Creating nutrient rich soil will ensure pepper plants are “eating” well throughout the entire growing season. When “eating” their best, peppers will yield more, have more flavor, and be more nutrient dense than those grown in average soil.
Fertilizers are labeled by the percentage of weight of the three major macronutrients most important for plant growth: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
These numbers will be displayed on the bag as three numbers in a row, such as 10-10-10 or 12-10-5.
The first number refers to the percentage of nitrogen in the bag, the second number refers to the percentage of phosphorus, and the third number refers to the percentage of potassium.
If purchasing a 10-pound bag of 10-10-10, the bag will contain 1-pound of nitrogen, 1-pound of phosphorus, and 1-pound of potassium. If purchasing a 10-pound bag of 12-10-5, the bag will contain 1.2-pounds of nitrogen, 1-pound of phosphorus, and 0.5 pounds of potassium.
In general, fertilizers should be applied with about 1.5-pounds of fertilizer for every 100 square feet of garden. A one-pound coffee can filled with fertilizer will weigh roughly 1.5 pounds and is an easy way to measure how much to apply.
Soil tests evaluate the chemical composition of the soil in order to determine if any fertilizer is needed. If the soil is deficient in any nutrients that are essential for plant growth (i.e. nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), a specific fertilizer can be selected.
Over-fertilization can be detrimental to plant growth. To avoid risk of over-fertilization and optimize plant health, select a fertilizer that restores only soil nutrient deficiencies.
My favorite standard fertilizer is Jack’s Classic. It is water soluble and measures 20-20-20.
Best Organic Fertilizers for Pepper Plants
Organic fertilizers can be purchased as a “single ingredient” or as “complete”. Single ingredient sources are best used to boost specific nutrient levels.
My favorite complete organic fertilizer is Organic Plant Magic. It measures 6-5-5, has a wide mix of different organic materials, and over 10 different beneficial soil bacterias.
There is no reason you can’t use bot organic and standard fertilizers. We use standard fertilizers with higher percentages of nutrients at the end or beginning of the growing season.
Organic sources of nitrogen include: alfalfa pellets (slow availability), cottonseed or soybean meal (slow-medium availability), dried blood (medium-rapid availability), and fish emulsion (rapid availability).
Organic sources of phosphorous are rock phosphate (slow availability) or bone meal (slow availability). To increase levels of potassium, consider incorporating granite dust or green sand (very slow availability), alfalfa pellets or cocoa shells (slow availability), or wood ash (rapid availability).
Fertilizers with slow or very slow availability are best used to build soil reserves over the long term, and fertilizers with medium or rapid availability are most effective in the short term.
Best Type of Soil for Pepper Plants
Pepper plants do well in most soils but they do best in loamy soil with lots of organic material. Loamy soil is a mixture of particles something like 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay.
This mixture of different size particles makes space that allows water, air, and roots to move more freely through the soil. So it drains well, but it also holds moisture well.
The problem with soil that is too sandy is that it doesn’t hold moisture or nutrients. It drains too well.
Too make soil that has too much sand or clay more loamy the solution is the same; add organic material.
Local cities often have large mulch piles created by the collection of leaves and grass clippings where you can access as much compost as you want.
Adding compost and other organic matter to soil helps improve soil texture and drainage and adds nutrients and beneficial soil bacterias.
Beneficial bacterias break down organic matters into a form that plants can use and also decompose pollutants in the soil.
Best Soil PH for Pepper Plants
Pepper plants are not particularly sensitive to soil pH but do best when soils are just slightly acidic. A soil pH at least above 6.0 is desired with the optimal pH range between 6-6.8. Although pepper plants can tolerate a wide pH range, extreme pH’s will limit nutrient uptake.
Perhaps the most important factor of soil testing is to help gardeners determine their soil pH. Some plants, like blueberries, don’t do well in most gardens because of their preferred soil pH range.
If the soil report indicates that the soil pH garden needs to be adjusted, lime can be used to raise the pH (become more basic) and sulfur can be used to lower the pH (become more acidic).
An application of limestone will benefit most soils that will be growing pepper plants. The soil test will provide specific recommendations based on the soil sample provided.
Soil testing will also help determine the overall soil conditions and provide the information needed to make corrections.
How To Prepare the Soil for Pepper Plants
In the early spring, work the soil 8-12 inches down when it’s dry enough to not stick to garden tools. This will help warm up soil and break up any compacted areas. Just before planting, work the soil again to get rid of weeds and add fertilizer.
While patiently waiting for “hot” enough weather to move “hot” peppers outside take the time to choose a location that will allow pepper plants to flourish.
Remember — hot peppers like it hot! Plant them in an area that receives maximum sun, ideally in areas that receive at least 6-8 hours of sunlight each day.
If you have a large enough garden plot practice crop rotation and avoid planting peppers in areas of the garden where tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, tomatillos or potatoes have grown in the past couple of years. Peppers are susceptible to the same pests and diseases as these vegetables!
Homemade Fertilizer for Pepper Plants
Hot peppers can benefit from application of homemade fertilizers. Of course, the go-to homemade fertilizer is always compost! Compost is a great way of boosting overall organic matter, improving soil texture, adding beneficial bacterias, and incorporating some nutrients into soil.
Epsom Salt – Application of an easy homemade Epsom salt fertilizer can be beneficial. Epsom salt is made from magnesium sulfate and is effective for correcting magnesium and sulfur deficiency in soils or plants.
To make an Epsom salt fertilizer at home, dissolve 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt in 1 gallon of water. Use the solution to water hot pepper plants once a month. The mixture can also be used as a foliar spray.
Eggshells & Wood Ash – Both eggshells and wood ash can be used as at home replacements for agricultural lime and are best used to correct soils that are below a pH of 6.5.
Eggshells are effective as a liming source because they are composed almost entirely of the main ingredient in agricultural lime — calcium carbonate.
To use eggshells in the garden save and rinse eggshells after use. Allow to dry, place in a blender, and pulse until they are a fine-powder. Sprinkle the powder around plants, or incorporate directly into the soil when preparing the pepper plot.
Wood ash is an especially effective at home way to improve soil. Because of its high calcium content, wood ash increases soil pH so it’s best used in soils that are slightly acidic.
Beyond its calcium boosting and liming capabilities, wood ash is a good source of many nutrients including potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, and aluminum. Sprinkle cooled wood ash from a fireplace, firepit, or wood stove over garden beds and work into the soil.
Please comment below with your own thoughts about good soil and fertilizer practices for pepper plants.