Don’t Make These 7 Pepper-Growing Mistakes This Year

Peppers are a favorite summer crop because of their deliciousness, easy care, and forgiving nature. Meeting a few of their key cultural requirements means peppers are happy to perform amid the summer heat. Join gardening expert Katherine Rowe in avoiding common pepper-growing mistakes for this year's best yield.

Clusters of peppers in varying shades of red and green, hang from a plant adorned with lush green leaves.


Pepper plants are not only delicious, they’re also easy to grow. Whether sweet, hot, or heirloom, enjoyed fresh or in cooking, flavor overload is within reach with a few preventative measures for the best plant health, vigor, and fruiting.

These heat- and sun-loving nightshades grow best in sunny spots with regular moisture and well-drained soils. If your site lacks good soils and drainage, consider growing these adaptable crops in containers or raised beds. By avoiding a few common oversights, the plants will be happy to help hone our culinary prowess with nonstop summer fruits.

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Planting in the Wrong Spot

If your plant isn’t flowering or fruiting, it may be growing in the wrong spot. Peppers prefer full-sun garden locations with six to eight hours of daily sunlight. Too much shade causes less energy to go into fruiting.

Too much intense summer sun can damage fruits through sunscald. Peppers get sunburned by those direct rays. In hot, southern climates, pepper plants handle light shade in the afternoon heat.


A close-up of two vibrant red peppers nestled among green leaves.
Ensure optimal sunlight for peppers to maximize fruit production during summer.

A location with lots of morning sunlight is ideal for these sun-loving growers. Hours of the morning and early afternoon sun ensure enough light for photosynthesis, flowering, and fruiting without exposure to the sun’s intensity in mid to late summer. 

Peppers are one of the most heat-loving summer crops to grow, but if you notice a decline in fruits, consider whether or not the plant is getting enough (or maybe even too much) sunlight.


A young pepper plant standing on brown soil in a greenhouse, with other seedlings blurred in the background.
Plants grown too closely compete for resources.

While it’s tempting to seed and grow new plants close together, peppers enjoy a little breathing room and airflow to prevent diseases. Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart to promote air circulation between selections, checking your variety’s maximum growth and planting requirements. Smaller varieties withstand one foot apart, while large growers benefit from as much as three feet.

Plants growing too closely compete for resources and may become thin and leggy as they reach for sunlight. Without adequate air circulation, especially in humid conditions, they may be less productive and susceptible to pets and fungal diseases.

If you’re looking at saving seeds from year to year and are growing a mix of pepper plants, you may want to consider the role of cross-pollination. Cross-pollination won’t affect the pepper’s flavor on current plants, but seeds produced by cross-pollinated fruits won’t come true to type next season. Essentially, the bees create a hybrid between whatever peppers you have growing.

It may be helpful to grow sweet varieties away from hot ones, for example, to keep the flavor profile similar when saving seeds. If you’re growing the fruits for seed saving, growers place different selections 30 to 50 apart to retain pure seeds.


A wooden bed filled with lush pepper plants basking in the sunlight.
Supporting pepper plants with cages prevents their brittle stems from breaking.

Peppers grow upright with woody branches, though brittle stems are susceptible to breaking when bearing loads of fruits. Tall plants benefit from a support cage or staking to keep branches from splitting. The supports protect stems during wind, rain, and heavy bundles of beautiful fruits.


It’s common to love our vegetable gardens too much at some point during the growing season. Adding chicken manure here, extra compost there, a little more liquid feed, and so on leads to too much nitrogen. Nitrogen promotes leafy growth for full plants, though you’ll notice less flowering and fruiting as the plant directs energy to stems and leaves.

Applying Fertilizer

 Pink-gloved hands cradles fertilizer granules next to a thriving pepper plant laden with large, vibrant red fruits.
Organic fertilizers provide gradual nutrient absorption for roots.

As annual fruiting crops, these nightshades appreciate fertilizer, but their durable nature doesn’t require much. At planting, top with a balanced fertilizer (where the N-P-K ratio is the same number for each element of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium). The phosphorous encourages flowering and fruiting, while nitrogen and potassium contribute to plant vigor and health.

Your fertilizer may be an organic pre-made selection or a blend of bone meal, blood meal, seaweed, or manure. The nutrients gradually blend into the soil for roots and soil microbes to absorb, creating a healthy foundation throughout the summer.

Soil Preparation

Person's hands gently planting a young plant into a spacious garden bed.
The plants thrive in organically rich, evenly moist soils.

Peppers thrive in well-draining soils. At planting, enrich the soil with a generous amount of compost to aid in moisture retention, aeration, and nutrition. For in-ground plants, add two to three inches across the bed’s surface, and when you dig to plant, it mixes naturally with existing soil. Top with two inches or up to one-third of the potting mixture in containers, or use a potting mix tailored to vegetables for best health. Keep compost away from stems to prevent rot.

The adaptable crops grow in less-than-ideal soils but have the best flowering and vigor in organically rich, evenly moist soils. They prefer a pH between 6.2 and 7.0, but tolerate slight alkalinity.

Water Fluctuations

A green watering can gently waters the soil around a pepper plant, surrounded by small, unripe fruits.
The best irrigation provides even watering for consistent yields.

Most of us experience fluctuations in watering, especially in summer when extreme heat and pop-up rains can occur within a few hours. Peppers benefit from one to two inches of water per week and more during high heat for consistently moist soils. Drought or prolonged saturation can stress plants.

Like tomatoes, these nightshades suffer blossom end rot with fluctuations in water. Blossom end rot is a physiologic disorder that results in fruits that rot on the plant. Plants cannot absorb calcium, which leads to fruit loss. Blossom end rot corrects with consistent moisture levels.

Periods of drought lead to pests like root-knot nematodes, among others. To aim for even watering, drip irrigation in the ground and pots offers consistent, low-volume water distribution. Watering at the base of the plant also avoids splashing the foliage, which can spread fungal diseases.


We know these prolific fruiters love the sun and heat and need warm temperatures to flourish. They hit their stride as the sun warms the roots in late spring and summer as temperatures rise to encourage fruiting.

Planting When Too Cold

Gray-gloved hands gently plant a young green seedling into rich, dark soil.
Ensure optimal conditions for summer vegetables by timing seed sowing.

Frost-sensitive summer vegetables need warm days and nights to flourish. In mild climates, direct sow seeds outdoors two to four weeks after your final frost.

In cool climates, start seeds indoors eight to ten weeks before transplanting. Transplant seedlings or nursery-grown peppers when nighttime temperatures exceed 55°F (13°C) and daytime temperatures reach at least 70°F (21°C).

Not Hardening Off

Small black pots arranged indoors, each holding young pepper plants with vibrant green leaves.
Gradually expose seedlings to outdoor conditions over 7 to 10 days.

If you’ve grown peppers from seeds, tender seedlings benefit from a hardening-off period, gradually introducing them to garden conditions. Before transplanting the young plants, place them in a protected outdoor area and slowly move them to conditions mirroring their new garden location.

Protect them from strong winds, cold nights, and afternoon sun for a week to 10 days. Hardening off sets plants up for success as they’re transplanted.

Extreme Heat

A greenhouse filled with lush pepper plants; their green leaves vibrant under the sunlight.
Use shade cloth to protect plants from temperatures above 90°F (32°C).

To protect plants during heat waves, move them to a partially shaded spot or provide a shade cloth cover. When temperatures reach 90°F (32°C) or above for an extended time, plants drop flowers.

They enter survival mode to conserve energy and resources. They’ll return to viability with regular moisture as temperatures level off. Providing extra shade helps with extra cooling to relieve some of the extreme heat effects.

Not Mulching

Hands carefully spreading straw mulch around delicate young plants in a garden bed.
Apply materials such as clean straw around pepper plants.

As with garden beds, mulching helps potted and in-ground crops regulate soil moisture and temperature. Mulch pepper plants with a layer of clean straw, chopped leaves, or aged wood chips to provide insulation. Don’t crowd stems with mulch, which can cause rot, but top dress the surrounding area to protect roots.


How and when to harvest fruits contributes to plant health. Use shears or a knife to cut peppers free and leave a short stem. Handpicking may cause branches to snap.

The ideal time to harvest is when peppers “cork” or show slight striations. These “stretch marks” appear as fleshy interiors expand and burst with flavor. Depending on the variety, fruits will show mature color, whether green, red, yellow, orange, or purple.

Too Early

A close-up of a hand carefully picking a green pepper from the leafy plant.
Harvest peppers when they reach medium to mature size for optimal flavor.

Some peppers bear good flavor when picked early, but harvesting too early means less heat, sweetness, or increased bitterness, depending on the selection. Wait until peppers are medium to mature in size for the most culinary goodness. Like tomatoes, peppers showing color continue to ripen unrefrigerated indoors.

Too Late

Hands gently placing ripe peppers into a woven basket, set amidst lush green plants in a garden.
Refrigerate very ripe peppers to slow further ripening.

Harvesting too late decreases flowering and slows production as peppers sit on the plant. Peppers are juicy on the stem (but not in a good way), and they attract pests that may affect healthy fruits.

To store very ripe peppers, keep them refrigerated to slow further ripening.

Not Harvesting

A close-up of vibrant green and ripening peppers hanging among lush, green leaves.
Thinning them reduces stem breakage and enhances fruit quality.

Not picking peppers leads to overloaded plants with weighty stems susceptible to breakage. Production and vigor slow as energy depletes. Early on, some growers thin the number of fruits for improved quality. Pick a few when they’re green while others mature to promote additional flowering.

Not Overwintering

Small black pots containing seedlings arranged neatly on a white windowsill.
Peppers in frost-free climates should be moved to sheltered areas during the winter.

Overwintering peppers preserves existing plants from season to season. Unlike seedlings, mature specimens have established roots for earlier production and vigor—there’s no need to toss viable plants into the compost pile if you’re in a position to overwinter them. 

To overwinter pepper plants, cut them back by two-thirds in the fall as temperatures cool but before frost. The thick, woody stems will produce new growth in the spring.

In frost-free climates, peppers survive winter outdoors. Move them to a protected spot away from drying winds. In cold climates, move plants indoors to a location with minimal light, like an unheated garage or basement. The goal is to keep soil and roots from freezing temperatures. Water minimally and only when soils feel dry to the depth of an inch.

Final Thoughts

Pepper plants are forgiving crops with easy-going cultural requirements and prolific fruiting. Meeting vital cultural needs like regular moisture, proper spacing, and rich, well-draining soils ensures plants bring the heat and sweetness with little intervention. Enjoy your bountiful pepper crop this summer and for seasons to come with a few simple preventative measures.

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