Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Bell Peppers
Sweet bell peppers are a tender, warm-season crop. Here’s how to grow them in your garden!
Peppers resist most garden pests and offer something for everyone: spicy, sweet, or hot; and a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. For this page, we will focus on growing sweet bell peppers.
Unlike their spicy brethren, bell peppers do not contain capsaicin, the compound that gives hot peppers their pungency and heat.
When to Plant Peppers
- Start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before your last spring frost date.
- Bell peppers require a fairly long growing season (60 to 90 days), so it’s best to get them started indoors.
Choosing and Preparing a Planting Site
- Pepper plants require full sun to produce the largest and healthiest fruit, so pick a site that won’t get shaded out by trees or other garden plants.
- Soil should be well-draining and rich in organic matter.
- A soil consistency somewhere between sandy and loamy will ensure that the soil drains well and warms quickly.
- Soil pH should be on the acidic side—5.5 to 6.5, ideally.
- A week before transplanting peppers into the garden, introduce fertilizer or aged compost into your garden soil.
- Avoid planting peppers in places where you’ve recently grown other members of the nightshade family—such as tomatoes, potatoes, or eggplants—as this can expose peppers to disease.
How to Plant Peppers
- We recommend starting seeds indoors rather than in the garden.
- The soil temperature must be at least 70°F for seed germination, so keep them in a warm area for the best and fastest results. Use a heat pad under the seed tray, if necessary.
- Plant seeds about ¼-inch deep.
Transplanting Young Plants into the Garden
- Begin to harden off plants about 10 days before transplanting outdoors.
- Once nighttime temperatures reach at least 60°F (16°C), transplant seedlings outdoors, spacing them 18 to 24 inches apart.
- Plant the transplants no deeper than they were already; otherwise, the stems may become susceptible to rot.
- Soil temperature should be at least 65°F, as peppers will not survive transplanting at temps any colder. Northern gardeners can warm up the soil by covering it with black plastic.
Check out this video to learn how to plant bell peppers!
How to Grow Peppers
- Soil should be well drained, but be sure to maintain adequate moisture either with mulch or plastic covering.
- Water one to two inches per week, but remember that peppers are extremely heat sensitive. If you live in a warm or desert climate, watering everyday may be necessary.
- Fertilize after the first fruit set.
- Weed carefully around plants to avoid disturbing roots.
- If necessary, support plants with cages or stakes to prevent bending. Try commercially available cone-shaped wire tomato cages. They may not be ideal for tomatoes, but they are just the thing for peppers. Or, build your own garden supports.
|Anthracnose||Fungus||Yellow/brown/purple/black spots on leaves; sunken, dark spots on stems and fruit; spots may develop a salmon-pink, gelatinous mass; eventually, plants rot||Destroy infected plants; choose resistent varieties; provide good drainage; avoid overhead watering; apply compost for nutrition; use mulch; practice crop rotation. Find images and more information about anthracnose here.|
|Aphids||Insect||Misshapen/yellow leaves; distorted flowers/fruit; sticky “honeydew” (excrement produced by aphids); sooty, black mold that forms on honeydew; large presence of ants on plants||Grow companion plants to either attract aphids away (nasturtiums) or repel them outright (basil, rosemary, strong-scented plants); knock aphids off plants with water spray, apply insecticidal soap; put banana or orange peel around plants; wipe leaves with a 1-2% solution of liquid dish soap and water every 2-3 days for 2 weeks; add native plants to attract aphid predators. Find images and more information about aphids here.|
|Blossom-end Rot||Nutrient Deficiency||Caused by lack of sufficient calcium uptake.
Symptoms: dark, water-soaked spots on blossom end of fruit (the side opposite the stem) may enlarge and become sunken, leathery, rotted
|Remove affected fruit; plant at proper soil temperature; water deeply and evenly; use mulch; maintain proper soil pH (6.5) and nutrient levels; avoid excessive nitrogen; provide good drainage; avoid damaging roots. Find more images and information about blossom-end rot here.|
|Colorado Potato Beetles||Insect||Yellow-orange eggs laid in clusters on leaf undersides; larvae and adults chew holes in foliage||Remove eggs/larvae/beetles by hand; use straw mulch; weed around plants; use row covers; destroy plant matter at end of season; practice crop rotation|
|Flea Beetles||Insect||Numerous tiny holes in leaves (as if they had been hit by a tiny shotgun)||Use row covers to physically block flea beetles; mulch heavily; add native plants to attract beneficial insect predators. Find more information and images of flea beetles here.|
|Mosaic Virus (Cucumber)||Virus||Symptoms vary, but may include: stunting; mottled green/yellow/white pattern or ringed spots on leaves/fruit; distorted leaf growth; warts on fruit||Often spread by aphids. Destroy infected plants; choose resistant varieties and certified virus-free seed; use row covers; disinfect gardening tools after each use; keep garden weed-free; use mulch. Find images and more information about mosaic viruses here.|
|Root-knot Nematodes||Insect||Roots become “knotted” or galled; plants stunted/yellow/wilted||Destroy affected plant matter (especially roots); choose resistant varieties; expose soil to sun (solarize); add aged manure/compost; disinfect gardening tools between uses; till soil in autumn; practice crop rotation|
||Insect||Chewed leaves (initially toward top of plant); rapid defoliation; black/green excrement; gouged fruit||Check undersides of leaves for hornworms, remove by hand and dispose of hornworms. (If you encounter hornworms that have white, ricelike cocoons on their backs, relocate them instead; the cocoons belong to beneficial parasitic wasps.) Till soil in autumn and spring; companion plant with dill/basil/marigolds to attract (and trap) or repel hornworms; spray plants with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). Find images and more information about hornworms here.|
- Pollination can be reduced in temperatures below 60°F (16°C) and above 90°F (32°C).
- Too much nitrogen in the soil can produce healthy foliage growth but discourage fruit from setting.
How to Harvest Peppers
- Harvest as soon as peppers reach desired size or color.
- The longer bell peppers stay on the plant, the more sweet they become and the greater their vitamin C content.
- Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut peppers clean off the plant for the least damage.
How to Store Peppers
- Peppers can be refrigerated in plastic bags for up to 10 days after harvesting.
- Bell peppers can be dried, and we would recommend a conventional oven for the task. Wash, core, and seed the peppers. Cut into one-half-inch strips. Steam for about ten minutes, then spread on a baking sheet. Dry in the oven at 140°F (or the lowest possible temperature) until brittle, stirring occasionally and switching tray positions. When the peppers are cool, put them in bags or storage containers.
Look for varieties that ripen to their full color quickly; fully mature peppers are the most nutritious—and tastier, too!
- Green peppers that turn Red: ‘Lady Bell’, ‘Gypsy’, ‘Bell Boy’, ‘Lipstick’
- …Orange: ‘Milena’, ‘Orange Sun’
- …Yellow: ‘Golden California Wonder’
Wit & Wisdom
Common Pepper Questions
- Are red and green peppers the same thing? Yes, the popular green and red bell peppers that we see in supermarkets are actually the same pepper; the red peppers have just been allowed to mature on the plant longer, changing color and also gaining a higher Vitamin C content. More mature peppers also tend to be sweeter than their greener counterparts.
- Are there male and female peppers? There is a popular myth which states that pepper fruits can be either male or female—the difference between them being that male peppers have 3 bumps on the bottom and are better for cooking, while female peppers have 4 bumps, have more seeds, are sweeter, and are better for eating raw. This is not true! Pepper fruits do not have a gender and any obvious difference between fruits is simply the result of growing conditions or variety.