Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Bell Peppers
Peppers are a warm-season crop that comes in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. More good news: Most varieties resist garden pests! See our guide to planting, growing, harvesting peppers.
About Bell Peppers
Peppers have a long growing season (60 to 90 days), so most home gardeners buy starter pepper plants at the garden nursery rather than grow them from seed. However, you can start pepper seeds indoors if you want to grow your own. Northern gardeners should also warm outdoor soil by covering it with black plastic as early as possible in late winter/early spring.
Red and green peppers are good sources of vitamin C, some vitamin A, and small amounts of several minerals. They’re wonderful raw in salads or as a snack with dip or hummus. You can also stuff peppers with seasoned bread crumbs or meat and bake them.
On this page, we focus on growing sweet peppers, but much of the advice for growing hot peppers is the same. That said, we also have a growing guide for jalapeño peppers!
Grow peppers in a space with full sun and well-draining moist (but not wet) soil. A balance between sandy and loamy soil will ensure that the soil drains well and warms quickly. Mix in large amounts of organic matter (such as compost) into the soil, especially if you are working with heavy clay. Avoid planting peppers in places where you’ve recently grown other members of the nightshade family—such as tomatoes, potatoes, or eggplants—as this can expose peppers to disease.
When to Plant Peppers
- To start peppers indoors in pots, sow seeds 8 to 10 weeks before your last spring frost date.
- Plant pepper starts or transplants outdoors about 2 to 3 weeks after the threat of frost has passed and the soil has reached 65°F (18°C).
How to Plant Peppers Outdoors
- If you’re buying pepper starts, choose ones with straight, sturdy stems, 4 to 6 leaves, and no blooms or fruit. To harden off pepper plants, set plants outdoors a week or more after the frost free date or when the average daily temperatures reaches 65°F (18°C).
- Before transplanting in the garden, mix aged manure and/or compost into the soil about 8 to 10 inches deep and rake it several times to break up the large clods.
- Put transplants into the ground once the soil temperature has reached 65°F (18°C). Speed up the warming of the soil by covering it with black plastic or a dark mulch about a week before you intend to plant.
- It is best to transplant peppers in the evening or on a cloudy day. This will keep the plants from drying too much and wilting.
- Make the transplant holes 3 to 4 inches deep and 12 to 18 inches apart in the row. Space the rows 2 to 3 feet apart. Before planting, fill the holes with water and let it soak in. Into each planting hole, put two or three wooden matchsticks (for sulfur) and 1 teaspoon of low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus fertilizer (too much nitrogen will reduce fruit set).
- When pulling the transplant out of its tray or pot, be gentle and leave as much soil as possible around the roots. Set the transplants about one inch deeper than they were in their original container. Fill the hole with soil and pack it loosely around the plant. Leave a slightly sunken area around each plant to hold water.
- Water the plants after planting.
- Using liquid fertilizer material (manure tea or starter fertilizer) is usually beneficial at this time.
- Stake now to avoid disturbing the roots later. If necessary, support plants with cages or stakes to prevent bending. Try commercially available cone-shaped wire tomato cages. They may not be ideal for tomatoes, but they are just the thing for peppers. Or, build your own garden supports.
- Water regularly with 1 to 2 inches of water per week. This doesn’t mean shallow watering; peppers like a good dousing but should be left to almost dry out between waterings; they need that period of relative dry. Slow, deep watering helps the root system grow strong. Do not let pepper plants wilt because this will reduce yield and quality of the fruit. Inconsistent watering also makes pepper susceptible to blossom-end rot.
- In a warm or desert climate, or at the height of summer, you may need to water every day. Note that in desert regions at around 4,000 feet of elevation, sweet bell peppers often fail to develop a thick, fleshy wall.
- Peppers are extremely heat sensitive. Blossoms may drop if plants are stressed—if it’s too hot (above 85° to 90°F in daytime) or cold (below 60°F at night) or water is inadequate. Use shade cloth or row covers to avoid heat stress or sunscald (exposure to direct rays of the sun during hot weather which will cause peppers to get papery, blister, or get papery).
- Mulch to maintain moisture and deter weeds.
- Weed carefully around plants to avoid disturbing roots.
- Once the plants begin producing fruits, pick them promptly, the moment they have reached their full size and color. Regular picking encourages plants to produce more flowers and, of course, more fruits.
- That said, the longer bell peppers stay on the plant, the more sweet they become and the greater their vitamin C content.
- Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut peppers clean off the plant.
How to Store Peppers
- Peppers can be refrigerated in plastic bags for up to 10 days after harvesting.
- Bell peppers can be frozen for later use.
- Peppers can also be dried: Preheat oven to 140°F. Wash, core, and seed. Cut into 1/2-inch strips. Steam about 10 minutes, then spread on baking sheet. Dry in oven 4 to 6 hours; turn occasionally and switch tray positions. Cool, then store in bags or containers in a refrigerator.