Green peppers, also known as bell peppers (Capsicum annum), thrive as perennials in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 9 through 11, and appear as annuals in vegetable gardens across the country. If you’re new to growing these natives of Central and South America, prepare to be patient. If they seem to be too small, the fault might not be yours.
1. About Peppers
All bell peppers begin as green peppers. Yellow, orange and red bell peppers acquire their colors along with sweetness as they mature. While red bell peppers are the sweetest, green bell peppers are the least sweet. Bell peppers take 60 to 90 days from transplanting to harvest, depending on variety. Once fruit begins to set, peppers decrease bloom as their fruit matures -- or until you pick it. So it pays to pick fruit that doesn’t seem to be growing or is misshapen to encourage new fruit to begin forming. In order to produce perfect, large fruit, bell peppers need full sun, 1 to 2-inches of water per week and absolute freedom from sprayed herbicide drift.
2. Bad Timing
That 60 to 90 days to harvest refers to the amount of time that passes from the day you put the plants in the ground. Growing plants from seed requires another six to 10 weeks. Planting bell peppers too soon -- before nighttime temperatures register 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit -- gives their reproductive systems a slow start. The result might be bud drop and stunted fruit. To allow new fruit to form during optimum conditions, remove cold-stunted fruit from plants that were set out too early.
3. Uneven Weather
Temperature and precipitation extremes can also affect the growth of bell peppers. Hot weather, dry, windy weather or unusually cool or wet weather followed by a dry spell result in a series of start-and-stop cues that might lead to smaller sized peppers. Tropical plants, peppers grow best in hot weather, but fruit that sets, or forms, when temperatures are above 80 degrees Fahrenheit might be small or misshapen. Unfortunately, there’s no way to control the weather. You can, however, ensure that the soil in your garden drains well, and you can water plants during droughts to provide support for moisture-loving pepper roots.
Peppers crave well-drained, fertile soil with a slightly acidic pH between 5.8 and 6.5. Compost helps lighten soil and add to its fertility, but fertilizing plants before they set fruit can lead to foliage production at the expense of fruit growth. A balanced 10-10-10 or phosphate and potassium-rich 5-10-10 fertilizer applied as a side dressing during fruiting supports the growth of larger bell peppers in soils that require additional fertility.
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Capsicum Annuum
- Burpee: Growing Peppers
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Peppers
- Ohio State University Extension: Growing Peppers in the Home Garden
- Utah State University Cooperative Extension: Peppers in the Garden
- University of Illinois Extension: Peppers
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Pepper
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images