Whether you prefer the cool crunch of a sweet bell pepper or the feisty fire of a chili pepper, there’s none more satisfying than those you’ve grown yourself. There are – literally – hundreds of varieties to choose from; deciding what to grow is half the fun!
Few crops come in the variety of shapes, sizes and, of course, heat levels as peppers and chili peppers. With so many to explore, there’s always something new to enjoy. Grow them yourself and you’ll be able to harvest at the peak of perfection, so you can enjoy unrivalled flavor.
Now’s the time to get sowing, but before you so much as tear open a seed packet read on or watch our video to discover our secrets to pepper growing success...
Peppers need warmth and sunshine to thrive. Warmth is especially important for germination and then to encourage strong growth of the seedlings, so they will need to be started indoors or under cover in most climates. Sow seeds in late winter or early spring, no more than two months before your last frost date.
Sow into pots or plug trays of seed-starting mix. Space seeds at least an inch (2.5cm) apart across the surface then cover with a little more mix. You might want to wear gloves if handling seeds from especially hot varieties – and, please, take care not to rub your eyes after touching them! Water the seeds in using a fine spray.
Seedlings appear quickly when pots or trays are placed onto a heat mat or into a heated propagator set to around 70ºF (21ºC). Alternatively, secure clear plastic bags over your pots using a rubber band then move them to a warm windowsill to germinate.
Once the seedlings emerge, remove covers then grow on somewhere warm and bright. After a few weeks carefully transfer seedlings to their own pots. Do this while they’re still fairly small yet big enough to handle, and always hold seedlings by their leaves, not their delicate stems. If you have grow lights, these will help give the seedlings a strong start while days are still short.
Continue growing, potting the young plants on again if the roots fill their pots before they are ready for planting.
Peppers love sunshine, so reserve them a place in full sun where they will get at least six hours of direct sunshine every day. Acclimatize plants before setting them outside by leaving them out somewhere sheltered for gradually longer timespans over a two-week period. Take care that a late frost doesn’t accidentally damage them! Plant out once your last expected frost date has passed.
Plant peppers directly into open ground that’s been improved with plenty of organic matter, such as garden compost. Set plants a minimum of 16in (40cm) apart. You can also plant into containers that are at least 1.5 gallons (6 liters) in volume. Use good-quality potting soil enriched with added organic matter and plant the young peppers so that the soil surface reaches just shy of the rim. This will help to avoid runoff every time you water.
In cooler, temperate climates peppers will come into flower far quicker if they are grown on with the added protection of a greenhouse, hoop house or sun room. Plants may also be grown on a bright, sunny windowsill.
Keep plants upright and encourage more reliable growth by pushing in a cane or stake next to each plant then tying the main stem to it with twine. Larger plants may need several canes.
Pinch out the growing point at the top once plants reach about 8in (20cm) to stimulate plants to produce more branches. This creates a bushier habit and healthier plants with the knock on effect of more flowers and fruits.
Once they start producing flower buds feed plants regularly with a liquid feed high in potassium, such as a tomato fertilizer. Water plants often in dry weather so the foliage doesn’t wilt, as this can cause undue stress and potential problems such as blossom end rot or leaf curl. In hot weather you may find you need to water daily. A tray or similar reservoir at the bottom of pots helps to contain the water that drains through so it can be fully absorbed back up through the drainage holes.
Peppers are ready to harvest as soon as they have taken on their final color. Cut the fruits away with a sharp pair of clean pruners then store in the refrigerator ready to enjoy. They freeze well too. Chili peppers may also be dried then pulverized in a food processor to store as chili flakes in airtight jars.
What sort of peppers do you prefer? Let us know in the comments section below!