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Growing Peppers for Flavor: Timely Tips

Grow peppers for flavor  in full sun
Grow peppers for best flavor in full sun and warm temperatures.

Temperature, watering, feeding, and, in the end, patience are the keys to growing flavorful peppers. If you lack one of these, your peppers will be less tasty than they could be.

Here are easy-to-follow tips to grow flavorful peppers:

Peppers and growing temperatures:

  • Peppers demand warm temperatures: don’t put peppers in the garden until the soil temperature is 70°F (24°C). Use black plastic to warm the soil in advance of planting or plant peppers in raised beds which warm quickly in spring.
  • Peppers grow best when night temperatures are between 60° and 70°F (16° to 24°C) and daytime temperatures average 75°F.
  • When night temperatures are consistently warmer than 70°F, pepper plants drop their flowers and fruit buds. Peppers stop producing during the hottest time of the summer—when night time temperatures top 70°F (32°C). When peppers drop their flowers or fruit don’t pull them up; they will rest until the weather cools and then begin producing again.
  • In hot regions, plant peppers so they flower and set fruit before night temperatures reach 70°F; plant a second crop after the peak of summer heat when nighttime temperatures are cooler.
  • Protect peppers with shade cloth or overhead irrigation when temperatures get too hot. Use white spun poly row covers spread over hoops above pepper plants–leave the sides open for ventilation–to protect peppers from sunscald and high temperatures. When the temperatures soar, overhead irrigation can reduce the temperature in the garden slightly.

Best growing tips: How to Grow Peppers.

Soil and sun affect pepper flavor:

  • Peppers grow best in full sun; however, they do not perform well if there is too much sun. If you live in a very hot summer location, plan to shade peppers from sunscald in the hottest part of the summer, or plant peppers where they get only morning sun that is less likely to burn fruit. If you live in a cool summer location, plant peppers in a south-facing location or against a fence or building that soaks up the solar heat and radiates heat into the garden at night.
  • Peppers grow best in slightly acidic, well-drained soil. Add organic compost to the planting bed in advance of planting; but, peppers will grow in sandy or gravelly loam as well. Soil can affect pepper flavor; hot peppers grown in poor soil in a hot, dry climate will be hotter than the identical variety grown in rich soil in a cooler summer region. Sweet peppers grow sweeter when the soil is sweet—that is compost rich, not alkaline.
  • Dust the planting bed with a fine layer of Epsom salts before planting peppers or add a half handful of Epsom salts to the bottom of each planting hole. Epsom salts contain magnesium which peppers need for fruit development.
  • Plant peppers 20 inches apart—not closer. This will give each plant ample room to develop more branches which in turn will produce more fruit. The extra space will also allow for more even ripening of fruit.

Watering for pepper fruit development and flavor:

  • Keep the soil around peppers evenly moist for best fruit development.
  • Young peppers putting down roots need at least 2 inches of water each week–that is a bit more than one gallon per square foot per week. Once peppers flower and begin to fruit give each plant an inch of water every week—that is a bit more than a half-gallon of water for each square foot of planting area. When fruits reach maturity—full size—but are still ripening they will need water only when the soil is dry. Less water once fruits mature will allow peppers to ripen to full color more quickly.
  • Hot peppers can be made even hotter if you flood the roots just before harvest; water stress causes plants to produce more heat.

Feeding peppers for flavor:

  • Feed peppers after the first flowers appear for best fruit development; feeding peppers before flowering can prompt green growth, not fruit growth—so wait for flowering to feed. Place a side-dressing of aged compost around pepper plants when the first flowers open, or feed plants with a liquid kelp meal mixture or compost tea. Feed them again three weeks later.
  • Epsom salts help peppers develop faster and stronger; dissolve 3 tablespoons of Epsom salts in warm water and give each plant a pint when they begin to bloom. Or spray leaves with a solution of 1 teaspoon Epsom salts to a pint of lukewarm water. (Magnesium deficiency can cause blossom drop and leaf edges to turn yellow, then brown.)

Flowering, pollination, and peppers:

  • Nip off the first flower buds that appear on peppers. This will allow plants to mature and direct their energy to strong roots and branch development before fruiting. A plant with strong roots and branches will bear more fruit and hold fruit until ripeness.
  • Peppers are pollinated by insects; peppers easily cross-pollinate which can affect fruit development and flavor. Keep hot peppers and sweet peppers well separated–900 feet between varieties is optimal, or stagger planting so that differing varieties are not flowering at the same time.

Ripening peppers for flavor and harvest:

  • Peppers–both sweet and hot–require at least 70 days from transplanting to maturity. Once the fruit is full size it can take another one to three or four weeks for fruit to ripen to full flavor. Let peppers ripen on the plant. The hotter the pepper the longer it takes to mature—the very hottest peppers take from 90 to 200 frost-free days to ripen.
  • Peppers stay green until they reach their mature size; if left on the plant they will then ripen to a bright red, orange, or yellow depending upon the variety—and they will gain in flavor becoming much sweeter or hotter depending upon the variety.
  • For the very best flavor, allow each fruit to completely change colors before you pick the fruit. When it is time to harvest, lift the fruit and then snip it away from the branch with a pruner; that way you will not break branches and hinder future fruiting.
  • If your season is long enough, you can modestly prune pepper plants back after harvest and a second crop will follow. Be sure to water and feed plants the second time around just as you did the first.

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13 Comments

  1. I am trying to figure out why my hot peppers turned out sweet? I planted seranos, poblanos, jalapenos and cayenne and NO sweet peppers. I have no close neighbors that planted sweet peppers. I let them develop til they were the right color, not just green. For the second year in a row my peppers have no or very little heat. I don’t like sweet peppers but would love to have my hot peppers flourish! My neighbor mentioned they were low in potassium? phosphorus? and said I could put some in the hole before I plant. My soil is healthy, organic, and I only use cover crop, worm castings, and kelp meal for fertilizer a couple times in the growing season. Any idea what’s going on?

    • To grow hot peppers hotter use a low nitrogen fertilizer such as 3-5-5 (higher in phosphorus and potassium) and go easy on the water; too much water will dilute the heat of a hot pepper. Keep the soil just moist, but no more. About two weeks before harvest cut back on the water altogether.

    • If the plant has turned brown and dry following your harvest, you can remove the plant from your garden and set a new plant in its place.

  2. Our season has come to an end I have a lot of ghost peppers habanero peppers that are not quite ripe yet what is the best way to ripen these peppers off of the plant

    • Chilies will ripen off the plant naturally; set them on the counter in a warm, dry place–in the kitchen will work, but not in direct sunlight. You can also tie the stems to a string and let them ripen hanging in the kitchen.

  3. Hello Steve,
    I have been trying to figure out the yield per plant of Habanero and Scotch Bonnet peppers for a research. Do you by any chance happen to know the yield per plant of these two types?

    • The yield for the habanero and the Scotch Bonnet pepper plant would be in the range of 30 to 100 peppers per plant. There are many factors that affect yield: the vigor of the plant, soil, water and nutrients, climate and weather, hours of direct sun. Yield from one year to the next can vary; yield in one part of the garden or field can vary.

  4. Hello. My Coolapeno (No heat jalapeno) tastes just like a bell pepper. It has no jalapeno taste at all. What do I need to add to the soil. Reading the info above, it looks like maybe Epson Salt, but the amount calculation was not clear. It says add 3 Tbl Epson Salt to warm water It does not say how much warm water. It follows to say add a pint to each plant. Is it 3 Tbl to a pint?

    • 3 tablespoons to a gallon will be sufficient. Stop watering a week to 10 days in advance of harvest and the flavor will likely be more pronounced.

  5. Hello my name is Jordan i live in zone 6 in Missouri and im experimenting with pepper plants and im having trouble with my jalepeno and banana peppers. My jalepeno produced 1 great tasting pepper but has no new growth after i harvested it. my banana pepper plant produced 3 healthy peppers. I bought them at the exact same size and topped them 2/3rds of the way up the main stem. The jalepeno has tons of new growth but hasn’t produced another pepper and the banana pepper has no new growth but healthy peppers. My question is should i have topped them? Im not sure what i did wrong

    • Place a tablespoon of Epsom salt in a gallon of water and water the plants with this mix every 3 weeks. The Epsom salt contains magnesium which will help the plants flower. Too much nitrogen in the soil can result in leafy growth and few flowers.

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