How To Grow Peppers
Growing peppers from seed is very rewarding! Sandia Seed sells all sorts of easy-to-grow green chile seeds, hot pepper seeds, sweet pepper seeds and even Heirloom tomato seeds!
Here are some of our tips for growing your own peppers:
WHERE TO GROW
All peppers prefer a long warm growing season. This means that outdoor growing in the U.S. may only be suitable to regions 5-11. Raised beds or large containers are ideal because the soil will be much warmer. Choose an area of the garden that receives a minimum of 6-8 hours of sunlight. Peppers can be grown indoors if ideal conditions can be met. This will likely mean grow lights in a room separated from the rest of the house so temperatures and humidity can be kept high.
BEST SOIL FOR STARTING and GROWING PEPPERS
Pepper seeds need light, well-draining soil to germinate and then grow to a transplantable size. Seedling Mix and Sunshine Mix #4 works well or something similar with small particles and good drainage. Avoid heavy clay and potting mix. When your peppers are ready to be transplanted outside, it is always a good idea to amend your garden soil with mature compost prior to planting. This will ensure the plants have the nutrients they need straight away.
Germinating seeds is the first tough obstacle when trying to grow peppers. They germinate much slower than tomato seeds. For best results, you need to sow your seeds indoors. Soak the seeds in water overnight before planting. Sow one seed in each seedling tray compartment about 1/4” deep into the pre-moistened seedling mix. Provide constant bottom heat, such as from a heating pad.
The secret to germinating chile pepper seeds is to keep them warm! The soil temperature must remain between 80° F – 90° F for successful germination. Keep the soil consistently moist, but never too wet while the seeds propagate. Keep out of direct sunlight until the first sprouts appear. Germination should occur within 7-21 days but sprouting can take up to 40 days, so be patient. Transplant seedlings into 4-inch pots, with well-draining soil mix as soon as the second set of true leaves appear.
Do not transplant outdoors until temperatures reach a constant 70° F or higher, even at night. Slightly cool nighttime temperatures can stunt or even kill your pepper plant very easily.
Once you are ready to transplant outdoors, do so very carefully by hardening off your seedlings. This means introducing them to the outdoor environment gradually. Place the seedling pots outdoors during the day, for a couple hours the first day adding an hour or two each subsequent day. Do this for 10 days. On the 10th day, leave them outside in their pots overnight. Carefully transplant into moist soil the next morning before it gets too hot. Do not let the roots dry out during transplant, which can happen very quickly if you’re not careful. Transplant the seedlings 30-36 inches apart.
WATERING & CARE
Water the plants regularly. Give them a good long soak twice per week during dry spells. Try to keep the soil slightly moist but never muddy. Overhead watering will encourage mold and other plant diseases to grow, so it is best to water at the base of the plant and in the early morning. Drip irrigation on a timer is ideal.
Hand weed carefully. Add a few inches of organic mulch, like composted wood chips, straw or leaf debris. This will keep weeds down while also keeping the soil warm and moist. This is essential for growing peppers.
Peppers are light feeders, but will benefit from a regular feeding of a well-balanced, organic fertilizer or compost tea. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers. They create lush foliage, but poor peppers.
Proper pollination is key to growing successful peppers. Try to introduce bees and other beneficial insects by growing lots of flowers in your garden. Make sure the peppers are grown in a spot with good air circulation and spaced properly. If your pepper plants are producing flowers but not fruit, you might need to hand pollinate. Use a small, clean paintbrush and gently brush the center bud of each flower. The idea is to spread pollen from flower to flower.
Peppers are usually harvested at an immature stage. The traditional bell pepper, for example, is harvested green, even though most varieties will mature red, orange, or yellow. Peppers can be harvested at any stage of growth, but their flavor doesn't fully develop until maturity. This might create a dilemma for the home gardener. Frequent harvesting increases yields, but doesn’t allow enhanced pepper flavor when left to ripen on the plant.
How do you decide if a full size pepper is ready to harvest? Well, if you think the pepper is ready, then cut it off the plant and taste it. Does it taste green and bitter? Then, wait longer to harvest and taste another pepper. Does it taste good? Then this is the look you want all your peppers to have before you cut them off the plant.
HANDLING HOT PEPPERS
Always wear gloves when handling hot peppers and avoid contact with the face or eyes. The blue disposable nitrile gloves work well. Capsaicin, the oily compound that produces the heat in a hot pepper, is primarily concentrated in the veins, ribs, and seeds. Sensitivity to it varies. Use caution until you know how you’ll react. If pepper juice gets in your eyes or nose, flush immediately with cold water. When the fire is in your mouth, drink milk to counteract the burn. Burning hands means that capsaicin has penetrated skin or fingernails. Wash hands very well with plenty of soap, rinse, dry, then wait. There is no quick relief from this burn, so it’s best to just avoid it happening. After working with hot peppers, wash cutting surfaces, prep tools, and knives carefully before using them to prepare other food. Wash off counters and clean sink and faucet and everything else it has touched. Launder all clothes and towels that have come into contact with the capsaicin.
Additional Notes for Success
Grow a variety of peppers in your garden. Small early varieties for quick results, large sweet varieties when the nights cool in later summer, disease resistant varieties in case your garden gets a disease, and some peppers that you’ve never tasted or grown before for some surprises!
HEIRLOOMS AND HYBRIDS
It’s a good idea to combine heirlooms and hybrids in the same garden. Heirlooms usually produce better flavored fruit, and hybrids are usually more vigorous and produce larger yields of fruit.
To get an early start with your peppers, particularly in the North, cover the prepared bed with a dark colored polyethylene mulch at least a week before transplanting. This will heat the soil beneath and provide a better growing condition for young pepper plants. The mulch will also help the soil retain moisture throughout the season as the plants grow.
If you practice this technique, try planting peppers near tomatoes, parsley, basil, squash and carrots. Don't plant peppers near fennel or kohlrabi.
Peppers are easily damaged when laden with fruit. For support, loosely tie the plants to stakes with soft plastic plant tape.
A late cold spell in spring can be deadly to pepper plants. Sheets, drop cloths, blankets and plastic sheets, or buckets make suitable covers for vulnerable plants. Use stakes, tomato cages or lawn furniture to keep material, especially plastic, from touching the foliage. Remove the coverings when temperatures rise the next day. For a short cold period, low plantings can be covered with mulch, such as straw or leaf debris.
A hail storm can quickly flatten a garden. Cover each plant with a 5 gallon bucket or something similar and add a brick on top. Be sure to uncover the plants when the danger has passed.