Bell peppers are one of the most versatile crops you can grow in your garden. These peppers come in a wide range of vibrant hues, adding a nice pop of color to your cuisine. Plus, the mild flavor complements just about any flavor profile.
It was the pepper’s flexibility that initially got me interested in growing my own. As a salad and stir-fry lover, it seemed like I was always grabbing a few bell peppers at the produce store. So, why not just harvest my own?
After I learned how to grow bell peppers, my love for these fruits only grew more. I discovered that these plants are surprisingly easy to grow under the right conditions.
What Are Bell Peppers?
You might have noticed earlier that I referred to bell peppers as fruit. Contrary to popular belief, these peppers are not classified as vegetables. Because they are seed-bearing crops that develop from flowering plants, they are technically botanical fruits.
Semantics aside, bell peppers are a beloved crop the world over. They’re part of the Capsicum Annuum group of plants, which is the same family as jalapeno, cayenne peppers, and other spicy crops.
These plants are native to Central and South America. The seeds were brought back to Spain in 1493 by Christopher Columbus, where they quickly spread to other European and Asian countries. Today, bell peppers are a staple in grocery stores everywhere.
The flavor of bell peppers is much milder compared to spicier alternatives, making them great for a wide range of dishes. The cool thing about bell peppers is that you can easily choose the flavor that’s right for you based on its color.
While grocery stores often stock red, green, and yellow bell peppers, you may be surprised to learn that those fruits are likely the same variety at different stages of ripeness.
Green bell peppers are simple unripened. Thus, they’re firmer and crispier. Red bell peppers, on the other hand, are picked off the plant later. They take on a slightly sweet flavor.
Health Benefits of Bell Peppers
These fruits don’t just taste good. They’re also full of vitamins and nutrients that can improve your overall health with regular intake. The most prominent vitamin is Vitamin C.
Just one ripened bell pepper has about 169 percent of your recommended daily intake. Bell peppers also have vitamins B6, K1, E, and A for good all-around health.
Bell peppers are chock-full of antioxidant compounds. They can prevent cell oxidation to fight off free radicals.
Generally, ripened fruits a bit more nutritionally dense than green ones. But even then, the healthy compounds you consume from the peppers can be beneficial in the long run.
What Are the Varieties Available?
There’s no shortage of bell pepper varieties out there. Most of the color variations you see on the market are the same species.
While you can easily get a colorful harvest with just one type of bell pepper plant, there are plenty of options to try out. Here are some popular plants that gardeners love.
Green and Red Varieties
If you’re looking for that traditional green or red pepper, you can go with the California Wonder plant.
California Wonder bell peppers are one of the largest heirloom varieties out there, making it a good option for gardeners of all skill levels. Typically, fruits reach maturity in about 75 days.
Other options include the Coral Bell, which takes a bit longer to mature, and the Big Red. Big Red peppers are renowned for their sweetness.
Yellow bell peppers add a nice pop of color to your harvest. Most yellow varieties take longer to fully ripen. One of the most popular plants, the Canary Bell, can take up to 100 days in some regions.
You can also get Golden California Wonder peppers or Sun Bright peppers. The latter is particularly good for grilling and stuffing.
You don’t have to limit yourself to just green, red, or yellow! Purple peppers exist, too. They’re a bit sweeter than unripened green peppers, but not as sweet as red or yellow fruits.
Typically, they take on a light purple hue that turns gray when cooling. Deeper purple varieties, such as the Purple Beauty, look similar to eggplants.
Other varieties you can try out include the Chocolate Beauty, which is brown and sweet, and the Horizon Orange, which is great for container growing.
When to Plant Bell Peppers
Regardless of the variety you choose to plant in your garden, it’s important to remember that bell peppers do not perform well in cold weather.
Growth can be stunted significantly if temperatures drop during the night. Furthermore, a sudden frost can kill the plants completely.
There are some ways to overcome temperature issues if you live in a colder region, but we’ll get into those a bit later. Ideal growing temperatures are between 70 and 90 degrees.
The issue that most gardeners experience is a lack of proper preparation. You see, bell peppers have a lengthy growth cycle.
Some plants can take upwards of 100 days. If you have shorter growing seasons, you’re going to have to get started early.
It’s recommended that you start seeds inside approximately 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost. This will give you plenty of time to germinate the seeds and grow young plants before you transplant to your garden. Many gardeners start the seed process as early as January.
You can use seed starting mix in a tray or use individual cells to help with transplanting later on. Simply place the seeds in the soil. Make sure they are about a quarter of an inch deep.
To improve your germination rate, cover the seeds or use a heat mat to keep the solid warm. The soil should be between 68 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Bell pepper seeds do best when the soil hovers around 80 degrees.
When your plants start to develop their first true leaves, thin them out. You can also move the individual plants to larger pots. Be careful if you choose to do this, as the root system is very delicate.
Keep the soil moist as your plants grow and apply an organic slow-release fertilizer. Also, keep them in a sunny spot to help them reach their full potential.
Where Should You Plant Bell Peppers?
Before you can transplant your new bell pepper plants outside, you need to find a good spot for them. Bell peppers thrive when they have 6 to 8 hours of sunlight every day. Try to find a gardening spot that’s not going to be darkened by shadows throughout the day.
The good news is that bell peppers can be grown in pots or containers. If you’re limited by shade, using a pot is a great option. You’ll be able to move the plant’s location as needed. It’s recommended that you stick to a pot that’s at least 12 inches wide and just as deep.
When it comes to soil, quality is important. While the roots of a grown bell pepper plant go a bit deeper than other crops, they still remain relatively close to the surface. At most, they will go down about 12 inches.
As a result, you need a soil that’s easy for the roots to get through. Bell pepper plants do best in a loamy soil that drains very well. Before you transplant, you can prepare the garden by breaking up the surface a bit.
Dig down approximately 12 inches and oxygenate the soil. The goal is to loosen the dirt up so that it’s not compacted.
The soil should also be on the acidic side. You’ll see the best results with pH levels between 5.5 and 6.5. Take a soil quality test and use fertilizers to adjust the acidity accordingly. Products with ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate are great for raising acidity.
About a week before you transplant, consider introducing some organic matter and fertilizer into your garden. A nutrient-rich soil can get your plants established quickly and avoid any transplanting mishaps.
How to Plant Bell Peppers in the Garden
After several weeks of growth indoors, your bell pepper plants should be several inches tall. You can now start to prepare for the transplant process. Once your last frost has come, wait a couple of weeks.
While it may be tempting to bring them out right away, you should give the temperatures a bit of time to increase more. Remember, all it takes it an unexpected frost to kill your plants, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Prior to transplanting it’s also important to harden your plants off. The plants have been growing in ideal conditions inside your home. Transplanting them without any preparation can lead to shock and death. The plants need a bit of time to acclimate.
It’s best to start the hardening process about 10 days before you plan to transplant. Bring the plants out in the morning and let them enjoy the fresh air for a couple of hours before bringing them in.
With each passing day, leave them out a bit longer. This will give the plants plenty of time to get used to being in a rougher environment.
Transplanting to Your Garden
At this point, your soil should be prepared and ready to go. Dig holes to match the size of the root ball. The plants should be no deeper than they were in the pot. If you plant deeper, you are increasing the risk of rotting out the stems near the root.
Ideally, bell pepper plants should be about 18 to 24 inches apart. The plants get rather large and need plenty of room to grow. This is especially true once the fruits start coming in.
After transplanting your young bell pepper plants, provide them with some water. You can also apply a slow-release fertilizer to promote growth. Steer clear of fertilizers that are high in nitrogen.
While nitrogen can produce great leaf growth, this takes away resources for the fruits. Organic fertilizer or homemade compost tea will do just fine.
If you’re worried about the soil staying moist, you can also apply mulch. Though, it’s not always necessary. Keep an eye on your soil conditions to determine if mulch will benefit your plant.
How to Take Care of the Bell Pepper Plant
Your care doesn’t stop after transplanting. There’s a lot that can go wrong between planting and harvesting, so it’s important to remain vigilant about plant care.
Bell pepper plants should receive about 2 inches of water a week. The goal is to keep the soil moist. So, if you live in a particularly hot area, you may need to increase that amount.
If the soil gets too dry, you run the risk of experiencing blossom drop. Blossoms will fall off the plant if the soil and air aren’t good for growing. The same goes for getting too much water, so don’t overdo things.
You can continue to apply a natural low-nitrogen fertilizer as they grow. Many gardeners wait to apply a second dose of fertilizer after transplant until the first blossoms have begun to grow. This ensures that you’re not affecting the soil acidity too much.
If you live in a cooler climate, you might benefit from soil-warming techniques. As we mentioned earlier, bell peppers do best when the soil is approximately 65 degrees. When temperatures fall below this, you will experience significantly slower growth and a smaller yield.
To combat this, cover the soil with plastic before transplanting. Leave an opening for the stem to grow through. The plastic will prevent heat from escaping. Plus, it can keep the soil moist.
Plastic mulch is also an option. It offers the same benefits. However, it can be applied after you transplant your bell peppers.
Bell pepper plants can get around three feet tall in your garden. Despite that height, the stems remain on the thinner side. As a result, it’s not uncommon to see sagging once fruit starts to appear.
The weight of the bell pepper fruit can put significant stress on the plant. So, it’s good to provide some extra support. There are several ways to do this.
The simplest and most cost-effective is to use a wooden or metal stake. Just drive a stake into the ground next to the plant. Of course, avoid damaging the plant’s roots.
Then, tie the main stem to the stake using string or cloth. Just make sure the material you use has some stretch to it to avoid choking the plant. You can add more ties as the plant gets bigger.
Alternatively, you can use premade wire cages. Often used with tomatoes, cages provide 360-degree support. Branches will naturally rest on the cage, giving the plant ample support as it grows.
Dealing with Weeds
Weeds are bound to start popping up shortly after your transplant. Pesky weeds will deprive your plants of nutrients and water, so it’s important to take care of them regularly. Gently remove weeds by hand as they appear. It’s best to get rid of them when they’re small and easy to handle.
Be gentle in the weeding process if they are located near the bell pepper plant’s root system. Avoid using rakes that could cause damage.
If you want to prevent future weed growth, you can use mulch. Mulch will prevent the weeds from getting sun, stunting their growth. Organic and natural herbicides are available as well.
How to Harvest and Store Bell Peppers
Unlike other crop plants, there aren’t any hard rules of when you need to harvest your fruit. When you want to harvest the bell peppers is up to you. Once the pepper has reached your desired size and level of ripeness, it’s good to go!
Green peppers, while not fully ripened, are perfectly fine for eating. If you want as many vitamins in your crop as possible, wait a bit longer. The pepper will be sweeter and softer.
Be careful during the harvesting process. Don’t be too rough with the plant, as you could disturb other growing fruit. Just use a knife or a pair of scissors to make a clean cut on the stem.
You can clean and cook the peppers immediately. Or, you can pop them in a plastic bag and store them in the fridge. Peppers can last up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Though, they are best if you use them within 10 days.
Bell peppers can also be dried, pickled, or frozen. To dry your peppers, stem them for approximately 10 minutes before putting them in the oven. Use the lowest temperature setting on your oven and let the peppers dehydrate until they are brittle.
If you go the frozen route, your cooking options will be a bit limited. The freezing process gets rid of the crisp texture of the peppers. They’ll be soft, so frozen peppers are best used for baked dishes, soups, and other cooked meals.
What Pests and Diseases Affect Bell Peppers?
Bell peppers can experience several issues as you grow bell peppers. Some of the biggest are directly caused by water issues. These plants are notorious for being stubborn about overwatering.
If the plant sits in standing water for too long, it can experience root rot and fungal diseases. The fungal diseases are particularly dangerous, as they’ll cause the plant to wilt and die.
Another common issue is Blossom-End rot. This takes the form of dark sunken spots on the bottom of the pepper. You’ve probably seen peppers at your local grocery store with these blemishes.
The spots can be cut off, but it’s best to try and avoid them in the first place. They’re usually caused by a calcium deficiency. Make sure to remove any weeds and avoid damaging the roots.
When it comes to pests, flea beetles and aphids are common with bell peppers. They will feed on the plant leaves and fruit. Not only does this ruin your harvest, but it can also lead to the spread of plant-killing disease. Luckily, pests can be taken care of pretty easily with some natural organic pesticides.
Growing bell peppers can be a rewarding experience. For many gardeners, bell pepper plants are their first foray into the world of fruiting crops.
Getting started isn’t difficult. All you need to do is plan out your growing season and start germinating seeds indoors. With some careful preparation, you can have a garden full of colorful peppers at the end of the season.