Both bell- and hot-pepper plants are warm-season vegetables. Cold weather inhibits their ability to grow or produce fruit. When temperatures are over 90 F, pepper plants may drop their blossoms which inhibits fruit production. Starting the plants inside six weeks before the last spring frost gives them plenty of time to grow and produce once transplanted into the garden. Alternatively, you can purchase healthy seedlings from a nursery. Following up with proper care throughout the growing season will also help maximize the yield of the pepper plants.
Harden-off transplants before planting them in the garden bed. Set them outside during the day starting two to three weeks after the last spring frost. Bring them inside at night. Continue to set them outside each day for three to seven days to get them used to outdoor conditions.
Prepare a well-draining garden bed that receives full sun while the peppers are hardening off. Lay a 2-inch layer of compost over the bed and till it in to a 10-inch depth to improve drainage.
Dig planting holes as deep as the seedlings' pots and twice as wide. Remove the pepper plants from the pots and set then into the holes so they are at the same depth as they were in their containers. Fill in the holes with soil and lightly firm it around the plants. Space the plants 12 to 24 inches apart in the row and space the rows 2 to 3 feet apart.
Water the peppers immediately after planting with a starter fertilizer solution. Use a balanced solution, following package instructions for exact application amounts. Starter fertilizers encourage healthy root growth which leads to a better-producing plant.
Water the plants at least once a week, providing 1 to 2 inches of water to the garden bed. Water twice a week during extended dry periods if the soil is beginning to dry out. Dry conditions lead to blossom drop and less fruiting.
Lay a 2-inch layer of mulch over the bed to preserve soil moisture and prevent weeds. Use straw or wood mulch. Weeds compete with peppers for nutrients which leads to lower fruit yields.
Fertilize after fruit has begun forming on the plants with a 12-12-12 analysis fertilizer. Follow package application amounts and apply the fertilizer to the soil 6 inches away from the stem of the plant to prevent burning the roots.
Check plants regularly for insect infestations. Look on the underside of leaves for signs of aphids, which should be treated with insecticidal soap. Treat other pests immediately with the proper controls.
Harvest fruits as they ripen. Sweet peppers can be picked at any point once the fruit has firmed up. Pick hot peppers once they reach full color. Frequent harvesting encourages further fruit set and ripening of existing fruit.