Pepper plants need an even supply of nutrients. However, they need more nitrogen than sweet peppers.
Many varieties of hot peppers can be harvested when they are green, but others are best when they’ve turned their mature color – red, yellow, orange, or purple. Some gardeners add wood ashes or Azomite (a manufactured rock powder) to the soil around pepper plants in midsummer to promote more fruiting.
Peppers like to be kept warm, so they’re best started indoors in flats and transplanted to the garden when all danger of frost has passed. In ground or in containers, they require a sunny location. Pepper plants are susceptible to fungal diseases, so avoid planting them in spots where you grew other nightshades (like tomatoes) last year.
Plant the seeds 1/8-1/4’’ deep in the mix and gently push them down. Label trays with your variety and keep the soil moist. We recommend using a well-draining, rich potting mix for in-ground planting, such as the Down to Earth vegetable gardening mix (available in single-, four- and 15-pound containers at Arbico Organics).
As pepper seedlings grow, provide them with sixteen hours of sunlight each day. Water them regularly, when the soil is dry, but not so much that the foliage gets wet. Several times throughout the growing season, apply a balanced vegetable fertilizer like FoxFarm’s Grow Big or Miracle-Gro Organics Liquid Plant Food to promote healthy growth.
Hot pepper plants thrive in warm, sunny, dry conditions. They also need plenty of water and regular feeding to keep the soil well-supplied with nutrients.
If starting peppers indoors, seeds should be started about 12 weeks before the last frost date. A heat mat can speed germination, but soil temperatures should remain above 70 degrees for best results.
Once the seedlings have two sets of true leaves, they can be transplanted to larger pots. To prevent rot, make sure that the new pot is larger than the original; peppers do not like to be root-bound.
If you are going on vacation, try asking a friend to stop by and water your plants. Or better yet, consider installing a drip irrigation system, especially for vegetables like tomatoes and peppers that require constant watering. If a plant shows signs of sun wilt, cover it until it recovers. Early flower buds should be pinched to direct the plant’s energy toward fruit production.
The amount and type of pruning pepper plants need varies depending on what stage they’re at in the season. At the onset of the season, prune pepper plants to remove any leaves and branches that are overhanging fruits. This exposes the fruit to sunlight and hastens its maturity; it also cuts down on potential pest infestations.
In the mid-season, it’s good to cut back any side shoots that appear, and pinch off any early flowers. This might seem counterintuitive as pepper plants produce flowers to become peppers, but this technique helps them put energy into ramification and root development.
Late-season pruning involves removing any leaves that are hanging over the ripening fruit and topping the plant at this point as well. This can help hasten the ripening process and encourage any remaining fruits to fully mature before frost. You should also continue to remove dead and diseased leaves throughout the growing season to prevent pathogens from spreading to other parts of the plant.
Ideally, peppers should be allowed to mature on the plant until they are dark red or nearly black. Fully ripe peppers have the best flavour. However, it’s sometimes difficult to wait until peppers ripen and gardeners often harvest early to have peppers throughout the season. This results in fewer, smaller peppers with less heat.
Choose varieties with shorter growing seasons to avoid this problem. Also, be careful not to overwater pepper plants. Too much water or inconsistently moist soil reduces pepper yield. This can also cause a condition called “calcium deficiency.” This occurs when pepper roots aren’t able to access the calcium they need from the soil. Symptoms include yellowing leaves and a lack of new growth.
Grow peppers in full sun in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter and moisture-retentive. Add aged compost to planting beds before sowing and again at midseason to improve the quality of in-ground soil for pepper production.