Here’s how to plant peppers to maximize your harvest and minimize problems all season long.
Start With Short Pepper Plants.
Short pepper plants transplant better than tall pepper plants, which are likely to be root bound. So, fight that “bigger is better” mentality, when you go to buy your pepper plants. Prefer to start your peppers from seed? Then, start your seeds 8-10 weeks before you plan to transplant your peppers. This will keep them from getting too tall and leggy in their seed pots. You don’t want your pepper plants to do too much growing and rooting until you’ve planted them.
Wait Until the Last Frost to Plant.
Peppers can’t take frost or cold temperatures, so don’t plant them too early. Two weeks after the last average frost date for your area is a good rule of thumb.
Choose a Sunny Spot.
Peppers need six to eight hours of sunlight each day to produce well. They don’t like temperatures over 90 degrees, so they’ll actually benefit from a bit of afternoon shade, if you live in the south.
Amend the Soil.
Fertile, well-draining soil is best for peppers, so make the necessary amendments. Consider working compost or rotted manure into your garden before you do your planting, for a nutrient boost. If you’re planting your peppers in containers, this homemade potting soil is ideal.
Bury Your Peppers Deeper.
Bury your pepper plants an inch deeper then they were planted in their seed pots. Extra roots will grow on the buried portion, making for stronger plants. Since pepper plants aren’t very deep rooters, those extra roots really make a difference when it comes to supporting the weight of all those peppers.
Space Them Properly.
Peppers do best when planted 18-24 inches apart. If you’re planting them in a square foot garden, one per square is fine.
Pro Tip: Plant on an overcast day to minimize the stress on your transplants.
Cage or Stake Your Pepper Plants.
Since pepper plants have shallow roots, caging or staking your plants will help to support the weight of the peppers and minimize the chance of wind damage.
Peppers require one to two inches of water per week; more when it’s hot. To avoid blossom end rot, try to be consistent in your watering. Mulching helps to minimize evaporation, as well as keep the soil cool.
Pinch Off the First Flowers.
It may be hard to convince yourself to do it, but if you pinch off the first flowers of the season, you’ll force your pepper plants to put their energy into root and foliage growth, and in the long run, that’ll result in healthier plants and a bigger harvest.
Fertilize Your Peppers Throughout the Season.
Peppers aren’t big feeders, so if you’re starting with fertile soil, that may be all they need to stay healthy throughout the season. If you decide to fertilize your peppers, wait until they start flowering, and be careful not to give them too much nitrogen. This will cause them to produce lots of leaves and little fruit. A 5-10-10 fertilizer is ideal, if you want to purchase a ready-made fertilizer. Otherwise, I recommend using bone meal (phosphorus-rich) and egg shells (calcium-rich) to fertilize your peppers. This will encourage maximum fruit yield. The egg shells will also help to prevent blossom end rot.
When and How to Pick Your Peppers.
For the best flavor, wait for peppers to reach a good size before you pick them. Colored peppers don’t change color until they’re fully ripened. You can pick them while they’re still green, if your goal is to grow as many peppers as possible, but they’ll be sweeter, if you wait for them to turn.
Use a knife to cut your peppers off the plant. Pulling could break off the entire branch they’re attached to. If you’re growing hot peppers, wear gloves when you’re harvesting your peppers, so the capsaicin doesn’t get on your skin.
Sweet peppers typically take 60-90 days to mature. Hot peppers typically take 150 days to mature.
Companion Plants for Peppers
Increase your harvest, shade the soil and fend off pests by planting your peppers with beneficial plants. Here are some companion plant combinations to try.
To Deter Pests, Plant Your Peppers With …
- Marigolds (they’ll repel nematodes)
- Geraniums (they’ll repel beetles)
To Attract Pollinators, Plant Your Peppers With …
- Bee balm
Do Not Plant Peppers With …
- brussels sprouts
How Many Peppers Should I Plant?
Under optimal growing conditions you can expect to get around 25-30 peppers from a sweet pepper plant (and considerably more from a hot pepper plant). Figure on two to four plants per person in your household, more if you plan to can or freeze some of your harvest.