7 Pepper-Growing Secrets For a Huge Harvest
Looking to get a bigger pepper harvest this year? In this article, gardening expert Kaleigh Brillon gives seven tips to help you get the most out of your plants.
Growing peppers is rewarding and a little addicting—once you grow one, you’ll want to grow them all! If you’re not getting the yields you’d like to see, there are a few tips you need to know. Whether you like sweet or hot peppers, these growing secrets will work for all varieties.
Pepper growing can be a divisive subject among gardeners. Some people swear by their methods, while others disagree. Regardless of the tricks and hacks you use to grow peppers, you’re on the right path as long as they get appropriate sunlight, water, and nutrition.
But you can do a few things to ensure you get a huge harvest this year and beyond. Let’s take a look at these helpful secrets.
Know If and When You Should Top
Topping peppers is one of those things that gets gardeners deep into debate. Topping is when you cut the top two to four inches off the plant to encourage it to grow more branches to become bushier. Some pepper growers say you must top for successful growth, while others think it will harm your plants. It can help certain varieties under the right circumstances but will hinder your harvest otherwise.
If you have a short growing season, you must let your pepper plant have all the time it can get to develop fruit, especially if it’s a large variety like bell peppers. Topping could negatively affect your harvest in this situation. The plant will focus too much on growing branches and leaves rather than fruit.
Topping can be effective for small pepper varieties in long growing seasons. The plants will have plenty of time to develop the extra foliage topping will produce and still be able to fruit. Since the peppers are small, they reach harvest stages pretty quickly, so you won’t run the risk of getting too close to the frost date.
Use Stakes or Cages for Support
Before I knew how to grow peppers properly, I assumed staking was for larger plants like tomatoes and cucumbers and that pepper plants were too small to need support. But a productive pepper plant can become large and top-heavy, especially with a large variety like the ‘Golden Cal Wonder’ or sweet banana peppers.
Wind is by far the most common cause of pepper plant damage. A strong gust can snap a top-heavy plant, which might ruin the existing fruit but will certainly ruin your chances of future fruit. This pepper-growing secret will help prevent any mishaps by giving them support for their large fruits.
Use a small pepper cage or bamboo stakes and twine. The cage will help hold up branches and give the plant plenty of room to grow. Bamboo stakes are super easy to use and can be adjusted to suit your plant’s growth. Dig the stake deep into the ground and use twine to tie the main stem, ensuring it isn’t too tight.
Don’t Worry About Cross-Pollination
You only need to think about cross-pollination if you want to save seeds. If your only concern is the taste of the peppers you’ll harvest this year, then there’s no need to fret. Cross-pollination doesn’t affect this year’s fruit, but it does affect the seeds inside. If you plant sweet and hot peppers together, they’ll keep their respective flavors, but the seeds you save from them will be a cross between the two next year.
If you don’t want to save seeds, you can make the most of your space and plant all varieties together without fretting over their flavors. It’s super convenient for those gardening in small spaces; there’s no need to figure out how to keep all your pepper varieties separate.
An oft-overlooked pepper-growing secret: peppers get sunburned too! Don’t let the relentless sun get your peppers! Though they need plenty of sunlight, too much can scorch them. Provide shade when the sun is the most intense to save your fruit. There are several ways you can go about doing this.
Consider using shade cloth to protect your peppers. Put it up in the afternoon and take it down when you no longer need it. The Epic Cover Frame Kit will make this process super easy.
Another option is to plant tall plants around your peppers. Try planting sunflowers to the west to tower over them and provide dappled sunlight. Densely planting pepper plants together will also help shade the peppers; just be sure to provide enough airflow between the plants to prevent the spread of diseases.
Water with Care
It’s common for gardeners to assume the problem involves water any time their peppers are drooping. However, peppers can droop when they’ve had too much water, too. It can be difficult for beginner gardeners to navigate proper pepper care, but supplying the right amount of water is crucial for a big harvest.
Drip irrigation is the best way to ensure your plants get enough water. Water will drip slowly from the system, ensuring that water is evenly distributed to the plants close to the ground to minimize water splashing on the leaves.
You can water by hand if needed, but it isn’t ideal since wet leaves spread diseases, and the possibility of getting them wet will be greater. Should you need to water by hand, water at the base of the plants to prevent water from splashing.
For both watering methods, remove any leaves that touch the ground to prevent diseases from spreading. Water early in the morning so the water will have time to seep into the soil before the sun comes up and evaporates it. Watering in the evening can increase the risk of spreading diseases since the soil will be wet for an extended period of time.
Reduce Nitrogen on Flowering Plants
Fertilizer comprises nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium and is noted as NPK on packages. Nitrogen is responsible for foliage growth, so you should use less when your peppers start flowering. This pepper-growing secret helps your plants focus on fruiting. Giving your plants a nitrogen boost will make them think (figuratively, of course) they need to increase their leaf production instead of focusing on flowers, resulting in fewer flowers and possibly no peppers.
Phosphorous encourages root development and will lead to more flowers. When pepper plants start flowering, give them a fertilizer with low nitrogen and higher phosphorous, like a 4-9-3 or comparable ratio.
Potassium helps improve the plant overall and won’t affect flower development, so you can focus on choosing a high-phosphorous fertilizer. You’ll only need to fertilize your plants once per month while flowering.
Harvesting and Overwintering
Who would’ve thought one of the secrets to big pepper harvests is harvesting correctly? Many pepper plants are eaten green, yellow, orange, or red, like bell peppers. Just as tomatoes start out green, so do peppers. You can encourage your plants to produce more peppers by harvesting a few of them when green so they can continue flowering while the other peppers are left to mature.
Peppers are typically treated as annual plants but can be perennials when given the right climate. You can overwinter peppers by trimming them up and giving them a warm place to stay through the winter, like indoors or in a cold frame. Not every plant will overwinter successfully, especially if harsh winters make it difficult to keep the temperatures up.
Peppers are generally easy to grow, but you can do even better when you learn some tricks to make them more efficient producers. It all boils down to sunlight protection, proper nutrition and water, and supporting them to look their best. Follow these tips, and you’ll impress yourself with a bountiful harvest!