Answers to your pepper questions from the experts at the National Garden Bureau.
With so many different varieties, shapes, sizes, colors, and degrees of hotness, you can imagine why peppers (Capsicum annum) are a very popular and desired vegetable to add to any Victory Garden 2.0.
Did you know the pepper is a nutritional powerhouse?
A serving of the most popular type—the sweet bell—contains more vitamin C than the average orange, a generous amount of vitamin E and many antioxidants … all that with only 29 calories! Peppers have high nutrient levels at any stage, but are the most beneficial when eaten fully ripe. The few colors of bell peppers in the average supermarket are only the beginning—blocky shaped bell peppers can ripen to many colors; ivory, pink, purple, red, yellow, orange, and chocolate.
Sweet peppers come in many shapes as well; the elongated banana, the blocky bell, the oblong or “half-long” bells, flat “cheese” shapes and smooth cherry types. And then there are all those hot peppers!
15 Questions About Growing Peppers
1. Should I sow peppers indoors or directly in the garden?
Peppers are warm weather crops and slow to mature. In all but the mildest climates with long summers, you’ll need to start peppers indoors about indoors 8–10 weeks before the last frost date. You can also purchase plants from a garden center.
2. I started bell pepper seeds indoors and they looked great, then hardened them off. Still great, just zero growth in 3 weeks. Is that normal?
Peppers thrive in warm weather and really struggle under cool, wet conditions. If the soil temperatures are too cool and/or too wet when you plant them out, peppers grow very slowly. The shock of being exposed can slow them down for weeks. However, when the weather warms up, the pepper will eventually start grow more quickly.
Next year, don’t plant them out until nights regularly reach 55˚F (13˚C). That way, you’ll obtain an earlier and larger crop.
3. My peppers were nipped by frost, I cut the damaged leaves off and they are showing new growth. Will they be stunted?
The amount of re-growth will depend on the severity at which they were damaged. If only slight damage, then they will recover. If more severely injured, remove and start with fresh plants as it is most likely still early in the season. Plants that are damaged and experiencing slowed growth are more susceptible to plant diseases.
4. I think I started my pepper plants too early: they’re big and starting to bloom, yet it’s still too cool to plant them out. Should I chance it and plant them? Should I remove the blossoms?
Do not plant them out too early: that will just slow down your harvest. However, it would be best pinch off any blossoms produced indoors. Also, if your plants are too tall and lanky, pinch back the terminal bud on top and let it grow out from the side nodes. And next year, remember that no good comes from starting your plants too early indoors: sowing them 8–10 weeks before planting out time is just fine.
5. How do I plant my pepper plant in the garden?
Bury them a bit deeper than the root ball to encourage additional root growth that will make them sturdier.
6. Can I plant the seeds from a store-bought Bell Pepper?
Yes, but the crop will be a surprise. If your pepper was open-pollinated, the seeds will give peppers identical to the one you bought. If it was a hybrid, they will look and taste different. Also, supermarket peppers are often slow maturing varieties and may not have time to mature in all climates (some require up to 150 days of warm to hot temperatures after planting out to produce harvestable fruit). Garden varieties sold in your local area or sold by seed companies dealing with temperate climate gardeners are likely to be fast-maturing ones (60 to 90 days).
7. Do I need pollinators like bees to fertilize my pepper flowers?
Peppers have perfect flowers, meaning each flower has both male and female parts. Also, the plants self-pollinate under most conditions. Bees and other pollinators are not absolutely necessary for fertilization and fruit production.
8. My pepper plants do not produce a lot of peppers and the ones I get are small. What am I doing wrong?
Remember peppers, in general, like a lot of sun and heat. Don’t plant out too early. Make sure they are getting at least 8 hours of sun per day. A generous use of garden fertilizer is helpful to the plant’s health and can help keep the plant producing all season. Also, peppers can handle a little stress, so let them dry out just a bit before watering again. Never overwater.
Of course, genetics are also involved: some peppers are naturally small; others quite large. The smaller the fruits, the more peppers per plant. You can expect 8–12 large bell peppers on a healthy plant if your growing season is long enough, about 25–30 smaller peppers and about 50–75 of the tiniest “bird’s eye” peppers. Newer varieties, like AAS Winners, are bred for productivity, taste and disease resistance, so you can count on more fruits per plant.
9. I was thinking about growing peppers in a flower box this year, but they’re not very deep. Would I do better to choose a deeper pot?
Definitely! Deeper pots are always preferable. Peppers do grow fairly deep roots, down to 18″—24″ (45–60 cm) where soil conditions permit it. Pepper plants grown in shallow containers often remain a bit stunted, but at least usually mature earlier. Ideally, each plant should have a 2-gallon (7.5 L) or larger container, deeper than it is wide. The baby plant will look a little lonely at first but will grow to fill the container quickly.
A benefit of container growing is that the plant can be introduced to cool nights or hot days gradually to avoid shock. In the spring, bring plants indoors when nighttime temps are below 55˚F (13˚C). And in hot weather, move the plants temporarily to a cooler spot, even if that means shade. Introduce the plants to heat (days over 85˚F/30˚C) a few hours at a time until they are acclimatized to their final location. Fruit set will be low at such temperatures (and nil when day temperatures soar to over 90˚F/35˚C), but at least fruits already forming will continue to mature.
Once plants are established, water every few days (or when soil is dry and pulling away from the side of the pot). Fully soak the soil and avoid spraying water on the leaves. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer package or add mature compost as flowers are setting. Taper off on fertilizer, especially nitrogen, after plants flower. Nitrogen encourages the plant to put its energy into the leaves and not setting fruit.
10. Can you plant peppers in a garden with other vegetables?
Yes, you can mix them with other plants as you see fit. The belief that pepper plants should not be planted near beans, Brassicas or fennel, a tenet of companion planting, has been thoroughly debunked. True enough, peppers are slightly allelopathic, that is, they produce compounds to prevent other plants from taking over their garden space, but these are not at a level where they impact other vegetables in the garden as long as normal spacing is applied.
11. Do I have to worry about pests and diseases on peppers?
Pepper plants are fairly tough plants and not as attractive to insects as other vegetables in the garden. Diseases too are fairly rare. To avoid those spread by watering, it’s best to keep the leaves as dry as possible by using a soaker hose or drip irrigation or giving the plants time to dry in the sun if they are watered from overhead.
12. My pepper leaves look a bit pale. Why is that?
Pale leaves can indicate that the plants need fertilizer. Big, healthy plants that fail to bloom can indicate over-fertilization. Space plants as instructed on the plant tag or seed packet. Plants that are planted too close together will lack air circulation. Proper air circulation improves pollen release, needed for good fruit set. Crowded plants are disease-prone and do not set as well as those that have been properly spaced.
13. When should I harvest my peppers?
Sweet peppers can be harvested at any stage of maturity. Less mature green peppers will generally be green or pale yellow, smaller, crunchy, and have thin walls and a slightly tart flavor. A benefit of harvesting early is that it triggers the plants to produce more fruit. Mature peppers will, at full maturity, change color, have thicker walls and a mild sweet flavor.
Hot peppers too can be harvested and used in both mature and immature phases.
No matter the stage of harvest, cut the peppers from the plant with clean pruners or kitchen shears to avoid damaging the plant.
14. Is it possible to grow green bell peppers in cool summer areas? Or do peppers need a warmer climate? Sun or shade? Do they need a trellis for support?
Bell peppers can be grown in many areas where summers are fairly cool. Plant peppers in full sun as they need at least 8 hours of sunlight per day. Some peppers may require light staking as the fruit matures.
In areas where summer temperatures remain below 55˚F (13˚C) at night in summer, it’s best to grow peppers inside a greenhouse, opening it during the day if the weather is warm, but closing it at night.
15. If I plant bell peppers beside hot peppers, will the sweet pepper produce hot fruit?
No. Pepper flowers are self-pollinated and rarely cross-pollinate naturally. However, the result of a crossing will appear only if seed is saved from this year’s crop and planted next year. It will not result in off flavor or differences in fruit characteristics of this year’s crop.
For the best tasting, most nutritious peppers, grow your own and eat them fresh from your own Victory Garden 2.0.
Unless otherwise mentioned, photos and illustrations
are from the National Garden Bureau.