Updated: Sep 15
Also known as sweet peppers or capsicums, bell peppers come in a rainbow of beautiful colors! They can be eaten raw or cooked and are rich in Vitamin C and other antioxidants. Bell peppers are a tasty, healthy snack and make a great addition to a variety of dishes!
To help ensure your Bell Peppers thrives, I’ve put together this how-to video and transcript on how to grow bell peppers. I'll covering topics like:
Varieties of Bell Peppers available
Caring for Bell Peppers at all stages
Fertilizer and/or Mulching
Transplanting best practices
Bell Pepper Companion Plants
Pests, Diseases and what to do about them
Harvesting and storing your Bell Peppers
Listen to this Article:
Ready for a growing horticulture adventure in bell pepper crop growing? Time to dive in!
Glossary of bell pepper terms
Before we get started, let’s learn a little bit about bell peppers.
A process that reduces competition for light, water and nutrients between seedlings.
You remove certain seedlings, leaving the strongest plants behind. The ones that are left will have more room to develop, plus a healthier air flow.
Crowded plants are also harder to treat for diseases and pests, so thinning can help to manage these problems.
A gardening practice that promotes healthy plant growth. Growing tips get pinched back, which encourages the plant to develop new leaves and continue growing.
The process of gradually adapting plants to the outdoors, getting them used to factors like sun exposure, different temperatures, and wind.
This starts by putting seedlings outside for a few hours per day, gradually reducing their water and temperature levels until it’s time to transplant.
The ability of a pepper to either pollinate itself, or to get pollinated by wind, insects or by human hand. This process is necessary for pepper plants to form flowers.
Varieties of bell peppers
Part of knowing how to grow bell peppers in your vegetable garden or containers is choosing the right bell pepper variety for you. Depending on the color you’re after, there are a few different varieties for you to choose from!
They have a sweet taste and thick-flesh fruit that mature from green to red.
Square fruits that mature from green to red.
This variety has good disease resistance and matures to yellow first, then to red.
The variety has green fruits that mature to red.
Smoky-flavored fruits that mature to tan-brown or red.
This pepper is ready for eating once it matures to a dark purple color, typically in about 70-80 days.
Planting bell pepper seeds
How to grow bell peppers starting from seed:
Keep in mind that the ideal temperature for germination is between 75-90°F (24-32°C), and peppers won’t germinate at soil temperatures below 55°F (12.7°C).
You’ll want to start your plants inside about 8-10 weeks before transplanting. Simply sow your seeds a quarter inch (0.6cm) deep in starter pods, trays or cell packs.
Pepper seedlings need a sunny spot in order to start growing, because a lack of light means your transplants will be unproductive.
Once they’ve sprouted, you’ll still want to also keep your seedlings in a warm and sunny place, like on a windowsill. Their air temperature shouldn’t fall below 70°F (21°C) during the day, nor should it fall below 65°F (18°C) during the night.
It’s important to note that you don’t want to rush to transplant outside. Bell peppers prefer warm climates, as cold temperatures can weaken them - so it’s best to be patient and wait until the weather is just right!
Once it’s time, set your transplants 12-24 inches (30-60cm) apart, in rows that are 24-36 inches (60-91cm) apart. If you’re using raised beds, you can set them 14-16 inches (35-40cm) apart.
You can also start your seeds by directly sowing them outside. If you choose this method, keep in mind that your soil has to be warmed to at least 60°F (15°C), and 65°F (18°C) would be even better.
Plant your seeds a half inch (1.2cm) deep and space them 18 inches (45cm) apart.
When your pepper plants have two leaves, you’ll want to thin them to the strongest plant.
Caring for bell peppers
How to grow bell peppers once you have a transplant or seedling
We’ll tell you everything you need to know about watering your peppers, fertilizer and mulching best practices, how to companion plant, and your options for growing structures.
Pepper plants can be grown in USDA zones 4 through 12, and they do best in slightly acidic soils with a pH between 6.0-6.8.
Peppers need full sun for optimal growth, and they won’t survive cold temperatures - nighttime temperatures below 65°F (18°C) or above 75°F (23°C) can actually lower the amount of fruit they produce.
Their ideal air temperature falls between 70 and 80°F (21 and 26°C) during the day and 60 to 70°F (15-21°C) during the night.
You’ll also want to pinch back the growing tips of your pepper plant, which encourages its leaf growth. Those leaves provide shade for the fruits in hot summers and help peppers avoid sun-scale.
Plants can drop their blossoms when air temperatures exceed 95°F (35°C) or also when they’re not watered frequently enough.
When it comes to watering, it’s best to do so early in the day so your peppers have enough time to dry off. That will help prevent any diseases from festering!
Also, you’ll want to pull out any weeds by hand, as they’ll compete for nutrients and water around your peppers. Just take care not to damage your plants when doing so.
FERTILIZING AND/OR MULCHING
How to grow bell pepper with the support that helps them thrive.
Add a layer of mulch after your plants are well established and your soil has warmed up. If you mulch too early, it can actually keep the cold in the soil longer, which isn’t good for your peppers. You can use materials like straw, newspapers, or wood chips!
Also, prepare your soil before planting with 4-6 cups of an all-purpose fertilizer per 100 square feet (9m2). You can also use 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) of well-composted organic matter per 100 square feet.
You’ll want to side-dress your peppers with nitrogen both 4 and 8 weeks after you’ve transplanted them. To do so, simply apply a quarter tablespoon per plant, about 6 inches (15.2cm) next to them, and then water it into the soil.
TRANSPLANTING BEST PRACTICES
Peppers needs 8-10 weeks to become fit for transplanting, and should have 6-9 mature leaves as well as a well-developed root system before they go into your garden.
Before transplanting, be sure to harden-off your seedlings by exposing them to temperatures between 60 and 65°F (15 and 18°C) and also by lowering their water intake.
Place your plants outdoors in the sun for a few hours per day, increasing the hours gradually over the span of 1-2 weeks.
Over-fertilizing will encourage excessive leaf growth, but it delays fruit production. Just keep this in mind when fertilizing!
COMPANION PLANTS DO’S AND DON’TS
How to grow bell pepper plants with the right friends to support them
Asparagus, carrots, cucumbers, oregano, parsley, squash, and Swiss chard are all great companions for peppers.
Basil is another great companion plant for bell peppers, because they help repel aphids. Since eggplants require similar maintenance to your peppers, they also make a good growing companion.
Finally, garlic naturally deters insects and fungi which is a big help for your peppers.
Beans create an excess supply of nitrogen, which can stunt the growth of your peppers.
Brassicas (like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower) have different soil requirements and fertilizer needs, so they aren’t great companions either.
Fennel also attracts pests and insects that are harmful to peppers, so keep them separated.
GROWING STRUCTURE OPTIONS
How to grow bell peppers with the support they need
Containers and pots will work well if they’re large enough to accommodate the whole plant. Typically, you’ll need ones that are about 14 inches in diameter per plant.
Your containers will also need holes in the bottom for ample soil drainage.
Raised beds are ideal for improving your soil’s drainage. They also have a higher soil temperature than the actual ground, which is something your peppers will love.
These higher soil temperatures will help prevent the spread of certain diseases that favor cool and/or moist conditions, and it also means you can get started earlier.
Raised beds minimize the disturbance of your plants too, since you don’t have to step on the soil to work on them.
STAKING FOR TALL VARIETIES
When lightly twined to stakes or wire cages, pepper plants will grow along them. This not only prevents them from snapping when their heavy pepper fruits develop, but it also saves garden space.
Also, it promotes good air circulation around your plants, reducing their risk for diseases!
If you have enough space, you can directly plant your peppers into an open field! When growing peppers, it’s critical that your soil is well-warmed before planting your seeds or transplants – and you can also install support structures like wooden stakes or wire cages.
Common challenges and their solutions
There are a number of pests and diseases that can potentially harm your crop. Not to worry! We’ve outlined them here below, as well as how to either avoid or fix the problem. Here's how to grow bell peppers pest free
These insects feed on the undersides of leaves and stems, causing the leaves to curl and crinkle. Also, they spread lots of diseases.
Solution: A hard stream of water (like from your garden hose) can wash them off your plants. Also, check for natural enemies like the larvae of lady beetles and lacewings (which look a bit like alligators)!
EUROPEAN CORN BORERS
When its larvae enter the pepper fruit, they leave brown masses on the surface. This damage can also act as a gateway for bacterial soft rot, which will typically infect the fruit 2-3 weeks later.
Solution: If you spot an infestation, destroy the affected plants. You can also hand-pick single borers if you find them on your peppers.
Its flies lay their eggs inside the fruit, which usually means damage goes unseen until it’s too late. The larvae feed on the inside, leaving tunnels behind, which is mostly only noticed once the fruit ripens prematurely or it dies off.
Solution: Use yellow sticky cards to attract and catch the adult flies before they get the chance to lay their eggs!
How to grow bell peppers disease free
CUCUMBER MOSAIC VIRUS
It causes ringspots and weird patterns to appear, while peppers will become smaller and have a much lower quality to them. Also, leaves typically become dull green and leathery.
Solution: Remove and destroy any infected plants. You’ll also want to control aphid populations, since they’re the pests that spread this virus.
BLOSSOM END ROT
Dark, leathery spots appear at the bottom of the fruit, which often get invaded by another black mold. Symptoms can look the same as those from sunscald, but typically sunscald only happens in areas where the fruit has been exposed to the sun.
Solution: Keep your plants’ moisture level constant by watering them during a drought. Also, fertilize them properly and make sure you keep high levels of organic matter in your soil.
TOBACCO MOSAIC VIRUS
This disease causes the uneven ripening of peppers as well as light and dark green spots that will appear on the leaves. Those leaves will also be smaller and more curled in appearance. When plants become infected at an early stage, their growth gets stunted. It’s important to note, too, that this virus can actually be transmitted by the hands of a smoker, since it lives on tobacco.
Solution: Plant disease-resistant varieties when possible. If you have an infection, make sure to get rid of any affected plants while also practicing proper garden sanitation.
Note: Smokers should wash their hands as well as any clothes that have been covered in smoke to prevent spreading it to the pepper plants.
BACTERIAL LEAF SPOT
It causes sunken and scab-like lesions on ripe peppers. It thrives in temperatures between 80-90°F (26-32°C) and can appear after a heavy rainfall. The disease is then spread by splashing rain, workers, tools and machinery.
Solution: Practice garden sanitation and keep your growing areas free of weeds. Rotating your crops is also important in managing this disease – and when possible, plant certified, disease-resistant seeds.
Small water-soaked spots will appear on your plant’s leaves, which enlarge and turn tan or brown in color with a papery texture. This disease thrives in extremely wet weather, and its spores are usually spread by splashing water.
Solution: Plant disease-resistant seeds when possible. Also, avoid using sprinklers or overhead irrigation, and water your plants from their base to keep leaves as dry as possible. Also, you can treat seeds with hot water prior to planting (122°F or 50°C for 25 minutes).
A disease causing the yellowing and wilting of lower leaves. V-shaped, brown lesions will appear, and the disease can cause wilting, stunting, or even the death of your plants.
Solution: Practice crop rotation with non-vulnerable plants. If you have any affected plants, be sure to remove and destroy them while also controlling weeds around your crops.
TOMATO SPOTTED WILT VIRUS
Your peppers will have small, black lesions, while the stems and roots might have black streaks. Severely infected plants can wilt, and their growth becomes stunted.
Solution: Remove and destroy any infected plants. Also, remove weeds that might be hosts for the virus to spread over to your pepper plants.
Water-soaked lesions will spread rapidly and cause the peppers to deteriorate into a slimy, foul smelling mass. Soft rot typically thrives in warm and moist weather, invading peppers through other injuries caused by insect stings, sunscald or wounding. It’s usually spread by human activity and the movement of soil.
Solution: Avoid excess irrigation, and take care not to wound your plants.
Also, try not to harvest during rainy periods, avoid working in the field when your plants are wet, and practice proper tool and hand sanitation. Be sure to remove any decayed peppers, because they can infect healthy ones as well.
Causes the roots, stems, and fruits of your pepper plants to rot. Distinctive black lesions will form on the stem, and the fruit and stems will then wilt. This disease is spread by water, and it typically starts in areas that don’t drain well. It can also be spread through infected soil that’s stuck to humans or machinery.
Solution: Rotate your peppers with non-hosts like corn, small grains, brassicas and alliums.
Also, practice good field sanitation, avoid overwatering, and keep your soil from compacting.
You’ll also want to improve your soil’s drainage while avoiding working in your garden when your plants are wet.
IMPORTANT NOTES TO AVOID DISEASE
• Do not plant peppers in the same spot more than once every 4 years.
• Plant in well-draining soil to avoid rot and wilting.
• Practice good sanitation by cleaning your hands, gloves, and tools that might have been in contact with infected plants or soil.
Harvesting and storing
How to grow bell peppers for your plate and pantry
Pick your peppers as they mature, which will help to promote continuous regrowth (aka more tasty bell peppers for you to enjoy!).
Peppers are typically ready to harvest once they’re firm to the touch, but their sweetness and Vitamin C levels will increase as their color intensifies.
Make sure to never leave overripe or rotting fruits on the plant, because they can affect the surrounding peppers on your plant.
Also, cutting peppers off instead of pulling them will cause less damage to the plant.
Your peppers will store for about a week in the refrigerator. If you’re working with a smaller batch of peppers, you can also try pickling them!