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Sweet peppers are a warm season plant that is a must-have in your garden! Learning how to grow bell peppers is so worth it even if you are just growing a few plants. The fresh, sweet taste of a homegrown sweet pepper just can’t be beaten.
Start Pepper Plants Early
Bell peppers grow slowly compared to most plants you grow in your vegetable garden. In tropical areas, bell peppers are perennial plants but in colder climates, they are grown like annuals and really don’t tolerate cold weather well.
Peppers need a long growing season, depending on the variety you’re growing you could need up to 90 to 100 days, so if you have a shorter summer growing season you will need to start seeds indoors earlier.
But don’t worry there are also peppers that mature in 57 to 75 days especially if you are wanting to grow green peppers.
Pepper plants are normally started by seed indoors 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date. However, if you take good care of your pepper plants to keep them healthy you can start them even earlier.
You can start pepper plants as early as 10-14 weeks before your last frost date if you are going to cover them with a mini hoop house in your garden.
We have a very short growing season here in our zone 5 gardens.
So we start pepper seeds in early February and will transplant them out into our garden at the end of May or early June depending on the weather.
Starting them early means we will have peppers before we start to get frosts in early September.
Remember to use a good quality seed starting mix when starting your pepper plants, and cover the trays with a plastic dome or plastic wrap to help germination.
Peppers also need warm soil to grow. Make sure to provide them with a consistent source of heat, using a heat mat to start your seeds is a great way to both speed up and increase germination rates.
Pepper seeds need at least 70F (21C) soil to germinate but 80F (26C) is better.
If the soil is the right temperature germination will happen in about 10 days. If the soil is colder it can take up to 3 weeks for pepper seeds to start germinating.
When the pepper seedlings have grown 2 to 3 sets of leaves transplant them into larger containers.
Remember to moisten the potting soil before using it as your plants will do better if they are going into damp soil.
Fertilize with your favourite organic fertilizer, I prefer to use fish emulsion, and keep newly transplanted plants well watered.
Related: Best Organic Garden Fertilizers
How To Grow Bell Peppers
When To Plant Bell Peppers
You may be in a rush to get your garden planted, but it’s best to wait to transplant peppers into the garden until a few weeks past the last frost date.
This means your plants will be going into warm soil in your garden and are less likely to be hit by a late spring frost.
Make sure you do harden off your pepper plants first though, or they may not survive being moved outside.
Hardening off isn’t difficult to do, it simply means the process of getting plants used to living outdoors.
The pepper plants have been growing indoors for months and are not used to the wind and direct sunlight. Planting them straight out into the garden would likely kill them.
Instead, slowly get the plants used to being outdoors. Over the course of a week set them outside for a little while in the morning and then bring them back inside.
Gradually leave them outside for a little longer each day, until you are sure they are doing well outside.
Then you can transplant the bell pepper plants into your garden. Space the plants 18 inches apart or more, depending on the variety you are growing.
The spacing of 18 inches is perfect if you are using a traditional gardening method and need to till between the rows.
If you are using a square foot gardening method or planting in wide beds you can actually decrease the spacing to 1 foot apart on center as long as you make sure your soil is very fertile and keep up on the weeding and watering.
How To Plant Bell Peppers
Once you have prepared your planting bed with rich compost to help feed your peppers through the growing season you can start planting.
Dig a hole deep enough so the pepper plant will be at the same soil level that it was in the pot. If you’re not sure, go ahead and set the pot into the hole to see if it’s deep enough.
Before planting fill the hole up with liquid fertilizer. My favourite to use for this is fish emulsion but liquid seaweed works well too.
As soon as the hole is filled with the water and fertilizer mixture place the plant right into the hole, then pull back the soil or compost around the plant.
Press down gently around the pepper to firm the soil into place.
Adding extra fertilizer and water to the planting hole really helps the pepper plant to get off to a good start and avoid transplanting shock.
We’ve found since we started doing this that our plants start growing well instead of wilting and being droupy for a few days after planting.
Water the newly transplanted bell peppers well and paces 2 inches of mulch around the plants. The mulch will help to keep the soil moist and reduce weeds.
Protection From The Cold
Bell peppers really need warm soil and temperatures to grow well.
If you live in a cooler growing zone or are having an unusually cold summer, you can help your plants out by laying black plastic over top of the soil. The plastic can also act as a weed barrier too.
Another way you can protect young pepper plants from the cold is to make a mini greenhouse around each plant.
This is a common method used by farmers in Ontario to protect tomatoes and peppers in the garden early in the season in their family gardens.
How Long Does It Take To Grow Sweet Peppers?
There are so many varieties of sweet peppers to choose from, but on average they will take 60 to 90 days to start producing fruit.
Remember that the days to maturity listed on the packet of seeds is not from the date that you started the pepper seeds, but from the date, you transplanted the peppers into your garden.
So if you transplanted a 60-day pepper into your garden June 1st you could start expecting production around August 1st.
Of course, weather conditions will also play a factor in when your peppers will be ready.
How To Water Peppers
Peppers really appreciate steady watering. Keep your plants well watered especially when they are in bloom and producing fruit.
In normal growing conditions, pepper plants will need 1 to 2 inches of water a week.
If you live in a very hot climate or are having a summer heat wave, watering every day may be necessary to keep the plants healthy.
If the plants are kept too wet or too dry for a long period of time it can cause a reduction in fruiting because of dropped flowers and fruit.
How To Fertilize Bell Peppers
It’s ok to fertilize your bell pepper plants but make sure you don’t overdo it.
Giving pepper plants too much nitrogen can cause excessive leaf growth and busyness but actually, reduce the amount of fruit you get.
Make sure you are planting them into a good quality soil, amended with quality compost.
Pepper plants should also be fertilized when you transplant the seedlings into the garden and then again after they set the first cluster of fruits.
How Much Sunlight Do Pepper Plants Need?
You’ll want to plant peppers into your garden in a place they will receive at least 8 to 10 hours of sunlight.
If you can pick the hottest place in your garden to plant the peppers in, this is often where the snow starts melting in the garden first.
Remember they are a tropical plant and will love as much heat as possible early in the growing season.
How Tall Do Sweet Peppers Grow?
Bell peppers come in many different varieties that grow in many different sizes. Depending on the variety of sweet peppers you are growing they can reach height from 6 inches to 3 feet tall.
They can also have a spread in your garden from 1 foot to 3 feet. So it’s important to know what type of pepper plant your growing and give them enough room in your garden.
Harvesting Bell Peppers
Bell peppers can be harvest whenever they reach the size you like them to be.
Green bell peppers are normally picked when they are 3 to 4 inches long. While collared fruits are left until they have reached the ideal color for that variety.
This is one plant that is very flexible when it comes to harvesting!
It doesn’t matter what type of bell pepper plant you are growing, you can harvest any of them early while they are still green if you like.
But if you are growing a colored pepper they will get sweeter as they mature and change color.
To harvest peppers avoid just pulling them off the plant because you can damage it. Instead, use a sharp pair of scissors to cut the pepper off leaving a short stem.
How Many Bell Peppers Per Plant
How many bell peppers you harvest from each plant will depend on the variety you are growing. But on average you can expect 5 to 10 large bell peppers per plant grown in your garden.
Varieties Of Bell Peppers
There are so many varieties of bell peppers that you can grow in your garden it might feel hard to choose when you looking through seed catalogs or looking through your local nursery.
I’ve tried growing a lot of different types of sweet peppers in our garden and these are varieties that have always grown really well for us.
King Of The North
King of the North is one of my favourite bell peppers to grow. It’s very dependable in our zone 5 garden and perfect for cool climates.
This pepper is ready to harvest as a green pepper in 57 days and will mature to a dark red pepper in 68 days. It will continue to produce right up to frost even in cooler weather. (Open pollinated heirloom)
California Wonder is a classic garden bell pepper variety that’s been grown since 1928! It produces blocky, 4 lobed, thick-walled peppers that are perfect for stuffing.
California Wonder is 65 days to maturity for green peppers and 75 days to maturity for bright red peppers. (Open pollinated heirloom)
Purple Beauty peppers grow into compact, bushy plants that start to form fruits in mid-summer. They start off as a large, blocky 3 to 4 lobed green bell pepper before maturing to a gorgeous bright purple color in 75 days.
They have a mild and sweet flavor and look so pretty when mixed with yellow peppers. (Open pollinated)
Milena is a thick-walled orange bell pepper bread for disease resistance and early maturity. While most orange peppers take a long time to mature this variety is ready in just 70 days!
It produces 3 to 4 lobed fruits that are crisp and sweet. Peppers can be harvest green or left to turn a brilliant orange. Milena is resistant to Tobacco Mosaic Virus, Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus, and Potato Virus Y.
Growing Bell Peppers Is Worth It
I’ve shared a lot of information here about growing great bell peppers. But I really don’t want you to feel overwhelmed, especially if you are a new gardener.
Try to remember the most important growing tips:
- Start your pepper seeds early, or buy healthy seedlings from your local nursery. Make sure they are a good match for your local growing zone.
- Transplant the peppers into your garden 2 weeks after your last frost date in the spring, and remember to harden off the plants.
- Keep the peppers well watered but not soggy.
- Mulch the plants to conserve water and suppress weeds.
Remember gardening should be fun! Do the best you can and just try to follow these simple tips for growing great bell peppers!
More Garden Growing Tips
- Tips For Growing Tomatoes
- How To Grow Onions
- How To Grow Spinach
- How To Grow Green Beans
- How To Grow Lettuce
Kim Mills is a homeschooling mom of 6 and lives on an urban homestead in Ontario, Canada. Blogging at Homestead Acres she enjoys sharing tips to help you save money, grow and preserve your own food.