Growing Peppers 101

Growing Peppers 101

By Riley Holt

Growing peppers can be both thrilling and testing for flavor aficionados. Whether you're passionate about the spice or just looking to add some zest to your culinary adventures, the journey requires much attention to ensure a harvest of healthy pepper pods. Here are some HOT tips for growing peppers in your garden. 

Choose Your Variety

When choosing your pepper plants, you could go for well-known pepper varieties available at your local grocery store. But with over 50,000 pepper varieties in the world there are so many unexplored, flavor-packed peppers. To find unique pepper seeds, you can explore various online seed banks, specialty nurseries, and reputable pepper grower platforms such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The Scoville Scale, which defines the level of perceived heat pungency, can also help you to  decide on which pepper to grow. Find a pepper whose heat matches your ideal tolerance and then look for peppers near this range. 

Starting Peppers


This is the 1-4 week period (depending on the variety of your pepper) where seeds become seedlings. When growing pepper plants from seeds, mastering the germination process is key to a flourishing harvest. The best time to start the germination process is indoors 8-10 weeks before the last expected frost in your area. They germinate best if the soil is constantly warm and moist. A simple “seed starting” mix in dixie cups works great. Keeping the soil at around 80°F to 90° is ideal for most successful germination. You can keep your seeds warm by using a heat mat or grow light, and providing a cover. When your seeds start to sprout, remove the cover and make sure they have sunlight. 

The Ideal Environment

From sweet, to spicy, to eye-watering heat, all peppers favor a long warm growing season. Whether you are trying to grow the infamous Carolina Reaper, the sweet and grassy jalapeño, or anything in between, peppers thrive in environments that mirror their tropical origins. These heat-loving fruits demand ample sunlight, ideally 6-8 hours of direct sun per day. Warm temperatures from 70°F to 80°F foster prime growth and stimulate capsaicin, the fiery chemical  responsible for a peppers spiciness. Spacing your pepper plants about 18-24 inches apart allows room for growth and ensures each plant gets healthy amounts of sunlight. 

Pepper Plants Need Sunlight

Hardening Your Pepper Plants 

When your plants are around 4-6 inches tall and have a few true leaves, they’re ready for hardening. This means taking them outdoors for a few hours every day, working up to a full day and night over a week's time. This acclimates your plants to the sun and weather conditions so they don’t freak out in a new environment. 


If you are growing your peppers outdoors in beds, you may not need to water them more than once a week depending on the amount of rain in your area. You’ll know it's time to water them when the top inch of the soil is dry. Watering frequency of container peppers can vary based on weather patterns. You should check your potted peppers soil everyday since they can't draw moisture from the ground. Pepper plants are highly sensitive to overwatering; it can kill them or lead to wilted leaves and root rot. The most common issue for new pepper-growers is overwatering, so air on the side of less water. Keep a close eye on your pepper plants for signs of water stress such as yellow or droopy leaves.

A healthy young pepper plant


Some gardeners prefer all natural fertilizer, while others go for faster, synthetic options. But the key chemical elements required for peppers are the same. For peppers, using two fertilizers are suggested for the growing season. The first-stage fertilizer has nitrogen which promotes the growth of strong leaves and roots, while the second stage fertilizer encourages fruit production. This Miracle-Gro organic fertilizer is great for the early growth stage of your peppers. About halfway through the growing season, or when your pepper plants have started growing flowers, it's time to switch to a second-stage fertilizer that has less nitrogen and more phosphorus and potassium. This Fox Farm fertilizer is a highly trusted and efficient fertilizer for the fruiting stage. Be sure to read the instructions carefully. As far as fertilizing frequency goes, follow the packaging guidelines of the fertilizers you decide to choose. 

Survival of the Fittest 

The practice of pulling up plants at the end of the growing season is often related to the life cycle and productivity of certain crops, including peppers. As pepper plants age, their productivity can decline. With older plants especially, most farmers opt to remove plants towards the end of the season. Older plants usually produce fewer fruits, and the quality of the peppers can decrease. Young pepper plants tend to allocate more energy towards fruit production, while older plants may direct energy towards maintaining existing foliage and roots. Removing older plants allows the allocation of resources to younger plants, potentially leading to more robust fruiting.

The Harvest

The time it takes for pepper plants to produce mature pepper pods can vary depending on factors such as the pepper variety, growing conditions, and climate. The time from fruit development to the first harvest depends on the specific pepper variety. The general timeline for the harvest is around 8-14 weeks after the flowering stage. The flavor is the last element in the development process, so for the juiciest and tastiest peppers, let them reach full coloring and maturity before picking. Use a sharp knife or pruners to pick your peppers, leaving a short stem attached to the pod. If you're harvesting a hot variety make sure to use gloves to protect your skin, eyes, nose and mouth from oils. 

Post Harvest

Enjoy your fresh peppers in salads, stir-fries, and countless cooked dishes. 

Here are some options of how to store your peppers: 

  • You can store your peppers in the refrigerator in plastic bags or vegetable crisper drawers to prolong their freshness. 
  • You can air dry them. String whole peppers together and hang them in a dry, well-ventilated area. Once dried, you can crush them or use them whole.
  • You can freeze them. Wash, seed, and chop peppers and place them on a tray to go in the freezer. Once they're frozen, you can transfer them to the freezer safe bags. Depending on your variety, frozen peppers will stay good for at least 6 months to over a year.

While growing pepper plants comes with time and challenges, it is also incredibly rewarding and worth the wait. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a beginner, each growing season presents opportunities to refine your pepper gardening skills. Welcome experimentation, learn from successes and challenges, and try new varieties. Enjoy your peppers! 

Back to blog