Pepper Plants – Tips for starting and planting outdoors

Pepper plants are a bit of a challenge in my Zone 5 garden. But I just like pepper plants and they are so pretty in a garden: so I take on the challenge! If you get a mix of different pepper colors and mild and hot peppers you have color throughout the garden. My philosophy is: “if I have to weed I need to enjoy myself.” And what better way to enjoy yourself than have a pretty garden.

I grow both mild and hot peppers, stuffing peppers and ornamental peppers.

I buy my regular pepper plants but start my unusual peppers indoors. The reason being I can only get these varieties through seed catalogs. December and January are the months to order your seeds while the selections are still available.

Pepper seedlings and tomato seedlings are a lot alike when it comes to starting them. I start my pepper plants eight weeks before I plan to set them out in the garden.

I soak my seeds overnight and plant two seeds in Styrofoam or paper cups. I prefer Styrofoam for pepper plants. I have poked drainage holes in the bottom.

Pepper plants like tomato plants like a warm soil so I either set them on a TV, refrigerator or waterbed heater. This small amount of heat makes the seeds sprout faster and are better overall for the strength of the plant. My seedlings usually come up in one week, which is a very good time. Some of the heirloom and pepper plants usually take longer but with my seedling method they fall in the same time.

When the plants are two inches tall I pinch the weaker pepper plant and let the other plant have the entire pot to itself. I have a good window for my pepper plants. Its get the right amount of light and the plants do not get spindly. You may need a growing light to keep the plants smaller. You will know if they grow tall and thin. That means they need more light at a closer distance. Grow lights or the florescent office bar lights work well.

If by chance you notice you have mildew or mold on your soil put lights close to the plants to dry the soil out. A light sprinkling of baby powder will help too. This mildew can cause your entire seedling crop to die in a day if you don’t take care of it. The seedlings get weak at the base of the soil and fall over and shrivel up. Your best bet against this happening is to water from below and to not over water.

I water my seedlings from underneath, by putting water in a tray and setting them in. If by chance I water from the top I pour it in a small hole I have made near the edge of the pot away from the plant. I have learned from experience to keep the top of the soil as dry as possible.

Before planting your transplants you need to harden them off. You do this by exposing them to one hour of sun the first day and two the next and three the following day. You can tell by the plants reaction if it needs a little less sun and you can set it in partial shade. Transplants need to be introduced to direct sun and wind slowly. Its less shock on the plant and it will adjust to being outdoors and grow and produce quicker.

When its time to set the pepper transplants out I throw a teaspoon of Epsom salt in the hole and a handful of fertilizer. I carefully remove the pepper plant from the pot and plant it so that the stem is an inch or two lower into the soil. You can do this with pepper and tomato plant. They actually develop more roots on the stem.

I also add 4 matchsticks about two inches from the plant on all sides. The peppers benefit from the magnesium in the match top. I have had healthier plants and better crops since do this.

I cover my pepper plants with plastic milk jugs at night or on cold days until they are bigger and the nights are warmer. It’s like having a mini greenhouse and the peppers love it. I stake the milk jugs into the ground and tie the handle to the stake. This holds the jug in place so that I am not collecting jugs from the yard the following morning.

One final planting tip: I plant my pepper about 12 to 14 inches apart. Peppers like to touch each other they grow better, produce better and will hold each other up if you don’t stake your pepper plants.

Now it’s time to sit back and watch your pepper plants grow.

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Denise

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