How to Grow Peppers in Pots
Of all of the plants to grow for salsa, peppers will potentially ripen the latest. This, of course, depends on what variety of tomatoes you choose. With the help of Wall o’ Water season extenders, the harvest can be sooner by many weeks. As with tomatoes, dates for maturation stated in plant description and on plant tags are from the time of transplant into containers or outside.
How to Start Pepper Seeds Inside
To figure out when to start pepper seedlings inside, take your last frost date and count back 6 to 10 weeks. The ideal size for transplanting is 4 inches tall whether you are buying transplants or growing your own. Most pepper seeds will germinate in about a week, but if they are not germinated by then, allow them more time by continuing to keep them warm and moist. If you plan to order pepper transplants online, order as early as possible to get the best selection.
Pepper seeds are susceptible to many diseases, so it is best to start out with fresh organic soilless mix amended with compost or vermicompost and Azomite™. Plant seeds ¼ inch deep and water in. Peppers germinate best at 75 to 95°F, and bottom heat, such as an electric grow mat will increase success. Most seeds will germinate within 7 to 10 days, but some varieties will take longer. Feeding is not necessary until seedlings have at least one set of true leaves, usually the second set of leaves. True leaves are the ones that look like the leaves of a mature plant, not the ones that emerge first and do not look like a pepper.
When peppers have two sets of true leaves, transplant to larger pots or cut the weaker plants at the soil line with scissors. You may want to transplant to larger container a total of 3 times before planting out. Handle seedlings with the leaves, rather than the stems or roots. Feed every two weeks with a diluted fertilizer such as fish emulsion and/or sea kelp. A B On the off weeks, foliar feedings will increase the productivity and yield, and increase the health of your plants by providing trace minerals. C
Harden off the seedlings by taking them outside for increasing amounts of time each warm day. This minimizes transplant shock by gradually acclimatizing the plants to wind and sun. Peppers are warm season perennials, so plant out after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has had a chance to warm, or about the same time that you transplant tomatoes. You can warm the soil faster by covering the growing areas or container soil with black plastic. Continue to fertilize every two weeks and foliar feed on the alternate weeks.
Peppers that get over 2 feet tall will benefit from staking to prevent the branches from breaking from the weight of their fruit or from the wind. A bamboo pole placed as near to the stem as possible at transplanting time, with the main stem tied every 6 inches will provide adequate support. For branches, loosely tie them in place with a long piece of string that goes around the bamboo pole.
Season Extenders for Peppers
If your peppers are in containers, you can carry them in and out to protect them from frosts and letting them get sunlight during the days. It is better to move them in to an unheated area which does not freeze, such as a garage or basement, rather than into a heated area, since changing temperatures so drastically is stressful to the plant.
Whether you plant peppers in pots or in the ground, it would be beneficial to transplant them in Wall o’ Waters™ a month or more before your last frost so that you can get them established and producing a month or more sooner. These ingenious devices are shaped like a teepee and are made of clear plastic, measuring 18 inches by 18 inches. When you transplant your plants on a sunny day, fill the chambers with water. During the day, the water absorbs heat from the sun while allowing the sunlight through to the plant. At night, the water releases its heat into the interior of the chamber, protecting the plants from frosts. When the weather warms for the season, remove the teepee and the plant will continue to grow. On a very cold night, the addition of a blanket may be necessary. You can get at least another month of growing season using these, and Wall o’ Waters™ can last for 7 to 10 years. These are sometimes available at your local garden center.
How to Overwinter Pepper Plants
Pepper plants are killed by frosts, but if the roots do not freeze, it is possible that they will come back from the roots. It is possible to overwinter pepper plants inside, although they will probably not continue to produce peppers. Pepper plants are perennials, and their chance of surviving inside is good, but not a given. The benefit of taking the risk and putting forth the extra effort is that the plants will likely be much more productive the second year. The goal is to get a head start on the pepper season. Soon after they are brought inside, the plants will likely drop all of their leaves and go into dormancy, and will look dead.
Before the first frost, harvest all of the pepper pods and make sure no insects hitchhike on the plants when you move them inside. If your peppers are planted in the ground, dig them up with a large root ball. Try not to disturb the roots. Plant them in a large pot, at least 5 gallons, and fill the pot up with good quality organic soil. Water them thoroughly to settle the soil; gaps in the soil are destructive to the plant roots. Provide bright light and water only enough to keep the soil from drying out. Watering may be necessary only once or twice a month, but check weekly. Once the leaves have dropped, remove the leaf litter and cut the plant back to stumps.
When the weather warms up, harden the pepper plant off as if it were a seedling. If a late frost is forecast, it is better to move them into an unheated area to reduce the stress of wide temperature changes.