Mother Nature designed sweet and hot peppers (Capsicum spp.) with inexperienced gardeners in mind. Given the right soil, sun and a minimum of care, peppers routinely produce abundant, harvest-ready fruit in anywhere from two to five months. Many of them are attractive enough to double as ornamentals so even a small flowerbed has room for at least one.
For quickest results, transplant nursery-started peppers. Grow peppers from seed only if you're in a mild-winter, early-spring climate.
Peppers need warm growing conditions. Whether you're growing them from seeds or transplants, putting peppers in the ground before the soil temperature reaches 70 degrees Fahrenheit may result in permanently stunted plants.
Choose a site with at least six hours of daily sun and room to space them 1 1/2 to 2 feet apart. They also need consistently moist, organically rich soil. Mixing a 3- to-5 inch layer of organic compost into the planting bed helps satisfy both requirements.
Loosen the soil
Loosen the top 6 to 8 inches of soil thoroughly with the spade or rototiller.
Add the Compost
Rake the compost evenly over the bed and spade or till it into the loosened soil,
Covering the soil around the pepper transplants -- or sprouted seeds -- with black plastic for two or three weeks warms the soil and speeds their growth. Cut openings around the plants or seedlings so water reaches the soil.
As summer approaches, replace the plastic with a 3-to-4-inch layer of organic mulch such as grass clippings or chopped leaves. Organic mulch cools the soil and conserves moisture -- both very important in hot, dry summer climates. It also nourishes the soil as it breaks down.
Peppers need at least 1 inch of rain or supplemental water each week; when daytime temperatures are consistently above 95 degrees, 2 inches is better. Slow, deep watering lets the water penetrate to the peppers' roots instead of running off the soil's surface.
One inch of water is is the equivalent of 6 gallons per 10 square feet of soil. Water peppers growing in moisture-holding clay or loamy soils once weekly. In quickly draining, sandy soil, water them twice weekly with one-half the necessary amount.
Peppers don't need much fertilizer. Overfertilized plants direct most of their energy into leaf production and away from flowers and fruit. Side-dressing the plants with fertilizer just as their buds open is enough to sustain them through harvest.
Dig Side-Dressing Furrows for Row Plants
Dig narrow, shallow furrows along the sides of row-planted peppers, about 3 inches from the bases of the plants. If you're growing individual plants, skip this step.
Sprinkle 2/3-cup -- or the manufacturer's recommended amount -- of the granules evenly along every 25 feet of furrow. For individual plants, sprinkle 2 tablespoons in a circle 3 inches from the stems.
Rake and Water
Rake the fertilizer lightly into the soil or furrow without disturbing the roots. Water lightly, and rinse stray granules from the plant's leaves to prevent fertilizer burn.
Peppers' somewhat brittle branches might not handle the weight of a heavy fruit crop. Any plants that grow taller than 2 feet benefit from the support of a wire tomato cage. Simply slide the cage over a new transplant or any seedling taller than 6 inches.