How to Grow Peppers from Seed to Harvest

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In this comprehensive gardening guide, we’ll walk you through how to grow peppers from seed to harvest. We’ll go over every step of the process: from choosing the right seeds to caring for your plants, harvesting your crop, and how to preserve peppers too!

peppers in the garden

Spice up your backyard garden with homegrown peppers! Growing your own peppers from seed to harvest is not only rewarding but also easier than you might think. Whether you prefer sweet or spicy varieties, there’s a pepper plant for every taste bud. Get ready to add some heat (or sweetness) to your next meal with your very own homegrown peppers!

How to Grow Peppers from Seeds at a Glance

Here are the most important things you need about how to grow peppers from seed:

  • A main reason for starting your own pepper seedlings is because of the sheer variety of peppers. Green peppers are just the tip of the iceberg and many garden centers only stock the most basic types of peppers.
  • Peppers are slow to start from seed. Plan to start them 8-12 weeks before your average last frost date. In my zone 5 garden with an average last frost date of May 15, that means peppers need to be started from seed in late winter or early spring, somewhere from the end of February to the end of March. Make sure you double check your last frost date here so you know when to start your seeds too.
  • In addition to needing 8-12 weeks for starting pepper seeds, providing a seedling heat mat and grow light is the best way to help the seedlings grow. 
  • Also, since peppers prefer warm soil, northern gardeners (like me) may need to use raised beds or other techniques to help warm the soil before planting. Covering your planting area with thick black plastic can help warm the soil quicker so you can plant sooner.
  • Peppers can take a long time to mature, anywhere from 60-150 days. 
  • Peppers are a hot weather crop and cannot be planted until the risk of frost is nil and your ground warms up to around 60 degrees.
  • They need soil with good drainage, lots of direct sunlight, a thick layer of mulch, and consistent water for best results.

Now that you know the basics of growing peppers from seed, let’s get into the nitty gritty details!

pepper bounty from my garden

Select the Right Type of Peppers to Grow

There are many types of peppers you can grow in a vegetable garden, each with its own unique flavor and heat level. You’ll want to do some research before deciding what varities to grow. If you’re in a cold climate, you’ll want quick growing pepper types. If you’re in a warm climate, you have more options.

Here are some of the most popular varieties of peppers from mild to spicy:

Sweet Peppers

  • Bell peppers: Mild, sweet peppers come in a variety of colors, including green, red, yellow, and orange. Sweet bell peppers are great for eating raw, cooking, or stuffing.
  • Poblano peppers: Mild peppers are often used in Mexican cuisine. They are great for stuffing or roasting and are the main ingredient in chiles rellenos.
  • Banana Peppers: Mild and tangy, banana peppers are often pickled and used to add a subtle kick to sandwiches, salads, and pizza.

Moderately Spicy Peppers

  • Anaheim peppers: Mild to moderately spicy peppers are often used in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine. They are great for roasting and stuffing, and are a popular ingredient in chiles rellenos.
  • Jalapeno peppers: Moderately spicy peppers are often used in Mexican cuisine. They can be eaten fresh or pickled, and are great for adding flavor to salsas and other dishes.
  • Cayenne Peppers: Moderately spicy, commonly used in powdered form to add heat to dishes.
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Very Spicy Peppers

  • Thai Peppers: Hotter than jalapeños, these small peppers pack a punch and are common in Thai cuisine. These small and thin hot peppers are usually added to curries and stir-fries.
  • Habanero Peppers: Very spicy peppers are used in Caribbean and Latin American cuisine. They have a fruity flavor and are often used in hot sauces and marinades.
  • Scotch Bonnets: Similar in heat to habaneros, these peppers are popular in Caribbean cuisine and are extremely spicy.
  • Habanero peppers: Very spicy peppers are used in Caribbean and Latin American cuisine. They have a fruity flavor and are often used in hot sauces and marinades.
  • Ghost peppers (Bhut Jolokia): rank among the spiciest peppers in the world. They are significantly hotter than habanero peppers and Scotch Bonnets, often surpassing 1,000,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) and sometimes reaching over 1,500,000 SHU. This places them near the top of the scale in terms of spiciness, making them an extreme challenge for those who dare to consume them.

Ornamental Peppers

There are also several types of ornamental peppers to grow for visual garden interest. They’re ideal for adding a pop of color to gardens, borders, and containers, whether grown indoors or outdoors.

How to Grow Bell Peppers

Choosing Peppers Suited for Your Growing Zone

Peppers are a warm-season crop that prefer warm temperatures and a long growing season to produce fruit. Generally, peppers grow best in USDA hardiness zones 9-11, which have warm, sunny climates with very long growing seasons.

However, many varieties of pepper plants can be grown successfully in cooler climates with shorter growing seasons, and some varieties have even been developed specifically for these regions. 

In general, peppers can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 4-11, depending on the variety and the specific growing conditions. Choosing pepper varieties that are well-suited to your climate and growing conditions is important to ensure the best possible harvest.

My favorite peppers for growing in a zone 5 garden include:

These types of peppers have all done very well in my garden, producing lots of delicious peppers for a good part of the summer.

tomato and pepper seedlings

Tips for Starting Peppers from Seed

Now that you’ve decided on the type of pepper to grow, it’s time to start the seeds. Read my general seed-starting tips in this post, and make sure you have the following seed-starting supplies on hand:

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Tips for Starting Broccoli & other Brassicas Indoors from Seed

Remember that the germination period for peppers can be long, anywhere from 7 -21 days.

  • Plant seeds in a high quality soil and make sure the top of the soil stays moist.
  • I generally put 2-3 pepper seeds in each tiny pot to make sure at least one germinates.
  • If you are confident that you have viable seeds that will germinate, you can get away with only putting one seed in each pot. 
  • If they all germinate, you will either need to transplant the extras to their own pots, or discard the smaller weaker looking seedlings.
  • It’s a good idea to cover your seedling tray and to put the seeds in a warm spot to speed up germination time.
  • Once the seeds have germinated, turn off the heat mats.
  • Make sure the young plants have enough light and pay close attention to the plants while they grow their first leaves.
  • You’ll have to put each seedling in a larger pot as it grows and keep it alive until the night temperatures are above freezing and it’s time to move outside.
planting peppers in the garden

How & When to Plant Bell Peppers Outside 

Pepper seedlings should be planted outside once nighttime temperatures are steadily in the 60s. If you can grow your peppers under a hoop house, you can plant them once the soil temperature is steady at 60 degrees.

Before planting seedlings outside in the garden, make sure to harden them off correctly or the shock of moving to outside weather might kill them.

All pepper are heavy feeders, so mixing a well-balanced fertilizer and two tablespoons of phosphorous into the hole for the seedling will help its growth.  Using too much nitrogen will rob you of fruits but will give you beautiful leaf and stem growth.

Do not plant them deeper than they grew in your starts, as the stem will rot.   

They should be planted 18 inches in rows or with every square foot if using the square foot gardening method.  

Every three weeks, fertilize your bell peppers with a well-balanced fertilizer. 

companion plants for peppers

Companion Plants for Peppers and Plants to Avoid

Companion planting can benefit pepper plants by attracting beneficial insects, repelling pests, improving soil health, and providing shade or support.

The best companion plants for peppers:

  1. Basil: Basil repels aphids, spider mites, and mosquitoes. It also enhances the flavor of peppers when planted nearby.
  2. Oregano: Oregano deters many pests that can affect peppers, including aphids and spider mites. It also attracts beneficial insects.
  3. Marigolds: Marigolds are excellent for repelling nematodes, aphids, and other pests. Their strong scent can mask the aroma of pepper plants, making it harder for pests to find them.
  4. Nasturtiums: Nasturtiums act as a trap crop for aphids and caterpillars, drawing these pests away from pepper plants. They also add a splash of color to the garden.
  5. Onions and Garlic: These members of the allium family help repel aphids, spider mites, and other pests. Planting them near peppers can improve the health of the entire garden.
  6. Chives: Chives repel aphids, spider mites, and other pests. They also improve the overall health of the garden soil.
  7. Lettuce: Lettuce provides a living mulch, helping to retain soil moisture and shade the soil around pepper plants.
  8. Carrots: Carrots attract beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, which prey on aphids and other pests.

What Not to Plant Near Peppers

There are also a few plants you should not plant near peppers because they compete for the same nutrients or are susceptible to the same diseases. It might be better to locate the following plants away from peppers as you’re planting your garden.

  1. Fennel: Fennel can inhibit the growth of nearby plants, including peppers.
  2. Kohlrabi: Kohlrabi releases substances that can stunt the growth of peppers and other plants.
  3. Brussels Sprouts: Brussels sprouts can compete with peppers for nutrients and space, affecting their growth.
  4. Beans: Beans and other legumes fix nitrogen in the soil, which peppers do not need in excess. This can lead to imbalances in soil fertility.
  5. Cabbage: Cabbage plants can attract cabbage worms and root maggots, which may also affect pepper plants.
How to Grow Bell Peppers

Common Pepper Diseases and Prevention

Peppers are susceptible to a few diseases which can affect their growth and productivity. including bacterial wilt, verticillium wilt, blight, and mosaic virus. Here are a few general tips for avoiding diseases in peppers.

  1. Start with Healthy Plants: Purchase disease-free seedlings or start seeds indoors using sterile potting mix.
  2. Proper Plant Spacing: Something I’m always bad at – giving those plants enough room for air circulation etc. Make sure to follow the plant guidelines!
  3. Mulch: Mulch around pepper plants helps prevent soil-borne diseases and reduces splashing of soil onto leaves.
  4. Watering: Water at the base of plants in the morning to allow foliage to dry during the day. Avoid overhead watering, which can promote fungal growth.
  5. Crop Rotation: Do not plant peppers in the same location year after year. Rotate crops to prevent the buildup of soil-borne pathogens.
  6. Sanitation: Remove and destroy any infected plant material promptly. Clean gardening tools between uses to avoid spreading diseases.
  7. Use Disease-Resistant Varieties: When available, choose pepper varieties that are resistant to common diseases in your area.

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Common Pepper Plant Pests and How to Avoid Them

When you’re learning how to grow peppers from seed, it’s also important that you recognize common pests. Knowing what to look out for will help you get a handle on any potential pest infestation quickly and with the least amount of effort. Here are common pests that attack pepper plants.

Here are some of the most common pests that can affect pepper plants, along with tips on how to avoid them:


Small, soft-bodied insects usually found clustered on new growth, buds, and the undersides of leaves. Aphids suck sap from plants, causing leaves to curl, yellow, and distort. They can also transmit viruses.

Flea Beetles

Small, jumping flea beetles that chew small holes in leaves, giving them a lacy appearance. Flea beetles can stunt growth, especially in young plants, and cause defoliation.


These small, moth-like insects that congregate on the undersides of leaves, sucking sap and causing yellowing and wilting. Whiteflies can transmit diseases and weaken plants, especially in large numbers.

To keep pests at bay in organic gardens, make sure to use companion planting, watch your plants closely, and have an organic pest control arsenal ready at your disposal. Find our favorite and most effective organic pest control methods.

How to Grow Bell Peppers

How Long Do Peppers Take To Grow

Depending on the variety, bell peppers take 60-90 days to grow.  If you plant nursery starts, most plants will take at least six weeks to produce a harvest.  

It will take longer if temperatures soar, as it will cause the blossoms and buds to drop. Fruit production will begin again once temperatures cool down.  

How & When to Harvest Peppers

When to harvest peppers depends on which type you grow. Make sure to record details in your garden journal including how long each pepper plant should take to produce so you know when to start looking. Here are general pepper harvesting tips.

Check Size and Firmness

Mature peppers should be firm, glossy, and have a full shape. Avoid harvesting peppers that are soft, wrinkled, or dull in color, as these are signs of overripeness.

Use Pruning Shears or Scissors

To harvest peppers without damaging the plant, use clean pruning shears or scissors. Cut the stem about 1/2 inch above the pepper to avoid damaging the plant. Check our these beautiful garden scissors! We love them!

Harvest Regularly

Continuously harvesting peppers encourages the plant to produce more fruits. Check the plants every few days, especially during peak harvest times.

Handle with Care

Peppers can be delicate, so handle them gently to avoid bruising or puncturing the skin. Excessive handling can cause the peppers to spoil more quickly.

Wear Gloves for Hot Peppers

When harvesting hot peppers like habaneros or jalapeños, it’s a good idea to wear gardening gloves to protect your skin from the oils, which can cause irritation. These are our favorite gardening gloves.

pepper plants in pots

Can You Grow Peppers in Pots?

Peppers will grow in containers or pots, especially if you get specific types. Their needs are the same, but bell peppers in pots tend to dry out more and must be watered regularly. Place pepper containers in an area that receives full sun.

You need a minimum of a 3-gallon pot filled with a potting mix and a drainage hole. A 5-gallon bucket will give room to add carrots or cilantro, plants that grow well with peppers.

Similar to planting peppers in your garden, leave planted pots outside at night once the temperature is in the mid-60s. 

Peppers well suited for growing in pots include:

Lunchbox Peppers – compact versions of traditional bell peppers that produce small, sweet bell peppers that come in various colors like red, yellow, and orange.

Biquinho Pepper – a small, compact plant that produces snack-sized sweet peppers with a bit of heat. It’s perfect for small spaces or balcony gardens and can be grown for decoration or to eat.

Fresh Bites Orange – I haven’t grown these yet, but supposedly this hybrid pepper plant produces orange snacking pepper in a 6 inch pot and doesn’t require more than a sunny windowsill! They also come in yellow.

Shishito Peppers – compact and prolific peppers that grow well in the garden, in pots, or in 5 gallon grow bags as well! These peppers are popular as appetizers in restaurants and have a citrusy, slightly smoky flavor.

How to Preserve Peppers

There are lots of ways to preserve peppers to eat all year round. Some of our favorite methods of preserving peppers include:

  • Flash freezing whole, raw peppers
  • Slicing, sautéing, and freezing cooked peppers
  • Canning
  • Pickling
  • Making Pepper Jelly
  • Infusing oil
  • Infusing vinegar

If you’re looking for a great book on freezing your garden bounty, we highly recommend our friend Crystal’s book, Freeze Fresh.

If you liked this post on how to grow peppers from seed, you’ll like these too:

Now that you know how to grow peppers from seed, which type of peppers are you going to grow this year?

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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