Ever since we built our first raised bed, we have been fascinated by how well our vegetables grow. Each raised bed can be highly customized to work for specific plants. Plus, they are great for keeping your garden highly organized.
Today, I want to specifically cover how to grow peppers in raised beds. Peppers are a great crop to grow in containers, or directly in the ground, but they seem to do particularly well in raised beds.
In this article, I’ll share a full guide to growing pepper plants in raised beds. I’ll assume you are starting from seed, so we’ll cover germination, but if you have transplants ready for the garden, skip ahead to transplanting into raised beds below. Let’s get started!
Planting Pepper Seeds Indoors
In most climates, pepper seeds should be sown indoors to extend the growing season. Once at the seedling stage, most varieties take between 60-100 days to produce.
As a rule, plant pepper seeds 6-8 weeks before your last expected frost date. If you don’t know when that is, you can find your last frost date here. For us in zone 6a, we plant pepper seeds in mid to late March.
Once that time of year rolls around, gather up your seed starting supplies and get started! Germinating pepper seeds is very simple, as long as you know what they need.
Pepper seeds like it warm and damp for the quickest sprouting and highest germination rates. Ideally, keep the seeds between 75-85°F until they sprout, and always prevent them from drying out!
How to germinate pepper seeds:
- Prepare potting soil. It is best to sterilize your soil first to kill off any eggs that may be in the soil. You can do this by pouring boiling water into the soil and mixing with a large spoon. Once it has cooled, mix again and add water to reach a moist consistency. When you squeeze it, the soil should stick together, but not drip much water.
- Fill containers with soil. Add the soil to seed starter cells or small containers. If you are growing lots of peppers, it can be useful to start small and work your way into larger containers as the plants grow. This is optional, but can save space early on in the season indoors.
- Plant seeds about 1/4″ deep. Add 1-2 seeds per container, and push it about 1/4″ below the surface with a pencil tip. Cover the seeds with surrounding soil and tamp it down lightly.
- Mist surface thoroughly. Using a spray bottle, spritz the surface of the soil several times to wet the seed.
- Cover with humidity dome. To keep the air around your seeds moist, cover with a plastic dome. These are often included with seed starter trays, but a plastic food container and lid works as well.
- Place containers in warm location. With your pepper seeds planted, move the containers to a warm location. We always use a seed heating mat to warm our pepper and tomato seeds, but this is optional. Warm conditions (between 75-85°F) significantly speeds up germination of pepper seeds.
- Check daily and keep seeds from drying out. Check in on your seeds daily to see if they’re starting to sprout. Pepper seeds typically sprout about 4-10 days after planting, though it can take longer. Spritz the surface of the trays if they dry out.
- Provide light for seedlings. Peppers need lots of light, as soon as they sprout! Get your grow lights ready, and set them on a timer for 16 hours on, 8 hours off, every day.
With your seeds planted, you can make sure you are well prepared for when they sprout. Young pepper plants need consistent lighting, and warm temperatures to thrive. I also use a few tricks to keep plants healthy and strong in the first few weeks.
Growing Young Peppers Inside
Lighting should be your #1 priority for your newly sprouted pepper plants. We use LED grow lights to grow our seedlings indoors, but you can use a cheaper fluorescent fixture, or even a clip-on light.
As a last resort, use the sunniest window in your house. It may seem bright, but in late winter and early spring, the sun just doesn’t shine very long. With grow lights, you can provide 16 hours of constant light for maximum growth.
Water the seedlings as the soil dries out, and avoid any standing water in your trays. The peppers should drain well, and be kept evenly moist, but never soaking.
Provide a gentle breeze using a desk fan or a small oscillating fan. This mimics wind, and helps to strengthen the plant stems while they are young.
Most potting soil has nutrients added in, but if the plants seem to have nutrient deficiency, add a light fertilizer. We use Miracle-gro Organics, or Fox Farm Grow Big at this stage to boost growth.
Be careful not to overdo it on nutrients! Young pepper plants are vulnerable to nutrient burn, especially when using chemical fertilizers.
If needed, transplant your pepper plants into larger containers while still indoors. If you planted in seed cells, you’ll likely transplant to larger pots 2-3 weeks after sprouting.
As you approach your last frost date, you should work on preparing your raised beds for the incoming pepper plants! There are several steps we take to help out the soil before our plants are in the beds.
Transplanting Peppers Into Raised Beds
While your plants grow inside, and the weather warms up outside, you’ll want to get your raised beds ready. The goal is to enrich the raised bed soil with organic matter before the peppers are transplanted.
Preparing Raised Bed Soil
Prepare your garden bed soil about 2-3 weeks before you expect to plant. The soil was depleted of some nutrients during last year’s grow, so the goal is to enrich it.
Add a 1-2″ layer of compost, leaf mold, rotted manure, or other decomposed organic matter to the surface of your raised beds. This usually calls for more than you’d think, so consider making your own compost at home using lawn clippings, leaves, and kitchen scraps.
From there, gently fork the surface of the soil with a pitch fork or broadfork. Unless your soil is heavily compacted, don’t do a deep till. There is no need to completely overturn the soil, as this can break up beneficial networks of bacteria and fungi in the soil.
As you loosen the soil, some of the compost will work a bit deeper into the soil. Over the season, as it rains or you water, the compost will leech out nutrients and gradually feed the pepper plants in your raised bed!
Mulch the soil:
Use shredded leaves, straw, or grass clippings to mulch the entire raised bed, at least 2″ deep. You can wait to do this, but it is easy to move it aside to transplant peppers and other plants later on.
The mulch will protect the soil from erosion, wind damage, and precipitation. Through the growing season, a thick mulch also protects plants from soil splashing, and maintains even soil moisture and temperature.
Hardening Off Seedlings
Once the weather is warm enough, your peppers can be brought outside to enjoy the natural sunlight. However, don’t rush this, as direct sunlight can burn the tender foliage.
Instead, gradually adjust the indoor plants to the outside over the course of 1-2 weeks. Start on a cloudy day, and give the plants 30-60 minutes of outdoors time. Then, bring them back inside for the day.
The next day, give the plants 30 more minutes, continuing this adjustment for about a week. The peppers may wilt a bit on hot and sunny days, and might even burn. However, as long as you give a slow transition, they will adjust.
Transplanting Peppers Into Raised Beds
After the plants are hardened off to the outdoors, your plants can be outside permanently. The only remaining factor is temperature.
Once the outdoor temperatures are consistently above 55°F (13°C), peppers can be transplanted into raised beds. This typically happens about 2 weeks after the last frost, though it can vary from year to year.
Tip: If you expect a frost after transplanting, cover the pepper plants with floating row cover. This will insulate the plants from the harsh cold and potentially save them from dying.
When it is safe to do so, transplant your peppers into the raised bed. Place a support (such as a stake or tomato cage) at the time of transplanting. This will help protect the plants from wind, and support heavy peppers (such as bells or poblanos) later in the season.
How many peppers can fit in a raised bed? While each gardener does it differently, I recommend spacing peppers between 12-18″ apart, from one stem to the next. If you are using the square foot gardening method, this works out to about 1 plant per square foot.
After transplanting, your pepper plants may stop growing for a week or two. This is normal, as the plants adjust to the new soil and environment. During this time, have faith that the plants are working hard to grow a strong root system into your raised bed soil!
During the transition, water as needed to keep the roots moist, but not soaked. Secure them to a stake to prevent wind from snapping the delicate stems, and soon your plants will be growing faster than ever.
Companion Plants For Peppers In Raised Beds
Peppers can become victims of a wide variety of pests. From thrips, to aphids, to beetles, the list goes on. The best way of evening the score is to attract beneficial insects to your garden, too.
To do this, plant companion plants in your raised bed alongside the peppers and other veggies. We mostly recommend adding flowers to attract pollinators, but some other veggies can be beneficial, too.
Recommended companions for peppers:
- Garlic and onions
Watering Peppers In Raised Beds
As your peppers grow, so will their need for water. In a typical raised bed, the soil is at least 8″ deep, and ideally deeper. Plus, the soil below the raised bed gradually becomes more fertile over the seasons.
The deeper the soil, the deeper a pepper plant’s roots can grow. This can benefit your peppers in a dry or hot summer, as they will be able to access water from deeper in the ground.
On average, peppers need around 1″ of water each week throughout the summer. This will vary, as high temperatures, low humidity, and windy days cause pepper plants to drink more.
You can hand water, use a hose, or set up an automated watering system, like drip irrigation. Thankfully, peppers in raised beds don’t require nearly as much water as potted plants, as the roots can spread wider and deeper into the ground.
Adding Compost or Fertilizer
Later in the season, after your peppers produce their first flush of fruits, you may wish to add a side dressing of fertilizer or compost. This can be beneficial to the plants, and nourish the soil to keep the plants pumping out peppers.
I don’t recommend using liquid fertilizers for raised beds, but side dressing with a slow release, all purpose fertilizer can help in the later season. Use a fertilizer intended for tomatoes, as both peppers and tomatoes like higher potassium and phosphorus during their fruiting stage.
Compost is another great option, as there is no risk of burning the plants with excess nutrients. Just be sure the compost is finished decomposing before adding it to your raised beds.
To side dress, simply add a small layer of fertilizer or compost around the base of each pepper plant. Gently scratch it into the soil’s surface and water lightly.
Note: If you used mulch, be sure to move it aside before applying your side dressing directly to the soil.
Harvesting Peppers in Raised Beds
After all your hard work bringing your pepper plants to life, they are finally going to give you what you want: Peppers!
The basic stages are growth, flowering, and fruiting. Flowers on your pepper plants should begin forming about 2-4 weeks after moving outside. Any flowers produced before then should be removed to keep the plants focused on leafy growth.
The first round of peppers usually forms lower on the plant. As they are picked, more peppers will grow higher up, providing multiple harvests (given enough time). Be sure to harvest peppers when they are ready to encourage the plants to produce more.
When do I pick green peppers? Some peppers are picked before they ripen. Green peppers and jalapeños are the most common examples. The best time is to harvest these types is 1-2 weeks after they reach their mature size. Peppers grow quickly from a small bud to a full-sized fruit. After a pepper stops growing, it begins to ripen, but the color change can take up to a month!
Remember, peppers are edible at all stages of ripeness. Learn as you go – if you picked one a bit too early, wait a bit longer for the next harvest to allow the flavors and seeds to develop more.
Problems With Pepper Plants
Like all vegetable plants, peppers can run into problems. Thankfully they aren’t quite as temperamental as tomatoes, but they aren’t immune!
Aphids, thrips, beetles, caterpillars, and many other insects will feast on a pepper plant’s leaves. If you find damage, or the pests themselves, try to identify what is causing it. My favorite treatment is to plant more flowers nearby to attract beneficial insects.
However, sometimes an infestation is overwhelming. If you find yourself in that situation, try a natural, localized pesticide such as neem oil, spinosad, or insecticidal soap. While these can help in the short term, they can actually backfire by killing good insects, too, so beware!
Pepper leaves may turn yellow during the season. Some yellowing is normal, but if it seems to be spreading, you may wish to look further into it.
The most common cause is a nutrient deficiency. A lack of nitrogen (or magnesium) in the soil will cause yellowing. This problem will typically start at the base of the plant, moving upwards as it gets worse. To fix it quick, fertilize with a liquid fertilizer, then apply a slow release nutrient such as compost.
Another possible cause is cold temperatures. Just like a maple tree, pepper plants will drop their leaves if the temperatures drop too low. This is a conservation method to protect the plant. If your overnight temperatures are getting too low, this may be the cause.
Flowers falling off
Flower drop is common on pepper plants. The most likely cause is hot temperatures in the middle of summer. Peppers don’t like it too cold, but they also don’t like it too hot!
If temperatures are above 90°F (32°C), then some flowers falling off is normal. Don’t worry too much, as this problem will almost always correct itself. As the weather cools off later in the summer, the plants will simply produce more flowers and fruits.
Plants not growing
If your plants are stunted, they may have become root bound. When transplanting, check to see if the root system is overgrown or entangled. Plants can usually recover from this, but it is always best to transplant before it occurs.
Another possible reason for slow or stopped growth is disease. Some diseases attack the root system and cause slow or halted plant growth. Look for other signs of disease on the foliage or on fruits.
Plants dying or falling over
If your pepper plants are dying, then something must be wrong. Unfortunately, there are many diseases that can impact pepper plants. From anthracnose, to Southern blight, to powdery mildew, to cucumber mosaic virus, the threats are endless.
Most diseases will show symptoms, either on fruits, leaves, or roots. Take a closer look at your plants and try to identify anything that appears widespread across the whole plant.
Diseases can be brought in by aphids, splashed up from the soil, or even come from infected seed. Take precautions by mulching heavily, and getting your pepper seeds from a trusted source.
If the plants have fallen over, it may just be the weight of the plant! Remember, as the fruits start growing, the plants become top heavy, so a cage or stake is necessary.
I hope this article has helped you grow your own peppers in raised beds. There are so many more veggies you can learn to grow in your raised beds, too! We especially love our raised garden beds for growing tomatoes, herbs, greens, and root veggies.