Growing peppers in containers is a great way to harvest homegrown produce even when you're short on space. With the right tools, the proper plants, sunlight, fertilizer and water, you'll be picking a peck of peppers before you know it. Learn eight easy steps to grow peppers in a pot this summer.
Peppers need room for their roots to spread, so choose a pot at least 12 inches in diameter. The pepper plant may initially appear small in such a large vessel, but it will fill out the container in a matter of weeks. Purchase a pot with holes in the bottom, or drill your own to ensure adequate drainage. Use a plastic or metal pot in favor of fast-drying terra cotta, especially because peppers require consistently moist soil.
Potting mix drains much more thoroughly than garden soil, which is key to preventing peppers from becoming waterlogged. Look for a natural, organic potting mix—they’re specially formulated for containers with nutrients already added. A good potting mix will hold moisture and provide the plant’s roots with aeration and important nutrients.
Pepper plants are susceptible to blossom end rot, a condition where the ends of the vegetable turn black due to a lack of calcium. Combat this by adding calcium granules to the soil at planting time and then again as often as the particular brand of calcium you purchase prescribes.
Opt for compact varieties as opposed to garden varieties that can tower over 3 feet tall. Luckily, many hot pepper plants are naturally small in stature. Our favorite peppers to grow in containers include Aurora, Golden Nugget, McMahon's Texas Bird, Miniature Red Bell and Thai Hot.
Small pepper varieties are not always widely available in garden centers. Check in early spring so, if needed, you can start plants indoors with seeds from a reputable organic, heirloom seed store such as Seed Savers Exchange or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. About two months before your nighttime temperatures reach 55°F, sow pepper seeds per the packet instructions in potting mix. Keep seeds consistently watered and warm on a sunny windowsill or with a grow light until it's safe to move them outside.
Most pepper varieties hail from hotter climates, so it's no surprise that peppers peak during summer months in much of the United States. They thrive best at temperatures between 70 and 80°F during the day and 60 to 70°F at night. Too-hot or too-cold temps may cause plant distress and misshapen fruits. Sun-loving peppers need a minimum of six hours of direct light per day, though more is preferable. A shaded backyard or covered patio will leave you with disappointing results, as will growing peppers indoors. Seek a sunny front porch or driveway if needed.
Peppers require consistently moist soil, and container-bound plants generally require more frequent watering than those in the ground. Plan on watering daily, especially in midsummer. Before watering, check the soil; you’ll know the plant needs water if the top inch of soil is dry. If it’s not dry, don’t water—you’ll risk overwatering the plant. Water early in the morning. Daytime watering evaporates too quickly to provide enough benefit, while nighttime watering can leave plants wet for too long and cause them to become waterlogged and harbor bacteria and fungi. A watering can will work just fine, as well a hose with a gentle-setting spray nozzle. Aim for the base of the plant, not the leaves.
Feed with a natural, organic plant food designed for fruits and vegetables, applying per the product label's instructions (about every 7-14 days). Feeding is especially important while the plants are flowering.
To know when your peppers are ready to harvest, check the plant’s tag to see what the mature color of the pepper should be. Bell peppers can be picked when green or left on the plant to turn yellow, orange and then red.
Pictured Recipe: Grilled Summer Vegetables with Shallot-Herb Vinaigrette
Preserve your peppers with a sweet pickling brine or enjoy them fresh with one of these savory, summery dishes: