Bell peppers (Capsicum annuum) have a smooth outer skin, which protects a fresh, crunchy flesh inside. The fruit is hollow, with countless seeds clustering in the center and clinging to the white membrane along the walls.
Part of the Capsicum genus, which also includes the gamut of chili pepper species, the bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) is larger, rounder, crunchier, and milder than its small, spicy relatives.
Bell peppers are a warm-weather crop and a popular nightshade for both eating raw and cooking. Crunchy, sweet bell pepper plants lack capsaicin, the active component in hot peppers that gives them their heat.
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.
Sweet peppers and hot peppers are most easily grown in the garden from transplants started indoors. Start seed indoors 7 to 10 weeks before the date you intend to set peppers into the garden. Don’t rush peppers into the garden.
Transplant pepper seedling into the garden 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost in spring, after the soil temperature has warmed to at least 65°F. Peppers mature in 60 to 95 days depending on the variety.
- Peppers are tender perennials that are grown as annuals.
- Peppers grow on compact erect bushes 1½ to 2 feet tall.
- The fruit follows a single flower growing in the angle between a leaf and a stem.
- Botanical name: Capsicum annuum (sweet and hot peppers).
- Origin: New World Tropics.
How to Grow Bell Peppers
Peppers are a tender, warm-season crop. Here’s how to grow peppers in your garden!
Peppers resist most garden pestsand offer something for everyone: spicy, sweet, or hot; and a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. For this page, we will focus on sweet bell peppers.
(1) Planting Methods for Bell Peppers
Start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before last spring frost date.
The temperature must be at least 70° F for seed germination, so keep them in a warm area for the best and fastest results.
Start pepper seeds three to a pot, and thin out the weakest seedling. Let the remaining two pepper plants spend their entire lives together as one plant.
The leaves of two plants help protect peppers against sunscald and the yield is often twice as good as two segregated plants.
Begin to harden off plants about 10 days before transplanting:
A week before transplanting, introduce fertilizer or aged compost into your garden soil.
After the danger of frost has passed, transplant seedlings outdoors, 18 to 24 inches apart (but keep paired plants close to touching.)
Soil 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.
Put two or three match sticks in the hole with each plant, along with about a teaspoon of fertilizer. These give the plants a bit of sulfur, which they like.
(2) Care Methods for Bell 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.
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.
For larger fruit, spray the plants with a solution of one tablespoon of Epsom salts in a gallon of water, once when it begins to bloom, and once ten days later.
(3) Bell Pepper Pests / Diseases
Cucumber Mosaic Virus
Blossom-End Rot appears as a soft, sunken area which turns darker in color.
Pollination can be reduced in temperatures below 60° F and above 90° F.
Too much nitrogen will reduce fruit from setting.
(4) Harvest / Storage of Bell Peppers
Harvest as soon as peppers reach desired size.
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.
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.
Methods of Planting Peppers
Starting Pepper Seed Indoors:
- Start pepper seed indoors 7 to 10 weeks before the date you intend to set seedlings into the garden.
- Sow 3 to 4 seeds to a pot or across flats.
- Sow seed ¼ to ½ inch (7-13 mm) deep.
- Germination soil temperature is 75-95°F (24-35°C); the optimum soil temperature for germinating seed is 85°F (29°C).
- Germination takes 7 to 10 days at 85°F (29°C) or warmer.
- Keep the seed starting mix just moist until seedlings emerge.
- Clip away the weaker seedlings once the strongest seedling is about 2 inches (5 cm) tall.
- Seedlings started indoors should be kept under grow light or in a sunny window after germination. Keep the indoor nighttime temperature above 62°F (17°C).
- Water to keep the seed starting mix from drying.
- Transfer seedlings to a larger container once they are 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm) tall; be sure that seedlings have sufficient room for root growth. This process is called “potting up”. Continue to pot up seedlings as they outgrow containers—until they are transplanted into the garden or a very large container.
Planting Peppers Outdoors:
- Transplant peppers into the garden 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost in spring when the soil temperature has risen to at least 65°F.
- Young peppers transplanted should be 4 to 6 inches tall.
- Plants started indoors should be acclimatized to outdoor temperatures before transplants. Set plants outdoors for a few hours each day before transplanting to the garden.
- Sweet and hot peppers grow best in air temperatures 65° to 80°F. The ideal temperature for sweet peppers is a daytime temperature around 75°F and a nighttime temperature around 62°F.
- Grow peppers in full sun. Peppers should get 8 hours of sun each day.
- Plant peppers in soil rich in organic matter. Work aged garden compost or commercial organic planting mix into beds prior to planting.
- The soil should be moisture-retentive but well-draining. Slightly sandy or loamy soil is best.
- Pre-warm the soil before transplanting by placing black plastic over the planting bed for two weeks prior to transplanting peppers. The plastic will transfer solar heat to the soil.
- Set transplants in the garden at the same depth they were growing in the container. Do not plant deeper; buried stem may rot.
- Peppers prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8.
- Avoid planting peppers where another nightshade (Solanacea) family crop has grown recently—tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants. These crops can be attacked by the same pests and diseases.
Spacing Pepper Plants:
- Space pepper plants 18 to 24 inches apart. Space rows 24 to 36 inches apart.
Container Growing Peppers:
- Peppers can be grown in pots or containers that are at least 12 inches wide and deep.
- Plant peppers in a commercial potting mix.
- Choose a container with holes in the bottom for easy drainage.
- Keep the soil evenly moist.
- Side-dress plants with compost tea or dilute fish emulsion every two weeks through the growing season.
- In larger containers, set plants on 12-inch centers.
Caring for Peppers
Watering and Feeding Peppers:
- Keep peppers evenly moist but not wet particularly when blossoms appear and fruit begins to form.
- Soil that goes too dry can result in flower drop
- Add aged compost to planting beds before planting and again at midseason. Aged compost will feed the soil and act as a mulch to stem soil moisture evaporation.
- Keep planting beds well weeded to avoid competition.
- Peppers are shallow-rooted, so cultivate around peppers with care.
- Mulch around peppers with aged compost or straw to keep soil temperature and moisture even.
- Plastic mulch can improve pepper yields. Organic compost mulches will reduce weeding and watering, but not fruit yields.
- Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers which will create large leafy plants with few or no fruits.
- Feed plants compost tea or water with a dilute fish emulsion solution every 10 days.
- Support pepper plants with a stake or cage; plants heavy with fruit can break or topple. Pepper branches are brittle and can easily break.
- High temperatures and wind can cause flowers to drop and plants not to set fruit.
- Peppers can be attacked by aphids, cutworms, flea beetles, and hornworms.
- Discourage cutworms by placing a collar around each transplant at the time of planting.
- Handpick hornworms off of plants. Drop them into a can of soapy water.
- Flea beetles and aphids can be partially controlled by hosing them off the plants and pinching out infested foliage.
- Peppers are susceptible to rot, blossom end rot, anthracnose, tobacco mosaic virus, bacterial spot, and mildew.
- Plant disease-resistant varieties. Seed packets and plant labels will note disease resistance.
- Keep the garden clean and free of weeds where pests and diseases can shelter.
- Remove infected plants before a disease can spread.
- If you smoke, wash your hands before working with the plants to avoid spreading tobacco mosaic virus.
Harvesting and Storing Peppers
(1) Harvesting Peppers:
- Peppers are ready for harvest in 60 to 95 days after sowing
- Peppers mature from green to red as the seeds inside mature.
- Color change can be slow when the weather is not consistently warm.
- Sweet peppers become sweeter as they ripen and turn color.
- Cut peppers off the vine with a garden shear or scissors; don’t pull them.
- Leave a short amount of stem attached to the pepper at harvest time.
- Peppers will continue to change color and ripen after harvest if place in a warm spot out of direct sunlight.
(2) Storing and Preserving Peppers:
- Peppers can be stored in a cool, moist place for 2 to 3 weeks.
- Peppers can be refrigerated for up to 10 days; place them in a plastic bag to avoid cold burn.
- Blanched peppers can be stored in the freezer for 4 to 6 months.
- Peppers can be dried or pickled whole or in pieces.
- Be careful when handling hot peppers. They contain a compound call capsaicin which is concentrated in the veins, ribs, and seeds. Capsaicin can burn your eyes, nose, or mouth. Washed your hands thoroughly after handling hot
Sweet Pepper Varieties to Grow
Sweet peppers vary in shape and color and include the slender banana pepper; the short, round cherry pepper; the small bright-red, heart-shaped pimiento; the multi-colored Italian frying pepper; and the blocky green to yellow to orange to red bell pepper.
Sweet peppers can be eaten raw, cooked, or pickled. Not all sweet pepper varieties are mildly flavored; some can be spicy and hot.
- Blocky Sweet Peppers: ‘Ace’ (55 days); ‘Bell Boy’ (75 days); ‘Bell Captain’ (72 days); ‘Big Bertha’ (72 days); ‘Bull Nose’ (55-70 days); ‘California Wonder’ (73 days); ‘Camelot’ (74 days); ‘Elisa’ (72 days); ‘Emerald Giant’ (74 days); ‘Jupiter Elite’ (66 days); ‘King Arthur’ (72 days);’ Little Dipper’ (66 days); ‘Midway’ (70 days); ‘North Star’ (66 days); ‘Secret’ (60 days); ‘Yankee Bell’ (60 days); ‘Yolo Wonder’ (73 days).
- Red Sweet Bells: ‘Cardinal’ (70 days); ‘Rampage’ (66 days); ‘Redwing’ (72 days); ‘Summer Sweet’ (76 days).
- Long Sweet Peppers: ‘Banana Supreme’ (65 days); ‘Hungarian Yellow Wax’ (65 days).
- Space Savers: ‘Baby Bell’ (55 days); ‘Jingle Bells’ (55 days); ‘Park’s Pot’ (45 days).
- Yellow-Orange Sweet Bells: ‘Canary’ (72 days); ‘Gold Finch’ (72 days); ‘Klondike Bell’ (72 days); Orobelle (70 days); ‘Peppourri Orange’ (75 days); ‘Summer Sweet’ (86 days).
- Heart Shaped Sweet Peppers: ‘Pimento’ (65-80 days).
- Other Sweet Peppers: ‘Blue Jay’ (73 days); ‘Chocolate Beauty’ (58-86 days); ‘Cubanelle’ (62 days); ‘Purple Beauty’ (70 days).
Hot Pepper Varieties to Grow
Hot peppers–also called chili peppers–vary in shape and color and include the bell-shaped pepper, the heart-shaped pimiento, the short and long podded yellow wax, the conical-shaped jalapeño, and the cayenne. Peppers easily cross-pollinate there are thousands of different hot peppers.
Hot peppers are rated by their heat–called Scoville heat units (SHU). The greater the number of units on the Scoville scale the hotter the pepper. Here are several hot pepper varieties starting with the hottest (all of these will cause most people discomfort when eaten):
- ‘Bhut Jolokia’ (also called ‘Ghost Pepper’): 1,001,304 SHU (100days)
- ‘Scotch Bonnet’: 100,000-580,000 SHU (120 days)
- ‘Habanero’: 100,000-500,000 SHU (90-100 days)
- ‘Jamaican Hot’: 100,000-200,000 SHU (95 days)
- ‘Chiltepin’: 100,000 SHU (95 days)
- ‘Thai’: 50,000-100,000 SHU (90 days)
- ‘Cayenne’: 30,000-50,000 SHU (72 days)
- ‘Aji’: 30,000-50,000 SHU (85-90 days)
- ‘Tabasco’: 30,000-50,000 SHU (80 days)
- ‘Serrano’: 8,000-23,000 SHU (75-80 days)
- ‘Mirasol’: 5,000 SHU (100 days)
- ‘Jalapeño’: 2,500-9,000 SHU (75 days)
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