All About Growing Peppers
As gardeners, we are always looking for the next best thing to grow. Whether it’s a giant sauce tomato or a mini cucumber to pickle, we are searching for something to inspire a new recipe or show off to friends and family. While it’s tempting to add a new tomato to the garden, why not try a pepper or two instead?
The pepper, or Capsicum, is a member of the nightshade family—just like the tomato. Records show peppers date back thousands of years to Central and South America, where they were used by native cultures. It wasn’t until the late 1400s that the pepper was introduced to Europe, where it quickly gained popularity. It has become such an integral part of so many food cultures—Latin, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Eastern European, African, and Asian—it’s no surprise peppers are among the top 10 crops for home gardeners to grow.
If you would love a plethora of peppers to call your own, you can easily grow them in an EarthBox® garden! Use our tips and helpful info below to learn more.
How to Grow the Best Peppers
Growing your own peppers is easy! Here are the benefits of growing peppers in the EarthBox® container gardening system:
- Peppers require consistent watering—Potting medium should remain steadily moist for peppers to thrive, and the EarthBox® Original gardening system happily takes on the task with its large water reservoir.
Pro Tip: To avoid having to fill the water reservoir each day, consider adding the EarthBox® Automatic Watering System (AWS) so you never have to lug heavy watering cans or garden hoses again!
- Peppers require warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine to grow healthy—they do best in full sun with daytime temperatures between 70-90 degrees, and evenings that do not dip below 60 or exceed 75 degrees. If you put your system on casters, you can easily move your garden around to provide your plants with optimal sunlight, or shade if it gets too hot. The EarthBox® Frost Cover can also help growers in cooler climates get an early start; or extend your growing time if temperatures get too cool later in the season. If you’re unsure of your frost-free dates, check your USDA Zone before planting, as peppers are a bit temperamental.
- Peppers need some support—Another key to success is giving pepper plants proper support. The EarthBox® 3’ Staking System offers just the right support your plants need! Pepper stems can be easily secured to the top bar to prevent them from uprooting under their own weight, since they have shallow root systems.
- Follow our tried and true guidance—In our years, we’ve grown all different kinds of peppers, both hot and sweet. Trust us and follow our instruction manual, planting chart, and growing guide so you can be successful, too!
(Place 6 pepper seedlings in the EarthBox® Original gardening system, evenly spacing 3 apart on each long side of the system, with fertilizer placement in the center.)
Types of Peppers
Peppers come in different shapes, sizes, colors, and tastes. These characteristics play a major role in how the fruit is used, but all pepper varieties share a couple common traits:
- Their small white flowers are botanically perfect, meaning they have both male and female parts—thus capable of self-pollinating. Outdoors, the natural movement from wind aids in moving the plant enough to help disperse pollen from the stamens to the stigma.
- They all grow upright and bushy with shallow root systems, and need to be harvested regularly in order to keep producing blossoms and setting fruit.
Seed catalogs and plant tags at the garden center readily identify each variety’s category. Peppers are categorized by shape and/or flavor:
- Bell Peppers*
Bell pepper plants tend to grow taller in size, producing sweet larger-lobed, boxy-shaped fruits in a kaleidoscope of colors: red, orange, yellow, bright green, purple, brown, and pale yellow-white. Bell peppers are always sweet and have a high concentration of Vitamin C.
- Sweet Peppers
Non-bell sweet pepper varieties mostly produce medium-large, elongated fruits that may have a very mild piquant flavor. For those who are sensitive to spicy foods, many sweet peppers can be substituted in recipes that call for hot peppers, without sacrificing classic pepper flavor.
- Hot Peppers
Also called Chili (or Chile) peppers, hot pepper plants usually grow compact and bushy, producing small fruits that may be long and skinny, or globe-shaped. Unlike sweet peppers, hot peppers should always be handled with gloves to avoid burning skin or nail beds, and to avoid potential cross-contamination. Hot peppers are rated by spicy-heat (from capsaicin) in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) on the Scoville scale.
*Note: Some seed companies and commercial growers categorize bell peppers and sweet peppers together. All bell varieties are sweet, but not all sweet peppers have the same boxy or blocky shape as a bell pepper.
Cross-Pollination of Sweet and Hot Peppers
Despite what you may believe about cross-pollination of sweet and hot peppers, there is no need to grow hot peppers separately from sweet peppers in an attempt to avoid turning sweet pepper fruit spicy.
Pepper blossoms are self-pollinating, which greatly reduces the chance of cross-pollination at all. Even so, the fruit of a sweet pepper will remain sweet even if the plant cross-pollinates with a hot pepper because the entire plant is already genetically coded to produce sweet fruit.
Cross-pollination of sweet and hot varieties would only pose a potential problem if you want to save the seeds of the fruit to grow the next generation of plants. If pollen from a hot pepper fertilizes the blossom of a sweet pepper, all of the hot pepper genetics go into the seeds of the fruit produced from that fertilized blossom. If the seeds of the fruit are saved and germinated to grow a new plant, the mixed genetics can factor in to how the fruit looks and tastes. This could lead to a pepper that looks sweet, but may have the spiciness of the hot pepper it was crossed with.
Rest assured, when you purchase sweet pepper seeds or seedlings, the fruit they bear will be in accordance to their description, regardless of pollination.
Growing Peppers in the EarthBox®
Choosing the right type of peppers for your taste and needs is crucial to getting started. Pepper plants have a tendency to grow medium-tall and bushy; so we don’t suggest pairing any other types of plants in the same growing system (such as tomatoes or herbs), especially if you are new to container gardening.
You’ll need 6 pepper plants to get started. You can choose all plants in the same variety, or mix it up and plant all different types of peppers. If you like both sweet and hot peppers, consider planting 3 sweet peppers on one side of the container, and 3 hot peppers on the opposite side.
With a blocky shape, thick walls, and large lobes; these are the perfect crisp and juicy peppers for eating raw, as they are sweet and bursting with classic sweet pepper flavor.
- California Wonder
- Golden Bell
- King Arthur
- Chocolate Beauty
- Lilac Bell
Banana peppers are available in both sweet and hot varieties. These are best when fried or pickled for pizza toppings and deli sandwiches.
- Sweet Banana
- Long Sweet Yellow
- Hungarian Wax (hot)
These varieties are perfect for stuffing, frying, roasting, grilling, and adding to salads.
- Red Marconi
- Italian Chillies
Like banana peppers, cherry peppers can be mild or hot, depending on the variety. These are best pickled, or cold-stuffed and marinated.
- Cherry Stuffer (sweet)
- Sweet Cherry
- Cherry Bomb (hot)
- Red Cherry (hot)
These prolific small peppers pack a punch! These peppers can be used fresh in in a myriad of cuisines, or dehydrated and ground to make your own spices.
Which ones to choose will depend on your geographic location and your personal preferences. If you are the adventurous type, consider growing peppers you’ve never heard of before; there are so many to choose from! If you know what you like, grow some of your old favorites and try a new one or two and maybe you will find a new favorite!
Pepper Pests and Diseases
There are very few insects that bother pepper plants, but you should still be proactive by keeping watch for sap-sucking Aphids, leaf-munching Flea Beetles, and the dreaded Tomato Hornworm—which can do incredible damage to the entire plant with their voracious appetites. Tomato Hornworms should be removed as soon as you spot them. If you see one with rice-like eggs/cocoons on it, simply relocate it without destroying it. Those eggs are from tiny beneficial parasitic wasps, which use the caterpillar as a host for food, eventually killing it. Ladybugs, Orb Weaver spiders, and Praying Mantids are other beneficial insects commonly found on pepper plants that will help destroy Aphids and Flea Beetles; otherwise, insecticidal soap is recommended to keep bugs at bay.
Fungal diseases are very common in pepper plants. Fungal diseases will cause infected plants to drop leaves, wilt, and turn yellow. Fungicides can slow the spread of the disease, but once the plant is infected, there is no way to completely cure it or halt its progression. Preventive spraying with fungicides is the best defense against acquiring fungal disease. Keeping plants free of decaying material will also help prevent mold and fungal disease from developing. Plants that are infected should be removed and destroyed; do not compost them. Mosaic virus, bacterial leaf spot, and powdery mildew are the most common pepper plant diseases.
Choosing pepper plants that are disease resistant is easy. All seed catalogs and plant tags will display an alphabet of letters after the variety name to indicate what resistance that variety carries:
- BLS (followed by a range of numbers) — Bacterial Leaf Spot and specific types of the disease.
- PC — Phytophthora Root Rot
- PeMV — Pepper Mottle Virus
- PVY - Potato Virus Y
- TEV — Tobacco Etch Virus
- TM or TMV — Tobacco Mosaic Virus
(HR stands for High Resistance, while IR stands for Intermediate Resistance.)
Peppers can also develop Blossom End Rot (BER), which is NOT a disease, but a treatable and curable plant disorder. There are preventive steps you can take to reduce the occurrence of BER on peppers. Learn more about BER from our article, All About Blossom End Rot.
Sun Scald is another common pepper fruit disorder, caused by the sun burning the skin of the exposed fruit. Affected parts of the fruit may look discolored and change in texture. This disorder can't be treated or fixed, but it will not harm the plant, and the fruit is perfectly safe to consume.
How To Know When To Pick Peppers
When your peppers are ready to harvest will depend on which variety you choose to grow, and weather conditions throughout your growing season. On average, you should expect to harvest anytime between 65 to 85 days after planting, depending on what kind of pepper you’re growing. Visual cues, such as color change, will let you know your fruit is beginning to ripen. Refer to the guidelines on the plant tag or catalog description for ideal fruit size. Some fruit may be left on the plant to ripen, but you should harvest most of the peppers when they are full-size and just beginning to ripen, leaving them to fully-ripen off the plant. This will encourage the plant to continue producing blossoms and setting fruit, yielding more peppers as the season goes on.
Once your fruit is ready to harvest, cut it off the vine with garden snips or pruners—avoid tugging, twisting, or ripping fruit off so the plant does not get damaged. Peppers should be cut close to the fruit, leaving a bit of the stem on the fruit.
The best place to store freshly harvested peppers is in the refrigerator, around 40°-45°. Do not wash peppers before storing them, as moisture will lead to softness and rotting. Use fruit within five days, or preserve by freezing, canning, or dehydrating.
Tell Us In the Comments: What are your favorite peppers to grow in your EarthBox®?