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Both hot and sweet peppers need warmth for germination and strong growth, so start them off indoors or under cover in most climates. Sow seeds no more than two months before your last frost date.
Sow seeds an inch apart in flats or pots of seed-starting mix, then cover with a little more mix. Water the seeds in using a fine spray.
Place pots or flats on heat mat or inside a heated propagator set to 70ºF. Alternatively, secure clear plastic bags with rubber bands over your pots, and place them on a warm windowsill to germinate.
Remove covers once the seedlings germinate, and grow on in a bright, warm place. After a few weeks prick out seedlings and transplant into individual pots. Grow lights are not essential but they will help give the seedlings a strong start while days are still short.
Pot the young plants on again if the roots fill their pots before they are ready for planting.
Harden off plants over a two-week period by leaving them outside for gradually longer periods of time. Once your last expected frost date has passed, you can transplant them into their final positions. Peppers need a rich fertile soil and at least six hours of direct sunshine every day.
If planting into containers, use 1.5 gallon pots or larger.
In cooler climates peppers will flower and fruit sooner if grown in a greenhouse, hoop house or sun room, or on sunny windowsill.
Push in a cane or stake next to each plant (larger plants may need several canes) and tie the main stem or stems to it with twine.
Pinch out the growing tips once plants reach about 8in tall. This will stimulate plants to become bushier, which results in healthier plants that produce more flowers and fruits.
Start feeding plants regularly with a liquid feed high in potassium, such as a tomato fertilizer, once they begin producing flower buds. Don’t allow plants to dry out as this can cause wilting and problems such as blossom end rot or leaf curl. Placing pots on a tray or similar reservoir when watering helps to contain the water that drains through. It will then gradually be absorbed back up through the drainage holes.
Peppers can be harvested green or when they have taken on their final color. Use a sharp pair of clean pruners to snip the stems of the fruits. Store them in the refrigerator or freezer until you need them. Chili peppers may also be dehydrated then ground to make chili flakes.
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