems, to help them branch out. As the plant grows, keep trimming unnecessary stems and excess flowers.
Always trim the flowers from young pepper plants that are blooming indoors before they’re transplanted. If you don’t prune them, the plants will spend all their energy producing fruit prematurely and will have poorly developed roots as a result.
In the fall, 3 to 4 weeks before the first frost, prune all stems that are not bearing fruit. This will encourage the plants to use their remaining energy to ripen the peppers.
Stakes and Supports
Peppers benefit from staking, especially once they grow more than 16 inches (40 cm) in height. This will help improve airflow and prevent crowded growth. A few bamboo stakes will work nicely, or you can just use tomato cages.
When and How to Harvest Peppers
You can start harvesting peppers 60 to 90 days after the seeds have sprouted. As a rule of thumb, the hotter the pepper, the longer it will take to mature. Bell peppers are typically ready in about 2 months. But for harvesting hot peppers such as Habanero, Carolina Reaper, or Bird’s Eye Chili, be prepared to wait 100 – 120 days.
How do you tell if a pepper is ripe? Color is the first clue, but unless you’re growing red peppers, you also need to consider the size and texture. A ripe pepper should feel firm but not hard to the touch. Also, the seed packet should tell you how big each pepper variety gets before it’s ready to pick.
Use a sharp pair of pruning shears to harvest peppers. Don’t pull them off by hand, as this can damage the plant. Leave at least one inch (2.5 cm) of stem on each fruit, so that it lasts longer after harvesting. Pick your peppers regularly as they ripen, so that the plant produces more fruit.
You can keep bell peppers in the crisper drawer of your fridge for 1 week, or 2 weeks for chilies. To store peppers, you can either freeze, dry, or can them. The best — and tastiest — way to store bell peppers is to roast them, then preserve them in oil or vinegar.
For chili peppers, you can dry them in a dehydrator, in the oven, or hang them in a dry, well-ventilated place. If you can hear the seeds rustle inside when you shake them, that means the chilies are dry enough and ready to store.
Common Pepper Pests and Diseases
The most common problems with growing peppers are caused by pests, diseases, and incorrect growing conditions. Here’s what you need to keep an eye out for.
Common diseases for bell peppers and chili peppers are powdery mildew, anthracnose, bacterial leaf spot, and the cucumber mosaic virus. You can prevent most of these diseases by planting in direct sunlight, avoiding overhead watering, pruning regularly to improve air circulation, and growing disease resistant varieties. Also, remember to practice crop rotation, and wait at least 3 years before planting peppers or other nightshades in the same spot.
Peppers are also susceptible to common garden pests such as aphids, flea beetles, cutworms, leaf miners, Colorado beetles, and root knot nematodes. Regular applications of insecticidal soap solution can help with managing pests. In case of severe infestations, it’s best to just cut the damaged leaves and stems and burn them.
Like tomatoes, peppers can suffer from blossom end rot, a disease caused by a lack of calcium. Symptoms usually include dark, sunken, soft spots on the blossom end of the fruit. Damaged peppers will not recover, so your best option is to prevent this disease. Always plant peppers in warm, well-draining soil, with a pH ranging from 6.5 to 7. Provide regular watering, and avoid giving the plants too much nitrogen.
Companion Planting With Peppers
You can also try growing peppers and tomatoes together. These plants have similar growing requirements, and will also work well with other nightshades, such as eggplants. Having said that, keep in mind that nightshades are susceptible to the same pests and diseases, which can be easily transmitted from one plant to another. Leave plenty of room between the plants and rows, prune damaged plants regularly, and practice crop rotation each year.
Can you grow bell peppers and chilies together? Technically speaking, yes, but there’s a catch. These two plants hybridize easily through pollination. Now, this won’t be a problem in the first year. But if you harvest the seeds from bell peppers and chili peppers growing together and plant them, there’s a good chance that the fruit will taste different come harvest time. Your bell peppers will be slightly spicy, while your chilies will have a milder taste.
How to Grow Peppers in Containers
Peppers are a great pick for container gardening. This allows you to make the most of your garden space, extend your growing season, as well as grow peppers indoors. Let’s take a look at how to grow pepper in a pot.
Growing Peppers in a Container
Start with a large, 3-gallon (11 liters) container with drainage holes at the bottom. Fill the container with an organic, well-draining potting mix. Plant 3 – 4 pepper seeds ½ an inch deep, water them well and keep the container in a warm, sunny room. Once the seedlings have 2 pairs of true leaves, remove the weaker ones. You can keep two pepper plants per pot, but for best results, try to grow just one plant per container.
As the weather gets warmer, you can either move the pot outside, in your garden or on a patio, or keep it indoors.
Growing Peppers Indoors
If you’re planning to grow bell pepper indoors, keep in mind that these plants need direct sun to thrive. Most homes are simply too dark for growing peppers, and unless you have a room where they can receive at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, your plants will struggle. To achieve an ideal environment for indoor peppers, it’s worth investing in grow lights.
Growing peppers takes a bit of time and patience, but this tasty and versatile crop makes all your hard work worthwhile. For best results, always start them indoors, then transplant them to your garden when the weather allows it. And, with our growing tips, your thriving garden will produce a bumper crop that will make you add peppers to your list of easy vegetables to grow every year.