If you’ve just started planning the perfect layout for your veggie garden, you might be looking for some ideas on what to grow. As temperatures slowly start to rise in the spring, you may be dreaming about vibrant tomato vines, mouth-watering cucumbers, or the perfect bell pepper plant.
While bell peppers might not be the easiest fruit to grow — yes, just like tomatoes, bell peppers are technically a fruit — they are certainly well worth the challenge. These warm-weather species make a great addition to refreshing salads or as a healthy afternoon snack. They’re also great eaten raw or cooked.
With that in mind, it’s time to learn the fundamentals of growing a bountiful bell pepper plant. We’ll show you the different types of peppers to consider and the basic elements needed to cultivate these delicious, versatile, and crisp veggies (er, fruit).
Peppers 101: Pepper Varieties
The bell pepper plant (Capsicum annum) belongs to the nightshade family, which spans more than 2,300 species, including eggplants, potatoes, and tomatoes. One of the greatest attributes of peppers is that they come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, making them one of the most versatile foods used in many different cuisines worldwide.
Unlike their spicier cousins — like jalapeños and serrano peppers — bell peppers do not contain capsaicin, the compound responsible for pungency and heat in hot peppers.
Ever wondered if green bell peppers and red peppers come from different plants? Well, they’re actually the same pepper that are simply at different maturity stages. They start green, but if you leave them to mature on the plant long enough, they’ll eventually achieve their full color: a bright and deep crimson red.
Fun fact: The longer you allow your bell peppers to mature, the higher their vitamin C content. Red bell peppers that are allowed to mature fully also have a sweeter flavor!
While peppers are quite resilient to garden pests, you may want to opt for resistant varieties to ensure your pepper-growing experience goes smoothly. Some of the best species include:
- Green peppers that turn into red sweet peppers: Sweet red Marconi, Lady bell, Gypsy, Lipstick, Bellboy, Sweet California wonder
- Orange peppers: Orange sun, Milena
- Yellow peppers: Golden California wonder, Honey bell, Marengo
No matter if you decide to grow just one type of bell pepper plant or you want to put your gardening skills to the test with a pepper bundle, you’ll need to learn the basics of how to grow thriving and healthy plants.
How to Grow a Bell Pepper Plant: The Basics
The first thing you should know about bell pepper plants is that they’re quite sensitive to cold temperatures, so it’s a good idea to start them indoors before their growing season begins (spring/summer).
Keep in mind that sweet bell peppers have a long growing season — they take between 60 to 90 days from sowing to harvesting — so the sooner you get started, the better. It’s recommended to sow your bell pepper seeds 8 to 10 weeks before your last spring frost date. You can use the Back to the Roots grow calendar to find out when that is.
Germination occurs within 10 days, and once the first set of true leaves appears, you can begin transplanting them outside if that’s your goal. (Bonus: Bell pepper plants can also be grown indoors.)
But before you move your bell pepper plant out into the open, make sure to check that the nighttime temperatures do not go below 70°F, as this may shock your young plants and contribute to their premature demise. The best way to support these plants is to wait for the last frost danger to pass.
Get Enough Sun
As a true warm-weather crop, bell peppers love direct sunlight and full sun, so place them in a location where nothing is blocking the light. If you live in a climate with extreme high heat and intense sunlight, your peppers may be susceptible to sunscald, especially the younger leaves and more tender fruits. While they may look aesthetically unappealing, sunscalded bell peppers are still edible and equally tasty.
Bear in mind that to produce large and healthy fruit, pepper plants need plenty of full sun, at least 6 to 8 hours every day.
Don’t Water Too Much
Finding the right watering balance is the key factor to a thriving bell pepper plant. Since sweet bell peppers cannot tolerate extremely high temperatures, it’s essential to water them appropriately to prevent diseases. If you live in a desert climate or experience a very dry summer season, it may be necessary to hydrate your plants daily — especially in the early morning or evening to prevent water evaporation.
To avoid diseases and pests, such as anthracnose or blossom end rot, avoid overhead watering and make sure you water deeply and evenly at the base of the plant. By doing so, you encourage the development of a strong and healthy root system, which in turn will make your plant more resilient to overcome any bumps in the road.
Select the Perfect Soil
Bell pepper plants prefer sandy to loamy soil, which is enriched with organic matter. You can either buy a potting mix with these characteristics or purchase all the elements individually and create your own. If you’re not sure what the best option is, don’t be shy — ask one of the staff members at your local Home Depot Garden Center for an opinion.
Note: Fertilizing is an important step in vegetable gardening. But don’t go crazy and over-fertilize as it usually encourages your plant to grow more foliage and produce less fruit, which is obviously not the goal.
Since water is vital for growing bell peppers, choosing the proper soil is undoubtedly the best way to ensure optimal moisture levels. These plants don’t like wet feet, so opting for sandy, loamy soil will ensure good drainage and help the soil temperature rise quicker, a key factor in the cultivation of bell peppers.
Equally important is the soil pH. Veteran gardeners claim that a slightly more acidic soil (between 6.0 and 6.8) is the optimal environment for your bell pepper plant to yield a bountiful harvest. Mixing some coffee grounds into the potting mix is a natural, eco-friendly way to balance the pH levels of the soil and support your plant’s growth.
Pro tip: To prevent blossom end rot — which is primarily a calcium nutrient deficiency — crush some eggshells and add them to the soil. It’s an easy, organic way to provide your plants with an extra nutritional boost.
To speed up the warming of the soil and help retain some moisture during hotter days, consider covering it with a dark mulch.
Choose Your Container
If you live in a small apartment with a tiny balcony and think you don’t have enough space to grow bell pepper plants, think again!
Bell peppers are a perfect match for container gardening and raised beds, so you can easily squeeze them into even the smallest spaces. Since these veggies (OK, fruits) require good drainage, a raised fabric bed — like this one from Back to the Roots — is a fantastic and affordable home for your bell pepper plant.
The Back to the Roots Fabric Raised Beds are made with durable felt and are double stitched, so you can easily move them around without worries. They also come with internal grow walls to prevent root tangling between different plants, which means you can plant all sorts of different veggies, herbs, and houseplants simultaneously.
Keep in mind that, like tomatoes, bell peppers benefit from some type of staking or structural support. Tomato cages are a great alternative, and they’re easy to set up. Just make sure you put them in place when the plants are still young, as it can be tricky to position them around fully mature plants.
Growing Bell Pepper Plants Is Rewarding and Fun
The coolest thing about peppers is that they come in all sizes and shapes, and you can find a variety that caters to your taste. From sweet to spicy, they offer a great range of flavors that will take your cooking to the next level.
While growing and maintaining a bell pepper plant does come with its challenges, you’ll feel incredibly proud when that first tiny pepper makes its debut in the world. To learn more tips and tricks for cultivating these crunchy and delicious edibles, check out our comprehensive guide on how to grow peppers from seed to harvest.