I grow a pretty mean tomato, but my record with its cousins, the peppers, is much less impressive – and that's with a regular, season-long effort. But, after years of trial and error I think I have perfected my plan and know how to grow peppers that I am proud to call homegrown.
Capsicum annuum, as the garden peppers are well known, were once harder to grow, but today's hybrids have an easier time of it, with less disease and better, often quicker, yields. Although they may look like the most vivid of the lot, it is not a good idea to buy seedlings that are in flower or already showing the beginnings of young fruits. A younger plant will adapt better to its new home in your garden. It's worth the wait, since a plant that is blooming in such tight quarters as a six-pack is sure to be stressed already. Also, what you want first is for the plant to expend energy on root growth, not fruit production.
In perfecting how to grow peppers I have found that warm soil is a must. Wait at least three weeks – and many people say as many as six – after final frost to set out peppers. A black plastic mulch is great for heating up the soil. It is especially useful for the spicier peppers, which are usually later varieties. Put it down a week or more before the plants are set out. At the midseason point, though, when the weather gets hot, no more blossoms will set until it cools down. Do not pull up the plants, but wait until they revive later in the summer and set another crop.
Typically, pepper plants should be 3 to 6 inches tall when they go into the garden (anywhere from 6 to 10 weeks old) and should be placed 15 inches apart in all directions in beds, or 18 to 24 inches apart in rows that are 3 feet apart.
Transplants should be buried to the top set of leaves. Grow them very slowly, with little or no nitrogen. Then, side dress the plants with fertilizer only once fruit is set. I know I am among those who have grown gorgeous green shrubs with little fruit by being ignorant of this advice. My grandmother use to propose that really knowing how to grow peppers mean putting matches in the hole with the pepper plant. He would tear the matches out of a few paper matchbooks and put some in each hole, where they would provide sulfur, which also lowers soil pH the way peppers like it. I have adapted this advice to my own garden, and while I can not swear it is what gives me my beautiful harvest of peppers, it certainly has not hurt.
When harvesting, use shears and leave a half-inch of the stem on the fruit for best keeping quality. Perhaps the finest piece of pepper information I ever learned came from my neighbor's wife, though it was not strictly of the garden kind. Assure yourself a year-round supply of peppers by slicing them any way you choose (I quarter them) and stuffing them into freezer bags or boxes and freezing them. They are ready for any future use, and stay nice and green. Roasted peppers also can be frozen easily.
Growing your own vegetables can be a lot of fun, and also a great way to save money. Peppers can be trickier than some of the other vegetables, so learning how to grow peppers properly can increase your chances for a successful harvest.