It’s time to plant bell peppers outside when soil temperatures and night time temperatures are 60 degrees or above. If you’re planting later in the season the plant needs to have enough time to reach full maturity before night time temperatures are below 60 degrees.
If you are growing from seed it’s important to know that the days to maturity listed on the packet usually refers to time after transplant. It’s common practice and seed distributors expect that you start bell pepper plants indoors for 8-10 weeks. The days to maturity for bell peppers is listed as 60-90 days but from seed is 120-150.
Growing bell peppers from seed gives you the most variety of bell peppers to choose from but is a more involved process. When you grow from seed you need to start the bell pepper plants indoors. If you buy starter plants you can transplant directly into the garden.
The best time to measure the soil temperature is between 9-11 AM when the soil has warmed some from night temperatures but before it is inflated by the afternoon sun. Stick a soil thermometer all the way into the ground and wait 5 minutes. If it reads 60 degrees or above your in business.
Picking Bell Pepper Plants From a Nursery
Picking healthy starter plants from the nursery is important. Picking stressed and stunted plants can mean a month of recovery time after transplanting and just lower yields for the season.
- Structure – Taller is not always best. Stretched out and spindly plants are not as healthy as well developed side growth coming from a strong stem.
- Color – A deep vibrant green throughout is what we’re looking for.
- Flowering – Avoid starters with blooms on them. A vegetable plant with blooms on it is not completely in a vegetative growth state and will not develop into a good size. For 4 weeks after transplanting keep an eye out for blooming flowers and pick them off during this time to encourage the plant to grow big and bushy so when it is time to flower and produce fruit it will produce more.
- The Roots – Ideal here is a plant that slides out of the starter pot pretty easily but has a good looking well developed root system. If half of the dirt in the pot stays in the pot the root system is poorly developed and if roots are growing out of the bottom and the pot is attached to the plant it’s root bound and will take a little time to recover after tearing it out of the pot.
- Pests & Disease – Inspect the leaves for any kind of discoloration including spotting. Check the leaves for holes and the undersides for eggs. Any webbing on the plant and I’d stay away from the whole tray and maybe head to another nursery.
- Bargain Shopper – Multiple plants in a pot can be a great deal and be divided to do well on their own when you get home. Plants that have yellow leaves towards the bottom are probably starting to need more nutrients than they have access to and will do fine once transplanted.
Germinating Bell Pepper Seeds
To germinate bell pepper seeds get your starter pots filled up and ready to go. You can use a seed starting mix or potting soil. Using dirt from the soil is fine but is generally frowned upon because of pests or disease. Next drop a seed onto the top of the soil for each pot. Take a pen and push the seeds down into the soil about 1/4″. Sprinkle some dirt on top and gently water the pots.
Use starter pots that can transfer directly into the ground for ease and to avoid root shock when transplanting. I like Cow Pots. They are green and made by a third generation American dairy farmer. The first time I saw them was on the TV show Dirty Jobs.
Keep the starter tray in a warm area 70 degrees or more with more being better, 80-90 degrees ideally. Give the tray light by putting it near a south facing window or under a grow light.
Keep the dirt moist but not drenched and water with water that’s at least room temperature. If you’re using a grow light or a heating pad expect the soil to dry out sooner.
Bell pepper seeds should sprout in 1-3 weeks. They will sprout quicker in warmer temperatures and slower in colder temperatures.
If you want to test a batch of seeds to see if they are good you can germinate them without soil. Put the seeds in between a couple layers of moist paper towels on each side. Spray the paper towels with a spray bottle or run them under water and wring them out. Put the paper towels with the seeds in the middle into a ziploc bag and in an area with a temperature between 70-90 degrees. In 3-7 days the seeds should sprout. This method is very popular and you can probably find a better explanation by typing it into a search engine.
Starting Bell Pepper Plants Indoors
A window will be enough light to germinate but in most areas there’s not enough winter sun to grow healthy starter plants and you’ll need a grow light. As soon as plants start to sprout is the time to get them under light to keep the sprouts from growing spindly and falling over.
A grow light is really a great thing and is necessary to get good yields from plants that require a long growing season. Many of the plants we grow originated in warmer areas that have long growing seasons. Tomatoes and peppers both originated in Mesoamerica. Having a grow light lets you start plants whenever you want and grow some behemoth plants and get huge yields.
I use a T-5 Fluorescent like this and it’s great for bushy vegetative growth. This light measures 2×4′ and will cover an area of 4×4′ very well. At the ends of the 4 feet fixture the light stops abruptly but it puts light off to the sides. In my experience bulbs will last for close to 2 years with constant use. This fixture has 8 bulbs and two power switches that allows you to operate 4 bulbs independently.
Transplanting Bell Peppers Outside
When outside temperatures are remaining above 60 degrees it’s time to transplant bell pepper plants to the garden. Prepare the garden soil by loosening it with a shovel. This will make sure the soil is not compacted, aerate it, and warm it up some. This is also a good time to add an all purpose fertilizer. Jack’s Classic is a good standard water soluble fertilizer that measures 20-20-20. For an organic fertilizer Organic Plant Magic or Garden-Tone are good brands.
Moving plants outside should be done gradually over a 7-10 day period known as hardening the plants off, or getting them ready for the outdoor environment. Plants are introduced outside for only a few hours during the first day and protected somewhat from direct midday sun and harsh winds. By the end of hardening off the plants should be able to be left outside for the entire day. One way to get a jump on this is to put a fan on the starter plants a week before placing them outside to strengthen the stems and branches.
Dig a whole deep enough for the entire root ball. Break up the root ball lightly by pulling sides apart just a little bit with your thumbs. Cover the top of the root ball with a 1/2″ of soil and water the transplants after their in the ground.
Is It too Late to Plant Bell Peppers?
If you’re asking this question it’s probably too late. Bell Peppers are warm weather plants and require a long growing season. If you’re growing from seed you’ll need 120-150 days to maturity and with a starter plant 60-90 days. You want the bell peppers to reach full maturity before temperatures in your area has lows regularly below 60 degrees.
The first number to maturity for bell peppers is generally when the bell pepper has reached full size and the second number is when it has changed color and reached full ripeness. You can pick a bell pepper anytime but they will be less bitter and more sweet and have more nutrients the further along they are.
Can I Plant Seeds From a Bell Pepper?
Of course you can plant seeds from a bell pepper, but will they grow into a plant? The answer is maybe. Bell peppers grown for seeds should be left to full ripeness which is a little past where bell peppers are normally picked to be eaten. Green bell peppers are the immature stage of varieties that will turn yellow, orange, or red so seeds from green bell peppers are definitely too immature to be planted successfully.
To store seeds let them dry in the open air for a week or two. Then put them in an airtight glass jar with a silica gel packet and place the jar in a cool dark area for best storage.