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When & How to Plant Peppers
Best Time to Plant Peppers
Pepper plants are very sensitive to low temperatures. They should not be planted in your garden until you’re certain the last frost has passed. It’s better to delay planting than risk the death of your plants.
I advise regularly checking the 10 day forecast around the time you’re thinking of planting your pepper seedlings. If there’s any chance of frost you should definitely hold off planting.
In my zone 5 (WI) garden, our average last frost is typically mid-May. But, one year I lost 35 peppers plants over Memorial Day Weekend because I was in a hurry to plant before going out of town, even though the forecast called for pretty low temperatures.
I have an article that shows you how to figure out your average last frost date. It also features a printable planting calendar template that’s customizable to your own garden. It will tell you exactly what to plant each week of the spring season. Grab the planting schedule.
Prepping Garden Beds
I don’t recommend tilling your garden because it can create more weeds by bringing seeds to the surface. The soil structure in your garden is also a complex web of bacteria and fungi that serves your plants better if it stays intact. And, wrestling with a tiller can be a lot of work.
You don’t need to dig, flip, till or do any heavy soil lifting. I definitely don’t! In fact, many people are shocked when they find out that I’ve never tilled my garden in the 21 years I’ve been a gardener. You can read more about setting up a no-till garden. I’m all for simple and easy in my garden. And I share exactly how I go about prepping spring garden beds.
How to Plant a Seedling in Your Garden
How I prep a garden bed depends on what I’m planting (seed or seedling) and what the weather has been in my garden. Peppers are planted by seedlings, not seeds, so this part will go quickly!
There are some specific steps you should take when planting seedlings and I have two ways for you to learn how do it correctly:
You can read this article about how to plant seedlings which takes you through the eight steps I use for planting every time.
You can also choose to watch the video that accompanies the above article. I filmed it in my garden to demonstrate planting a seedling in real-time. The video talks a bit more about how I don’t dig or flip any of my soil before planting. I simply pull the mulch aside and plant. So easy!
Read and/or watch those first and then come back to find out about the specifics of planting peppers.
Everything You Need to Know About Pepper Plant Spacing
In my experience working with thousands of gardeners over the years, I’ve learned that many gardeners either plant seedlings way too close, which stunts their growth, or super far apart, which wastes space.
I’m a big fan of planting seedlings at just the right spacing to maximize how many I can plant in a garden bed and also give them the room they need to grow.
At their mature size, the leaves of the pepper plant should be just touching the leaves of its neighbor plants on either side. Anything closer and they’re too crowded, anything farther apart means you could have fit more plants in that space.
My favorite pepper plant spacing is three rows down the length of the garden bed. But, this only works if your beds are between 3 1/2 – 4’ wide. If they are this size, I recommend planting your pepper plants 18” apart in 3 rows.
If your garden beds are more narrow or wider, you can simply adjust the number of rows across the bed. For example, if your beds are 2-3’ wide plant two rows down the bed. If your beds are 5’ wide experiment with 4 rows per bed.
You should always stagger the planting of seedlings so that they are offset from each other in a triangular pattern like in the illustration below. This gives them more room to grow.
Below is an example of my pepper plant spacing. Each circle is a plant. They are spaced 18” apart in three rows down the bed. The rows are simply distributed evenly across the 4′ wide bed.
Examples of Pepper Plantings
I grow 30-35 pepper plants in my garden each year. Yes, I LOVE growing peppers, it’s true. I usually plant one long garden bed full of peppers and then spread the rest around in my garden where there is extra room.
Below are some examples of how I like to plant my peppers.
This photo shows a full garden bed planted with three rows of peppers down the length of the bed.
If you don’t have a full garden bed to devote to your peppers or you just plant a few, you can plant them wherever they’re going to get full sun, 8-10 hours/day.
This photo shows one of my garden beds with a trellis. I planted a single row of peppers on the south side of the trellis so they wouldn’t get shaded.
A Farmer’s tip – In my area of Madison, WI, many farmers use black plastic to grow peppers because it heats up the soil in our cooler climate. I’m not a huge fan of using plastic in the garden, but I did manage to find an old billboard that I use to cover the soil. I cut holes in the vinyl at every 18″, three rows to the bed.
I then planted a pepper in each hole. I’ve done some experiments where I planted half of my peppers in the bed covered in black plastic and the other half in a bed covered with mulch. I haven’t seen a remarkable difference between the two, but I’m going to keep experimenting.
You can see the black billboard peeking out from under the plants in one of the photos above.
Pepper Plant Care & Maintenance
Don’t overfeed your plants with nitrogen or your peppers will produce a lot of leaves but not much fruit. Using a complete organic fertilizer when planting is a great way to supply some extra nutrients. Read about which organic garden fertilizers I recommend.
Mulching around each pepper plant (I like marsh hay) will help retain moisture and build up organic matter. It will also prevent the pepper fruits from touching the bare soil, which sometimes causes them to rot. Read more about vegetable garden mulch and why it’s the ultimate garden tool .
Most vegetable plants do best with about 1 inch of water per week, more if you have sandy soil. If it doesn’t rain around an inch during the week then water your plants deeply with a wand and hose or install a drip irrigation system. Read more about the best ways to go about watering your vegetable garden.
Peppers that are fully loaded with fruit have a tendency to lean or fall over because the plant can’t support the weight of the ripening fruit. I recommend supporting each plant to help it remain upright.
In my garden, I tie each plant with sisal twine to a bamboo stake. I also have a few cute U-shaped bamboo stakes I bought at a garden store.
This photo features a 2′ tall u-shaped bamboo stake. I sandwich the plant with sisal twine and also loop it around the stake to hold it up. See close up shot below. Find them here.
Below is a garden bed of with my recommended pepper plant spacing. Each plant staked with a single straight 2′ piece of bamboo. I tie the plant to the stake with the twine. Find them here.
Peppers grow best at temperatures of 70-80 degrees F during the day and 65-70 F at night. The plants set fruit at temperatures between 75-86 F. If temperatures are below 72 F they won’t set fruit well.
If the temperatures are above 90 F during the day or less than 55 F at night while the plants are flowering they often drop their flowers. This unfortunate timing might result in less overall fruit to harvest.
Additional Resources for Growing Great Peppers
I love growing peppers and have a lot of articles about this delectable, but sometimes challenging, vegetable.
If you start your own pepper seeds, it can be a tricky process. There are some specific steps you need to take to ensure success. My tips for starting peppers indoors.
Read my Essential Guide for Growing Sweet Peppers.
If you do decide to prune your pepper plants (I’ve experimented with this!) make sure you leave some shade for the fruits to be protected from the mid-day sun.
Once your peppers start ripening, feel confident that you know when to pick peppers.
When the bumper harvest arrives and you have more peppers than you can possibly eat fresh, it’s time to preserve some for winter. My favorite way is to freeze them raw. It’s super easy! Come over to this article and I’ll walk you through my process for how to freeze peppers.
In each season of my Masterclass – Success In Every Season: Get Better Results From Your Garden All Year Long – we focus on exactly what you need to know to be successful. The seasons build upon one another (just like in your garden!) to create a complete toolkit of skills that will set you up for a more joyful gardening experience
When you make smarter decisions in your garden, you end up having more success, which means gardening is a lot more fun. Read more about it here.
Set yourself up for a successful season with the Smart Start Garden Planner. It keeps garden planning practical, down-to-earth, and fun!
Get a sample of the book so you can peek inside here.
If you want to learn more about how to make the harvest last longer by quickly and easily preserving vegetables, fruits and herbs, check out my book, Super Easy Food Preserving, here.
Get started stocking your pantry for winter!
There are many riches to be had in this world and I’d argue that a garden bursting with ripe, colorful peppers is one of them. Somehow they feel rare, decadent and valuable.
Growing lots of red peppers is very much an attainable goal for your garden. And when you reach that goal, I hope you feel as rich as I do!
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