Bell peppers are a great vegetable to have in the garden. They are expensive in the store and you never know what they have been sprayed with. Even vegetables marked organic in the store can be sprayed with non-organic pesticides up to a point and bell peppers have thin permeable skin.
Consider overwintering bell pepper plants and even adding supplemental lighting indoors to get large bell pepper plants with lots of peppers. For more information on growing bell pepper plants indoors to increase bell pepper yields check out “How Many Bell Peppers to Expect Per Plant?“.
Are Bell Peppers Annuals or Perennials?
Bell peppers are perennials but are commonly grown as annuals but grow as perennials in USDA zones 9-11. They can be overwintered indoors and grown as perennials in cooler zones. When grown as perennials bell pepper plants can become very large. With good supplemental lighting, like this T-5 fluorescent, the plants can become large and bushy reaching 6’x 6′ within a year.
To find out the best time to plant bell peppers or advice on picking bell pepper starter plants from a nursery check out “”When Are Bell Peppers Ready to Pick – Best Time of Day & Season“.
How Long Do Bell Peppers Take to Grow?
You want to be careful and get the correct amount of expected time for your bell peppers to mature before planting. If you’re growing from transplants it will be 60-90 days until the plant produces mature bell peppers. 60-90 days is also often listed on seed packets but they are expecting that the plants be started indoors for 8-10 weeks. Bell peppers from seed take 120-150 days to grow.
The first number is the time it should take the plant to produce a full size green bell pepper. The second number 30 days later is when the bell pepper will have changed color and be fully ripened.
After transplanting bell pepper plants outdoors pick off any flowers that develop within the first 4 weeks of being outside. The plant may try and produce flowers and fruit after being transplanted but this is usually too early in the season. By picking off the flowers during this time you can keep the plant growing strong vegetative growth and it should become a bigger size and produce more bell peppers later in the season.
Do Bell Peppers Need Full Sun?
Bell peppers grow best with full sun, that’s at least 6 hours. However, more is not better with bell peppers. With too much direct sunlight bell peppers can become sun scalded. This will show up as dark spots on the skin of the pepper and these spots can start to rot. A bell pepper with good foliage that covers most of the peppers will help prevent sun scalding.
Temperatures regularly above 90 degrees can cause problems with bell peppers. If high temperatures occur during flowering blossom drop can occur. If you live in an area with hot summers or encounter a heat wave you should be prepared to shade the bell pepper plants. Plant shade cloths at 30% or less and mulching can keep bell peppers thriving during these times. Here’s an article from the University of Georgia agriculture school talking about the effectiveness of shade cloths and mulching while growing bell peppers in the field.
How Much Water Do Bell Pepper Plants Need?
Aim to give bell peppers 1″ of water during their early vegetative growth and 2″ of water during flowering and fruit production. Also water more water with hot weather.
Like most garden plants less often deep watering is more beneficial than more often shallow watering. Less often deep waterings promotes strong healthy root growth. Roots are forced to dig deep for water and shallow roots don’t sit in constantly wet top soil which can cause root rot.
Using a rain gauge will give you an accurate idea of how much rain has fallen. Consider watering right after light rainfall to give a deep watering. A rain gauge will also allow you to measure how much water a sprinkler gives off in a certain time.
When watering containers water slowly. When water starts to flow out of the bottom the container is well watered. If you water too fast water will come out of the bottom but the entire container won’t be evenly watered. Watering through the pot until it drains will prevent salt and mineral build up at a certain level in the pot and help keep the soil evenly watered. If you want to get more scientific with watering pots this article shows hot to water containers by weight.
If you put your fingers in the dirt and it feels dry 2-3 inches down it’s time to water. If it’s still moist let it go. 1″ of water = 0.6 gallons of water per square foot.
Best Soil for Bell Peppers
The best soil for bell peppers is sandy loam soil with a PH of 5.8-6.5. To create a more loamy soil just add compost. This makes sandy soil better able to retain moisture and nutrients and makes clay soil better draining.
For access to large amounts of compost call your local city governments and ask if they have compost piles. It’s common practice for cities to take the grass clippings and leaves they collect and make huge compost piles out of them. Compost will give your soil better texture, add nutrients and beneficial bacteria. The more aged and broken down compost the better.
Using potting soil is expensive but it’s nice because you don’t need to add fertilizer. This Miracle-Gro potting soil is good and this is a good organic potting soil from reputable brand Organic Plant Magic.
Fertilizer for Bell Peppers
Jack’s Classic is a good all-purpose water soluble fertilizer that measures 20-20-20. If you want to give a smaller application you can cut the amount mixed in half. For organic fertilizer I recommend Organic Plant Magic 6-5-5 +9% calcium, 2.6% sulfur, and 1.2% magnesium. It also has other micro-nutrients and more than 10 beneficial soil bacterias. Garden-Tone is another good organic fertilizer. The Herb & Vegetable one linked has an N-P-K of 3-4-4 plus 5% calcium, 2% sulfur, and 1% magnesium and three strains of beneficial soil bacterias.
The three numbers that are listed for fertilizers stand for Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium. These are the three most important nutrients. Following them are calcium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, chlorine, iron, manganese, zinc, copper and other trace minerals. Here’s an affordable home soil test kit that will tell you your soil PH and the levels of 13 nutrients.
Bell Pepper Plant Insect Pests & Diseases
Prevention is the best method to avoid pests and diseases from ruining your bell pepper crop. Keep a clean growing area with leaf debris removed from the bed and leaves close to the soil removed from the plants. Weed regularly to increase air circulation and water and nutrition going to the plants you want. Strong healthy plants gives you the best chance to avoid pest and disease problems.
For all insect problems I highly recommend the use of neem oil. Neem oil is an organic form of pest control that comes from the seeds of neem trees. The main active ingredient in neem oil, azadirachtin. You mix the neem oil with water and apply it with a spray bottle. It degrades the insects outer shell and eggs and makes the leaves undesirable to eat. When I see an infestation of spider mites or colorado potato beetles I apply the stuff hot and heavy every 2-3 days and combine that with manual eradication with my hands.
Disease happens through fungus or bacteria. If you find disease try and prune it away and make sure to throw it in the trash and not your compost pile. To differentiate disease from nutrition deficiencies I think the best way is that nutrition deficiencies should cause the same look through all your pepper plants and disease will usually be worst on one or a few plants in one area before spreading.
Pruning Bell Pepper Plants
There are many reasons to prune bell pepper plants including to increase the yield of the bell peppers and removing low growth and sucker branches can keep a cleaner plant that stays disease free. Pruning plants before bringing the plant indoors to overwinter can help them enter a dormant stage and survive until the next year with little light and nutrients. To learn more about pruning bell pepper plants check out “How Tall Do Bell Pepper Plants Grow?“.