How To Grow Bell Peppers, the Sun-Loving Summer Fruits With a Crunch
Those who are new to the green thumb game can take heart: Growing peppers is actually pretty easy so long as you have a sunny patch of grass to call your own. "Peppers make a great addition to the spring and summer season vegetable garden," says urban farmer Reed Newman, founder and CEO of Revival Roots, a Los Angeles-based company that builds and maintains vegetable gardens.
Ready to start harvesting your very own red, green, and yellow beauties? Keep scrolling to learn the when and where of planting these hydrating, vitamin C-rich fruits, and the steps you need to set your seeds up for success. (Say that five times fast.)
What To Know Before You Plant Bell Peppers
Before you don your gardening hat and gloves, make sure your outdoor space is primed for pepper growing. "Peppers love sun and heat and won't produce well without both. They should be planted in a spot with at least six hours of sun a day, but eight hours is even better," says Erin Schanen, Troy-Bilt gardening partner, master garden volunteer, and creator of The Impatient Gardener blog and YouTube channel. In other words: If your garden is shady, peppers aren't the fruit for you.
That said, if you sun check your garden and find that it's habitable for bell peppers, you'll want to wait for late spring and summer—or until you're consistently experiencing 70 degree days—to plant these babies.
How To Grow Bell Peppers
1. Buy seeds, or a small pepper plant, at the garden center
If you want to raise your bell peppers from a seed packet, you can actually start your growing project inside about 10 weeks before the last frost of the season. "This works best if you have a grow light because peppers need lots of light at all stages, and even a sunny window probably doesn't provide enough light," says Schanen.
You can sow your seeds in a fine-textured seed-starting mix or use soil blocks. You'll also want to place your sowed on a warm spot, like on top of your fridge. Once they germinate, move them under the grow light. "When the roots have filled the cell, move the seedling to a larger two to three-inch pot. Pinch or cut off the main stem to leave two sets of leaves when the plant is about eight inches tall. This will promote more branching, which will lead to a bigger harvest," Schanen explains.
2. Prepare the soil
"Make sure you are planting the peppers in a high-quality organic soil blend mixed with organic compost," says Newman. "That way, the peppers will receive the nutrients they require to thrive."
Pro tip: Peppers prefer a high pH growing medium to fight off Blossom End Rot, a condition where the fruit will form with a small spot at the end that will rot and render the pepper inedible. "The best insurance against Blossom End Rot is putting a small handful of Organic Dolomite Lime below the pepper when you plant in the garden. The lime increases the pH of the soil, preventing the Blossom End Rot from occurring," adds Newman.
3. Keep the soil properly hydrated
Peppers are thirsty fruits—so make sure you're keeping an eye on their soil. "[Peppers] appreciate consistent watering, between one and two inches of water a week to maintain a consistently moist, but not wet, soil," says Schanen. You can measure out this two-inch water allotment with a can of tuna. "Water the plant well at the base of the plant at the time of planting and maintain consistent moisture from then on," says Schanen.
4. Give the peppers moral support and real support
"Most peppers will need some support, such as a small tomato cage, and it's good to put it in place at the time of planting," says Schanen. Make sure you pack the soil tightly around the cage so you don't create air pockets that could interrupt the watering of your baby bell pepper later on. "After the pepper plant grows to be about six inches tall, it can be moved to a larger container or directly into the garden," Newman says.
5. Harvest the peppers
Yay! It's harvesting day... or is it? "Most peppers begin to form with a green color that slowly changes color over time. Once the peppers fully change color—as long as you aren't growing green peppers—they are ready to be harvested and picked at the stem," says Newman.
Although it's tempting to pick your peppers early, waiting it out is your best bet for enjoying the most flavorful, nutrient-dense fruit—so hold your horses. "It is also best to harvest the fruit as soon as they are ready. A pepper plant's only goal is to reproduce, and as a result, it will grow fruit to drop seeds nearby. Picking the fruit when they are ready will encourage the plant to produce more fruit," he explains. That way, you'll be enjoying your peppers all summer long.
If you're really into the slightly bitter, savory taste of green peppers, simply pick some of the fruit from the stems before they're "ripe." That way, you'll encourage your plant to grow and you'll get to enjoy a diverse array of peppers.
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