Planting Guide - Pepper Seeds
Growing Peppers In Your Garden
With 37 Hot Peppers to choose from and 25 different Sweet Peppers, deciding which peppers to grow in your garden can get complicated! Start with what you know – do you make salsas and therefore need Jalapenos? Do you BBQ a lot and want some sweet peppers like CA Wonder or Purple Beauty to cook on the grill? Would you like to stuff Ancho Poblano peppers for Chile Relleno? Would you like to pickle Pepperonicinis by growing Golden Greek Pepperoncini or Italian Pepperoncini? How about making your own Paprika or Cayenne Chili powder? Peppers are the life of the party, in the garden and on the table, which ever variety you choose to grow!
When & How to Plant Pepper Seeds
For best results, pepper seeds should be started indoors approximately 8-10 weeks before last expected frost date. Temperatures must be at least 70 degrees for good germination rates. When starting seeds, it is recommended to start three to a pot, planting ¼” deep, and thin the weakest seedling, leaving the remaining two to grow as one plant.
Approximately one week before transplanting outdoors, harden off seedlings. Prepare your plot with fertilizer or organic material. Make sure your soil temperature is at least 65F consistently or else seedlings will not survive the transplant. If you cannot take your soil temperature, then wait to transplant until the days warm to at least 60F and the nights are above 50F.
Choose a well-drained site that gets at least 8 hours of sunlight a day. Peppers need very fertile soil, so add lots of compost. Too much nitrogen in the soil leads to lots of leaves and not many peppers. If your soil is lacking in phosphorus, add some rock phosphate or bone meal before planting. We have also heard of gardeners putting a few match heads and a teaspoon of fertilizer in the hole before planting, as peppers appreciate the sulfur.
Seedling pairs should be placed about 12 to 18” apart. Prepare your bed by working in nitrogen in the form of fishbone meal (about 8 cups per 4-by-6-foot bed). Peppers will appreciate a stake or cage for stability, especially when they begin to fruit.
Peppers do not like to be sitting in water, so be careful not to overwater them. It is good to water deeply every 2nd or 3rd day to encourage deep root development.
Nip off the first flower buds that appear on peppers. This will allow plants to mature and direct their energy to strong roots and branch development before fruiting. Pepper plants that have strong roots and branches will bear more fruit and hold it well until it ripens. After the next set of flowers have turned into baby peppers, side dress with a balanced organic fertilizer, such as compost, around the base of the plants. In hot climates, shade peppers by planting them in the shadow of taller crops, such as corn or trellised beans, or in a dense block to help protect the fruit from the bright afternoon sun.
Peppers need a well-drained bed, but consistent moisture is also important – plastic sheeting or mulch is a good idea for retaining moisture, and a drip irrigation system can be a good approach as well.
Possible Problems with Growing Peppers
Peppers are sometimes affected by early blight, a leaf-spot disease. You can identify blight by the dark, concentrically ringed spots that form on peppers’ leaves. Cut off infected leaves and apply mulch to prevent spores from splashing up off the soil surface. Spray compost tea or Bacillus subtilis to prevent blight from spreading. (Apply early in the day so foliage will dry rapidly.) Water by hand rather than with a sprinkler.
Peppers are pollinated by insects; peppers easily cross-pollinate which can affect fruit development and flavor. Keep hot peppers and sweet peppers well separated – 900 feet between varieties is optimal, or stagger planting so that differing varieties are not flowering at the same time.
Sweet peppers can be harvested when they’re just starting to turn color and can be allowed to ripen indoors at room temperature. Or, leave them on the plant until they reach full ripeness. Pick chile peppers as you need them. Harvest all fruit before the first frost.
Most sweet and hot peppers require about 75 days from transplanting until the first fruits are ready. Some hot peppers can require anywhere from 90 to 120 frost free days to reach harvest.