Peter Piper picked a peck of pepper. But first he had to plant the peppers, and so can you! In fact, it’s so easy to learn how growing bell peppers works that you’ll never have to pick peppers at the grocery store again. This makes them the perfect plant for veggie-loving, low-maintenance gardeners.
Not only are they a great addition to any meal, but bell peppers are also very ornamental plants. Some gardeners plant them in landscapes just for their eye-catching colors. The tasty fruits come in a variety of festive hues from green to orange to red to purple. When the peppers aren’t around, the plant itself is beautiful with its full, green foliage and small white flowers.
The bell pepper is closely related to all other pepper species, like Jalapenos and Habeneros. Unlike its hot and spicy relatives though, it lacks the chemical capsaicin, which is responsible for the heat. Because of this, you’ll often hear them called sweet peppers – which is exactly what they are!
Are you ready to add some colorful flavor to your garden? Here’s everything you need to know about planting bell peppers (and more!).
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Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Bell Pepper, Sweet Pepper, Red Pepper|
|Scientific Name||Capsicum annuum var. Grossum (Grossum group)|
|Days to Harvest||60-100 days|
|Fertilizer||Low-nitrogen; early spring and summer|
|Pests||Aphids, whiteflies, Colorado potato beetle, cutworms|
|Diseases||Mosaic virus, blossom end rot, Anthracnose|
All About Bell Peppers
Sweet peppers are native to Central and South America, They were introduced to Europe by Columbus and other explorers and have been grown worldwide ever since. They’re naturally a warm-weather perennial, so people in cold regions only cultivate them as an annual each year. These are generally forgiving plants, but the correct temperature is essential to helping them thrive. As such, you can use your pepper as a perennial if you live in a warm climate or bring it indoors during the winter. If you choose the latter, keep it warm and exposed to plenty of light.
When grown as annuals, pepper plants usually produce one fruit set. As perennials though, they can continue producing through the winter.
The sweet pepper plant stretches up to 4’ tall and 2’ wide. The fruit – yes, it’s a fruit – is usually 3-4 inches long. The peppers are often picked prematurely when they’re green. If left alone though, they turn their full color as they mature. Whether that color is red, orange, yellow, purple, or brown depends on the variety.
Bell Pepper Varieties
They may seem like their own species, but bell peppers are actually cultivars of Capsicum annuum. This species has been sorted into five groups of edible peppers. The Grossum group includes all the sweet peppers. Here are a few of our favorites:
You’ll get a beautiful orange hue with the Gourmet pepper. It has thick, juicy walls with a fruity flavor. The plant is highly resistant to tobacco mosaic virus, produces early, and has a high yield. This is an award-winning variety that gardeners rave about.
You can get nearly all colors in one with this variety. Its skin starts out green then turns yellow, orange, and finally red. Pick them at different times to enjoy the full range of colors! The peppers are long, skinny, and ready to eat in just 65 days after transplanting.
This has to be the cutest of all the sweet peppers. They’re round, red, and the size of a cherry, making great ornamentals and bite-sized snacks. The plant bears its cherries generously, so you’ll have no shortage of these sweet treats.
A chocolate pepper? It sounds like a weird combination, but this is a very tasty treat. It has a creamy reddish-brown skin and red flesh. Sadly, it doesn’t taste like chocolate, but this pepper is still extra sweet. Plus, it matures quickly (60-75 days).
This is one of the best capsicum plants to be picked while green, though it turns red later. It has a boxy form and tangy flavor that’s excellent for culinary use. It’s a tough plant that’s resistant to tobacco mosaic virus and other diseases. Unfortunately, this is a hybrid so its seeds are sterile.
You’ll definitely get more fruit for your money with these giants. Yellow monster peppers are twice as big as the other varieties – 8 inches long!. You’ll notice they taste very sweet and have a meaty texture. They start out green and gradually turn bright yellow.
It doesn’t get more ornamental than the purple beauty. This one is such a dark shade of purple that it almost looks black (like an eggplant). When you cut it open though, the fruit is lime green! If left to mature fully, the purple will turn to deep red. These purple bell peppers are one of the most productive and fastest producing plants, with only around 70 to harvest.
Planting Bell Peppers
Plant your peppers from seeds or starts. We recommend seeds because there are more varieties to choose from than the limited starts at garden stores. Capsicums have a long growing season, so you’ll have to start the seeds indoors in cold climates. Otherwise, the frost might get your harvest before you can!
Start the seeds indoors 6-10 weeks before the last frost is anticipated. Bury each seed ¼ inches deep in well-draining soil and keep them consistently moist. Optionally, cover the tray with punctured plastic wrap to trap in the humidity.
It’ll take about 10 days for the seeds to germinate. After the seedlings have popped out of the soil, remove the plastic wrap and move the container into a sunny spot indoors. Continue to keep the soil moist until it’s time to transplant.
While your seedlings are growing, prep the soil they’ll be planted in. You can give them a spot in your garden or grow them in a large container. Whichever you choose, use well-draining soil. Add plenty of organic matter, like composted manure, to boost fertility and water retention. When all chances of frost are gone and the soil is consistently 65°F or warmer, you can start transplanting.
Your seedlings should be 6-8 inches tall and have an extensive system of white roots – they may even be flowering already. Before transplanting though, they need to be acclimated to the weather outside. Harden them off by putting the containers outside during the day. Start with just an hour or two and work up to an entire day outside. This will help prepare them for the big move.
When they’re ready to go in the ground, plant each pepper 1-2 feet apart (depending on the expected size of the variety). If you’re concerned that the soil isn’t warm enough, lay some black plastic down to absorb warmth. Or, you can add mulch to warm the ground and trap in extra moisture (recommended for very dry areas).
Now your peppers are all ready to grow! From transplanting, they generally take 60-90 days to produce ripe fruit. You can expect to see baby fruits growing in mid to late summer.
With a good care schedule, you won’t have to work too hard here. As long as you monitor the temperature and are consistent with watering, you’ll be harvesting before you know it!
Sun and Temperature
Because of their tropical origins, your sweet pepper plants need warm weather to thrive. Ideally, the daytime temperature should fall within 70-80°F and nights should be over 50°F. Along with warm weather, your Capsicums should be placed in full sun.
Failure to pay attention to temperature may result in a poor fruit set or dead plants. Temperatures over 80°F may cause flower drop and misshapen fruits. If needed, protect your plants by providing light shade in hot weather. These plants are also sensitive to cold nighttime temps, so you may need to cover them up.
Water and Humidity
Peppers have shallow roots, so consistent water is key to keeping them happy. Underwatering or sporadic watering can make the pepper wall thin instead of thick while also turning the taste bitter. For the best results, keep the soil moist but not flooded. 1-2 inches a week should be plenty, but extra moisture may be needed during blossoming and hot weather.
You’ll need well-draining soil that’s a good balance between loamy and sandy. Capsicums love their nutrients, so supply the soil with plenty of organic matter from mulch and top dressings. Exact pH isn’t too important here, but a range from 5.5 – 7.0 is considered ideal.
Fertilizer is important for growing quality fruit, as capsicums depend on nutrients for their supreme texture and flavor. You should fertilize your pepper plant twice a year. At the beginning of the season, apply fertilizer to the soil before planting. When the plants start blooming, add a side dressing to boost fruit growth.
We want the plants to use their energy for fruit production, so select a low-nitrogen fertilizer, like 5-10-10. This will slow the leafy growth and help the plants focus on growing the produce.
It may not seem like it, but peppers are heavy! Well, at least they are for a 4’ plant with shallow roots. To keep them upright, prune your plants to keep them bushy instead of sparse and tall. When the plant is young, clip back long stems to encourage a fuller shape. Don’t prune more than a third of the plant though, or it may not be able to fruit.
If pruning isn’t enough, you may need to stake your bell pepper plants to prevent the stems from breaking in two. Put a stake in the ground next to the plant and loosely tie the stems to it with a fiber-based tie (wire or twine can damage the stem). This can be done in the ground or in containers. You can also use a tomato cage instead of stakes.
We’ve got a fantastic video that talks about topping, or the art of pruning back that top stem to encourage outward growth. Take a look!
Capsicums are one of the easiest plants to save seeds from. You can save them from your home-grown garden peppers or take them from store-bought ones.
Keep in mind that the seeds may not be true to type if the plant was cross-pollinated. If multiple species of peppers are grown together, you may end up with accidental hybrids that taste completely unlike their parent species. Also, some hybrid varieties produce sterile seeds, so they may not germinate at all! Keep your pepper varieties separated, or pick just a single type to grow if you want to save seeds.
Begin by choosing a healthy, fully mature pepper. Remove the seeds, discarding any that look diseased or discolored. Spread the rest on a paper towel and let them dry for several days, turning as needed. When completely dry, they’ll be so hard that you won’t be able to dent them with your nail.
Place the seeds in an airtight container and store them somewhere dry, dark, and cool. For best results, throw in some silica gel desiccant to absorb extra moisture. The seeds will last for a few years, but the sooner they’re planted the higher the germination rate.
Peppers can also be propagated from cuttings, but most gardeners don’t because the plants are grown as annuals. If you live in a tropical climate though, you can use them as perennials and propagate to your heart’s content!
Choose a healthy stem and cut it off just below some leaf nodes. Remove the lower leaves and any buds, flowers, or fruit. Dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone and plant it in seed starting soil. Water consistently and keep it in warm weather and indirect light.
Your cutting will start growing roots in about two weeks, after which it can be transplanted into the garden. From here, care for it as you would a regular pepper plant and it’ll turn into one.
Harvesting and Storing
If everything goes as planned, you should be harvesting your peppers in mid to late summer. The season comes faster than you think, so get your recipes ready!
You have a lot of freedom to choose when to harvest. Once the produce turns green, you can pick them right then or let them mature to the desired color. You definitely don’t have to harvest them all at once. Each plant produces about 6-8 peppers at a time, depending on the variety. Instead of pulling, cut them from the plant so as not to damage the stem.
The minimum ripeness to wait for is when the pepper’s green, full-sized, and firm. From there, it can take 3 weeks or more for the full color to develop. As the pepper matures, it will become sweeter, thinner walls, and a shorter storage life. Wait too long, and it will turn mushy.
If you decide to wait until your peppers reach their ultimate color, you’ll likely only end up with one harvest. If quantity is more important to you, harvest your produce frequently when they first mature, which allows more time and energy to go into further crops. You can always plant two pepper plants and allow one to mature while you consistently harvest the other.
The more ripe your peppers are, the worse they store. Because of this, it’s best to eat them the same day they’re harvested. Peppers will ripen slightly if you leave them on your counter for a couple days, but the fridge is preferrable. In there, they’ll usually last for 1-2 weeks.
You can also cut up and freeze your peppers. You’ll lose the crispy texture but keep the delicious flavor, which is great for adding into recipes. We recommend using them within a year.
Dehydrating is another option for pepper storage, and it’s easier than it seems. Just steam the peppers and place them in the oven for a few hours at 140°F or lower. Once dried, store them in an airtight container.
We have some growing problems to watch out for, but nothing too serious pest and disease-wise. To really minimize the potential issues, don’t rotate peppers with other nightshade plants, like tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants. They share common pests and diseases, which will only be encouraged to thrive in the garden.
Blossom drop, damage, or absence is an unfortunately common problem in pepper plants. This is often caused by temperatures under 60°F at night. However, it can also happen if it gets too hot during the day (80°F+). Other potential culprits are underwatering, too much nitrogen, and a lack of nutrients in the garden.
Peppers can be parthenocarpic, which means they can produce fruit without being pollinated. However, the plant may abort the young peppers since they won’t serve a purpose in reproduction. Prevent this by inviting pollinators to your garden with attracting flowers or pollinating by hand.
Bell peppers can get sunburned if exposed to constant high temperatures and humidity. The skin will look dry, burned, and cracked. This doesn’t affect the edibility of the fruit unless the skin turns mushy. If you notice this happening, give your plants some light shade in the afternoon.
Lastly, when underwatered, especially in hot weather, the leaves will start to curl up. Give them a good drink and they should go back to normal. If they don’t, this could instead be a sign of pest damage or disease.
Aphids and whiteflies are two menaces you may come across in your garden. Both feed on sap and secrete ant-attracting honeydew. Prevent them by periodically applying neem oil. Existing populations can be eliminated with insecticidal soap, pyrethrin, and for aphids sometimes just a strong spray of water.
Colorado potato beetles, also called potato bugs, have round, yellow-orange bodies with distinct black stripes. Insecticides such as Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), azadirachtin (the active ingredient of neem oil), or pyrethrin-based sprays usually work very well against them. You can prevent potato bugs with neem oil.
While in their caterpillar stage, cutworms will munch through your plants like a pair of rampant scissors. Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) will prevent and control cutworms, as will tilling the soil before planting. You can also add beneficial insects like nematodes.
Mosaic virus appears as a myriad of spots on pepper foliage and cupped leaves. It’s deadly and incurable, so you’ll have to destroy any affected plants. This virus is typically spread through seeds, so make sure you get yours from a reputable and healthy source.
Every so often, gardeners report problems with blossom end rot. This shows up as dark, rotting areas on the blossom end of the fruit. The most common cause of this problem is inconsistent watering, and being consistent with that should resolve most issues. However, in some rare circumstances, it can be caused by the plants suffering a calcium deficiency. If the soil’s pH is too high, it can prevent calcium absorption by the plant. Use a soil testing kit to check your pH.
Anthracnose is a fungus that infects many varieties of plants – peppers included. Early symptoms include small, brown or black spots on the leaves, stems, and fruit. If left unchecked, the spots will grow and eventually collapse, leaving behind holes in the foliage. Neem oil does a good job at controlling Anthracnose, as does copper fungicide. You can prevent this fungus, and others, by keeping your plants clean, dry, and well-pruned.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are bell peppers easy to grow?
A: Yes! They can be picky about temperature but are otherwise very straightforward.
Q: How long does it take to grow bell peppers?
A: They usually take 60-100 days to reach maturity after transplanting. To beat the frost in cold climates, most gardeners start them indoors.
Q: Can you grow bell peppers from store-bought peppers?
A: Yes, as long as it’s not a hybrid with sterile seeds. Use a pepper that’s healthy and fully colored (the green bell pepper isn’t completely matured).
Q: Are there male and female peppers?
A: No. Pepper flowers contain both male and female reproductive parts, not one or the other. The differences in lobes on peppers are a result of garden conditions, not the sex of the fruit.
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