The bell pepper plant is not only attractive, it is also a very rewarding addition to a garden. Their reputation for being difficult to grow comes from people not giving these plants the correct attention. Also known as sweet peppers or capsicum, if cared for properly you will be rewarded with an abundance of rich green foliage and sweet tasting peppers.
This guide will take you through everything you need to know about growing bell pepper plants.
Bell Pepper Plant Varieties
You can either buy a young bell pepper plant or grow from seed. Growing bell peppers from seed is a cheaper option and also gives you a wider range of varieties to choose from.
Colorful and full of flavour bell pepper plants are a rewarding addition to any garden. A member of the same family as the tomato, with the correct care and attention they are easy to grow.
One of the most popular varieties is Big Red. A quick growing sweet variety, Big Red reaches maturity in 75 days. Maturity is signalled by the thick flesh turning a deep red. Canary Bell is slower to grow, taking up to 100 days to mature, but rewards your patience with a prolific harvest of bright yellow fruit.
Amongst the common shades of red and yellow you will find varieties in a rich rainbow of colors. Deeply attractive purple varieties can really stand out amongst your garden plants.
Purple Beauty is an heirloom variety which produces rich, deep purple fruit. California Wonder is another sweet variety that can be picked when young and green or allowed to ripen into bright red fruit. Gourmet AGM is a great choice for greenhouse and container gardens. This variety also enjoys a prolonged fruiting season, allowing you plenty of time to enjoy its bright orange fruit.
How to Grow Bell Peppers From Seed
A tropical perennial, the bell pepper plant is normally grown as annuals. For this reason they don’t have a USDA zone listing. As they are perennial, you can try extending the growing season of container grown crops by taking them indoors for the winter months.
Seeds can be harvested from the fruit. However shop bought fruit is often a hybrid variety. This means that if the seeds germinate they are unlikely to produce the same fruit as the parent fruit Purchasing specialist seed means you will know exactly what fruit you will end up with.
Sowing Seeds and Germination
Fill a clean, 3 inch pot with fresh seed or general purpose compost. Sow 3 seeds in the pot.
Dampen the soil with a fine spray and cover with a clear plastic bag and place on a warm windowsill. You can also place the pot inside a propagator. The temperature must be between 65-70°F for germination to occur. Depending on the variety, and conditions, this can take up to 3 weeks.
Allow the germinated seedlings of the bell peppers to grow on in the pot. Should all three seeds germinate thin out the weakest seedling. Allow the remaining bell pepper plants to grow on together, as one. This method, of pairing peppers, encourages more protective leaves to grow. It can also encourage a heavier yield.
Sowing more than one seedling in a container allows for the failure of one or two seeds. If all three seeds germinate the weakest seedling can later be pinched out.
When the peppers have produced 3 true leaves, re-pot into a large container. At this stage you can also apply a dose of organic fertilizer.
Grow the peppers on, keeping the soil evenly moist, until you are ready to transplant to their final position.
A bell pepper plant grows best in a daytime temperature range of 66-82°F. At night the temperature should range between 59-68°F. If you live in a cooler area, you’ll have more success growing the peppers undercover in pots.
Planting A Bell Pepper Plant Outside
Bell peppers require at least 6 hours of light every day. Place your peppers in a full sun position, that is sheltered from hard winds. The soil should be rich and well draining. Digging some compost or organic material into the soil before planting will help to enrich it.
As the last predicted frost date approaches begin the process of hardening off young plants. Wait until the soil has warmed up before planting out in beds, at least 65°F. You can warm the soil yourself by covering it with a plastic cover. Leave the cover in place for a few weeks before planting.
Properly preparing the soil before planting gives your peppers a better chance of succeeding. Well worked soil is likely to be looser and better draining. These conditions enable root systems to quickly establish themselves.
Dig a hole large enough to comfortably hold the plants root ball. Place a teaspoon of general purpose fertilizer in the hole followed by the peppers. You may also like to add some matchsticks. This will give the peppers a helpful boost of sulfur.
Space 18-24 inches apart, depending on the variety. Keep paired peppers within touching distance. Once planted water well and apply a layer of organic mulch, such as homemade compost.
As well as growing in a vegetable or flower bed, you can also grow bell pepper plants in the container, as part of a container garden.
Growing a Bell Pepper Plant in a Container
Aim to grow your bell peppers in a pot about 1ft wide. This gives the peppers room to grow, encouraging a heavier yield to be produced. Your chosen pot should be clean. It should also have drainage holes in the bottom.
Fill the chosen pot with a mixture of fresh multi-purpose compost, vermiculite and peat moss. This will result in a well draining soil for your plants to thrive in.
You can also grow the plants in containers. This allows gardeners in cooler climates to grow the fruit undercover, enabling them to provide extra heat.
Plant peppers about 2 inches deeper than its previous depth. Planting slightly deeper will encourage more roots to form. A large, healthy root system will help to optimize water and nutrient uptake.
Water the peppers in well and apply an organic mulch, such as homemade compost. Place the container in a sunny location where it isn’t overshadowed by other plants.
How to Care for a Bell Pepper Plant
If planted and positioned correctly the bell pepper plant is surprisingly easy to care for.
Water your peppers regularly. Aim to keep the soil evenly moist.
Don’t allow the soil to dry out when the peppers are in flower. This may damage the crop.
If you are concerned about your water usage, try harvesting rainwater. This can then be re-used in your garden, helping to keep your peppers hydrated.
Regular watering encourages strong, healthy growth. Water soluble fertilizers are easily incorporated into a watering routine, if you need to give your garden an extra boost.
Once the first fruit is set, apply a dose of high potash liquid fertilizer, such as tomato feed. Continue to apply as per the instructions on the packet. Alternatively you can also make your own liquid plant feed.
Additionally, when the flowers first emerge, the peppers can be sprayed with an Epsom salt solution. Repeat this 10 days later. Like tomatoes applying an Epsom salts solution, encourages sweeter, large fruit to form. To make the solution simply dilute 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts in a gallon of water.
Weeding and Pruning
The bell pepper plant has a shallow root system. Weeding can often accidentally damage this, causing the peppers to fail. Instead regularly mulch around the crops. This will help to discourage weeds from emerging while also helping the soil to retain moisture.
Be careful weeding around crops with a shallow root system. If you are worried try applying a layer of mulch, such as compost or wood chippings around the plant. This will smother weed growth meaning that you don’t have to weed near delicate root systems.
If your plants exceed 14 inches in height you will need to pinch out the growing tips. This encourages bushier growth and also helps to prevent legginess.
Try not to over prune the foliage of the plant. Pruning away too much foliage can leave the fruit unprotected and vulnerable to sunscald.
Deadheading should only be practiced if the flowers emerge before the plant has reached a good size. Deadheading can also be used to stop new fruits from forming, thus encouraging already formed fruit to mature.
The shallow root system of the bell pepper plant means that it is prone to toppling over. This is particularly the case when it is laden with fruit. Stakes or tomato cages can be used to provide support. This has the additional benefit of keeping the fruit away from the ground where it may rot or fall victim to pests.
Support is essential to prevent crops from snapping or toppling over under the weight of the fruit. The position the support is when planting young plants in their final position. This allows you to train the peppers along the support.
When tieing the stems and branches, tie as loosely as possible. Tieing too tightly may damage the peppers.
Common Bell Pepper Problems
A member of the solanaceae family, bell peppers are prone to many of the same diseases and pest problems that affect potatoes and tomatoes. A simple crop rotation system can help to avoid many issues.
Sunscald can damage the appearance of fruit. It can also cause the peppers to become woody or tough. Most common during hot spells, extreme sunscald can cause the fruit to crack and become infected. Healthy plants are less prone to sunscald. Some varieties are resistant to the issue.
Allowing some foliage to remain in place will help to protect fruit from the potentially damaging effect of the sun’s rays. This will allow you to enjoy blemish free fruit.
Failure to Flourish
A failure to flourish, or fruit dropping from the peppers, are common capsicum problems.
The bell pepper plant is very temperature sensitive. Exposure to conditions that are too cold or too warm can cause the fruits to fail. If climate control is an issue try growing the plants undercover. This allows you to better control the temperature around the peppers.
A failure to flourish can also be caused by poor pollination. Planting pollinator attracting plants nearby will help to encourage pollination.
An irregular watering routine, poor air circulation or over fertilizing the plants can all also cause fruit production to fail.
Aphids are a common problem. Infestations are easily washed away with a blast from a garden hose.
Plants growing undercover may fall victim to the glasshouse red spider mite. This pest thrives in hot and dry conditions. Visible signs of infestation are most noticeably mottled leaves and peppers becoming covered in webbing. Regular misting will combat infestations.
Both the fungal disease phytophthera and root rot can affect the peppers. These issues are usually caused by over watering or planting in poorly draining soil. Practicing crop rotation can also help to reduce the likelihood of a phytophthera attack.
For many members of the solanaceae family, fusarium wilt is another common problem. This can cause the joints to blacken. Should fusarium wilt strike prune away infected areas of the plant. Destroy the infected material and sterilize your tools. If the disease enters the soil it may prove difficult to cure. Again a simple crop rotation system will help to keep your peppers and soil healthy.
Companion planting is the practice of growing mutually beneficial plants together. This helps to produce healthy, heavy yielding plants. It can also be used to discourage pests and diseases.
Herbs are good bell pepper plant companions. In particular Basil is very useful because it will ward away pests such as thrips. Parsley and dill will also repel pests while attracting beneficial insects.
Alliums, eggplant, squash, cucumber, carrot and radish all thrive when grown with the bell pepper plant.
Planting low growing crops such as chard or lettuce will smother weed growth. This means that you won’t have to spend time weeding. It also makes the most of your space and gives you another great tasting plant to harvest.
Low growing crops such as lettuce, asparagus, chard and spinach can be planted as smother crops around your bell pepper plant. These will help to crowd out weeds. Beetroot and parsnip are also reliable smother crops that also keep the soil moist. If you are growing peppers in a vegetable bed, try planting taller crops such as peas and beans at the back of the plot. These will add nitrogen to the soil while also forming a windbreak, protecting the peppers.
Plants to Avoid
When planted alongside members or the brassica family these peppers tend to struggle. They also fail to thrive near fennel. Finally, avoid planting the crop near apricot trees. Both can fall victim to the same fungal diseases.
Harvesting Bell Pepper Plant Crops
The fruit can be harvested when it is young and green or allowed to ripen on the vine. Matured fruit will be sweeter and more rich in vitamin C. However allowing the fruit to ripen before harvesting can reduce the peppers yield.
Fruit can be harvested when it is young and green or allowed to ripen on the vine. This allows you to enjoy a steady stream of fruit throughout the growing season.
If your fruit seems slow to mature, prune away some of the leaves around the fruit. This will enable more fruit to reach the fruit.
To harvest the peppers simply cut them away from the fruit with a sharp secateurs or scissors.
Storing Harvested Fruit
Bell peppers are best used fresh. They can also be stored in a bag in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. For longer term storage the fruit should be dried.
A great tasting addition to any garden, peppers are an easy to cultivate crop. Anyone who has ever grown a tomato will be able to grow capsicum.
An attractive addition to the garden, the bell pepper plant has a reputation as being difficult to grow. However with a little extra care your efforts will be rewarded with a crop of bright, sweet fruit.