Raising Peppers 101Grow a rainbow in your garden by planting peppers in shades of green, orange, red, yellow, purple or even black. Shapes can be bell, blocky, balls or elongated. Peppers pack a nutritious punch, gracing the dinner table with vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. Red peppers provide more than 100 percent of the daily value for Vitamins C and A, and green peppers are packed with fiber, folate and Vitamin K.

Tropical beauties, peppers hail from south of the border, thriving in hot afternoons and sultry nights. Peppers grow best when temperatures are 70º to 80º F during the day and 60º to 70º F at night. Growth stalls and flowers may drop when temps dip below 55º F or soar above 85º F.

One of the great things about peppers is that they offer large yields for little effort. Whether you grow them in containers or planting beds, you’ll pick peppers aplenty as long as you cover the basics: soil, water, fertilizer.

Location & Planting

Peppers prefer at least six hours of sun daily. Provide well-drained soil rich in organic matter and phosphorus. The soil should be warm when you transplant seedlings – 70º is an ideal temperature.

Space plants 12 inches apart in rows 15 inches apart, or 12 inches apart in a staggered pattern, three plants across, in a 3-foot-wide bed. At maturity, pepper leaves should be slightly touching. Tight spacing shades soil, which reduces water evaporation. Close quarters also permit plants to shade ripening fruit, preventing sunscald.

Insert stakes at planting time. As fruit ripens, tie stems loaded with peppers to stakes to prevent breaking.

Water & Fertilizer

Peppers need consistently moist soil, or fruits may develop bitter flavor. Mulch helps soil retain moisture, but if put in place too early in the season, it can also reduce soil temperature. Black plastic or gravel mulch warms soil early in the season; use it even before planting to prepare spring’s cool soil for early planting. To avoid cooling soil, don’t apply mulches like hay, shredded leaves, white plastic or grass clippings until you spot the first peppers.

Mix worm castings or compost into planting holes, along with a specialized tomato fertilizer. When fruits start forming, feed plants again using the specialized fertilizer, fish emulsion or manure tea.

Troubleshooting

  • If plants are flowering but you’re not seeing fruit, give stakes a gentle shake each day – enough to rustle plants. Pepper flowers are self-pollinated, which means that while blooms are pollinated by bees, they can also be wind pollinated.
  • If stems on peppers turn black, that’s a sign of maturation, not disease.
  • Start picking your peck of peppers when they’re green, or wait until they turn red, yellow or orange. Sweet peppers are sweetest and hot peppers are hottest when fruits turn red. Pick green peppers, and plants will continue to form more fruit.
  • To harvest, use a knife or snips to slice through stems to make a clean cut and avoid damaging growing stems. Leaving a piece of stem on peppers enhances storage.

The Scoville Heat Scale

Hot peppers vary in heat, which is measured in Scoville heat units. For comparison, pure capsaicin is 15,500,000 units.

Pepper Type Scoville Heat Units
Bell pepper 0
Anaheim 500-2,500
Jalapeno 2,500-4,000
Serrano 7,000-25,000
Cayenne 30,000-50,000
Thai 70,000-100,000
Habanero 100,000-325,000