Ever tried a fully-ripened, garden-grown pepper? If you think you don’t like peppers, tasting one just might change your mind. Peppers come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, and range from sweet to fiery hot. Learn how to grow peppers, and plant a few varieties to spice up your garden.
7 Tips for How to Grow Peppers
Tip #1 for How to Grow Peppers: Start seeds indoors or buy transplants
Pepper plants require a long warm growing season. Start pepper seeds indoors 6 -8 weeks before your last spring frost. Seeds should sprout in 10 – 20 days at 75° F – 85° F. Plant outside two weeks after your frost date; the soil should be at least 65° F. Test soil temperature using a soil thermometer. Pepper seeds are available at Seedsnow.com.
In the low desert of Arizona, start seeds indoors in late December or early January. Begin hardening off transplants about 10 days before planting in late February and early March. Plant a second round of peppers during July if desired.
Tip #2 for How to Grow Peppers: Plant peppers correctly
Pepper plants do best in well-draining soil amended with compost. Plant peppers deeply, so bottom leaves on stem are just above the soil to promote root development.
When square foot gardening, plant 1 pepper per square. Otherwise, plant peppers 18-24 inches apart.
Peppers aren’t picky about what they are grown in; they grow well in containers, raised beds, and in the ground, but it’s important to provide a sunny location for peppers.
Tip #3 for How to Grow Peppers: Provide support for growing peppers and mulch well
Pepper plants are brittle and need support as they grow; a wire cage or trellis works well for this purpose. Pepper plants require well-draining soil, but also plenty of water, especially in the hottest times of the year. A thick layer of mulch around plants helps retain moisture and cools the soil a bit for the growing peppers.
Tip #4 for How to Grow Peppers: Pay attention to the blossoms
Remove blossoms for first couple weeks to direct energy to growing plant. Once plant is growing well and has more blossoms, it is a good time to provide compost or organic fertilizer. Pull back mulch, spread fertilizer, and replace mulch.
Epsom salt sprays are also beneficial to increase yield and overall health of the plant. Spray blossoms with an epsom salt solution (1 tablespoon epsom salts to 1 gallon water) when they first appear, and then spray again 10 days later.
Keep in mind that with temperatures above 90° F and below 60° F, pollination may not occur because pollen in blossoms is not viable. During the hottest times of the year, thin-walled peppers do best.
Tip #5 for How to Grow Peppers: Harvest correctly and at the right time
To harvest peppers without breaking brittle branches, cut off with a knife or pruners leaving about an inch of stem to prolong storage life. Peppers can be harvested at any stage of development depending on your preference with that particular pepper. Peppers left to mature on the vine will normally turn from green to yellow to orange and then red. As color changes, the flavor and vitamins increase as well.
Pick peppers often to encourage production. Peppers left too long on the plant will be soft and shriveled looking, and should be removed from plant. Peppers are frost-sensitive; harvest fruits before frost. If frost is expected, cover plants to protect from frost. In Arizona, it is possible for pepper plants to over-winter if weather is mild.
Tip #6 for How to Grow Peppers: Be careful when handling peppers
Peppers contain capsaicin, an oily compound that produces heat. The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin the peppers contain. Use gloves when handling hot peppers; do not touch eyes or nose as capsaicin can burn skin. If a burn occurs, soaking hand briefly in a 5 to 1 solution of water to bleach can turn oil into a salt that can be rinsed away.
Tip #7 for How to Grow Peppers: Enjoy the harvest!
Harvested peppers can be stored on the counter for several days, or in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.
There are as many different ways to enjoy and prepare peppers as there are varieties of peppers. Peppers are delicious eaten fresh, roasted, or stuffed. Preserve extras by drying, freezing, or pickling.