As a gardening enthusiast, I have found that growing bell pepper plants can be both rewarding and challenging. With the right knowledge and techniques, it’s possible to grow healthy, organic bell peppers from seeds or seedlings. In this article, I will share my experience and tips on successfully growing bell pepper plants, from choosing the right variety to preserving your harvest.
Introduction to Growing Bell Pepper Plants
Growing bell pepper plants organically has many benefits, including being free of synthetic chemicals and having a higher nutritional value. Organic bell peppers are not exposed to harmful pesticides and herbicides, which can leave toxic residues on the plant. Organic peppers are also known to have a higher content of essential nutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin A, and potassium.
Although this article is about bell peppers, the whole pepper family can be grown and tended in the same way. We grow 6 types of peppers and treat them all the same.
Bell peppers are a popular vegetable that belongs to the Solanaceae family, commonly known as the nightshade family. Bell peppers are botanically classified as a fruit but are often used as a vegetable in cooking. The plant has a short growing season and can produce large quantities of fruits when provided with the right care and attention.
Did you know they are a perennial plant that can be kept for years? It requires some extra attention and protection, especially in colder climates, but it can be done. We’ll talk about that later on.
Before you start growing bell pepper plants, you should consider your area’s climate and growing conditions. Bell peppers prefer warm temperatures and plenty of sunlight, but they can also withstand some shade. They should be planted in well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8 and should be watered regularly to keep the soil moist.
Bell pepper plants are known to be robust, upright, and bushy, and can grow to 3-4 feet tall. The plant has a central stem, which produces branches that bear the flowers and fruits. The leaves of the bell pepper plant are broad, glossy green, and heart-shaped. The flowers on the plant are small and white. The fruit of the plant is bell-shaped, hence its name, with a thick outer wall and numerous seeds inside.
Choosing the Right Bell Pepper Plant Variety
When choosing the right bell pepper plant variety, you should consider your climate, soil conditions, and personal preferences. Some varieties are also more disease-resistant or tolerant of pests.
There are also taste differences in bell peppers. They all taste similar yet some are sweeter, some are fleshier, and some have a slight warmth to them. There are many great varieties of bell pepper plants. It may be hard to choose so order a variety of seeds and try them to see which you like.
Start with high-quality organic seeds. Find a seed company you feel you can trust. We save as many seeds as possible from our garden but if we do have to order seeds we order from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, or Territorial Seed Company.
If you choose to start your peppers as seedlings, purchase organic plants from a reputable nursery or garden center.
Tips for choosing a healthy plant:
- Choose one with a strong, straight stem
- Choose one that does not have roots on the surface of the dirt. This indicates the plant is root bound and may not live when transplanted.
- You want a plant that has at least 6 leaves but does not have fruit or blooms on it.
- Check for disease or insect damage. You don’t want one with either of these.
Believe it or not, all bell peppers start out green. Choose a variety that will mature to the color you want. The color of the bell pepper depends on the stage of ripeness, with green being the least ripe and red being the most ripe.
For Green Bells – Ozark Giant Pepper and Bull Nose Pepper
For Red Bells – King of the North Pepper and Joe’s Big Blocky Red
For Yellow/Orange Bells – Etiuda Pepper and Quadrato Asti Giallo Pepper
Starting Your Bell Pepper Plants from Seed or Seedlings
When growing bell pepper plants you can start from seeds or seedlings. Starting from seeds allows you to choose the variety and control the growing conditions from the beginning, but it requires more time and effort. Starting from seedlings is easier and faster, but you may have fewer options for variety.
Bell peppers need warm soil to germinate and grow, so it is best to start them indoors 6-8 weeks before your last expected frost date. You may want to learn more about growing zones if you aren’t familiar with yours.
Some people say to soak the seeds overnight in warm water to help speed up the germination process. I’ve experimented with soaking and not soaking the seeds. I have found that the seeds I did not soak germinated before the ones I did soak. Since there are many variables, do what works best for you.
- Fill a seed tray or small pot with well-draining organic soil or seed-starting mix and sow the seeds ¼” deep and lightly cover with soil.
- Keep the soil moist and warm, and provide plenty of light.
- Keep them warm – between 70-80 degrees.
- A grow light or direct sunlight will get the job done.
- Seeds will germinate in 7 to 14 days.
- Once the seedlings have grown to about 4-6 inches tall, it is time to transplant them outdoors or to a larger container.
- Transplant in the early morning or late evening to reduce stress on the plants.
- Space them about 18-24 inches apart in rows that are about 24-36 inches apart.
- Water well after transplanting
Once you bring your plant home, transplant it into your prepared garden bed, raised bed, or container.
- Transplant in the early morning or late evening to reduce stress on the plants.
- Space them about 18-24 inches apart in rows that are about 24-36 inches apart.
- Water them well after transplanting.
Harden Off Plants Before Transplanting
If you start your seeds indoors, they must be hardened off before transplanting to the garden or container.
Hardening off is a term used for the acclimation of plants from indoor conditions to outdoor conditions.
- To harden off seedlings, start at least one week before transplanting.
- Set them outdoors in the shade for a few hours on the first day.
- Gradually increase this time each day to include some direct sunlight.
- Once they are able to take full sunlight, they’re ready for transplanting.
- Return them to their indoor spot at night until they are fully acclimated.
- Depending on your growing zone, this process can take one to three weeks.
Choosing the Right Location and Soil for Your Bell Pepper Plants
Bell pepper plants require plenty of sunlight, warm temperatures, and well-draining soil. If your soil is heavy clay or sandy, add compost or aged manure to improve the soil structure. You may want to learn about making compost, adding calcium to your soil, and soil health.
The ideal location receives 6-8 hours of full sunlight per day. They need protection from strong winds as well.
The soil should be rich in organic matter and have a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. We have an article to teach you the fastest way to check your soil pH. If your soil is too acidic or alkaline, you can amend it with organic matter or lime.
Another tip to successfully growing bell pepper plants is to avoid planting them in the same spot used to grow tomatoes, potatoes, or other nightshade plants in the last two years, as they can spread diseases to the peppers. Crop rotation is important for all plants.
Caring for Your Bell Pepper Plants – Watering, Fertilizing, and Pruning
Bell pepper plants require regular watering, fertilizing, and pruning to grow healthy and produce a bountiful harvest.
- They need 1-2” of water a week.
- You should always water plants in the early morning before the sun is on them. This will prevent the sun from scorching them when it hits the wet leaves.
- Watering in the evening makes them susceptible to fungus and mold which can set up overnight if the leaves are left moist.
- Try not to water the leaves, but water the plants at their base. Be sure to water the soil at the root line.
- To determine the root line of any plant, find the branch that is furthest from the main stem, this is the root line. Water the soil from that point inward toward the stem of the plant.
- Overwatering or underwatering can lead to problems, such as blossom end rot or root rot. Instead, use a drip irrigation system or water at the base of the plant.
Fertilize or Not to Fertilize
If you don’t have healthy, living soil, you may need to fertilize your bell pepper plants with a balanced organic fertilizer every 4-6 weeks can help promote healthy growth and fruit development. You can also make your own fertilizer.
You can also add organic matter, such as compost or manure, to the soil to provide nutrients. Using deep mulch can help retain moisture and control weeds.
Pruning your growing bell pepper plants by removing suckers or damaged leaves can help improve air circulation and prevent diseases. It can also help to increase productivity and improve the quality of the fruit.
Pinch off any side shoots that grow from the base of the plant, as these can divert energy from the main stem.
Supporting Your Bell Pepper Plants
Bell pepper plants can grow up to 3-4 feet tall and may require support as they mature. Support your growing bell pepper plants with stakes or cages can help prevent them from bending or breaking under the weight of the fruit. By gently tying the stems to the support, you help improve air circulation and fruit development.
Companion Planting with Bell Peppers
Companion planting with bell peppers can help to deter pests and improve the growth of your plants. Companion plants, such as marigolds, basil, parsley, and thyme, can help to repel pests such as aphids and spider mites, which can damage your plants.
Pest and Disease Management for Bell Pepper Plants
Bell pepper plants are susceptible to a variety of pests and diseases, such as aphids, mites, and bacterial spot. To prevent these problems, you should maintain good garden hygiene by removing dead leaves or fruit, picking fruit as soon as it’s ready, and avoiding overhead watering (water the soil as described above).
When growing bell pepper plants, using natural pest management methods, such as neem oil or insecticidal soap, to control pests is best.
If your bell pepper plants do develop a disease, you should identify the problem and take appropriate action. For example, bacterial spot can be treated with copper fungicides or by removing affected leaves.
Powdery mildew can be prevented by improving air circulation and reducing humidity. It can’t be cured, once it starts but it can be controlled. Prevention is certainly the best way. You should remove any affected leaves from your garden. We burn ours, some people put them in hot compost. We then use a baking soda solution to help control it.
Baking Soda Solution for Powdery Mildew
- 4 Tbs of baking soda
- 1 gallon of water
- 1 tsp of dishwashing soap, we use Dawn
- Shake well before each use.
- Spray the affected leaves in the early morning. Saturate them well.
- Do not treat them at night because excess moisture at night is the number one cause of powdery mildew.
Rotate your crops each year to reduce the risk of soil-borne diseases.
Our Neem Oil Spray
We use neem oil for all kinds of garden diseases and pests. It works great and doesn’t cause any damage to plants, the soil, or to us. We find it kills aphids, mites, and even stink bugs!
- Makes ½ Gallon of the spray – You can easily adjust the amounts to the size of the spray bottle you have on hand.
- Spray bottle (1/2 Gallon or smaller)
- 1 Tbs pure, cold-pressed, raw neem oil
- 1 tsp pure baking soda
- 1 tsp castile soap or mild dishwashing soap
- Water to fill the bottle
- Add all these to your spray bottle then add enough water to finish filling the bottle.
- Shake well and spray.
- Shake well before each use.
- Spray directly on the stink bug(s) being sure to coat him well. It may take a few minutes but he will die.
- Alternative: Combine 32 ounces of water and two teaspoons of neem oil in a spray bottle. Shake well and spray directly on the stink bug. Be sure to coat him well. It will kill him without any danger to your plants.
Because it is in the nightshade family, the dreaded tomato hornworm will attack it as well as your tomatoes. They are such destroyers in the garden that we have an article dedicated to preventing and treating the tomato hornworm problem.
Common Bell Pepper Plant Problems and How to Solve Them
Despite your best efforts, you may still encounter some problems when growing bell pepper plants. These are some of the more common problems they experience.
- Blossom end rot is a common problem in bell peppers. It is caused by a calcium deficiency and/or inconsistent soil moisture. This condition causes the fruit to rot at the blossom end causing it to be inedible. It can be prevented by maintaining consistent soil moisture levels and adding calcium to the soil.
- Sunscald occurs when the peppers are exposed to too much direct sunlight. This can be prevented by providing shade or covering the plants with a lightweight shade fabric.
- Poor fruit set can be caused by several conditions. Pepper plants are highly sensitive to changes in temperature and water supply, making them prone to blossom drop.
- Extreme heat (above 85° to 90°F in the daytime) or cold (below 60°F at night), as well as insufficient watering, can all cause stress to the plant.
- To avoid heat stress or sunscald, which can make peppers papery or blistered, consider using shade cloth or row covers.
- Low humidity, and/or poor pollination can also cause this problem.
- To improve the fruit set, you can hand-pollinate the flowers or plant companion plants, such as marigolds or basil, to attract pollinators.
- Yellowing and dropping leaves could be due to overwatering. Make sure the plant gets just 1-2” of water a week and that the soil is well-draining.
- Wilting and stunted growth are usually due to a lack of nutrients or water. Check the soil’s pH level, and test your soil health to see what’s needed.
Growing Bell Peppers Organically
Growing bell pepper plants organically can be a rewarding and sustainable way to produce healthy vegetables. To grow bell peppers organically, you should use organic soil, and natural fertilizers when necessary, such as compost or manure, and avoid using synthetic pesticides or herbicides. You can also use companion planting, crop rotation, and beneficial insects to control pests and diseases.
Harvesting and Storing Bell Pepper
Knowing when to harvest your bell peppers is crucial to ensure maximum flavor and nutrition. Here’s what you need to know:
Bell pepper plants typically produce fruit after 60-90 days of growth, depending on the variety and growing conditions. The peppers should be harvested when they are firm, glossy, and fully colored.
The color depends on the variety, ranging from green to red, yellow, orange, or even purple.
Consistently removing the fruits from the plant stimulates the growth of additional flowers and fruits. It’s worth noting that the longer bell peppers remain on the plant, the sweeter they become, and the higher their vitamin C concentration.
To harvest the peppers, you should use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the stem, leaving a small portion attached to the fruit.
Don’t pull or twist the fruit, as it can damage the plant and reduce its production.
After harvesting, bell peppers can be kept in a cool, dry place for up to 3 weeks. We don’t wash ours until we’re ready to use them. I find this helps them last longer.
If you do want to wash them before putting them in the refrigerator, let them air dry after washing.
Preserving Bell Peppers
Preserving bell peppers is a great way to enjoy their flavor and nutrients all year round. You can preserve bell peppers by pickling, dehydrating, or making them into sauces or relishes.
We dehydrate our bell peppers. The taste is so delicious. We use them as salad toppers, throw them into soups and stews, and rehydrate them for dishes we need them for.
I like to eat them out of the jar like candy. They are so sweet, nutritious, and delicious.
- To dehydrate bell peppers, slice them into 1” strips and dehydrate them at 118 degrees F for 18-24 hours. This low-temperature dehydration keeps the enzymes and nutrients alive and well.
- We have found this dehydrator to be the best.
- You could also hang them in the sun until they are completely dry.
- When they’re dry place them in a glass jar with an oxygen pack or seal them with a jar sealer until you’re ready to use. They will last for years stored like this.
- To freeze the peppers, you should remove the stem and seeds, and cut the peppers into strips or chunks. Place as many as you want in a freezer bag and place them in the freezer. We don’t use our freezer much. We lost two freezers of food after Hurricane Rita so we try not to keep too much in there.
- To can the peppers, you should blanch them in boiling water for 2 minutes, then pack them in jars with vinegar or salt.
How to Keep Bell Pepper Plants Perennially
If you are fortunate enough to have a heated greenhouse or live in a warm climate the process is much easier. For those of us who live where we experience real winters, the only option is to overwinter indoors.
Overwintering is a process that involves bringing outdoor plants inside to keep them alive during the cold winter months. This is particularly important for non-hardy plants that can’t survive the freezing temperatures.
Overwintering peppers to keep them as perennials is a relatively easy process. These plants are very resilient and typically come back stronger than ever after their indoor hibernation period.
While there is always a chance that a pepper plant may not survive this process, they are surprisingly resilient. It may be a traumatic experience, but in our experience, most plants bounce back.
Begin the overwintering process when overnight temperatures start to drop into the mid-40s Fahrenheit (~7°C). At this point, pepper plants will begin to show signs of stress, such as dropping leaves and reduced growth.
If you grow them in the garden, as we do, there are a few more steps to the process. Be sure when you are digging up the plant to dig around the furthest limbs so you will not damage the root ball.
Preparing the Plant
If you have unripe peppers remaining on your container plant, you can bring the plant inside a garage or shed on cold nights to prolong the season by a few weeks until the temperatures become more consistent.
If you have them on your garden pepper plants, pick them and hang them upside down in a warm room in your house. They should ripen just fine depending on the stage of development they are at when you harvest them.
It’s best to prune back the branches. It’s recommended to leave several nodes on the main stem to enable regrowth. These appear like small bumps on the side of the plant where a new branch will grow.
Removing the leaves and branches will also prevent aphids and other insects from having a place to overwinter as well.
If the plant is in the ground, use a spade to dig around the base of the plant. Be sure to dig out under the furthest limbs so you will not damage the root ball.
Choose a pot that is the diameter of the root system, unless you plan to prune its roots as we’ll discuss below. It should be deep enough for the plant root system to fit in with the ball of the plant at ground level.
- Make sure the pot is clean. I wash my pots with white vinegar, rinse well, and allow it to air dry.
- Add enough fresh soil to have 3” of soil in the bottom of the pot.
- Add water to the soil and mix it thoroughly until it is like a wrung-out sponge. It should be moist enough to provide hydration to the plant, but not that it drips when you squeeze a handful of it.
Potting Pepper Plants
- Gently shake the soil loose from the root ball. You won’t be able to shake it all off.
- You have two options here.
- You can use a pot roughly the diameter of your root ball to overwinter your plant in. OR
- You can trim the roots with scissors or pruning shears to the approximate size of your overwintering pot to prevent tangling. I usually trim some of the finer, outer roots. I’m not big on pruning roots.
As I said, we use neem oil for all kinds of things. One is to perform a neem oil dunk on plants we are planning to overwinter. This is an added protection against pests and diseases that may have been in the soil.
Neem Oil Dunk
- Mix 1 Tbs of neem oil
- 1 Tbs of castile soap
- 3 gallons of water. I use a 5-gallon bucket for this process.
- Dunk your plant roots and let them sit for about 5 minutes before removing them.
Okay, so now it’s time to put your plant in a pot!
- Take the bare root ball and place it into the prepared pot. Hold the plant with the main stem (the ball of the plant) about 1 inch below the top of the pot. Start adding fresh soil around the roots.
- Using your fingers, gently pack soil into the loose roots.
- Once the soil is at the ball of the plant, press down lightly and add a little more soil on top.
- Now it’s time to lightly water the plant and put it in a cool place where it is out of direct light.
- A garage or shed is good, but make sure it’s not too cold. A temperature between 55-65°F (13-18°C) is best.
- You don’t want the plant too warm, or it will try to start growing.
- You don’t want the plant to freeze. It will die if it freezes.
- Don’t worry about fertilizing – just use soil that already has some nutrients in it. You don’t want it to think it needs to grow.
- As the plant adjusts to its new environment, it may attempt to produce additional branches or leaves, which can attract pests. To avoid this risk, remove the leaves until it’s time for the plant to start spring growth.
- If kept in cold temperatures, the plants will grow much slower.
- Water every two weeks or so to keep the soil moist but not wet. They need about half the water as they do in production. Don’t overwater.
Frequently Asked Questions About Growing Bell Pepper Plants
Q: How often should I water my bell pepper plants?
Bell pepper plants should be watered deeply once or twice a week, depending on the weather and soil conditions. They need 1-2” of water a week.
Q: How can I prevent pests and diseases in my bell pepper plants?
You can’t truly prevent pests and diseases but you can help lessen their opportunities to attack your plants by maintaining good garden hygiene (removing diseased or dead leaves, fruit, or plants and burning them), avoiding overhead watering, and using natural pest management methods. We use companion planting and our Neem Oil spray.
Q: When should I harvest my bell pepper plants?
Bell peppers should be harvested when they are firm, glossy, and fully colored, and have reached their full size and flavor. For green bell peppers, wait until they are at least 3 inches in diameter, and the skin has a glossy sheen. For colored bell peppers, look for a deep, vibrant color, and the skin should be slightly soft to the touch.
Q: Can I grow bell peppers in containers?
Yes, you can grow bell peppers in containers as long as the pot is big enough to provide sufficient space for the plant to grow and has good drainage. Use a high-quality organic soil or potting mix and water regularly to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Super Soil works best for container gardening.
Q: How long does it take for bell peppers to mature?
It usually takes bell peppers between 60 to 90 days from transplanting to maturity, depending on the variety.
Q: Can I freeze bell peppers?
Yes, bell peppers can be frozen for later use. Wash and slice them, remove the seeds and membranes, and then blanch them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Cool them in ice water, dry them, and then store them in airtight freezer bags or containers. They can be kept in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Growing bell pepper plants organically is a rewarding and fulfilling experience that anyone can enjoy. By choosing the right variety, starting from seedlings or seeds, and providing the right growing conditions, you can grow healthy, organic bell peppers from seedlings to harvest.
By following these tips, and troubleshooting common problems you can become a successful bell pepper gardener and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Remember to choose the right location, prepare your soil, care for your plants, and harvest at the right time. By following these tips, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of delicious bell peppers that can be used in a variety of recipes.