Growing Peppers

Growing peppers is not rocket science, but there is a bit of plant science involved in growing peppers. But we are not going to get into the science. Another thing we are not going to talk about are peppers fruit or vegetable. We will leave that one up to everyone else to guess at.

Peppers (Capsicum) are long lived plants and can live for years with the right care and environment. We have had Pepper varieties that we have keep alive for many years and the only reason they died was lack of care. We have a bonsai pepper plant or Bonchili as people are calling them, that is going on 8 years old and is still growing strong. If you have a good place to over winter pepper plants. Like a basement or heated garage.  It is well worth it as they will yield two to three times more in the second year. If you can keep them to the third year you will be amazed at the yields you will get. Please see Wintering Peppers page 

Peppers require full sun for the best harvest and will grow well in some shade. It is best to have some shade in the afternoon when it is very hot out. Plant peppers in well-drained soil rich in organic matter. If your soil is poor and does not drain well, add aged compost and bonemeal to each planting hole or pots. Peppers require a planting soil temperature of 65°F or greater.

Starting peppers indoors 8 to 10 weeks or longer before transplanting them into the garden. The secret about peppers is they grow like trees and you can prune them back to just a stock and they will grow back bigger and bushier and yield more. You can control the way peppers grow by doing different things.  

First thing before you put them out in the garden or outside into pots cut them back and give them a good dose of nitrogen. A good dose of nitrogen will tell the plants to grow vegetation and if you give them high enough doses of nitrogen for a prolonged period of time you can stop them from forming flowers, so you don’t want to give them too much nitrogen late in the season or you will not get any flowers or peppers.

So it is best to only give them nitrogen when you first put them out and for the first month of growth and if you are growing organically you need to be careful you don’t give them compost that is too rich with nitrogen. You can give peppers nitrogen again after they have pepper pods on the plant in low amounts. Just a note, if you do not see any flowers forming, it can be from too much nitrogen. If you are having flowers starting and you fertilize you can cause the flowers to fall off.

There are many other things that can cause flower or blossoms to drop off the plants we well talk about this later on in this page.

There are two main things you need to do for your peppers to insure you get a good harvest. The first is they need lots of calcium especially Capsicum Chinense varieties.  An excellent source of calcium is bonemeal and if you are growing with Chemical fertilizers Cal+Mag is good as well. If you are growing in pots you can mix in bonemeal when planting in the pots or add it to the top inch or so of the pot. It is best to make sure that all the bonemeal in covered with soil or you will see bacteria growth on the bonemeal this is not harmful but can lead to problems later on with insects and the formation of other harmful bacteria. We suggest using between 2 to 3 table spoons if mixing in the top of pots or ¼ cup if mixing it into the soil before potting. The second things peppers need is magnesium. Mixing in a table spoon or two into your soil before potting or add half to one table spoon to the top of your pots well insure they have enough magnesium. This is done by using Epson salt the unscented kind. You can get it at any Pharmacy.

Peppers don’t like to be wet. It is good to let them dry out. Even to the point of wilting as long as you don’t leave them wilted for too long. They well bounce right back within an hour or so. That said it is best to catch them just before they wilt especially with plants that already have peppers on them or plants that have lots of flowers on them. A plant with peppers on it will come back from wilt and likely not lose any peppers pods but plant with flowers just might drop off most if not all of its flowers.

When peppers are near harvest and peppers are finishing ripening you can cut back on watering this will help with the ripening presence. It is good to keep peppers well supported once fruit start setting by using tomato cages or stakes.

Pruning or topping plants for large yields. It is a must to prune or top plants as soon as possible. This will encourage low branches to start growing. This will make plants bush out more and have more branches. Some varieties need to be pruned more than once while others do well just being topped Here are some pictures of topping or pruning.



Doing this Will increase yields greatly, and this should be done before the plants start to V at the top. Here is a picture of a plans that has gone to long.

It can still be topped and should be done as soon as possible.

We like to transplant plants into a bigger pot before topping the plants. We do this because when you top a plant it will encourage it to grow more roots.   

This is what you can expect with grow different varieties.

The larger pods varieties will have anywhere from 5 to 15 pods in them with the average being around 5-8 and a great plant having 15 plus. The medium to large varieties can have 20 to 60 pods on them and the medium sized pod varieties like habaneros and ghost pepper type pods can have anywhere from 60 to over 100 pods pre plant. The smaller pod varieties can have 100s of pods on them and the very small pod varieties can have 100s to over a 1000 pods pre plant. We have had these very small pod varieties with well over 1000 pods. We had one with 1800 pods on it.

Our favorite type of sweet varieties to grow is the medium to large pod varieties. This is why we spent many years making our Atlantic mini varieties with there medium sized pods we always get a average of 20 to 30 pod pre plant and have had great plants with 50 pods on them. We are very proud of our Atlantic Mini Varieties. Sometimes you can put a lot of time into making a new variety and then that variety is really nothing special just another variety.

We have put many years into breeding for varieties that will grow in our Canada climate with some success. Most of our APS named varieties are the varieties we have come up with and some are great Canadian climate growers.

Here are some of the reasons why you might not get pepper

Plants are not growing well, blossoms drop off,  Fruits do not develop.

If temperatures are too cool plants will not perform very well. Try planting when the weather is warmer or plant where the morning sun hits plants early. Growing in containers will help with keeping plant roots warm. Growing in hoop tunnels or just covering plants up at night with plastic will make a big difference. You can also plant varieties that are cold tolerant and there are many cold tolerant varieties.

Plants have lush foliage but do not fruit or have very little fruit.

The soil you are growing in maybe to rich with nitrogen or lacking phosphorus. Adding bonemeal or adding aged compost high in phosphorus and low in nitrogen as a side dressing will help. Low night temperatures can cause a lack of peppers as well. By not letting your plants flower until the night temperatures are higher well help. If night temperatures are cool you can place a wire cage around the pepper plants and drape the cage with plastic at night. Or you can try growing in tunnels. This will help a great deal as peppers don’t like to cool of nights especially when first forming flowers and fruit

Flowers or Blossoms falling off

Pepper flowers or blossoms may fall off if the temperature drops below 60°F or rises above 95°F. It is the lower temperatures that cause this problem the most, especially when plants are just starting to form flower or blossoms

Plant produces few blossoms and few fruits.

Plants that bloom too early or are still young can set fruit too early as well. They can become stunted and can remain stunted all season long. By picking off flowers that develop when plants are still small or too young will help them to develop better roots and foliage. You can also give them a good amount of nitrogen to help them out. This will speed up growth and make plants stronger and healthier before setting fruits. This will make for higher yields.

How to get more peppers

Pepper plants should be pruned early and given a boost of nitrogen after transplanting them out. Flowers should be pruned off for the first month of growth outside. This will help the plants get established before they start trying to flower or blossom. Also making sure they have enough calcium and magnesium to develop flower and peppers. Starting plants early and growing them as large as possible before transplanting them out is the key to getting high yields from your pepper plants.

Over wintering pepper plants

To over winter pepper plants is very easy. All you need to do is bring the plants in to a warm place like your basement or garage. You need to make sure that plants are not too wet and that there are no bugs on them. You also need to cut them back to just stock and leave just a couple of leafs. Make sure they get some light from a window or use fluorescent light. If you see some growth this means they are doing fine. If they are too wet they will most likely die from root rot.

In the spring they will need to have more light to get them growing good again and some new soil added or to be fertilized with nitrogen. They should start growing very well after you do that. They are now ready to be grown for another season. It is best to repot to bigger pots or put in the ground.  

Pepper Plant Diseases

Most pepper plant diseases can be prevented by choosing and planting disease-resistant varieties if your area is prone to diseases. Rotating pepper crops every other year if planting in the ground, implementing proper watering techniques well also help stop some diseases.

Fungus related diseases are the most common. Plants may exhibit discoloration, poor growth, leaf spots and fruit spots. Pepper leaves may yellow and drop off. Healthy pepper plants require loose well-drained soil. Make sure pepper plants are located in areas with good drainage and a good breeze. Excessive moisture and the lack of wind is the ideal environment for the development of fungus.

Bacterial pepper plant problems are often associated with infected seeds or ground related. It is always good to disinfect seeds before planting. This can be done by mixing hydrogen peroxide and water at a rate of 9 parts water and 1 part peroxide. Crop rotation and well worked soils will help to prevent this from happening.

Viruses can destroy entire crops. The best way to avoid viral pepper plant problems is to use disease resistant varieties and practice crop rotation or grow in pots with fresh soil every year.

Here are some of the most common pepper plant diseases:

Southern blight is a fungal disease prevalent in warm climates. Stems rot and the plant wilts, without soil dying.

Another fungal disease associated with warm, humid conditions is powdery mildew. Plants exhibit white, powdery growth on the undersides of leaves.

Ripe rot occurs on ripening fruit that are kept in warm, humid conditions. A good open area that has good air flow will help prevent this. If growing in tunnels, having short tunnels 10 feet or less will have good air flow through them.

Blossom end rot is due to calcium deficiency and sporadic watering or over watering. Add bonemeal to the top inch of soil and water it in. If the soil is wet and you still think there is a calcium deficiency want for the soil to dry out some and then add bonemeal and water it in.

Sunscald is a result of too much exposure to direct sunlight. The fruit may become light colored and feel dry and papery. This is rare in the north but still can happen.

One of the more common bacterial infections that affect peppers is bacterial leaf spot. With bacterial leaf spots, pepper leaves exhibit small yellowish spots. These may become brown or enlarge and can lead to leaf drop.

Mosaic is the most commonly seen viral infection, with leaves having unusually mottled color.

To fight against plants problems it is best to plant in pots. Rotate crops if growing in the ground, and keeping the area free of unwanted debris. Excessive moisture is responsible for most pepper plant bugs and diseases. Good drainage, adequate spacing, and proper watering should help alleviate these issues and help minimize pepper plant problems.

Bugs to watch out for

Aphids and red spider mites love pepper plants and can really affect growth. The best way to keep these bugs off your plants is to plant where there is good air flow. You can get rid of these bugs by just washing them off with the garden hose. In some case where aphids and red spider mites are very bad you can mix some dish soap with water and spray the plants and ground around the plants. We would suggest using the hose and wash them off the plants first. Then spray them well they are on the ground. Then wait a half an hour to a hour then use the garden hose and wash the soap off the plants and water the ground to rinse the soap away.    

Soil flies and white flies can be a problem as well. For soil flies just letting to soil dry out will stop them for reproducing. White flies can be controlled by good air flow. If growing in tunnels these flies become a problem take the plastic off and air out the growing space.