Growing Peppers in the Vegetable Garden

How to Grow Sweet Peppers

Overview and Descripton:

Peppers are close relatives of tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes and even tobacco, all being in the Solanaceae family. Growing peppers can be challenging in some areas, because they need a good deal of heat and sun to set and ripen their fruits. Pepper plants will sit in the garden and wait for the right conditions, before they really start to grow.

Peppers in the Capsicum Annuum species can be either hot or what we call 'sweet'.

To be considered a sweet pepper, the variety needs to score near zero on the Scoville scale.

All peppers are short-lived tropical perennials that prefer moderately warm days and nights and do not really start producing until 2 months into the growing season.

Pepper plants all look pretty much alike, some taller and bushier than others. There the resemblance ends. Sweet peppers can be boxy, stocky, long and thin or round, in shades of green, red, yellow, orange and purple.

  • Leaves: Alternate, lance-shaped leaves.
  • Flowers:White or yellow star-shaped flowers.
  • Fruits: Fruits begin forming 2–6 days after the flowers drop. The shape and size will depend on the variety being grown; stocky bell, elongated banana...

Latin Name:

Capsicum Annuum

Common Names:

Peppers, sweet peppers

Days to Harvest:

This will depend on the variety of pepper you are growing and the weather, but most begin producing within 65 to 75 days from transplant.

How and When to Harvest:

Harvest sweet peppers when they reach the preferred size or color. If you like green peppers, go ahead and pick them at any time. The more you pick, the more the plant will set.

They will not reach their full color until fully ripe. If you prefer ripe peppers, you will have to wait longer and you will get fewer peppers, which is why red, yellow, and orange peppers cost so much more in the store.

Cutting is the best method of harvesting peppers. You can snap the stem off the plant, but very often you'll take the whole branch with you. It's safer to snip them off, with a bit of stem attached.

Mature Size:

There are all sizes of peppers, from mini-bell peppers to big, boxy full-sized bells to long narrow banana-types.

Suggested Varieties:

There's no shortage of sweet pepper varieties to grow and more are being introduced every year. Experiment and see which become your favorites. Here are some of mine.

  • Ace F1 - Early, prolific and hardy bell peppers.
  • ‛Bull's Horn' aka ‛Corno di Toro' - Long and tapered to a point. Spicy without heat. Red and yellow varieties. OP/Heirloom
  • ‛Giant Marconi' - 2001 AAS winner. Long, boxy bell pepper. Very sweet. OP
  • ‛Jimmy Nardello' - Prolific, long, narrow and extremely sweet. OP/Heirloom
  • ‛Sweet Banana' - Thin walled and great for frying. OP
  • ‛Yummy Bell' - Elongated, golden bell pepper. Very sweet.

Hardiness Zone:

Peppers are tropical perennials, usually grown as an annual, so you won't see them listed with a USDA Hardiness Zone. However since they are perennial, you can bring plants indoors in winter, as houseplants.


As tropical perennial, peppers are heat loving plants, Be sure to put them in a spot that gets full sun.

Growing Tips:

Soil: Peppers are not terribly fussy about soil. They like a good amount of organic matter, good drainage and a neutral soil pH of about 6.0 to 6.8.

Planting: Gardeners with long, warm growing seasons can direct seed peppers once the ground is warm and not too wet. The rest of us will need to start seed indoors or purchase seedlings.

Peppers are slow starters. Start seed 8–12 weeks before your last frost date. Seed can take awhile to germinate, although sweet peppers are usually faster than hot peppers. Using some type of bottom heat, either with a heating pad or simply placing the flats on top of the refrigerator, will speed germination. It will also dry out the soil faster, so remember to water.

When the seedlings are about 6 weeks old, they should have their first true leaves.

Transplant them into larger pots (about 3 in.) and continue growing indoors.

Harden off the seedlings before transplanting in the garden. Sweet peppers are long season plants, but don't rush them. They are very susceptible to cold. Transplant after all danger of frost and once temperatures remain reliably above 50 degrees F.

Transplant about 1 inch deeper than they were growing in their pots. The base of the stems will send out small roots, making stronger plants. Space 14–18 inches apart.

Pepper plants grow slowly when temperatures are below 55̊ F and they may lose flowers and/or leaves. Warming the soil with black plastic or covering the plants with a floating row cover will allow you to plant a bit earlier.


Water: The most important thing you can do for your peppers is to make sure they get regular water. Drought stress will cause their flowers to drop. (They will also drop their flowers in prolonged cool weather, extreme heat and low humidity.)

Feeding: Start with a rich, organic soil. You can feed your pepper plants when you plant them and again when the first flowers appear. Use a well-balanced fertilizer labeled for edible plants. Many gardeners add a small handful of Epsom salts to the soil at planting, as a magnesium boost.

Staking: Some pepper plants are sturdy enough to stand on their own, without staking, but when you have a heavy set of fruit, the plants can break from the weight. Staking when planting will also keep the fruit from touching the ground.

Pests & Problems:

  • Cut worms can slice off young plants at ground level. You can prevent this by collaring the base of the plant with a tube of some sort (toilet paper tube, bottomless yogurt cup...) or simply placing toothpicks on either side of the stem.
  • Aphids and thrips can infest older plants and carry viruses such as tobacco etch virus (TEV), cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) and potato virus (PVY). Destroy infected plants.Symptoms include crinkled leaves or especially narrow leaves. Control the insects to prevent spreading the virus and choose resistant varieties.
  • Bacterial diseases sometimes come on transplants. Symptoms include stem cankers and leaf spots. Destroy affected plants.
  • Blossom end rot can affect pepper fruits. Regular watering will help prevent it.
  • Sun Scald can cause thin, papery spots on the fruits. Good leaf cover will protect them.


My Garaden
Unversity of Illinois Extension
West Virginia University Extension Service