Whether you like them sweet or hot, homegrown peppers are a tasty summertime treat. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about planting peppers in your veggie garden, including when to plant peppers, how to harvest them, and beneficial companion plants to grow with them.
Pepper plants, or Capsicum annuum by their botanical name, come in a wide variety of flavors and colors. From sweet bell peppers to fiery chili peppers, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
All pepper varieties share a love for heat. They require a long, warm growing season, consistent soil moisture levels, and plenty of sunshine.
Most varieties of sweet peppers mature in 60-90 days. Hot peppers take up to 150 days to ripen. For best results, start seeds indoors in early spring or purchase young plants from your local garden center when it’s warm enough to transplant them in your garden.
What You Need to Know about Growing Pepper Plants
Pepper plants thrive in hot climates with long hours of sunshine each day. Under the right conditions, they’re actually perennial plants that continue producing fruit for years. Some gardeners choose to grow peppers in a pot and overwinter them in the house.
Whether you’re growing bell peppers or want to grow jalapenos or other hot peppers, choose a location in your garden that gets full sun. For optimal fruit production, peppers should get around eight to ten hours of light daily.
Pepper plants need consistent soil moisture levels but shouldn’t stay soggy for too long. Ensure that your garden soil has adequate drainage and is rich in organic matter.
Applying a layer of mulch several inches thick around the plants’ base helps protect the soil from wind erosion and maintain consistent moisture and temperature levels. Avoid piling the mulch directly against the stem, as that could cause stem rot.
How Long for Pepper Seeds to Sprout?
Plant pepper seeds indoors eight to ten weeks before your average last frost date. Whether you are growing jalapeno peppers from seed or another variety, germination takes six to twelve days. Provide your seedlings with supplemental grow lights to promote strong stem growth and prevent them from becoming elongated or “leggy.”
Fill your seedling tray with a well-draining and nutrient-rich potting mix. Plant the seeds a quarter-inch deep and cover them with soil. Use a spray bottle to saturate the soil lightly. Cover the tray with a humidity dome or sheet of plastic to hold in moisture.
The optimal soil temperature for germinating pepper seeds is between 80-85℉. Using a heat mat to keep the soil consistently warm during germination is beneficial.
When the seedlings sprout, move the tray to a sunny, south-facing windowsill that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. Consider supplementing natural light with grow lights.
The first leaves to sprout, called cotyledons or seed leaves, are actually part of the plant’s seed or embryo. After a few days, the true leaves emerge.
Pepper plants are highly cold-sensitive, so avoid putting them outside too soon. Begin hardening your seedlings off when daytime temperatures are consistently 65℉ or higher.
First, leave them out for short periods and progressively acclimatize them to the elements for longer periods at a time.
When to Plant Peppers Outdoors
Transplant pepper seedlings two to three weeks after the average last frost date for your area. The soil should be at least 65℉.
Apply a layer of dark-colored mulch or a sheet of black plastic to the area where you’ll be planting peppers about one week before transplanting to warm up the soil.
When considering how deep to plant peppers, it’s critical not to bury the stem like you would with a tomato plant. Dig a hole double in size to the plant’s root ball.
Fill in around the root ball with compost and soil up to the plant’s crown. Add two tablespoons of organic, all-purpose fertilizer around the plant’s base and thoroughly water it.
Container Planting Peppers
Pepper plants make ideal candidates for growing in containers. Most pepper varieties have relatively compact growth habits, averaging three or four feet tall and 18-24 inches wide. Staking isn’t usually required.
Plant peppers in a five-gallon pot with drain holes at the bottom. Using a dark-colored container keeps the soil warmer.
Peppers require well-draining potting soil that’s rich in organic matter, consistent moisture, and a minimum of eight hours of bright light every day for optimal fruit production.
During the summer, choose a sunny, protected location for your pepper pots. It’s helpful to place them near a house wall to take advantage of the radiant heat.
Following the best way to grow bell peppers in containers allows you to adapt to changing growing conditions throughout the year.
If your area gets early frosts in the fall, bring your potted pepper plant indoors when nighttime temperatures drop below 55℉ to extend your harvest time and get a head start next spring.
To keep the plants fruiting all winter, a grow light is usually necessary. Otherwise, overwinter the plant in a vegetative state by providing at least six hours of light daily and air temperatures consistently over 70℉.
Pepper Plant Spacing in Gardens and Raised Beds
It’s critical not to overcrowd your plants. In general, pepper plant spacing should be approximately 18-24 inches. Check the specific instructions on the seed package or plant label for the different kinds of peppers you’re growing.
Plan the spacing and layout of your raised beds with each plant’s mature size and needs for water and nutrients in mind.
A four-foot by four-foot raised bed fits four to six pepper plants along with complementary leafy greens and herbs. See the section below about companion planting for ideas.
Best Soil for Planting Peppers
Pepper plants thrive in well-draining soil that’s rich in organic matter. Till several inches of organic compost into the ground about a week before transplanting your pepper seedlings.
Adding compost helps sandy soil retain moisture and works to break up heavy clay soil so the roots get enough nutrients and oxygen.
When growing peppers in containers, use a potting soil blend with added perlite for drainage and coconut coir or peat moss for moisture retention. Or, try making your own potting mix.
Combine the ingredients in a large bucket or wheelbarrow. Try to use all of your homemade potting soil at once. If not, store it in a cool, dry location in a sealed container.
Choosing the Right Fertilizer for Pepper Plants
In addition to planting peppers in nutrient-rich soil, it’s essential to fertilize the plants monthly. There are three principal macronutrients in plant fertilizer: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
Nitrogen promotes leafy growth, phosphorus encourages robust root systems, and potassium stimulates the fruiting and flowering processes.
After transplanting your peppers in late spring, use all-purpose organic fertilizer until the plant begins developing flower buds.
At that point, switch to a fertilizer with more phosphorus and potassium. To avoid blossom end rot, make sure your plants get enough calcium by adding bone meal or lime sulfate to the soil when transplanting.
Best Pepper Varieties
When choosing which pepper varieties to grow, there are numerous options available. Sweet bell peppers ripen to yellow, orange, red, and even purple. Different chili peppers have mild to extreme spice levels.
Bell pepper plants do not contain capsaicin, the chemical that makes chili peppers spicy. Peppers are rated on the Scoville heat scale.
For reference, banana peppers measure 0-500 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), jalapeno peppers measure 2,500 to 10,000 SHU, and habanero peppers measure 100,000 to 350,000 SHU.
Green peppers get picked before they fully ripen, while yellow, orange, and red peppers have matured on the vine. Green bell peppers have a sharp, tangy flavor.
Mature bell peppers are sweeter and contain more vitamin C. What is a chili pepper? Chili peppers are hotter when mature and have a milder spice level when still green. Here are a few of the top-rated bell pepper varieties.
If you enjoy hot peppers, here are a few of our favorite varieties, whether you are planting habanero seeds or jalapenos or Anaheims.
To spice up your veggie garden, try growing several different types of peppers. Maybe even try to grow ghost peppers, one of the hottest peppers available.
It’s important to know when to harvest bell peppers so you get the perfect ripe pepper. Use a clean, sharp pair of scissors when harvesting your peppers rather than pulling them off the plant to avoid accidental damage. Always disinfect your tools after using them to avoid accidentally spreading disease between plants.
For the best flavor and quality, use the peppers when freshly picked. They stay fresh for several days when stored on the kitchen counter or in the refrigerator. To preserve your peppers’ juicy quality and rich flavor, freeze them or keep them in oil.
Companion Plants for Peppers
Companion planting is a profitable garden design technique that takes advantage of various plants’ beneficial qualities to create a healthy garden ecosystem. Some plants attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, while others ward off pests.
However, certain plants don’t make good neighbors for peppers and should live elsewhere. Aromatic herbs and flowers are effective for natural pest control. Basil repels thrips, flies, and mosquitoes.
Flowering parsley attracts predatory wasps that prey on aphids, beetles, and caterpillars. Tansy wards off cutworms, flea beetles, sugar ants, deer, and rodents. Chives, onions, and garlic deter aphids, spider mites, rodents, and deer.
Certain plants make suitable neighbors for peppers based on their root depth and growth habits. Leafy greens like arugula, lettuce, and spinach grow quickly and help suppress weeds.
Root crops like beets, carrots, radishes, and parsnips fit nicely between pepper plants and help loosen compacted soil.
Avoid planting your peppers near fennel, pole beans, and brassicas like cabbage, kale, and broccoli. These plants stunt one another’s growth.
Since peppers are part of the nightshade family with tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes, it’s best to grow these plants in separate areas.
They’re susceptible to the same pest and disease issues, which spread faster through correspondingly vulnerable plant pairings.
Common Pest and Disease Problems for Pepper Plants
Closely monitor your pepper plants for any signs of distress, including curled or wilted leaves, discoloration of leaves and stems, and flowers or fruit dropping off the plant prematurely.
Some of the most commonplace insect pests that attack peppers are aphids, cutworms, flea beetles, and spider mites. If you notice an infestation or green bugs on pepper plants, spray all parts of the plants with an organic pesticide like neem oil or insecticidal soap.
Powdery mildew, mosaic virus, leaf spot are the most prevalent plant diseases for pepper plants. At the first sign of infection, remove all of the damaged foliage and thoroughly disinfect your tools afterward.
To treat powdery mildew and leaf spot, use neem oil or copper fungicide. Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for mosaic virus—plant disease-resistant varieties.
Peppers are one of the most beloved garden veggies, and homegrown produce always tastes better and contains more nutrients. Grow this warm-season crop in full sun and water consistently to ensure a bountiful harvest of ripe peppers.
It’s essential to know the best way to plant bell peppers from seeds or seedlings in your USDA zone, provide nutrient-rich soil, and ensure adequate pepper plant spacing so that your peppers grow healthy and strong.
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