How to Grow Bell Peppers: A Complete Guide


Growing your own food is an incredibly rewarding experience. But when you first get started, you might be overwhelmed and unsure of what to grow. Whether you’re just getting started or need to rejuvenate your green thumb, bell peppers are an excellent choice for learning the ropes in gardening.

You can grow bell peppers in the ground or containers, as long as you provide well-draining soil and a balanced fertilizer. They are sun-loving plants, preferring temperatures between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Once they reach maturity, you can expect your peppers to produce fruit in 60-90 days.

There’s a lot to keep track of when gardening. You have to make sure your plant is well-watered, has access to the right nutrients, remains free of pests, and much more. We hope this in-depth guide can help you in your adventure to growing delicious bell peppers.

Are Bell Peppers Hard to Grow?

Bell peppers are some of the easiest, most prolific plants to grow in a vegetable garden. In general, they are very beginner-friendly, highly adaptable, and easily grown almost anywhere in the world.

Plus, the “difficulty level” doesn’t fluctuate based on which color pepper you grow. Why? Green, yellow, orange, and red bell peppers are all the same fruit. (Yes, fruit: Bell peppers contain seeds and come from the plant’s flowers. These two traits disqualify them from being vegetables.

Typically, no matter what color or variety you have, you shouldn’t expect difficulties when growing bell peppers. It does take patience, as they can take a little while to germinate and need a long growing season. Keep this in mind when you start your seeds to give yourself the best possible chance to grow your plants successfully.

How Long do Bell Peppers Take to Grow?

Bell peppers are relatively slow growers, but once they get started, oh boy, what a yield! The average bell pepper plant requires anywhere from 60 to 90 days for a single growing season – this includes the entire lifespan, from germination to fruit-bearing.

You can expect your bell pepper’s life cycle to reflect the chart below:

Life Stage and CareTime
Sowing (best to start indoors)8-10 weeks before the final spring frost
Germination1-3 weeks, post-sowing
Seedling (ready for hardening off and transplanting)8-10 days before moving outdoors
Maturity (harvest when peppers reach your preferred color)2-3 months

Remember that this timeline is not set in stone. Your pepper plant may mature faster or grow significantly slower depending on the environmental conditions, your care routine, and the specific plant variety. This is just a general guideline based on the average bell pepper plants’ growth.

What is the Best Climate for Bell Peppers?

There are many different facets involved in creating the perfect growing climate for your peppers. Before you get lost in the details, remind yourself that these are relatively easy-going plants. Even if you don’t get every detail correctly set up for your bell peppers, they are very forgiving plants and are highly likely to produce fruit for you despite any mistakes.

In general, bell peppers require full sun and prefer soil that ranges from slightly acidic to neutral (this means the soil should measure at a pH between 5.5-6.5). Like most plants, they don’t like sitting in too much water all the time, so make sure that you are using well-draining soil if you’re growing them in a container. Plants in the ground shouldn’t be subjected to highly compacted soil either.

The best temperature range is between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’ll want to give them adequate protection or bring them inside when the temperature drops too low. In terms of soil temperature, these plants thrive when the soil is kept between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t let your soil get above this temperature, as that might lead to your roots getting burned.

What is the Best Time to Plant Bell Peppers?

If you’re planning on growing your bell peppers in the ground, you need to give yourself lots of time to germinate the seeds and harden off the seedlings before the last frost of the season. As mentioned above, it’s best to sow the seeds at least 8-10 weeks before spring’s last frost. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests that gardeners have their bell pepper seeds in the ground by April 14 if you’re based in the U.S.

Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)
Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)

However, this date may change depending on your locality and may even change based on who you’re asking. For instance, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (Texas A&M) suggests that gardeners start their peppers at least 12 to 16 weeks before the first frost.

Your geographic location and Hardiness Zone play a critical role in determining the best time to plant your bell peppers. It’s recommended to consult an almanac or refer to the table below:

ZoneStart Seeds IndoorsTransplant
4Mid-AprilJune to July
5Beginning of AprilMid-May to End of July
6Mid-MarchMid-May to Beginning of August
7Beginning of MarchApril to End of July
8Mid-FebruaryApril to Mid-July
9January; Mid-JulyMid-February to Beginning of April; Mid-August to Mid-October
10April to Mid-MayMid-May to End of July
11Anytime, there are no frostsAnytime, there are no frosts

See below for a Plant Hardiness Zone map from the USDA

Can Bell Peppers be Grown in Pots?

Bell peppers are very container-friendly plants, making them one of the best plants in patio gardens and smaller gardens. Many different types of pots and other containers can provide a healthy living space for a bell pepper to grow well and produce fruit. In some cases, bell peppers might even create more fruit when grown in an enclosed space.

When growing your bell peppers in a container, you still need to follow the suggested sowing and transplanting schedule, especially if your container will be kept outdoors. Sowing into a designated seed-starter area first is a much better way of ensuring that your pepper plant makes it to maturity with fewer problems.

Even when in a container, you’ll still need to be mindful of where you position your bell pepper plant. They need lots of sun, so putting them out on the patio or yard or even near a window is fine. They should get at least six hours of full sun everyday and be protected from strong winds. This is the best setup for a healthy, productive bell pepper plant.

Lastly, your bell pepper will be happiest in a pot that is at least 10-12 inches deep and wide. This will give a comfortable amount of room to spread its root system. Check that it has holes in the bottom for proper drainage before you fully commit to a container. Although the material doesn’t matter too much, it’s best to avoid terra cotta. Terra cotta pots will suck moisture away from the plants’ roots.

Can Bell Peppers be Grown Indoors?

You can grow bell peppers inside almost as easily as you would outside. Of course, since the plants will be inside, your biggest concern will be how to provide them with enough light to reach maturity and yield a reasonable amount of fruit.

Some people don’t aim to produce fruit when growing peppers inside. In fact, many nurseries sell ornamental pepper plants for interior home décor. Although you’ll still want to provide your plant with plenty of light, you won’t have to be as attentive as you would be for a plant you’re trying to harvest from.

Bell peppers that are grown inside will not dry out as often as those grown outdoors. Therefore, you’ll need to be careful not to overwater them. Instead of adhering to a regular watering schedule, it is best to stick your finger at least an inch into the soil to feel how dry, or damp, it is. Then, water according to what you feel your plant needs.

What Type of Soil is Best for Bell Peppers?

You should mix your own soil if you want the best possible results when growing bell peppers. Although it should be relatively loose and well-draining anywhere you decide to plant your peppers, soil in containers requires a little more attention than when you’re growing your peppers directly in the ground.

Here are some ways to mix your soil for bell pepper plants:

  • Outdoor garden: It takes a while to prepare your soil for planting, but it’s well worth it, as it will drastically increase your yield when done right. Several months before sowing or transplanting, you should add four inches of organic materials like plant clippings, compost, or manure to the ground’s surface. Follow that by tilling down 8-10 inches to complete preparation.
  • Container garden: Mixing the soil for your container garden is the best option for ensuring a healthy yield. You can’t control the acidity directly, but remember that it should range from 5.5-6.5, as mentioned above. The ideal soil composition is described below. (Note that you can purchase a good potting mix, too, and that will work just fine.):
    • Compost – 10 parts of the mixture. You may need to amend the compost you’re using, depending on what kind it is.
    • Perlite – 1 part. Perlite is a naturally occurring mineral that is a type of volcanic glass, created when volcanic obsidian glass gets saturated with water over a long time. It helps with aeration and draining of the soil.
    • Vermiculite – 1 part. Vermiculite is the name of a group of hydrated laminar minerals (aluminum-iron magnesium silicates). Vermiculite can help increase water and nutrient retention and aerates the soil, resulting in healthier, more robust plants.

You can grow your peppers in compost alone, but if you do, know that the compost will get compacted very quickly. This compaction occurs because there is nothing in the compost that provides aeration or a structure conducive to root growth. As a result, perlite and vermiculite are critical in ensuring your pepper develops a strong root structure.

What Type of Fertilizer is Best for Bell Peppers?

One of the most important things you need to know about fertilizing your peppers is that it is possible to overfertilize. Too much fertilization can and will produce the exact opposite effect of what you’re hoping for and may even prevent fruit production altogether. The best fertilizer should be a 5-10-10 mixture, but there is some wiggle room there.

Many companies make fertilizers that are great for growing several types of vegetables. Some of the best are:

  • Miracle-Gro Shake ‘N Feed Continuous Release Plant Food: This fertilizer is specially formulated to provide nutrition for crucial microbes living in the soil, whether in containers or the ground. Additionally, it contains micronutrients to encourage optimal growth and high fruit yields. One serving can last for up to three months.
  • Osmocote Smart-Release Plant Food: Designed to promote healthy root and foliage growth, this fertilizer can last up to four months after a single helping. It’s a 14-14-14 mixture and provides equal concentrations of all essential nutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K). This is ideal for perennial vegetables and flowers.
  • Jobe’s Organics Vegetable & Tomato Fertilizer: As a 2-5-3 mixture, this is suitable for boosting your pepper’s nutrient intake. It also helps improve soil conditions and increase your plant’s resistance to various diseases and insect infestations. It also contains an assortment of microorganisms that will help feed your plant more quickly.

Step-by-Step Guide for Growing Bell Peppers in a Garden

Growing your bell peppers in a container or in the ground requires the same basic steps. The primary factors you should focus on are the soil composition, access to sunlight, and the fertilization and watering routines.

1. Sow Your Bell Pepper Seeds

Sow seeds according to the schedules listed above. When you do so, make sure to place them in a seed-starting mix, at least one inch apart. You don’t have to bury them in deep. Instead, place them on the surface and sprinkle more soil on top to cover them. Gently water the seeds once they’re sown.

2. Transplant Your Bell Pepper Seedlings

Transplant seedlings to individual pots once they’ve grown a few inches tall and have sprouted a couple of leaves. Never handle seedlings by the stem. Only hold and grasp the leaves. Slowly introduce them to the new pot and outdoor environment over two weeks. Moving too quickly can harm their health.

3. Care for Your Growing Bell Peppers

As your bell peppers work their way toward maturity, your only job is to keep them well-watered and in full sun. Give them a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight per day and re-pot them as needed into bigger containers.

It’s also good to stake your peppers, as this encourages them to grow up instead of out. Once the plant reaches 18 inches in height, pinch off the top leaves to encourage fuller foliage growth and a higher fruit yield.

4. Fertilize Your Bell Pepper Plants

Once you start seeing flowers, it’s time to fertilize your plants. The best option is a liquid fertilizer that is high in potassium. Continue watering your plants regularly to keep them healthy, strong, and ready for fruit production.

5. Harvest Your Bell Peppers

When the fruits are ready to be harvested, you can pick them in two ways:

  • Take a firm hold of the pepper and twist to detach the stem from the main plant.
  • Using a pair of pruners, cut the stem to free the fruit quickly and easily.

When and How Often Should You Water Bell Peppers?

When growing bell peppers, you don’t have to adhere to a strict watering schedule. In fact, doing so can be bad for your plants, as you will more than likely end up over- or underwatering them. Instead of trying to keep up with a set schedule, check your plants both visually and physically to determine whether they need water or not.

The best way to determine whether your bell pepper is “thirsty” or not is by sticking your finger an inch deep into the soil. If the soil is damp, do not water it. That would be far too much, and you put the plant at risk of root rot. Let the soil dry out a bit before topping it off. Using a drip irrigation system is the best option for an outdoor, in-ground plant.

When to Pick Bell Peppers?

When to harvest bell peppers is mostly a matter of preference. Bell pepper fruits typically mature between 60-90 days after emerging from the flower. You can pick a pepper when it is unripened and green if that’s what you prefer, or wait a bit longer for it to turn yellow, orange, or red. 

When picking your peppers, you don’t just go by size to determine when they are ready since this trait can vary widely. You’ll also need to pay attention to how it feels. By squeezing the pepper and noting whether it is firm or still flexible, you can tell when it’s ready to come off the plant. Peppers that are firm, especially when gently squeezed, are ready for harvest.

As long as they’re firm, you can take it from the plant at whatever color you like.

Are Bell Pepper Plants Self-Pollinating?

Bell pepper plants are self-pollinating, so you don’t have to worry about attracting pollinator insects or fulfilling the job yourself to get your fruit to grow. Still, the extra help doesn’t hurt. When insects such as honeybees or butterflies land on the flowers, they dislodge the pollen, helping it move from the male reproductive parts to the female organs.

This enables the pepper plant to pollinate itself. However, don’t worry if there aren’t any bugs around. Wind also helps to move the pollen from Point A to B, so your plant will produce fruit no matter what. You can also assist the process by using a paint brush – this can be helpful for pepper plants that are grown indoors.

Will Bell Peppers Ripen Off the Plant and How Long Does It Take?

If your peppers have not naturally ripened on the plant before the frost sets in, you may want to take matters into your own hands. You don’t want to leave your peppers out in the cold, as they will die.

You can easily ripen the bell peppers yourself by placing them in a brown paper bag along with a ripe tomato. The ethylene gas emitted by the ripened tomato will speed up the maturation of your bell peppers and get you a ripe fruit in no time. The timeframe for this process will depend on the temperature in which you store the fruit:

  • 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit: 2 weeks
  • 55 degrees Fahrenheit: 3-4 weeks

How Big Do Bell Pepper Plants Get?

There are hundreds of varieties of bell pepper plants, so there’s no single standard that can predict how large they all will grow. Generally, the most common types of bell pepper plants grow to the heights listed below:

Bell Pepper VarietyAverage Height at Maturity (inches)
Sweet California Wonder18-24
Cabernet36 )
Islander18-24
Candy Apple28
Golden Bell24-36

How Many Bell Peppers Do You Get Per Plant?

The number of fruit you get from your plant depends heavily on how you care for it. Assuming you fertilize it consistently, provide well-draining soil, and offer enough water to keep it hydrated, your pepper plant should produce 3.6 lbs of fruit. This is the equivalent of 10-18 bell peppers per plant.

Are Bell Peppers Annual or Perennial?

Bell peppers are highly flexible and can be grown as either an annual or perennial. According to the University of Kentucky, these plants grow as annuals when cultivated in temperate regions. However, when in their native tropical home range, they will develop as perennials.

If you live in a temperate region and want your bell pepper to grow as a perennial, simply bring your bell pepper plant inside for the winter and provide cold protection. The instructions below will help you overwinter your plants:

  1. Cut your pepper plant’s foliage back. This will help the pepper conserve its energy since it won’t have to sustain many unnecessary leaves in the wintertime.
  2. Backfill the pot with a small amount of potting soil to give the plant a nutritional boost while it rests.
  3. Add a layer of mulch on top of the soil to keep it insulated.

Common Pests to Watch Out for When Growing Peppers

Just like all naturally grown plants, bell peppers are vulnerable to pest infestations. When defending against detrimental insects, it’s best to be proactive. It can be challenging to control the insects after they’ve established themselves and begun to reproduce, so you have to stay ahead of the curve.

Keep an eye out for the following species when caring for your bell peppers:

  • Aphids: These are tiny insects that can be hard to notice until it’s too late. They may cause yellowing or distortion of the leaves but can be removed by pruning the affected stems and foliage or spraying with a concentrated stream of water. Apply diluted neem oil to severe infestations.
  • Leafminers: These infestations are immediately noticeable due to the white trails they leave on the leaves’ surface. They usually cause leaves to develop white blotches and drop from the plant and cause weaker fruit yields.
  • Pepper weevil: Since they prefer the younger, fresher parts of the plant, weevils often cause severe damage to flower buds and young, emerging fruit when feeding. This can cause the flower bud or fruit to fall from the plant.
  • Thrips: These insects often distort the pepper’s leaves and flower buds. You may notice a silver sheen on the leaves’ surface and scattered black feces.

Common Mistakes Gardeners Make When Growing Bell Peppers

Whether you’re brand new to gardening or an established gardener, you’re bound to make a few mistakes when growing pepper plants. Some of the most common mishaps to watch out for include:

  • Planting your peppers too close together. It’s best to plant your peppers 12-18 inches apart.
  • Inconsistent watering. This will increase your pepper’s risk of developing blossom end rot. Try to stay as consistent with watering as possible. Going too long between watering and then flooding the plant is a bad idea.
  • Overfertilizing your pepper plants. Too much fertilizer will either burn the plant or cause it to grow more leaves than fruit. Apply a balanced NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) fertilizer at the start of the season for the best result.
  • Neglecting to overwinter your plant. Remember that pepper plants are naturally perennials, so you don’t have to dump them out every year if you overwinter them properly!
  • Failing to control the temperature. Your bell pepper plants love heat, but not too much. If the heat exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit, move the plant to a shady spot or pitch a 30-50 percent shade cloth over the garden.

What is the Best Way to Store Bell Peppers?

After a hefty harvest, you may be unable to eat all your peppers before they start to rot. Pepper plants are very prolific producers, so it is highly likely that there will be too much for you and your family to consume in one sitting. If this is the case, you’ll want to keep them fresh for future meals so as not to waste your bounty.

There are three primary ways to store your freshly harvested bell peppers:

  • Freezing: Cut off the top of the bell pepper, remove the seeds, and dice or roughly chop them for use in later dishes.
  • Drying: Allow your peppers to dry naturally by placing them on a counter in your home in a medium container, such as a glass bowl or weaved basket. You can also dehydrate them in a low-temperature oven or a dehydrator.
  • Canning: You can choose a pickling solution of your choice and preserve your peppers that way, or you can incorporate them into a relish.

How Long Do Bell Peppers Last?

The length of time you can keep your bell peppers fresh depends entirely on how you’ve chosen to store them. Refrigerated bell peppers typically last only one to two weeks, while dehydrated fruits can be kept for as long as one year. If you choose to can your peppers in a pickling solution, they’ll last for approximately two years.

Closing Thoughts

Bell peppers are some of the most beginner-friendly plants you can grow. They can be grown in Hardiness Zones 4-11 and require loose, slightly acidic to neutral soil for the best drainage and root growth. Your plant will require a long growing season, and fruits will ripen in 60-90 days once it matures. After harvesting, you can store bell peppers by freezing, dehydrating, or preserving them.

Here are Some of my Favorite Gardening Products and Tools

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful for growing some new plants in your home or garden. Here are some products I like that I hope you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, and I am compensated for referring traffic. But in all honesty, these are the exact product that I use or recommend to everyone.

Soil: For high-quality soil, I really like Fox Farm Ocean Forest. I do all my growing in containers and this soil has worked great for me. I like how they use nutrient-rich contents like earthworm castings, bat guano, and composted crab and fish.

Fertilizer: Currently I am using a seaweed-based organic fertilizer call Neptunes Harvest. This is a great milder fertilizer option if you want to use something organic. If you want a more powerful fertilizer, I recommend Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio, lots of people have had great growing success with this product.

Pruning Shears: Pruning shears are one of the most useful gardening tools to have because it’s important to prune your plants to keep them healthy. The pruning shears I recommend are the Gonicc 8’’ pruning shears. I like them because they are built sturdy and work both on bigger and smaller plants, so you don’t need to have multiple pruning shears.

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Supriya

Hi! I'm Supriya. I'm a home cook, bulldog mom, spicy food lover, and founder of The Spicy Trio. I have been a home cook for about 15 years and have been growing plants for the past six years.

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