Learn About Peppers
How to Sow
How to Sow and Plant
- Only home gardeners who enjoy long growing seasons in the Deep South should attempt to sow pepper seeds directly in the vegetable garden. Most of us must start our own pepper plants indoors about 8-10 weeks before transplanting, which should be done 2-3 weeks after the expected last frost.
- Sow seeds ¼ inch deep in seed-starting formula
- Keep the soil moist at 75 degrees F
- Seedlings emerge in 10-21 days
- As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
- Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
- If you are growing in small cells, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 3 pairs of leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots
- Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.
Planting in the Garden:
- To get an early start with your pepper plants, particularly in the North, cover the prepared bed with a dark colored polyethylene mulch at least a week before transplanting. This will heat the soil beneath and provide a better growing condition for young pepper plants. The mulch will also help the soil retain moisture throughout the season as the pepper plants grow.
- Select a location in full sun with good rich moist organic soil. Make sure you did not grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplant or potatoes in the bed the previous year to avoid disease problems.
- Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
- Peppers should be set 18 inches apart in a row with the rows spaced 2-3 feet apart.
- Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball.
- Carefully remove the plant from its pot and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root development.
- Fill the planting hole with soil to the top and press soil down firmly with your hand leaving a slight depression around the plant to hold water.
- Use a plant tag as a location marker. This is particularly important if you are trying different varieties. It is very difficult to tell which variety is which from the foliage.
- Water thoroughly, so that a puddle forms in the saucer you have created. This settles the plants in, drives out air pockets and results in good root-to-soil contact.
- Peppers may also be planted in containers. Use a container at least 18-24 inches wide and deep and use a commercial potting mix rather than garden soil.
How to Grow
How to Grow
- Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating.
- Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. This is especially important for peppers as their roots may be easily damaged when weeding, and this can lead to blossom end rot.
- Keep plants well-watered during the growing season, especially during dry spells. Plants need about 1-2" of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It's best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
- Note that hot peppers tend to be hotter when they have less water and fertilizer. If they receive plenty of water and fertilizer they may be more mild than expected.
- Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
- Try planting pepper plants near tomatoes, parsley, basil, and carrots in your home vegetable garden. Don't plant them near fennel or kohlrabi. Peppers are very colorful when in full fruit and combine well with green herbs, okra, beans and cucumber fences in the garden bed.
Harvesting and Preserving Tips
- Like cucumbers and summer squash, peppers are usually harvested at an immature stage. The traditional bell pepper, for example, is harvested green, even though most varieties will mature red, orange, or yellow. Peppers may be harvested at any stage, but their flavor doesn’t fully develop until maturity. Fully ripe peppers in multi-colors are delightful in the garden as well as in salads.
- Cut the fruit from the plant with a sharp knife or pruners leaving a small part of the stem attached.
- Sweet bell, pimento and cherry peppers are delicious eaten green but are sweeter and higher in vitamins if allowed to turn bright red before harvest. Some varieties are yellow at maturity or may mature from green through yellow and red.
- Hot peppers may be harvested at any stage. Anaheim is usually picked green and cayenne types red.
- Bell peppers may be chopped and quick frozen for use in many recipes; sweet cherry and banana peppers and hot cherry peppers are perfect for pickling.
- A popular and trouble-free way to store hot peppers is to dry them. String mature red peppers by piercing the stem with a needle and heavy thread. Hang the string in a warm, dry, airy place (not in the sun!) to dry. They can make a colorful kitchen accent. Pull a pepper from the string when you need one. Hot peppers remain hot even after they are dried. Remember that in recipes a little hot pepper can go a long way.
- Please note that hot peppers can burn sensitive skin on contact and fumes from grinding or cooking them can irritate the lungs and eyes. When working with hot peppers use rubber gloves and wash your hands before touching your face or eyes.
Common Pests and Problems
Common Disease Problems
Leaf Spots: These are caused by various pathogens. Spots on the foliage may appear in cool, moist weather and plants may become defoliated. Burpee Recommends: Provide sufficient space between plants for good air circulation, avoid overhead watering which can spread the fungus spores, keep a clean garden, remove and discard all diseased plant material and rotate crops. Use a mulch to prevent spores from splashing from the soil onto plants. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Phytophthora Blight: This disease causes plants to become girdled at the soil line and wilt. Dark water soaked patches appear on the fruit or the fruit withers. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different family. Plant in containers using a fresh container potting mix. Consult your Cooperative Extension Service for other fungicide recommendations.
Root Knot Nematodes: Microscopic worm-like pests that cause swellings (galls) to form on roots. Plants may wilt or appear stunted. This is a serious problem in many Southern states. Burpee Recommends: Do not plant into infested soil. Grow resistant varieties. Try planting ‘Nema-Gone’ marigolds around your plants.
Verticillium Wilt: This fungus causes a wilting of the leaves and stems on several branches. Leaf margins cup upward, leaves turn yellow and drop off. If fruit is produced, it is usually smaller than normal. It will enter the plant through the roots, migrate up the stem and plug a plant’s transport vessels. It is transmitted in the soil. It can also be spread by water and tools. Burpee Recommends: Practice at least a 4 year crop rotation. Remove and burn crop debris. Plant resistant varieties.
Walnut Wilt: Walnut Wilt causes overall wilting of plants, or dwarfed growth, in close proximity to a living walnut tree. Some or all plants in a planting may be affected. Burpee Recommends: Do not plant peppers near Black Walnut trees. These trees exude a toxin from their roots which kills many plants.
Common Pest and Cultural Problems
Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps which feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.
Flea Beetles: These small hopping beetles feed on plant foliage and may spread diseases. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different plant family. Use floating row covers to prevent damage to young foliage.
Leafhoppers: Leafhoppers cause injury to leaves and stunt growth. They also spread disease. Burpee Recommends: Remove plant debris. Use insecticidal soaps. Consult your Cooperative Extension Service for other insecticide recommendations.
Spider mites: These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper. They may be red, black, brown or yellow. They suck on the plant juices removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which cause white dots on the foliage. There is often webbing visible on the plant. They cause the foliage to turn yellow and become dry and stippled. They multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions. Burpee Recommends: Spider mites may be controlled with a forceful spray every other day. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for miticide recommendations.
Tomato Horn Worm: Large, green caterpillars which can quickly devour foliage. Burpee Recommends: With sturdy gloves on, hand pick and destroy them. HOWEVER if you see white projections coming from the back of the caterpillar, do not destroy it. These are the egg cases of a parasitic wasp that will destroy the caterpillar. These wasps should be allowed to remain in your garden.
What is your hottest hot pepper? Caribbean Red, a Habanero-type, its heat index is 300,000-475,000 Scovilles. The hottest pepper, Ghost Pepper also called Bhut Jolokia, is 1,001,304 Scovilles. Burpee does not offer Ghost pepper seed or plants.
Why is my hot pepper not hot? Hot peppers are their hottest when the growing season is hot. Too much cold, mild or rainy weather will dim the torch of any hot pepper OR too much water and or too much fertilizer will affect pepper heat, usually diluting it.
Why is my pepper green and not red? Most peppers are green or light yellow before they turn yellow, orange or red.In cooler climates or during a cool season, it takes longer for a pepper to change color than in warmer climates or during a hot season.It can take two to four weeks for a pepper to change color when it reaches its mature size.
Can I grow peppers indoors? Peppers are surprisingly good houseplants. Give them lots of bright light from a south facing window, regular fertilizer and even moisture and they can delight you all winter long. Select a smaller ornamental or specialty pepper to fit on a window sill. Be sure to hand pollinate.
How are my plants pollinated indoors? Gently shake and mist your plants to encourage self-pollination.