Growing Bell Peppers

by frankbeswick

The secret to growing any plant is to create the conditions right for its growth.

Peppers have a long history, but the most commonly used peppers are those whose origins are in South America. There is evidence that the Peruvians were growing them many years before the modern era, and their cultivation extended right through South and Central America into Mexico. To grow them you need to come as near as possible to South American conditions. With sufficient attention to creating the right conditions you can obtain a good crop.

Picture courtesy of uroburos

Bell Peppers

This article was written with Dustytoes in mind, after she told me that she had had trouble with growing bell peppers.

Bell peppers,sometimes known as sweet peppers, are the round red, green or yellow peppers that you see, rather than the slimmer chilli peppers.As they  are native to areas that are warm, sunny and wet they need to have sustained warmth and light and a steady supply of water, thus in my own area I can grow them and have done so, but they need the warm conditions provided by a greenhouse [glasshouse.] I do not have a heated greenhouse, for there is currently no electricity supply on my allotment, so my experience is that it is possible to grow peppers in an unheated structure, but whatever you do avoid frost, which will kill them. The technique that I used with bell peppers was to buy them in as seedlings from a plant nursery after the cold British Spring had changed into early Summer, but on nights when the temperature was low I ensured that the greenhouse door was closed and that there was a  greenhouse heater burning. That worked and I got a  crop of peppers.

To grow them you need to maintain a regular temperature of 29c at least during the day, ideally higher, and a temperature of at least 13c degrees at night, and they will benefit from day time temperatures higher than this if they are kept watered.This leads me to another key point, that their soil needs to be kept moist all the time, but not soaked, so if you cannot commit to maintaining water supply, your crop will fail. They are plants that also need strong sunshine, so grow them in bright conditions, but keep them sheltered from winds, for wind can take heat from the plant and weaken it.

But you need to choose your spot. I use a greenhouse, as the North West of England is unsuitable for outdoor pepper cultivation, but those of you who dwell in climes warmer and sunnier than mine can grow them outdoors, but if you are moving them from sheltered conditions to an outdoor spot, be sure to harden them off first. This means that you place them in pots of a suitable size and move them outdoors during the day, but replace them at night. If you cannot do this for about ten days it is safer to keep them indoors.

Peppers are ideal as potted patio plants, and the advantage of this is that the stone of the patio retains heat in the day and releases it at night; and this advantage can also be gained by growing against a wall, south-facing in the Northern hemisphere and north facing in the southern one.One growers' trick is to warm the soil for two weeks before planting by covering it with cold frames, and this will give the pepper plant an advantageous start.

You need to ensure that the soil is well-fertilized, so keep it properly manured. At the first fruit set, apply a high potash fertilizer, as potassium is important for fruit development. Peppers also seem  to benefit from a bit of sulfur in the soil, so some growers insert  two or three matchsticks into the planting home when the pepper  is being inserted. Pick when ready.

Bell Peppers

Sweet/Bell peppers
Sweet/Bell peppers


Many growers  fail because they try to grow peppers from seed, but plant propagation is a fine art that requires sensitivity to the conditions needed by seedlings. So here is the best way to propagate from seed.

Sow the seeds thinly on multipurpose compost in a plant pot of size suitable for the pepper to spend its life in,and cover with thin layer of vermiculite, to protect the seeds from insects. Sow three pepper seeds per pot and thin out the weakest of the three. When two peppers grow together their leaves work together to shade the fruit from sunscald. While the leaves need much light to photosynthesize, the young fruits can have two much sunlight, and I think that they may be sensitive to ultraviolet light. But ensure that you lay the pot in a tray of water to keep the seedlings moist.As long as the pot has holes in the bottom the water will be drawn up by the drawing power of the roots.

Alternatively you can use the method of transplanting the peppers from small pots to larger 7cm pots  when they reach about 2 cm tall. At about 15cm tall move to their final pots.When they reach 20cm tall stake them and tie them loosely with a figure eight knot to the stake. 

It is at this germination stage that much failure occurs, for the compost must be kept warm. The minimum soil temperature for germination is 65f, which is about 33c.  Transplantation always fails if the soil temperature is less than 65f/33c.

At all points ensure that the pepper plant is kept in soil that is moist, but not flooded.

Keep the peppers free of pests, for aphids can be a nuisance. The best way to deal with aphids is to blast them off with a water jet, but if the plant is still young, soft soap applied more gently works. In fact, soft soap is a good defence against aphid infection. Your defences against pests will be part of your general greenhouse defences against insect and arachnid infestation. Biological controls such as ladybirds [ladybugs in American parlance] are extremely useful as a defence against various insect pests. 

Remember, the time that you plant out your peppers is dependent on latitude, altitude and weather conditions. The further away from the peppers' natural habitat you are,ie the more northerly,  the later you plant out. I am about 53 degrees latitude and cannot grow outdoor peppers, I certainly would not try growing them outdoors in  New England, though there may be someone who has managed it in a  sheltered spot and will prove me wrong, but that would be the exception. Also areas prone to late frosts make conditions risky. I can get late frosts, but we have not had them for a a few years, but where I come from gardeners must be wary. Of course, the higher the altitude at which you live the less warm it is.

Peppers are a great plant for gardeners to grow, but they need sensitive handling. Good luck in your pepper growing.

Updated: 08/31/2016, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 09/04/2016

Have you thought of growing peppers on a south facing window ledge in your house? If it is double glazed it will be warm, and the southern aspect will bring light. I once saw this done in a school where I was teaching gardening. We had a special unit for the most seriously handicapped children [it was a special school] and in this unit the teacher used the window ledges to grow tomatoes and peppers. It was a very positive experience for the sick young people, at least one of whom would not see twenty years of age. They grew some good vegetables, peppers included.

frankbeswick on 09/04/2016

From what you and Dustytoes are saying, the New England climate is not good for peppers. Here in North West England the climate prevents me from growing them outdoors, but I have grown them in a greenhouse [glass house.] But I am quite realistic in that I recognize that the climate is against me, so I skip the propagation stage and buy in the young plants. I also ensure that the greenhouse is kept warm at nights in early Spring. It does not have to be very warm, but I keep the frost away at nights with candles. I find them better than the paraffin heater, which is very smoky and prone to go out unless there is a constant airflow from an open door which defeats the purpose of night time heating. A heated greenhouse is probably the way of getting the best peppers.

Digby_Adams on 09/04/2016

I can never get peppers to grow in Northern Maine. Organic red peppers in the grocery store cost $3.00 a piece! They have become a delicacy for us these days. My mouth was watering as I read your article!

frankbeswick on 09/02/2016

That's great news about your garden. Here in Britain the crop has been down on the previous year due to a poor Summer, but I have had enough to keep me happy.

katiem2 on 09/02/2016

I've been going on dumb luck, but now I certainly will put your good tips to use. My garden is doing fantastic this year, the weather has been perfect, great summer growing season.

blackspanielgallery on 09/02/2016

Unfortunately, my wife has an allergy to peppers, so I do nt grow them. I do eat them at restaurants.

frankbeswick on 09/01/2016

Fish meal is a well-known fertilizer, sometimes used in blood, fish and bone. Though farmers often say that when you use anything containing bone meal you should use gloves to avoid virus infections that may be present in the bone. Seaweed can be applied either direct, as meal or as liquid diluted in water. The latter is said to act more quickly than the first two ways do.

dustytoes on 09/01/2016

Good to know. I used to use a seaweed fertilizer, or maybe it was fish? I'll have to remember it.

frankbeswick on 09/01/2016

I am glad that you liked it. I mentioned potash, which is vital for fruit; but I also think that the application of liquid seaweed diluted in water is always helpful, as it provides trace elements.

dustytoes on 09/01/2016

Wow Frank that was fast. Because I was living in New England when I attempted to grow peppers, the climate was most likely against me. But, I know that some New Englanders can grow them. The season is short, so we start with plants and not seeds outside. My plants always did very well, but I lacked the growth of peppers.
Now I have 2 pepper plants growing outdoors in central Florida - certainly a climate where I would think peppers would thrive. But one plant has no fruit, and one has a deformed looking pepper. I will take your advice and get a potash fertilizer. I've never tried that, and it could be my missing ingredient.
Once I get a house of my own with gardens to plant, I will seriously attempt to make my peppers grow. Thank you for this useful page. I am going to link to it on my gardening blog.

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