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Growing peppers from seed is easy, the challenge is choosing the right varieties for your climate to ripen in time
I love growing and choosing new pepper varieties, it’s amazing the different complexities in taste that pepper varieties can have.
This post will talk about
- The types of pepper plants
- How to choose the right pepper varieties for your climate
- Ways to increase heat while growing
- How to grow peppers from seed
- Transplanting them properly into the garden
- How to increase fruiting & yield
- Ripen your green peppers inside
There are 3 types of peppers: sweet peppers, bell, peppers or hot peppers.
Although there are 3 types of peppers, there are many flavoring varieties that can be a little in the middle. For example there are some unique pepper varieties like the Habanada which is actually a sweet pepper that tastes like a habenaro without the heat. A fav flavoring pepper for so far for me has been the Arroz Con Pollo, which I loved the taste of but took longer to grow & yield. This growing season I’m trying the Corno di Toro Giallo – an Italian frying pepper and Sugar Rush peach (which I’m super excited about!) a pepper that is sweet then hot!
Remember that pepper size is not an indication of the type of pepper!
There are some hot peppers than are very small, and some sweet or bell peppers that are small. The difference will be in the pepper description so pay attention and if you’re in someone else’s garden be sure to ask before taking a bite!
Hot peppers are spicy, and some are mildly hot, other raging. The Scoville scale is the measurement of how spicy the hot peppers are. Most seed catalogs separate hot peppers from the rest and will mention what the Scoville heat units are so you know how hot the pepper will get. Hot peppers can come in so many pretty colors and need a longer season to ripen than most sweet or bell peppers.
Are one of the most common peppers you’ll see at the grocery store. Bell peppers start green but many will turn orange, yellow, red, purple or chocolate with ripening. The nice thing about bell peppers is that you can harvest them green, although the flavor and health benefits get better once colored.
Sweet peppers taste sweeter than bell peppers, some varieties like pimento types can be really quite sweet for fresh eating. One of my favs has been Ajvarski (pictured below)
Choosing the right pepper varieties for your climate
One of the biggest mistakes people make when growing peppers is not paying attention to pepper varieties, days of maturity and your climate. Most of the colored peppers need extra heat to ripen and change color and hot peppers need more time for that color, heat and taste.
Importance of days to maturity!
Some pepper varieties like ‘King of the North’ are more suited to cooler shorter summers and are ready in 68 days. Some like many of the hot peppers, need 80-90 days to ripen. I loved growing ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ (pictured below) because they were prolific and ripened in our shorter season (we get frosts in May & Sept). I’ve had peppers like ‘Arroz Con Pollo’ that I almost gave up on because they took soooo long to produce. The general growth was about 3 weeks slower than my other varieties and took longer to produce. Even though the flavor was absolutely amazing, I might not grow that flavoring pepper again because it isn’t a good use of space for me. I will however try to find other flavoring peppers that are more suited to this climate.
Remember you can offer extra heat for your peppers by:
- Transplanting them under portable mini hoop tunnels
- Growing peppers in a small or DIY greenhouses
- Using hoop houses and low tunnels over your peppers
- Adding a polytunnel greenhouse over raised beds
- Growing in a larger unheated greenhouse like we do
When selecting pepper varieties be sure to pay attention to:
- Know your first and last frost dates & your growing window
- Days to maturity. Some varieties will mention days until green, days until colored.
- The size of the pepper plants & peppers. Shorter dwarf varieties that are meant for containers or very small peppers like ‘snacking/cherry/picnic peppers’ might yield sooner.
- If you live in a short season climate or a temperate rainy one with cooler weather, selecting shorter days to maturity is especially important.
Tips for Growing Peppers
Many people start their tomatoes & peppers at the same time, but I’ve found peppers always grow at a slower rate than tomatoes and take longer to germinate.
Peppers definitely need to be grown as seedlings or purchased as seedlings from your local garden center or nursery.
This is important because otherwise you have to wait 8-12 weeks before the plant is the same size to start producing yields, and spring weather is erratic and not favorable for directly sowing peppers. If you never get frosts where you live you could directly sow outside, however I’m sure you’ll still make better use of your garden space by growing pepper seedlings and growing a quick harvest crop during those 10-12 weeks.
If it’s May right now and you want to grow peppers you’ll need to buy pepper plants
How to grow peppers from seed
- Start seeds 8-10 weeks before last spring frost. If you plan on growing them in a greenhouse, polytunnel or under a hoop tunnel, then you can start some earlier and transplant sooner because they’re protected
- You can either pre-germinate seeds or just sow your seeds in seed starter trays. I do the latter, using a 72 cell seed starter tray with a lid over top (to help increase the heat).
- Make sure you barely cover the soil because pepper seeds are small. Many people make the mistake of sowing peppers too deeply and they either take longer to germinate or never germinate at all.
- Warm up the soil first under a grow light. Pepper seedlings benefit from lots of extra warmth so a dome over top of your trays is a good idea. Here are some cheap mini greenhouses.
- Once peppers show their first 1-2 true leaves (not cotyledons) transplant them into a larger pot. The other option is sowing 3 seeds in a larger pot & removing 2 of them and keeping the strongest/fastest growing one.
I always use grow lights to start our seeds, especially warm season crops like peppers because they need extra heat.
Many people also use warming mats, however I’ve found that the heat from the lights is usually enough. Never plant in cold soil, warming up the soil under the lights before planting can help speed up the germination of warm season crops.
Read seed starting 101 for more details on seed starting & here’s how to troubleshoot seedling problems.
- Start feeding your seedlings with worm casting tea or seedling fertilizer once they have a couple of true leaves.
- Make sure your peppers have enough root space & depth to grow. Too much root bound stress can make peppers flower prematurely reducing yield later on. Many gardeners will pinch off any flowers forming before they are transplanted.
- Once your peppers are 8-12 weeks old you can harden them off and transplant them into the garden. I often transplant them and use a mini hoop tunnel as a mini greenhouse to protect them from spring winds and rain.
You definitely need to wait until after the last spring frost to transplant into the garden
You also want to make sure you harden off your seedlings before transplanting them into your garden
Allow your pepper seedlings to get used to the weather outside by placing them for 2-3 hours a day outdoors and increasing it to 8 hours over a week or more. If it’s torrential rain do not set your peppers out unless they have cover! They are a warm season crop and you’ll slow down growth if you place them in cold wet weather. My favorite investment for growing peppers is definitely a portable hoop tunnel for this reason, we once lost 20 plants from a cold wet June!
Mini greenhouses can really help increase heat in the spring and offer weather protection
If you have a short season climate and you’ve had little to no success with peppers, I’d recommend these along with choosing short season varieties. Later in the season you could use a taller hoop tunnel to offer protection for the whole season.
Growing your peppers in the garden + when to harvest
Once your peppers are ready to be transplanted soil fertility is very important. Peppers won’t grow well in poor soil. I always add some sea soil or compost at the base of each transplant. As peppers are a fruiting crop, they benefit from a bi-weekly boost of fertlizer or homemade compost tea/manure tea. Towards the end of summer to help ripen reduce watering (or stop) the last couple of weeks forcing some plant stress to ripen faster. Peppers don’t need a pollinator to set fruit, although some people say it increases the yield as does brushing the plants to mimic wind if they’re grown inside a greenhouse.
Peppers can be harvested when lighter in color but taste better or spicier with maturing
How to ripen peppers indoors
If your first fall frost is soon and your peppers haven’t changed color yet I’d recommend ripening them up inside because your home temperature is often much warmer than outside. If you have a lot of peppers check out all these great ways to preserve them, from fermenting, to freezing or canning.
Once the temps are cooler at night, even if you don’t get frosts, it’s not warm enough for the peppers to change color and ripen.
To ripen peppers indoors
- Harvest your peppers carefully, be careful handling them so they don’t bruise.
- Spread them out in a place with good airflow, you don’t want them on top of each other.
- Mix some peppers that have ripened with ones that haven’t to help ripen the others
- All you have to do is give them time and keep an eye on them every day.
- Most thinner peppers like cayenne or witch stick can start to air dry so keep an eye on them. If they do air dry you can blend them up as a chili spice.
I hope you enjoyed this growing peppers guide!
What is your favorite pepper variety or pepper type?
My name is Isis Loran, creator of the Family Food Garden. I’ve been gardening for over 10 years now and push the limits of our zone 5 climates. I love growing heirlooms & experimenting with hundreds of varieties, season extending, crunchy homesteading and permaculture.