How to grow Sweet Peppers
Sweet Peppers Growing Guide
How to grow Sweet Peppers
Home-grown sweet peppers and sweet chilli peppers are exceptionally delicious and will save you a fair few bob on shop-bought fruits. They’re easier to grow than tomatoes and suffer less from pests and diseases, too. But perhaps the biggest draw of growing your own peppers is the opportunity to explore the many varieties out there. The fruits range from the elongated, almost horn-like ‘Corno Rosso’ to more traditionally shaped types such as ‘Bell Boy’ or ‘California Wonder’.
Growing sweet peppers in containers
A sweet pepper plant can be a stunning addition to a kitchen garden – they can be grown in containers on the patio where their glossy foliage, white-hooded flowers and colourful fruits will brighten up your plot.
The colours of shop-bought peppers are usually restricted to the traffic light-tones of red, amber and green but home-growers will have plenty more to choose from – expect to find bright yellow, cream, purple, orange and lime-green varieties too. The plants need minimal support and there are even dwarf types that are perfect for growing in window boxes or other containers.
Growing sweet peppers in the UK
Peppers hail from warmer, tropical climes, so you’ll need to ensure a sunny, sheltered position for your plants, but it is still perfectly possible to grow them - and get decent harvests - in the UK. In colder parts of the country they are best grown in a greenhouse or polytunnel. Given these basic requirements there’s no reason you shouldn’t expect to harvest at least three and up to eight peppers per plant.
Starting your crop from seed will give you the biggest possible choice of varieties and greatest control over what you’re growing, although there are also an increasing number of peppers that can be bought from garden centres or mail-order companies as young plants.
Preparation of their final growing position begins about a month before planting. If you want to grow your crop outside, pick a vigorous F1 hybrid variety and a spot that is in full sun. A south- or west-facing brick wall or fence is ideal.
Dig the soil over, incorporating a bucket-load of well-rotted manure or compost to enrich the ground. About two weeks before planting out, which will normally be at the end of May, place cold frames over the planting positions to warm the soil.
Growing sweet peppers in a greenhouse
Greenhouse or polytunnel growing is the only reliable way to guarantee a crop of peppers in colder or exposed parts of Britain. Even in the south of England protection like this will mean more peppers to each plant. If you don’t have a greenhouse, you could try growing dwarf varieties in a cold frame of at least 50cm height. If you are planting into your greenhouse borders, fork a general purpose fertiliser, such as chicken manure pellets, into the soil a couple of weeks beforehand.
Sow your seeds in March to give them at least two months to grow on before they are planted into their final positions. To get your seeds going, fill a 7cm pot with fresh seed compost and tap it to encourage the compost to settle. Make sure the surface is level before sowing the seeds individually, leaving a few centimetres between each one and including a maximum of about five per pot. Cover your seeds with a 0.5–1cm layer of compost or vermiculite.
Keep your pots well-irrigated by placing them in a tray of water – the moisture will soak up from the base until the compost or vermiculite appears damp on the surface. Don’t forget to label the containers carefully if you’re growing a few varieties, it would be a shame to confuse them at this early stage!
Move your pots to a propagator or alternatively place a clear, plastic bag over the top of each one, securing it around the rim using an elastic band. It is best to start seeds off indoors, where no additional heat will be needed – a warm window sill should do the trick.
If growing in a greenhouse you will need to ensure a minimum germination temperature of about 18°C, so a heated propagator will be necessary. Once your seedlings appear, usually within two to three weeks, uncover the pots and move them to a bright window sill to grow on. If you’re using a greenhouse maintain a minimum temperature of 15°C.
Keep seedlings moist and warm and they’ll begin to put on substantial growth. The young plants will need to be potted on into their own 7cm pots once they reach about 2cm high. Fill pots with multipurpose compost and tap them to settle the growing medium.
Carefully ease out the contents of the nursery pot. Handle seedlings by their leaves to avoid damaging their delicate stems and place them into the dibbled hole. Firm back compost around the roots so that the seedlings are buried to the same level as they were in their previous pots, before placing the pots in a bright, sunny spot.
You will need to keep the compost moist when growing sweet peppers so that there is no check in the seedlings’ growth. When roots appear at the base of the pots, transfer them to a container that is 12cm in diameter, again using multipurpose compost.
The time for planting out your sweet pepper plants can vary according to where you want to grow your peppers. Those intended for the greenhouse or polytunnel can be planted into position as soon as early May, giving the longest possible season of growth. Outdoor-grown types are best moved to their final placings after the date of the last frost – usually late May.
They can be planted out sooner than this, so long as a cloche or horticultural fleece is on hand to protect them in the event of a surprise cold snap. Begin hardening plants off a few weeks beforehand by placing them outside for increasingly longer spells, or by positioning them inside a cold frame that is kept open during the day and shut at night.
This will ensure they adjust to weather conditions outdoors before being moved to their permanent growing position. When planting out, leave 45cm between each pepper to give them enough room to spread.
The plants can also be transferred into grow bags, at three per bag, or kept in good-sized containers. Plant one pepper per 30cm container, or opt for a compost volume of at least five litres. Use John Innes No. 3 compost for container crops, as this will provide a steady growing environment that isn’t prone to drying out.
Growing Sweet Peppers month-by-month
Make sure greenhouses and polytunnels are thoroughly cleaned and sterilised this month to kill off overwintering pests such as the sap-sucking red spider mite.
Begin sowing the earliest peppers this month. Start them off in pots placed into a heated propagator or covered with clear plastic.
This is the main month for sowing peppers. Use good, clean seed or multipurpose compost/potting mix and maintain a temperature of at least 18°C.
Prick out the seedlings into their own pots once they have their first set of true leaves. Use multipurpose compost. Keep seedlings moist for speedy and trouble free growth.
Pot on plants as they grow and plant them out after the last frost. Make sure plants are hardened off beforehand.
Start feeding plants with a liquid feed as soon as the first flowers appear. Pick one that is high in potash and also suitable for tomato plants.
Begin picking fruits this month and continue through until the first frosts. Expect to grow three to eight fruits per pepper plant.
Don't be caught out by red spider mite during spells of hot weather. Mist greenhouse plants to keep the mite at bay.
Keep picking peppers as soon as they have reached the desired colour. Remove excess foliage that is blocking out sunlight from the developing fruits.
Finish picking peppers this month. Lift plants up before the frosts reappear and hang them upside down to encourage the last fruits to ripen.
Remove the last plants from the greenhouse to the compost heap. Make sure all traces of root are removed from greenhouse borders.
Order in seed catalogues and start planning which plants you would like to grow next season. Be adventurous and try at least one new sweet pepper variety!
Caring for your Sweet Peppers plants + problems
Peppers do not need the constant pinching out or tying in that many tomatoes require, even though they are closely related. Once the plants reach about 20cm in height they can, however, be tied loosely to canes using string to stop them swaying about. When they get to 30-40cm high, pinch out the tips of your plants to encourage them to bush out and form a more rounded plant that will be sturdier in habit.
Peppers love warm temperatures and it is rare that the weather will get too hot for them in our cool climate. However, greenhouse peppers can be scalded by the sun’s concentrated rays. Don’t run the risk of damaging foliage – apply a shade paint on the glass from early June, which will keep strong rays off plants without compromising light levels. Open vents and doors on hot days to ensure a steady through-flow of fresh air.
Flower formation is the signal to begin feeding plants. Use a liquid feed that’s suitable for tomatoes – a high-potash feed containing seaweed is ideal. Apply this every ten days as you water, or according to the packet instructions. This feed will help your plants to form more flowers and fruits. Keep plants weed-free and water them regularly to keep growth rates steady.
Growing How to grow peas: Problems to watch for
How to harvest Sweet Peppers
Pick peppers as soon as they are large enough. Most fruits start as green peppers, before ripening up to their ultimate colour. When harvesting fruits do not, on any account, simply tug the pepper from the plant as you will damage it. Cut away fruits using a sharp knife or a pair of secateurs and your plants will remain unscathed.
Most plants won’t begin producing peppers until at least mid July, although seed started off much earlier may produce a few fruits before this. Outside-grown peppers will follow on a few weeks later and will continue into early autumn. If there are still unripened fruits when the frosts return in October dig up plants by their roots and hang them upside down in a dry, sheltered spot so that they can finish ripening.
Varieties of Sweet Peppers
Sweet Peppers varieties to try
This beautiful bell pepper is perfect for growing, even in cooler climates. The fruits have a deep purple skin, with sweet, brick-red flesh underneath, so it is a really striking addition to your plot and plate!
A reliable, high-yielding type of pepper produces large, bell-shaped fruits that ripen from green to a bright red. Plants reach a medium height, and fruits are thick-fleshed and sweet. This type is perfect for growing sweet peppers in pots, and rewards you with traditional sweet bell peppers.
'Lunchbox Mix' F1 Hybrid
These mini sweet peppers are the perfect addition to lunchboxes and make a great snack. The fruits start their lives green, and ripen to a mix of red, orange and yellow. These small sweet pepper types offer plenty of fruit on each mini sweet pepper plant.
'Corno di Toro Rosso'
If you are looking for a sweet pointed pepper, ideal for use in long sweet pepper recipes, this stunning tapering red variety will certainly fit the bill! They are great on the BBQ, and make delicious roasted sweet peppers.
This large, mild pepper is traditionally stuffed and baked, but can also be dried if you fancy preserving some. Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in an oven on its lowest setting with the door cracked. Check regularly.