Peppers are a big favorite for the home gardener and in the kitchen. With so many varieties available today you can easily find peppers that suit your taste. There are dozens of sweet peppers available and if you want hot peppers you can find mild, hot and fire!
All peppers, regardless of variety, have some common growing traits. Peppers are warm weather plants that love the sun. Ideal temperature is 80 degrees, although they can withstand cooler weather. Peppers need well drained soil and do not tolerate soggy root conditions.
Ph levels in the soil should be ideally around 6.5 to begin then increasing or decreasing afterwards to determine the chosen flavor (more acidic for a sharper, hotter taste).
Seedlings vs. Seed
You can buy established seedlings from the garden shop, however, you will have a greater choice of variety if you plant your own seeds. Another factor to consider is that plants purchased from garden shops have been grown in nurseries under ideal conditions. When put in a home garden with less than ideal conditions, the plants are stressed for a period before they adjust. For this reason, many advocate starting indoors from seed.
A good method is to use peat pots that can be planted directly in the garden without removing the plant from the container thus disturbing the roots. Place 2 seeds in each peat pot, water and cover with clear plastic. When the sprouts emerge, remove the plastic and place in a window or under a grow light for a minimum of 12 hours a day. When the seedlings are 4 inches tall, you are ready to put out into the garden.
Be sure to "harden off" the plants before planting outdoor. Put the plants outdoor in the shade for 1 hour the first day. Then two hours the 2nd day. The 3rd day put the plants outdoor where they will get sun for 20-30 minutes, then in shade for another 2 hours. The 4th day put the plants outdoor where they will get sun for 1 hour and shade for 3 hours. The 5th day plant the peppers in your garden permanently in a sunny location.
Fertilizing and Watering
Peppers are heavy feeders, so be sure to fertilize with a phosphorus rich fertilizer once during initial growth, and again at pepper production time, after the blossoms have set. You can use 5-10-10 fertilizer but be careful to mix well into the soil at the base of the plant. Peppers are sensitive to over fertilizing and can die if you get carried away with the feeding. Water steadily, but do not OVER water peppers. An inch a week is about right, and it should be done all at once. Avoid getting water on the leaves, as wet leaves can encourage disease, especially if left wet after dark.
Peppers generally are not bothered by many insects, but there are a few, the Tomato Horn Worm for one. These large, green caterpillars can decimate a plant in days, but they are easy to spot. If you notice large holes in the leaves or entire sections of the plant missing, you may have Tomato Horn Worms. Just inspect your plants closely, especially under the leaves, and you will find them. You will need to look closely since the worms green color allows them to blend well into the foliage. It's easy to eliminate them by hand picking. Sprays or chemicals are really not necessary and is much healthier for your garden.
Depending on the variety you choose, it should take 60 to 90 days for your plants to start yielding peppers. Most varieties freeze well and can be used in cooking. Use fresh peppers for salads, salsa and as a side dish.
Follow these tips and you will be delighted when your garden produces a bounty of tasty peppers.