Peppers come in a variety of different colors, shapes, sizes, and even flavors. They are a warm-weather plant with a fairly long growing season.
Our planting guide will tell you everything you want to know about when and how to plant the full range of pepper varieties.
When to plant peppers? It is usually best to plant peppers in spring. If you’re going to plant seeds indoors, you can plant them towards the end of winter to extend the growing season. But the specific month will depend on both air and soil temperature. All types of peppers, including hot pepper varieties and green peppers, prefer warm soil and warm weather.
Planting Peppers in Different Climates
As The National Gardening Association points out, rapid growth is essential for quality pepper fruit production. They thrive in warm weather but will usually become stunted if the weather is too cool.
They are also fussy when they flower and set fruit. If the temperature is below 55°F (13°C) or higher than 75°F (24°C) at night or above 90°F (32°C) during the day, they will often drop their blossoms and won’t fruit.
Because the growing season is a relatively long one, if you are growing peppers from seed in a colder climate, it’s a good idea to start the plants indoors and then transplant them when the weather warms up.
You can also pot peppers and take the plants indoors in winter. They make excellent houseplants and often fruit inside the home. Try to ensure that they get full sun for at least part of the day.
The widely used Köppen climate classification divides global climates into five main groups. These are based on temperature patterns and seasonal rainfall. These are the categories we have listed below to help you ascertain whether peppers will thrive in your environment or not.
Just be aware that the five main categories have numerous sub-categories, and it is usually best to check your gardening zone as well. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has an interactive map on its website and the Canadian Government also provides plant hardiness zone maps on its Natural Resources Canada website.
It can be intensely hot and humid in the tropics. As long as you take care to water them and shade them from sunburn, your peppers will do well in these conditions.
Although grown as annual plants in many parts of the world, in the tropics they are regarded as tropical perennials. This means you can leave them to fruit again in the next season.
Peppers like warmth, but they also need quite a lot of water. If you live in a hot, dry climate, you’ll need to be careful to ensure your veggie garden is well irrigated, not only for your peppers but for other veggies as well.
There are 9 sub-categories of temperate climates in the Köppen climate classification, but in general terms, a temperate climate is a perfect environment for peppers to grow in.
Continental climates have a lot in common with temperate climates, including average temperatures in some areas. But there are even more climate sub-categories, 12 in all. Some are warmer than others.
Generally, there is no problem growing peppers in a continental climate. Just be sure to anticipate the frost date and take the growing period into account.
Most sweet peppers, including yellow, orange, and red bell peppers mature from seedlings in 60-90 days. Hot pepper species can take up to 150 days. This information will be stated on the seed packet.
Despite extremely cold temperatures, people live in polar climates and they grow their own vegetables. But it’s much too cold to grow peppers unless you have a grow tunnel or greenhouse with a controlled environment.
Grow lights are an excellent solution that will enable you to grow peppers in a polar climate throughout the year. They substitute the effects of full sun and stimulate photosynthesis throughout the growing season.
Choosing Pepper Seeds
Even though the selection of peppers sold in your local grocery store might be limited, there is an enormous selection of pepper varieties available for home gardeners. You can order packets of seed online or buy them from garden centers all over the world.
All peppers are different species of Capsicum. According to the University of Oxford, there are about 25 species, all of which are indigenous to the Americas. Five species were domesticated in different parts of the Americas, and these are the species most of us know and love.
- Capsicum annuum
- Capsicum frutescens
- Capsicum chinense
- Capsicum baccatum
- Capsicum pubescens
When you pick which Capsicum to grow, be guided by your climatic conditions and the length of each type’s growing season. Some hot pepper varieties don’t set flowers and fruit until the days get shorter in the fall.
C. annuum includes popular varieties including bell peppers, jalapeños, cayenne, and serranos. Bell peppers, unlike the hot pepper varieties, do not contain capsaicin, the chemical that makes chili peppers hot.
C. annuum is undoubtedly the most important species commercially, particularly the sweet bell pepper that is available as red, yellow, orange, or green peppers.
Many people presume that the different colored bell peppers are different types. But they all come from the same bell pepper plants. The color indicates the maturity of the fruit.
Green peppers are harvested before they are ripe. But yellow, orange, and red bell peppers are left to mature and change color as the chlorophyll in the plant breaks down. Generally, green peppers are cheaper than the yellow, orange, and red pepper varieties, because their growing season is longer.
The same change-in-color principle applies to chili and hot pepper (C. annuum) varieties, though most simply turn red.
Many of the C. frutescens species are Asian hot peppers, including tabasco peppers used to make internationally popular Tabasco Sauce.
Capsicum chinense, baccatum, and pubescens.
C. chinense includes hot, hot habaneros and Scotch bonnet peppers that are hot and sweet. Like other hot peppers, they are green but turn red as they ripen.
C. baccatum includes the wonderfully fiery aji peppers that also change color and may be red, purple, yellow, orange, or even white, depending on the type.
C. pubescens includes rocoto, which looks like a miniature bell pepper. Like bell peppers, they may be yellow, orange, or red. The hottest rocoto is yellow and the red rocoto is the most common.
A distinguishing feature of C. pubescens is its black seeds and furry leaves. Unlike all the pepper plants, they don’t thrive in hot climates.
How to Plant Pepper Seeds
You can either start your home garden peppers from seed or seedlings bought from garden centers. In warm climates and gardening zones 8 and higher, you can sow directly into a garden bed. Alternatively, start your seeds indoors to allow for the maximum growing season.
Whether you plant in containers or in the ground, your peppers will do best in sandy loam (fertile soil) that drains well. They prefer neutral soil with a pH of about 6.0-6.8. Add lots of organic matter and compost.
You can plant pepper seeds in traditional in-ground garden beds, but peppers do particularly well in a raised bed. They are beautiful ornamental plants, so you can also grow them in borders and flowerbeds.
The University of California’s (UC) Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources offers useful UC Master Gardeners information sheets to help home and commercial gardeners. In Growing Great Peppers and Chiles they advise that daytime temperatures should consistently be over 75°F (24°C) when you transplant seedlings.
Moisten the soil and push the seeds into the soil about an inch (2-3 cm) apart. Sprinkle a quarter of an inch of soil or vermiculite over the seeds and water lightly.
The seeds won’t all germinate and when you plant them out in your beds, space them so that they are about 12 inches (30-40 cm) apart. If planting directly in the ground, when the seedlings are well established, thin them out.
Transplant holes should be 3-4 inches deep (7.5-10 cm). Make sure that the root ball is wet and just below the soil surface.
When to Plant Pepper Seeds
Most green peppers and hot pepper plants are started from seed indoors. If you sow seeds directly in the ground, as stated above, the important factor is soil temperature.
Given their long growing season, they can really only be grown successfully from seed in situ in warm climate areas.
If you are going to start your seeds indoors in pots, a good rule of thumb is to start them 6-8 weeks before you plan to transplant them in your garden veggie bed. So, if your average last frost date is in mid-May you can plant pepper seeds indoors in early March.
How to Water Peppers
Peppers are sometimes described as thirsty plants. But they don’t like too much water and the soil must be well drained.
If the soil gets waterlogged, their roots are likely to rot.
Organic matter added to the soil will help to retain moisture and mulch on the surface will prevent moisture evaporating when it’s hot and dry.
When it’s hot there’s always a danger that the plants will wilt. Keep an eye on them and water just enough to prevent them from wilting.
Generally, slow, deep watering is best because it helps the root system grow stronger. The US Master Gardeners suggest watering by hand with a hose until the seedlings are settled and the roots become established.
Then you can switch to soaker hoses and/or drip irrigation for the growing season. If you are growing hot peppers, water only once a week and let them dry out in-between watering to increase the heat of the fruit.
How to Grow Peppers
Peppers are not difficult to grow and they need minimal attention during the growing season. Here are a few more tips to help you get the most out of your pepper plants.
PEPPERS NEED LOTS OF LIGHT
Grow them in a location that gets full sun.
It’s okay to give your peppers a dose of balanced fertilizer when you plant them and then again when they flower. A small handful of Epsom salts will give them a boost of magnesium, which works well.
Don’t over-fertilize. If you do, you’ll produce lovely leafy plants with relatively few peppers. Also, the flavor of most hot pepper varieties is more intense and hotter if fertilization is minimized.
COMMON PESTS & DISEASES
Peppers are generally hardy and healthy although older plants are sometimes infested by aphids and thrips.
Companion plants like nasturtiums, basil, rosemary, and other plants with a strong scent help to keep aphids and other pests away.
If infestation results in a virus, destroy the infected plants.
Cutworms sometimes slice off young plants at ground level.
Plants with bacterial and fungal leaf spots should also be destroyed.
Like tomatoes and eggplants, peppers sometimes suffer from blossom end rot that is caused by nutrient deficiency. Remove affected peppers, water evenly and deeply, and correct the pH of the soil.
How long do peppers take to grow?
It usually takes pepper seeds about a week to sprout and about 8-10 weeks to grow into seedlings. If they take a bit longer, don’t panic. It’s probably because the soil temperature is too low. This will simply cause them to develop more slowly.
Once they are seedling size it usually takes sweet peppers 2-3 months until the peppers are ready to harvest. But it does depend on the type of peppers you are growing. Hot pepper varieties take longer to grow – sometimes more than a month or two longer.
All-in-all, peppers can take as long as 4-5 months to grow from seed to harvest.
Whether you enjoy eating sweet bell peppers or hot chili peppers, growing peppers is easy and rewarding. While they are warm-weather plants, there are ways to grow them successfully in colder climes.
Our 2021 planting guide has lots of tips and a wealth of information that will help you grow peppers wherever you live.
Grow them in a dedicated veggie garden, a raised bed, with flowers, or in pots. Just grow them!