A cinch to grow in home gardens in most regions of the U.S., bell peppers are much more than the classic green bell these days. Survey the supermarket and you’ll see a rainbow for the picking. It is a little more challenging to grow purple, red, and some orange peppers at home as they require an exceptionally long growing season. Green fruits are actually immature peppers. If you leave them on the plant, they eventually will develop one of the other colors, most commonly red, and become sweeter.
Bell Pepper Care Must-Knows
Peppers are a warm-season crop. In many areas, they are one of the last vegetables to be planted in the garden in spring. Wait until nighttime temperatures are regularly in the 50 to 55°F range before planting transplants in the garden. Plant transplants 2 to 2½ feet apart in full sun in rich, well-drained soil. Peppers demand at least 8 hours of direct sunlight a day to produce fruit. Improve the soil prior to planting, if necessary, by incorporating a 2-inch-thick layer of compost into the planting bed.
Water pepper plants as needed to maintain even soil moisture. Peppers will tolerate dry conditions but produce more fruit in moderately moist soil. Spread a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch over the soil surface to help maintain moisture. Stake or cage plants shortly after planting to support their heavy fruit set.
Starting with Seed
If growing peppers from seed, it is important to start early. Start seeds indoors about 8 weeks before night temperatures are reliably in the 50 to 55°F range. Sow seeds ¼ inch deep and 1 inch apart in a container of seed-starting potting mix. Keep the mix moist but not soggy, and very warm. Set the plant container on a heating mat for extra warmth. When seedlings reach 2 inches tall, transplant them into individual pots. Feed seedlings with half-strength, food-safe fertilizer every two weeks until the weather is warm enough to gradually acclimate them to outdoor conditions.
Growing Peppers in Containers
Peppers are easy to grow in containers. Select a container that is at least 18 inches in diameter and fill it with high-quality potting soil. Place the pot in full sun. Plant a pepper transplant and water it well. Hand water frequently or use a drip irrigation system for containers to maintain even soil moisture.
Fruit is ready to harvest in late summer. Pepper fruits start out green and ripen to rich red, orange, yellow, or purple depending on the variety. Peppers are edible at any stage, but glossy, fully colored fruits deliver the best flavor.
Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut off fruits when they are full size or later when they are fully colored. Not all immature fruits are green. Some varieties develop creamy yellow, lilac, or purple fruits in their immature stages. Mature fruits are sweeter than immature ones, but allowing fruits to mature sends a signal to the plant to stop producing new fruits, so overall yields will be less the more fruits you allow to mature.