Peppers are not tomatoes. That seems obvious but for some reason we expect them to grow the same as tomatoes, same planting time, same spacing and same sunlight. Although they are in the garden at the same time they have some very different requirements. Both tomatoes and peppers like warm soil and although tomatoes can be planted anytime after your last frost, it is a good idea to give peppers a little more time to get the soil good and warm.
Raised beds warm up quickly and black plastic mulch can also help warm up the soil as well as protect the roots from heavy rain which can drown young seedlings. Adding Epsom salts to the soil will add magnesium which helps Pepper plants thrive. They will also need to have rich compost added to help the roots grow. Drip watering is the best way to prevent diseases and keep watering to a minimum which is especially best for hot peppers. Mulching is crucial for all peppers especially sweet peppers because their roots tend to be shallow. Regular fertilizer is important or use a slow release type which will last for the entire season.
The temperature range for fruits to set is limited like tomatoes but even more so. When nighttime temperatures fall below 60 degrees or above 75 degrees, flowers are likely to drop off because fruits have not set. Daytime temperatures above 90 degrees F. will also prohibit fruit set, but fruits will begin to form again when cooler daytime temperatures appear.
Spacing can vary by variety but most pepper plants will grow to around 2 feet in diameter. It is ok to have the top leaves touching slightly which will help shade the fruit and roots when the summer temperatures rise. Many people use commercial tomato cages to support pepper plants that can become top heavy when loaded with fruit, otherwise stakes to protect them from high winds can be helpful as pepper stems can be brittle.
Sweet vs. Hot
Sweet Peppers are generally able to grow best where the soil temperatures stay moist and cool in the summer months. The tops of the plants don’t mind getting hot but the soil must remain cooler than the top leaves and branches. For sweetness the pH must be correct and moisture should stay consistently moist but not soaking wet. Good support for the stems is important because as the plants become full of fruit, they can be very heavy and break their own branches. Shading the fruit in hotter climates is also helpful to prevent sun burn damage. Ripening from green to red or yellow colors seems to take forever with bell peppers but it will happen when the plant is ready. Generally this takes about 80-90 days from the date you transplant but this can vary. Italian Roasting, Banana, and Pimento types will color sooner than bell type peppers. Peppers can be picked as soon as even a small amount of color is showing and they will finish ripening indoors with full sweetness and with less likelihood of insect damage.
Banana peppers and Hungarian type peppers will taste more like green bell peppers with their sharper flavor. Mature colored bell peppers, Roasters and Pimentos tend to have less of that peppery flavor and more sweetness.
Hot Peppers sometimes grow upright as in the photo, but not always. Jalapeno, Serrano, Habanero and many others do not grow upside down at all and can be just as hot. There are so many kinds of hot peppers but most grow best in areas which have longer growing seasons which means that there are more days within the optimal range for setting fruit. The roots are best kept a bit drier than sweet peppers and will thrive even without mulching. You can pick them green, or let them color to full red, depending upon the flavor you like best. Sugar content will be higher once the color is formed.
If you do need to grow peppers in containers, make sure that you use large pots, good potting soil mixed with some compost, (about a third). Water deeply and regularly, fertilize about every 6 weeks, mulch the top of the dirt because of their shallow roots, and give them plenty of sunshine. Plants may grow slightly smaller and may not produce as well in containers but the soil will also warm up more quickly than plants in the ground.