How to Grow Series
Whether you like to eat sweet peppers or hot peppers, there is sure to be a pepper variety that is right for you and your family. They are rich in vitamins and minerals and can add so much flavor to salads and cooked dishes.
Peppers grow best when the climate is warm and a little on the dry side. Some years I have a bumper crop of peppers when the weather is just right and other years my yields may be smaller due to cooler and rainy weather. That being said, I almost always grow peppers in my garden because they are just so darn useful in creating wonderful meals for myself and my husband.
Pepper seeds take a long time to germinate, between 14-21 days and need a soil temperature of around 80 degrees. If you want to start your own from seed, plan to sow them 8-10 weeks before you set them out in the garden and make sure you give them supplemental heat in the form of a heat lamp or heat mat specifically designed for starting seeds.
If starting peppers from seed is a little intimidating, don't be afraid to check out your local farmer's market and pick up your seedlings there in May (sooner in warmer climates). Many farms are branching out with more varieties of seedlings that they are offering. My area of the country is pretty small and yet we have several vendors at the market that grow non-GMO seedlings and many heirloom varieties that are not available in big box stores and nurseries.
As with tomatoes and cucumbers, peppers do not like cool weather and are susceptible to frost damage, so don't set out your peppers in the garden until you are sure there is no threat of frost. Protecting your peppers with a cold frame or hoop house in the first few weeks can be beneficial and give your peppers a good strong start in the garden.
Peppers need full sun (6+ hours a day) and like fertile, loose soil that is full of organic matter. Add a couple inch layer of compost to the garden soil in early spring and mix it in with the top few inches of soil. Mix in a good all purpose vegetable fertilizer such as Espoma Garden-Tone. It is one of my favorite fertilizers and won't burn your plants like chemical fertilizers can.
Before setting out your seedlings in the garden, make sure they are properly hardened off. You can read more about that here. If the roots seem like they are wrapped a little too tightly from being in the pot too long, carefully pull some of the roots away from the root ball and gently rough up the root ball a little to allow the roots to more easily spread into the garden soil. Place them in the ground at the same level they were in the pot.
Space the peppers between 18"-24" apart. Check the label of the variety you are growing to see if they should be spaced differently. Water them in well and provide a layer of mulch around the plants to keep out weeds and to help retain moisture. I like to use untreated grass clippings or straw in my garden. Sometimes I place newspaper down in between the rows of plants before I mulch to help control weeds even more and to enrich the soil as the paper breaks down. If you don't have a lot of mulching material, the newspaper can help your mulch go further as well.
Peppers are self pollinating, so you can plant hot peppers and mild sweet peppers close together. However, if you want to save your own seeds to grow next year, then you should plant the hot peppers and sweet peppers more than 10 feet apart to help prevent cross-pollination that may occur when bees and wasps visit the pepper blooms.
Once peppers start to grow on your plants, avoid too much nitrogen fertilizer. Too much nitrogen will just grow nice green leaves and not fruit. I pretty much just stick with Garden-Tone as it is perfectly balanced for most vegetables.
Peppers are mature about 70-90 days after planting. The time frame will vary depending on the variety. Leaving the peppers on the vine longer than normal will allow them to turn red, however, they are more susceptible to rot this way. Pick and enjoy your peppers when they are the size you prefer for that variety.