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Pepper

Planting

Peppers (Capsicum annuum) are warm-season plants that grow best at temperatures of 70 to 85 °F during the day and 60 to 70 °F during the night. Peppers generally require a long growing season and grow very slowly during cool periods. Therefore, after the soil has thoroughly warmed in the spring, set out 6 to 8 week-old transplants to get a head start toward harvest. Do not plant peppers in the garden until after the last chance of frost. Start seed indoors six to eight weeks prior to this date.

Transplanting Dates

Area Spring Fall
Piedmont May 1-June 30 July 20-25
Central April 15-June 15 July 10- Aug. 1
Coastal Mar.25-June 15 July 10- Aug. 1

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Piedmont: Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Chester, Edgefield, Fairfield, Greenville, Greenwood, Lancaster, Laurens, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Saluda, Spartanburg, Union, and York counties.

Central: Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun, Chesterfield, Clarendon, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Kershaw, Lee, Lexington, Marion, Marlboro, Orangeburg, Richland, and Sumter counties.

Coastal: Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, and Williamsburg counties.

Peppers should be spaced 12 inches apart in the row. Rows should be 3 feet apart. Pimento peppers require 18 to 24-inch spacing in the row. Rows should be 42 inches apart.

Select a well-drained, loamy, or sandy loam soil for planting. Avoid areas that have had eggplant, tobacco, pepper, tomato, or Irish potato planted in the previous year.

Cultivar Types

Peppers are classified according to their degree of hot or mild flavor. Mild peppers include bell, banana, pimento, and sweet cherry. Hot peppers include the jalapeno, habanero, cayenne, large cherry, and tabasco.

The heat of peppers is measured by the Scoville Heat Scale, which uses Scoville Heat Units (SHU)to represent capsaicin content. The higher the number of SHU, the hotter the pepper is. Jalapeno peppers range from 2,500 to 8,000 SHU while the hottest pepper in the world (as of 2020) with an average of 1.64 million SHU is the Carolina Reaper, which was bred in Rock Hill, SC.

Carolina Reaper peppers in a variety of colors, grown in Rock Hill, SC.

Carolina Reaper peppers in a variety of colors, grown in Rock Hill, SC.
Justin Ballew, ©HGIC 2020, Clemson Extension

Recommended Cultivars

  • Bell Peppers: Capistrano, Jupiter, Plato, Antebellum, Valencia, Vanguard
  • Banana Peppers: Sweet Banana, Cubanelle, Banana Supreme, Biscayne, Key Largo
  • Jalapeno: Jalapeno M, Tula, Mitla, Fooled You
  • Habanero: Habanero, Tiger Paw NR
  • Cayenne: Carolina Cayenne, Charleston Hot, Long Slim Cayenne, Super Cayenne II
  • Other Hot Peppers: Carolina Reaper, Ghost Pepper, Scotch Bonnet, Poblano (called Ancho when dried), Serrano

Fertilizing

Peppers require moderate amounts of fertilizer. A soil test is always the best method of determining the fertilization needs of the crop. For more information, see HGIC 1652, Soil Testing. Follow the results of a soil test to maintain a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5.

Apply preplant fertilizer according to soil test recommendations. Broadcast the fertilizer evenly and incorporate it into the soil by tilling or disking to a depth of around 6 inches. Working the fertilizer into the soil ensures that the nutrients are available to the plants when they are seeded or transplanted.

Side dress 5 pounds of calcium nitrate (15.5-0-0) per 1000 square feet or 300 feet of row three to four weeks after planting. For smaller gardens, use ½ pound of calcium nitrate fertilizer per 100 square feet or 30 feet of row. A pint is roughly equal to a pound for most fertilizers. Side dress another 5 pounds per 1000 square feet or ½ lb per 100 square feet three to four weeks after that. To avoid burning the roots, place side-dress fertilizer 4 to 6 inches away from the plants. If fertilizer is broadcast, avoid burning the plant foliage by watering overhead after the application to wash the fertilizer granules off the leaves.

Watering

Water the garden to provide a uniform moisture supply to the crop. Water sufficiently to moisten the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches. The critical period for moisture is during fruit set and fruit development. During fruit development, maintain uniform soil moisture and do not allow the soil to dry out in between watering. Mulching can help to retain consistent soil moisture, conserve water, and reduce weeds.

Harvesting & Storage

Peppers should be ready for harvest in about 70 to 85 days after transplanting. When starting from seed, expect 100 to 120 days to maturity.

Harvest sweet peppers when they reach full size, the fruit walls are firm, and the peppers are still in the green or yellow state; otherwise, allow them to ripen further for red or orange peppers. The stems of pepper plants are brittle. When harvesting the fruit, cut the stems instead of pulling to avoid breaking branches. Varieties turn from green to red, yellow, or chocolate when allowed to mature on the plant. Bell peppers can be left on the plant to turn color; however, they should be picked as soon as they change to the desired color. Fully colored peppers are sweeter than green peppers.

Hot peppers may be picked green or allowed to ripen and change colors on the plant. Entire plants may be pulled and hung just before fall frosts. Jalapeno peppers should be harvested when the fruit turns black-green. Yields are smaller for hot peppers.

Store peppers in the refrigerator. The optimal conditions for storage are temperatures of 45 to 50 °F and 80- to 90-percent relative humidity for two to three weeks.

Problems

Banana peppers with blossom end rot.

Banana peppers with blossom end rot.
Justin Ballew, ©HGIC 2020, Clemson Extension

Plants that have a great deal of foliage but few blooms and fruit indicates over-fertilization of nitrogen. Avoid over-fertilizing by following the results of soil test recommendations, as stated in the “Fertilizing” section above.

A bell pepper with blossom end rot.

A bell pepper with blossom end rot.
Justin Ballew, ©HGIC 2020, Clemson Extension

Blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency within the plant. However, the development of blossom end rot may not necessarily indicate a calcium deficiency in the soil. Calcium is not very water-soluble and is, therefore, difficult for plants to take up. Once within the plants, calcium quickly becomes fixed within the plant cell walls. This means that a consistent supply of calcium in the soil solution is necessary to prevent blossom end rot within developing fruit. If the water supply is interrupted, calcium is unable to be absorbed by the plant and move to the fruit, which results in this physiological fruit rot. To prevent blossom end rot, keep the soil uniformly moist, but not saturated. Do not allow the soil to dry out in between watering. Soil test before planting to ensure there is a sufficient level of calcium in the soil.

Southern blight develops at the soil line. It starts as a white mass of hyphal tissue and eventually develops small tan to brown pellets (called sclerotia) that drop into the soil once they mature. These are survival propagules of the fungus that can over-winter in the garden. Infected plants will wilt and die.

Southern blight develops at the soil line. It starts as a white mass of hyphal tissue and eventually develops small tan to brown pellets (called sclerotia) that drop into the soil once they mature. These are survival propagules of the fungus that can over-winter in the garden. Infected plants will wilt and die.
Justin Ballew, ©HGIC 2020, Clemson Extension

Insects that may be a problem include aphids, thrips, and caterpillars (such as European corn borers, corn earworms, and armyworms). In smaller gardens, caterpillars can be removed by hand. In large gardens, use “soft” insecticides such as B.t. or spinosad. For more information, see HGIC 2270, Less Toxic Insecticides.

Anthracnose fruit rot causes a sunken lesion with pinkish-orange spore masses.

Anthracnose fruit rot causes a sunken lesion with pinkish-orange spore masses.
Justin Ballew, ©HGIC 2020, Clemson Extension

Many disease problems can be avoided by using certified disease-free seed and transplants. Do not use tobacco products near peppers, since tobacco mosaic virus can be readily spread from tobacco. The two most troublesome diseases of peppers in the home garden are bacterial wilt and bacterial leaf spot. Other disease problems include tomato spotted wilt virus, cucumber mosaic virus, Fusarium wilt, Pythium root rot, Cercospora leaf spot, Southern blight, and anthracnose fruit rot. Root-knot nematodes can also be a problem.

Reduce disease problems by:

  • Rotating planting locations. Don’t plant peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, or potatoes in the same garden spot more often than once every three years.
  • Removing all plant debris from the garden each year. Eliminate any volunteer pepper plants that may occur between crops.
  • Purchasing disease-free transplants. Inspect plants and be sure they have no spots or lesions on them at the time of purchase.
  • Selecting disease or nematode resistant cultivars.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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