Container gardening is increasingly popular with home gardeners where space is at a premium. The concept works great for peppers and many other plants.
Of course, the size of the pepper plant, the fruit it produces, the soil you use and the location you keep the container in will all be a factor.
If you fail to dial one of them in, you might still get a modest yield. To really enjoy a bounty of peppers from the middle of the summer into the fall you will need to familiarize yourself with many other factors.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the various factors that go into growing bell peppers in containers.
This includes soil volume, location, soil chemistry, developing a fertilizing strategy, and providing them with adequate water.
We will also take a look at some types of pepper plants, other than bells, that do very well when grown in a pot.
Requirements for growing peppers in pots
Bell peppers are members of the solanum family. This means that they need a fair amount of direct sun and well drained soil.
Peppers also tend to be heavy feeders, and have special nutrient demands which can change throughout the season.
Where you place your container will impact the amount of sun it receives throughout the season.
This will in turn impact foliage development, and can also affect the total yield of peppers each plants produce.
Where Should I Place Container Grown Peppers?
Pepper plants are a little bit of a conundrum when it comes to sunlight. As members of the solanum family, they need a fair amount of sunlight and warm soil temperatures to produce fruit.
Yet the fruit they produce is also highly vulnerable to damage from the sun.
This condition, known as “Sun Scald” can affect an overly exposed pepper in a little more than one or two days!
It ultimately means proper placement can make the difference in how many viable peppers you get from any single plant.
The ideal location for a container-grown pepper plant will have full eastern exposure in the morning and then dappled shade to perhaps full shade in the late afternoon.
This will reduce the chances of the hot afternoon sun damaging the fruits in late summer. It also provides the pepper plants with the type of light that they prefer most.
If you only have a western or southwestern facing patio to work with, you can still grow peppers. You just might want to provide them with a 10 to 20% shade cloth in the afternoon, once they develop the first fruit.
How Much Space Do Peppers Need To Grow?
Peppers rely on lush foliage to protect their vulnerable fruit from sun-scald. When they share the same soil, the heavy feeding plants, will compete for nutrients. This robs them from realizing their full potential.
When they are grown in containers the roots don’t compete. This means you can put the plants closer to each other than you would tomatoes.
They can be just close enough that they barely touch leaves, and the foliage protection can help the fruits from each plant.
What Type Of Soil Is Best For Container Grown Peppers?
Even if you have a productive garden already and you just want to grow a few pepper plants on your balcony, you should still resist the temptation to use garden soil.
Not only is it more likely to compact over the course of the summer, but chances are also higher that there could be pests, fungus and other problems that could exacerbate in a container.
Pepper plants tend to be heavy feeders. Ideally, you want to use a blend of high-quality potting soil mixed with an equal volume of mature compost.
This will ensure that the soil remains light and well-drained, as well as rich enough to support vigorous growth.
If your prepared soil seems a little heavy or sticky you could also add a small amount of vermiculite or perlite. This will help keep the soil light and well-drained.
It’s also a good idea to add a little garden lime or crushed dolomitic limestone to the soil mixture.
This will help balance out overly acidic soil, while also ensuring that the pepper plants have the minerals they need to prevent the dreaded blossom end rot.
How Often Do You Water Potted Peppers?
Peppers are a little more drought-resistant than their distant tomato plant cousins. Yet they still do need consistent moisture to develop healthy foliage and fruit.
Potted Pepper plants need light watering once per day is usually sufficient for maintaining healthy plants. You might need to increase that once the plants start to set fruit.
Be careful of overwatering. Soil that is saturated can wash out key minerals like calcium and magnesium.
This could cause leaves to yellow or even lead to blossom end rot problems with developing fruit.
Pepper plants prefer warm soil. Most won’t successfully flower and set fruit in soil temperatures under 60 degrees.
Containers that are placed in an area that receives at least six to eight hours of light tend to warm up nicely in the late spring sun, which lends toward potted pepper plant success. If your soil temperatures are a little on the cool side of 60-degrees, you might want to move them to different position.
Watering with warm water on unseasonably cold days or painting the pot a dark color might also help keep the soil warm.
What’s The Best Size Pot Or Container For Pepper Plants?
Most pepper plants are smaller than tomato plants, which means they can do just fine in a slightly smaller pot. The necessary volume of soil will vary from one variety to the next and will also influence yield.
For example, a poblano pepper will grow in a gallon to a gallon and a half of soil. However, you will only get two or perhaps three full-size peppers.
If you take that same poblano and plant it in a five-gallon planter, it can provide you with up to a dozen peppers.
If you are looking to just get by with some utility peppers like green and red bells, or perhaps a jalapeno plant, you can get by just fine with a two to three-gallon planter.
Placing a high-lipped drip pan or using a pot with a water reserve in the bottom will also help maintain moisture levels.
It’s especially helpful for pepper plants in the late season, as the deeper roots can bring water up to the rest of the plant to help keep foliage alive and feed the developing fruit.
Bell Pepper Care
As heavy feeding plants, peppers don’t like to compete with weeds. Adding a light layer of mulch will help prevent any current weed seeds in your soil from sprouting while also preventing new seeds from finding soil to germinate in.
Straw and other inert organic mulch will do just fine. If you have some well-mulched, fresh grass clippings, you could lay down an inch or two around the pepper plant.
Grass clippings tend to have a extra nitrogen, which helps feed the plant as they break down.
A pepper plant’s needs will change throughout the year. Dialing in an effective fertilizing strategy will increase overall productivity, while also helping to protect the vulnerable fruit from damaging sun-scald.
How Do I Fertilize Pepper Plants?
If you are growing from seed, you should give them a half-strength dose of a phosphorus-rich fertilizer each week. You might want to increase this if you see purple developing on the underside of the leaves.
When you plant them, you should also put a full-strength dose in the container soil. This will promote vigorous early root growth.
From that point on, you should give the peppers a standard dose of a nitrogen-rich fertilizer every 10 to 14 days. Leading up to the summer solstice pepper plants love to feed on nitrogen to develop lush foliage.
If they don’t develop sufficient leaf cover to protect the eventual fruit, you will likely suffer from sun-scald.
Once the first fruits form you can switch over to a fertilizer that is rich in potassium or soluble potash.
A standard “Tomato Food” fertilizer will suffice. This will improve drought resistance and also help the plant develop strong fruit.
If you notice yellowing in the leaves with green veins, it likely indicates a magnesium deficiency. This could also be the result of overwatering.
If the soil is excessively damp, you should give it an extra day or two to dry out. Then dissolve Epsom salt in warm water and apply it directly to the soil. Most Epsom salt packages come with mixing instructions.
If you notice a soft spot or signs of blossom end rot on the fruit, it’s likely a sign that the soil is low on calcium.
In a situation like this, you can mix some garden lime or dolomitic limestone with warm water and apply it directly to the soil.
It won’t save the fruit that has already been compromised, you might as well just pull them off and discard them to the compost pile. An extra dose of calcium might help save any new developing fruit.
Pinching and Pruning
Early on pepper plants don’t need suckering, pinching, or pruning. In fact, you want them to produce as much foliage as possible in the early part of the summer.
As they start to develop fruit, you might want to consider pinching off new flowers. This will keep the plant encouraged to invest it’s efforts into swelling and ripening the fruit it produces.
Some pepper plants that sprawl out, like Thai peppers, and Bhut Jolokia will benefit from some late season suckering.
You can do this by hand, pinching the new shoots that develop in the crotch between two established branches.
Most peppers are self-pollinating. However, they will benefit from one or two other peppers of the same type being planted nearby. This increasing pollen density which can result in faster setting of fruit.
It’s also worth noting that peppers in the Chinese family have a reputation for being “Promiscuous Pollinators.” This includes:
- Aji Dulce
- Bhut Jolokia
- Carolina reaper
When you plant one member of the chinense family near another cross pollination can affect the traits of the fruit.
One of the more common pairings is when pollen from a hot habanero plant pollinates an otherwise mild aji dulce, making the fruit astonishingly hot.
If you know you have two plants from the same family, and you don’t want to risk crossing their traits, you should consider planting them at least 100 to 200 feet apart.
Most pepper plants have strong stems and don’t require much in the way of stakes and cages.
However, if the area you plant them in is exposed to strong wind, or the plant sprawls out as the season goes on, you might want to put a small tomato cage around them.
If you want to stake your peppers, you should try to insert the stake into the pot when you plant it. If you wait a month or more to insert the stake, you risk damaging the roots.
Pests and Diseases
Early blight and other fungal diseases can affect pepper plants. Yet they are far less likely to be impacted than their tomato cousins.
If you do notice a fungal problem or blight on your pepper plants, you should pinch off any affected leaves, and then lightly spray it with organic copper sulfate.
If you can’t find it in stores, you might be able to eliminate the fungal spores by spraying it with a 50/50 mix of water and hydrogen peroxide.
Cut worm can be a very serious concern with pepper plants. Especially, if you place them near corn, tomatoes and potatoes. Hand picking is the traditional way to deal with cut worm, which requires a daily visual inspection.
One way to make this easier is to plant dill near your peppers. The cut worms are more attracted to the dill, and they are far easier to spot.
You then only need to check the dill plant to pick cut worms before they can attack the stems of the pepper plants.
Blossum end rot is another concern with pepper plants. It occurs when low soil calcium levels rob the fruit of the structure it needs to fully mature.
It typically appears as a soft spot or black “Rotting” area at the bottom end of a pepper.
When it appears, the pepper itself is ruined and needs to be picked and discarded. You should then dissolve garden lime in hot water, and apply it to the soil.
Most peppers can, like bells, can be harvested when they are still green. However, if you leave them on the plant, they will eventually turn yellow, red, or even a shade of umber.
This will develop their flavor, and also signals that the seeds inside are mature. If you intend to save seeds for the next year, you should not select from green fruits.
How Many Bell Peppers Does One Plant Produce?
Bell peppers are by the far the most common and popular type of pepper for patio container gardens.
There are a few different varieties that make a small number of large fruit, and others who make a large number of smaller fruit.
The gold standards in the bell pepper realm are California Wonder and Carolina Wonder. They are essentially the same pepper plant, except Carolina Wonder has a special gene that helps with nematode resistance.
With proper care and fertilizer, a “Wonder” bell pepper will produce between four to six full-size peppers in the course of a given summer. If you have a particularly long and warm fall, you might even be able to get a few more small peppers out of them.
How Long Will Bell Pepper Plants Produce?
The answer to this question can vary depending on your growing zone and the type of pepper. Most peppers will fail to produce fruit or “False Flower” when the soil temperature dips below 60-degrees Fahrenheit.
If you live in a warm growing zone, or you have a particularly warm fall, you might still get peppers all the way into October.
Speaking as someone who lives in Minnesota. I have had several years where my container-grown pepper plants had green peppers still on the vine.
I then took them indoors and placed them in a sunny window. With proper care and patience, I was harvesting my last ripe aji dulce pepper on Christmas morning!
How Long Does It Take To Grow Bell Peppers?
As members of the solanum family, all pepper plants are what are called “Short Day Plants.” This means that they perceive the amount of sunlight in a given time period.
When the days start getting shorter after the summer solstice, it triggers the plants to flower with increasing frequency.
With proper care, you should be able to harvest your first green California Wonder within 80 or so days after planting it.
If you want to wait until the peppers turn red, you might have to give it another 10 to 20 days.
Types Of Peppers Plants For Growing In Containers?
Most garden centers are aware of the growing popularity of peppers in home gardens and offer a basic variety of seedlings.
However, there are some other, somewhat exotic, pepper plants that are available to be grown from seed.
Growing From Garden Center Seedlings
The following is a basic list of some of the more common pepper plants that you will find in a garden center. It shouldn’t take too much hunting around to find one that you like.
Bell peppers are sort of the hallmark. They tend to be the “Gateway” pepper that most first-time container gardeners start with.
A two to three-gallon container will give you a plant capable of producing around four to five full-size, mature fruit.
If you leave a green bell pepper to mature on the vine, it will mature into yellow or red. This will also give the flesh of the pepper more of a sweet flavor.
Cayenne peppers are thin-walled and known for being very hot. They are mostly grown to be dried and ground for seasoning blends.
They can thrive in a surprisingly small amount of soil. I’ve seen a modest yield from a simple one-gallon pot. Though you will get a staggering number of peppers if you pot them up to a three-gallon volume.
Jalapeno is another fan favorite and easy to grow. They tend to have better drought resistance compared to some other thick-walled peppers in the same annum family.
They can produce a small number of peppers in a single gallon of soil. Yet you will get a better yield in two to two and a half gallons of soil.
Serrano is the next step up in heat from the jalapeno. The plants are very similar in appearance, though serrano tends to produce thinner fruits.
They will grow just fine in a two-gallon planter, but I think you’ll find that they will give you a much better yield of fruit if you go with three gallons or more.
Habanero is also popular and has a reputation for being incredibly hot. In the Caribbean, they are referred to as “Three” or “Five” pot peppers, for the volume of soup they can spice.
Poblano is similar in flavor to green bell peppers, though with a little more heat. The fruits are longer, with the same thick-walled flesh.
When ripened to red and dried poblano peppers are called “Ancho.” The fruit straight from the vine is commonly used in the popular Mexican dish Chile Rellenos.
Pepper Plants Grown From Seed
If you have a little bit of a green thumb and growing pepper plants from seed are within your skillset, then there are a lot of interesting and even exotic peppers sold online.
Pepperoncini is a thin-walled pepper that’s very popular in Greek and Italian cooking. They take well to pickling, which helps you put up and make the most out of the bountiful fruits.
A two-gallon planter will give you a modest yield. You will really get a ton of peppers with three gallons or more per plant.
Shishito is popular in Japan and has since found its way to America. It is a very flavorful pepper with very little heat.
You can pickle it, chop it into salads, or simply blister it and dress with salt for a nice little appetizer. In a small one-and-a half-gallon container you will get a modest yield.
Yet I suspect you will fall in love with them as much as I have and putting them in a three to four-gallon planter will give you the yield you really want.
Aji Dulce is an interesting and someone rare pepper that hails from Venezuela and the Caribbean. When fully ripe it looks like a habanero, yet it only has the flavor, without the heat.
They tend to be very shallow-rooted plants. You can get a very nice yield of peppers from two gallons of soil, in a wide planter.
You should also note that Aji Dulce is known as “Promiscuous Pollinators.” If there are habanero plants within 100 feet or so, the heat could activate in a pepper with surprising results!
Guajillo is another type of seasoning pepper that you can dry to use in a spice blend. They need at least two gallons of soil to do well.
Paprika is available in two varieties, Spanish and Hungarian. Spanish paprika is a little hard to grow and has a smoky or earthy flavor.
Hungarian tends to be sweeter. When ripened to read and dehydrated they made a great spice blend.
Both need at least two gallons of soil to produce but will do better with three gallons or more.
Thai peppers and so-called “Jumbo Thai” peppers also continue to grow in popularity. You might be able to find a few seedlings at some of the more exotic garden centers.
If you do manage to find some quality plants, you will probably pay a premium for them. So, you will most likely need to source them from seed if you want to grow them and mind the budget.
The normal Thai variety makes small peppers and will produce a modest number in a two-gallon container.
However, they do tend to branch out more than other pepper varieties, and you should consider going up to five gallons if you want a really huge yield of these hot and flavorful peppers. Jumbo Thai peppers are very similar to jalapeno.
They can produce a small number of peppers in a two-gallon planter, but you will get the best yield from two and a half to three gallons of soil.
Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she attended University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. She has supplemented her formal education by working on various organic farms, including spending a semester abroad in India.
Growing and/or raising just about anything gets her excited. She is especially passionate about environmental justice and low-tech, sustainable ways to better run small-scale farms and homesteads. Lindsey started Urban Organic Yield to discuss gardening tips and tactics.
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