When planning your garden, be sure to include the bell pepper plant. They are not as sensitive to growing conditions as some garden plants, such as tomatoes, and can be enjoyed both while they are green and when mature. If you have bell peppers remaining after this extended harvest season, they are easy to freeze and add to recipes through the winter months.
Bell pepper plants are transplanted into the garden as seedlings. They require warm soil and a long growing season, so they are not a good choice for starting outdoors.
When you are ready to transplant the seedlings, select a spot that receives full sun and has well-drained soil. Working some compost into the soil a few days before planting ensures your bell peppers get the nutrition they need.
Bell pepper plants are compact and can be grown in containers on a patio. For garden planting, space seedlings about 18 inches apart. When planning your garden layout, do not plant the peppers in a spot where members of the nightshade family, such as tomatoes and eggplants, were grown in recent years. Doing so may expose the peppers to Fusarium wilt, which can stunt and kill them.
Bell pepper plants require at least 6 hours of full sun each day. They thrive in warm conditions and prefer daytime temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees F and nighttime temperatures that remain above 50 degrees F. Wait until all danger of frost is past before placing outside. In USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11, the bell pepper plant can be treated as a perennial, but most people will grow it as an annual. Annuals can be grown in zones 1 through 11.
Depending on what your summer weather is like, your bell pepper may need supplemental watering to produce the best fruit. They generally need between an inch to an inch and a half of water a week. Regular watering sessions that keep the soil evenly moist, rather than allowing the soil to dry out completely, are better for the bell pepper. Adequate water is most important when the plant is setting blooms and producing fruit.
A variety of pests will make a meal out of the bell pepper. Cutworms, stink bugs, aphids, and spider mites can all cause damage. If you have a small infestation, picking the offending bugs from the plant or spraying water over the plant to rinse them away may be enough to keep your plants healthy. For heavier infestations, a horticultural oil spray can fend off the invaders.
Bell pepper plants can develop phytophthora blight, which is a fungal disease, and root rot from overwatering or being planted in an area with poorly-drained soil. Blossom end rot causes the fruit to develop dark sunken spots. This can come from low levels of calcium in the soil or planting in areas with low pH levels. Lack of water can also lead to blossom end rot.
Bell pepper plants have shallow root systems, so applying a few inches of mulch helps them retain moisture and protects the roots from temperature fluctuations.
As the first fruits begin to set, switch to a low-nitrogen fertilizer. Too much nitrogen encourages leafy growth rather than fruit production.
Some bell pepper plants are sturdy and do not need added support. If you notice any of your plants beginning droop, a tomato cage or stake will keep them upright. As they get taller and the fruit matures, the added weight can damage the plant.
Most people choose to start bell pepper plants from seed indoors or purchase ready-to-transplant seedlings. You can, however, propagate bell peppers to produce exact copies of the parent plant. You may be interested in this if you have a favorite hybrid or enjoyed a particular pepper and aren't sure of the variety.
Take the cutting from a healthy plant, selecting a stem with several small branches. The cutting should be about four inches long. Cut directly below a leaf node, and leave the top two sets of leaves on the cutting, removing everything else. Dip in rooting hormone and place in a rooting medium — a lightweight combination of sand with vermiculite or peat. Loosely cover the plants with plastic wrap to help them retain moisture. Keep them in a warm area that receives indirect light, and spray the soil with water as needed to keep it moist.
After a few weeks, move the transplants into individual pots. You will need to keep the young pepper plants inside over the winter and transplant them into your garden the following spring.
Unlike many vegetables, you aren't on a tight timeframe when harvesting bell peppers. Picking them when they are still green is fine, as is allowing them to mature until they are red, yellow, or purple. When fully mature, the bell pepper has a sweeter, milder flavor.
Regardless of when you choose to harvest, use sharp garden shears or even kitchen scissors to remove the fruit from the stem. Pulling the fruit off of the plant by hand can damage the stem, halting production for the year.
You know that your green bell peppers are ready to harvest when they are full-size and firm. Left alone, they will soften as the walls thin out and change color. Harvesting frequently throughout the summer encourages your plant to continue producing fruit.
Bell peppers are a fun and nutritious addition to any garden. They are easy to grow and prolific, which makes the whole process that much more rewarding. Eaten raw, whether green or mature, they provide a flavorful snack.
Bell peppers are rich in vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, folate, and iron. One thing to keep in mind is that mature bell peppers provide higher levels of nutrients than peppers harvested while they are green.