No matter the season, you can always find something fun to plant. Peppers are the perfect warm-weather crop to add to your garden.
There are so many different varieties of peppers you can choose. From sweet bell peppers to fiery habanero and everything in between, you might have a hard time narrowing it down to just one or two. But the good news is you don’t have to.
In this guide, you’ll learn about pepper plants and how best to set up your garden for a successful harvest. You’ll also get some top growing tips to keep them healthy, and find out how to grow them indoors so you can enjoy peppers year-round.
Getting to Know Peppers
Peppers are part of the nightshade family and are perennials in their native tropical American habitats. Outside of these regions, pepper plants thrive as summer annuals.
Evidence of peppers has been discovered in prehistoric remains in Peru and Mexico. The first pepper seeds found their way to Europe in 1493, where they then spread to the rest of the world.
You can find peppers in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors ranging from spicy to sweet.
If you’ve ever felt like your mouth was on fire after biting into a jalapeño or Thai chili pepper, it’s because of something called capsaicin. This chemical, which was first isolated in 1876, gives peppers their pungent aroma and spicy qualities.
But not all peppers are like this. Bell peppers, for example, have very little capsaicin and are typically on the sweeter side.
The amount of capsaicin in peppers is measured by the Scoville heat scale. Developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912, the Scoville scale gives you an idea of how spicy a pepper is — unless you want to find out through first-hand experience.
Sweet peppers rank the lowest on the scale with nearly zero Scoville heat units (SHU). In contrast, spicier hatch chili peppers rank between 2,000-5,000 SHU. The hottest peppers, such as ghost peppers or Carolina Reapers, have the highest Scoville rating with 855,000-2,200,000 SHU in each pepper.
Some people are more sensitive to capsaicin than others. When it comes to peppers on the scorching side of the Scoville scale, you’ll want to handle those peppers with care. Wear gloves and wash your hands to be on the safe side.
Different Pepper Varieties
Whether you’re looking for a pepper to add a kick to your favorite dish, or something sweet to snack on, there’s a pepper variety for you.
Remember, peppers are native to warmer regions. When you’re choosing seeds, pay attention to the temperature ranges needed to germinate properly. Some pepper species do better with colder temperatures than others, making them easier to grow than those that need constant warmth.
Not all peppers germinate at the same rate either. Keep that in mind when you’re picking seeds and planning your garden to find the best fit for you and your family.
Here’s a short list of our favorites to get you started:
- Jalapeño Peppers: These green peppers are great for beginners and are a perfect multi-purpose chili pepper. Try using them for jalapeño poppers, in an omelet, or pickling them for homemade pizza night.
- Anaheim Peppers: If jalapeños are a little too spicy for you, check out Anaheim peppers. They’re green like jalapeños, but are longer and more curved. Although a hot pepper, they’re milder and a little more family-friendly. Try swapping in some chopped Anaheim peppers the next time you whip up a batch of salsa.
- Habanero Peppers: When you really want to feel the heat, plant some habanero peppers in your garden. These small orange peppers pack a punch, but you can expect a pleasing citrus flavor for your trouble. Add sparingly to give your meal a kick or save them for a tasty hot sauce.
- Bell Peppers: Bell peppers come in various colors, including green, yellow, orange, red, and even purple! The greener and less ripe they are, the less sweet they’ll be. For a sweeter pepper, wait until they turn orange and red. Save them for snacking, or use them wherever you’d like to lend a dish a sweeter flavor or color.
- Sweet Banana Peppers: These fun peppers are long and yellow, and like others on our list, they’re a perfect addition to salsa. If you’re feeling creative, these are great for pickling and sprinkling on salads.
- Cherry Peppers: OK, cherry peppers can be a little spicy but hear us out. Also called pimento, roasting these peppers brings out a delightful sweetness that works in pasta dishes, sandwiches, pizza, you name it. These are perfect for pickling too.
How To Grow Peppers
Peppers aren’t the easiest plants to grow outside of warmer climates, and even in ideal conditions, you still face the threat of pests and disease. Be prepared to give your pepper plants a little more attention — it’ll be well worth the extra effort. Here are a few tips to help you out.
When to Plant
Live in a region with a shorter growing season? Check when the last frost is in your area by consulting the Old Farmer’s Almanac. You don’t want to plant anything until you know that frost date.
Depending on frost conditions, start seeds indoors where they can stay warm. Once your plant seedlings are mature, transplanting young plants is an easy process. You can also shop for pepper varieties that are more resistant to cooler weather if you don’t live in a warm climate.
If nighttime temperatures are chilly, try using black plastic sheeting to absorb heat during the day and insulate them in the evening. You can also repurpose any plastic bags to help with this. Alternatively, you can spread mulch to help maintain soil temperatures, fend off pests, and help with soil drainage.
Choosing Your Soil
When it comes to dirt, you’ll want to choose the best potting soil you can find. It will help with germination, and the more organic matter in your garden soil, the better. You won’t need to use organic fertilizer as often because your plants will be getting all the nutrients they need. Be sure and test your soil pH as well. Peppers do best in soil that has a pH between 6.5 and 7.
For the most successful pepper gardens, make sure you have enough room to properly space out your pepper seedlings. Spacing pepper plants 18 inches apart, and in rows 30-36 inches apart will give them ample room to grow. If the weather is on the cooler side and below 60 degrees when you plant, move them a little closer together.
Sunlight and Watering
As your seedlings grow, pay attention to when they start developing true leaves. These are what the leaves on the plant will look like once it fully matures.
Once the new leaves show up, it’s essential to thin them slightly as you want to make sure all of your plants are getting enough sunlight. Without it, the stems will grow taller without being strong enough to support themselves, and they’ll start to bend over. If this happens, track down some garden stakes. By staking your plants, they’ll grow taller, get stronger, and do better in windy conditions.
Full sun will give you ideal fruit production and the best-tasting fruit, so make sure your peppers get plenty of it. Still, you don’t want them to get too hot. Extreme temperatures can adversely affect your plants. Believe it or not, your peppers can get sunburned if they don’t get enough shade from surrounding leaves.
Be sure to avoid overwatering but keep it consistent. If your plants get too dry, they’ll become susceptible to disease.
Follow the directions on your seed packets to know when it’s the right time to harvest peppers. Some, like jalapeños, should be picked when they’re green. With bell peppers, you have the option of waiting until they’re yellow, orange, or red and develop more sweetness.
Watch for Pests and Diseases
Like any plant, you’ll want to keep an eye out for certain pests and diseases that could ravage your pepper crop.
You won’t have to worry about playing detective if you have cutworms in your garden as the damage they leave behind is unmistakable. Cutworms wrap themselves around your plants and chew through the stems at soil level. Expect to see broken plants if they’ve been nearby.
Aphids are small, but you’ll likely notice them on the undersides of leaves, so you’ll want to start using insecticidal soap or another form of natural pest control. This goes for flea beetles as well, which are another nuisance. While ladybugs love feasting on aphids and will keep their numbers in check, don’t expect them to take care of flea beetles.
Most peppers are naturally disease resistant, but it isn’t a guarantee you won’t have any hiccups along the way.
Make sure your pepper plants have access to enough water and good soil drainage. If they don’t, you’re more likely to see blossom end rot take hold. Any hollow or dented looking areas on the end of your peppers mean trouble, so toss them out and be diligent about watering them.
If you didn’t start your peppers from seed, carefully inspect store-bought plants for any bugs trying to hitch a ride before you bring them home. They could quickly spread to other fruits and veggies in your garden.
Growing Peppers Indoors
We’ll be honest: growing peppers indoors can be a little tricky. Still, with the right setup, you can sidestep some issues other gardeners have and be well on your way to harvesting peppers from your indoor garden.
Part of what makes growing peppers indoors a challenge is making sure they’re getting enough light and warmth. You’ll want to consider these factors when you’re deciding where to put them in your home.
If you can’t find a spot with enough direct sunlight, think about setting up a hydroponic garden with grow lights to make sure they’re getting the exposure they need — which can be up to 16 hours in a particularly dark environment.
On the other hand, if you have plenty of light in your home and want to keep it super simple, pick up a grower kit. Back to the Roots Chili Pepper Mason Jar Kit comes with everything you need to get started, from the perfect soil blend and fertilizer to organic pepper seeds.
Even better, all Back to the Roots seeds are always 100% organic and always grown in the United States. Get ready to add peppers grown with love to pasta dishes, pizza, sandwiches, and more.
You Can Grow Peppers Year-Round
If you love gardening, it might be worth taking the time to learn how to grow peppers in your yard. Whether you stick to planting pepper seeds in warmer months or try your hand at having an indoor pepper garden, they’re fun to grow and make lovely additions to nearly any dish.
With some planning, patience, and care, you can have a blossoming pepper garden to enjoy whenever you wish.