This is another installment about growing vegetables in containers. Click on Gardening Tutorials to see more in the series.
I love growing peppers. There is such a wide selection of sizes, colors and shapes, not to mention flavors and levels of heat, that there is truly a pepper to suit everyone’s tastes. This easy to grow vegetable is a popular choice for backyard gardeners all over the world. But you can still grow them even if you don’t have a garden.
Growing peppers in containers is fun, and the plants make a decorative addition to patios, decks and balconies. Also, folks in colder climates can get a jump on the season by getting these heat-loving plants going in containers before the soil warms up. Even gardeners with in-ground gardens can grow a pepper (or two) this way, like I do.
To start, you’ll need a container at least 12 inches in diameter. Make sure it’s at least 12 inches deep too, and has a drainage hole. I prefer one a bit bigger, in the 14-16 inch diameter range. Bigger pots make for bigger plants and more peppers, plus you won’t have to water them quite so often. Smart Pots or Grow Bags are another good option, and those in the 10 gallon size should work well for peppers.
Water and light are two of the most important things a pepper plant needs. A location with full sun is the best, but in areas with hot summers they can tolerate a bit of afternoon shade. Peppers need a spot where they can get at least eight hours of sun in order to perform well. I sit mine where they get sun all day, and they do great.
You can grow all varieties of peppers in a container, but beginners might do better to start with some that were bred with containers in mind. Orange Blaze and Carmen are two All-America Selections sweet peppers that do great in containers, while Cayennetta and Holy Mole are two AAS hot peppers that are perfect in pots. Plant breeders are always working to introduce more vegetables that work well in containers, and this year the AAS selected three new pepper varieties: Pretty N Sweet, Emerald Fire and Flaming Flare. Plants for all these should be widely available in garden centers in the U.S., and seeds too if you want to start them yourself.
Once you’ve decided on a pepper, you need to fill your container with a good quality potting soil. Don’t be tempted to use soil from your yard or garden. The plants will prefer a loose, well-drained mix that is generous in organic matter. I like to use a peat based organic potting soil (like Pro-mix or FoxFarm) and add a handful or two of compost. I also add some slow release organic fertilizer (Espoma Tomato-tone) and mix it in well before planting. Your local garden center should be able to supply you with all the materials you need.
Peppers like warm weather, so wait until all danger of frost is over for your area before planting. You can always move the container inside if a sudden cold spell threatens. Set the young pepper plant in the potting soil at the same height it was growing, or slightly deeper. Water well to begin with, and then check the soil often and water as necessary. Once the plant starts growing, and the weather warms up, you may need to water daily. And when the peppers start coming on, you may need to water twice daily.
The frequent watering required by the container plants will wash away nutrients faster than if they were planted in the ground. To compensate, every couple of weeks you should fertilize using a water soluble fertilizer. Avoid using fertilizers that are high in nitrogen, as they can promote lush foliage growth with fewer peppers. I like to use a fish and seaweed blend (Neptune’s Harvest 2-3-1) to make sure the peppers get all of the major and minor nutrients they need.
Growing peppers in containers is a great way for beginners and veteran gardeners alike to enjoy this popular and nutritious vegetable. With a little time and effort, you can be reaping the rewards of fresh homegrown peppers all summer and fall.