Peppers are delicious and good for you! They’re also easy to grow with our handy six-step guide. Read on and your peppers will be the talk of the neighborhood. These six steps work with plants you buy at your local nursery or those you start from seeds.
1. Location, Location, Location! Peppers love areas with good drainage and lots of sun. They also like it if you haven’t grown peppers in that area recently so be sure to rotate your crop. Peppers prefer rich, loamy soil. You can easily get this soil type by tilling in an inch or so of good, organic compost. Be careful with nitrogen, though. Peppers react well to nitrogen, growing so quickly that they are more disease-prone and won’t produce as much.
2. Acclimate or Harden Off Seedlings. You can skip this step if you’re planting nursery plants. Otherwise, it’s vital that you get your seedlings used to outside weather conditions before transplanting them. This stress reduction helps your plants produce bigger peppers and more of them. Start putting your seedlings outside in a sheltered location when daytime temperatures are in the mid-60s. Do this for a few hours a day for about 3 – 4 days. While you’re hardening off your seedlings, cover the soil in which you’ll be planting them with dark landscape fabric to warm it.
3. Plant those Peppers! Even after you’ve hardened off your seedlings, you still want to wait until there’s no danger of frost and the nighttime temperatures are consistently 60 degrees or higher. Peppers like being warm, so planting too early will cause stress and weaken your plants. Set out your plants on a cloudy day, if you can, to help further reduce stress. Plant them roughly 12 – 20 inches apart (this is dependent on the variety, so read the seed packets/other info). Plant them such that part of the stem is below ground as you would for tomatoes. Both plants grow roots from that part of the stem, which adds to stability. You may need to cage or stake taller varieties to prevent stem breakage from all of those delicious peppers! Once you’re done planting, give your seedlings a good drink.
4. More Water & Mulch. Peppers need about an inch of water per week in the growing season. If you’re in an extremely hot climate or a drought, they may need as much as a gallon of water per plant per day! A thick layer of organic mulch will help the soil hold moisture and potentially save some water. It also helps keep the soil temperature balanced. Wait until the soil is warm before adding mulch. Otherwise, the mulch will keep the soil too cool, which results in smaller pepper plants.
5. First Flowers Have to Go. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, you need to pinch off the first flowers to help the plants focus their energy on getting bigger. This gives you bigger peppers and a larger harvest later in the season.
6. Harvest and Eat! You’ve done all the work (which really wasn’t a lot, but still) to grow healthy, strong pepper plants. Now, they’ve produced gorgeous peppers! Depending on your taste, you can harvest your peppers anytime from the green (immature) point to a more mature point, which is most often red, but sometimes a rich golden yellow or orange. Peppers tend to be sweeter the more mature they are at harvest. There are a few exceptions: Cubanelles, jalapenos and Italian fryers. A lot of gardeners like the flavor these peppers present when at full size but the green level of maturity. When you harvest your peppers, regardless of the variety, always cut them from the plant with garden shears or a hand pruner. You can damage the pepper plant if you pull the peppers off by hand.
There you have it! Six simple steps (five if you’re planting nursery plants, not seedlings) to growing a delicious and bountiful organic pepper harvest! Enjoy!