If you love peppers, you'll be pleased to hear that planting them is easy. Always a home garden favorite, you can start peppers from seed indoors or simply purchase seedlings from your local nursery, if you prefer. The best part about growing your own peppers is you get to choose the color and variety. Plus, once you have seedlings, the rest is more than manageable.
Because it can be difficult to grow your own seedlings, many gardeners prefer to purchase plants. It can be a very rewarding experience to grow your own seedlings, however, so you may find it worth the work. If you plan to grow your peppers from seed, you'll want to start them indoors eight to ten weeks before the last frost date. Since germination can be difficult, make sure you plant plenty of seeds. Warmth is crucial to coaxing the seeds to sprout. As a soil temperature of 80 degrees is ideal for germination, you may wish to install bottom heating or heat lamps in your grow area. Make sure to keep the soil moist, but good drainage is equally important. When seedlings have reached a height of eight inches, they are ready to plant outside, provided all danger of frost has passed.
Only plant your peppers outdoors if it is really beginning to get warm. Frost will kill seedlings or at best leave them stunted. Even after the last frost date, it is better to wait a few days before planting if the temperatures remain cool. Your plants will do best once nighttime temperatures remain at or above 55 degrees. Until that time, they will grow slowly.
Choose a well-drained area of your garden that gets plenty of sun. Mix some compost or manure and a general fertilizer into the soil. Although spacing will be somewhat different for different varieties, good general advice is to plant your seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart in rows that are 24 to 36 inches apart.
Peppers like moist soil, so water them regularly throughout the warm summer months. They do not, however, enjoy wet soil. This is why it is important to grow them in a well-drained area and be careful not to over-water. Put a layer of mulch around the pepper plants to keep in moisture and prevent weed growth.
When peppers begin to develop, apply a fertilizer that is higher in phosphorus and potassium than in nitrogen. Nitrogen encourages leaf growth and will lead to a bushy plant, with healthy green leaves but only at the expense of production of peppers. Cutting back on nitrogen will allow your pepper plant to focus its energy on producing the peppers you want to eat.
Once peppers have reached the size you find them in markets, it is time to consider harvesting the fruit of your labors. Too tell if a pepper is ripe, gently feel it. It should feel firm beneath your fingers. If it feels as though the edible part is a bit thin, the pepper is not yet quite ripe. If it feels a bit squashy, it is over-ripe. Since all red, yellow, and orange bell peppers begin green and ripen into their intended shade, you will need to wait a bit longer for these colors.