How to Fertilize Pepper Plants For Big Harvests

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Learning how to properly fertilize pepper plants is crucial for gardeners aiming to boost crop yields and produce vibrant, flavorful peppers. We have what you are looking for if you want to learn how to grow the healthiest pepper plants. We will provide comprehensive guidance on the best fertilization techniques, including when and how to apply fertilizer, the types of fertilizers, and tips for achieving optimal plant health and productivity.

Pepper seedling in dark healthy soil with a blurred background. The image has a white overlay of a chemical structure.

From understanding the nutritional needs of your pepper plants to implementing organic fertilization schedules, we’ll cover everything you need to know to fertilize your pepper plants in an eco-friendly way. And our fertilizing approach will work whether you’re growing bell peppers, jalapenos, or hot peppers.

Table of Contents

    The Steps and Timing for Fertilizing Pepper Plants

    Caring for pepper plants isn’t difficult, but to get a bumper crop, you must ensure they get all the nutrients they need to thrive.  Here are the steps for fertilizing your pepper plants at every stage of their growth:

    Start with Seedlings

    After the first two true leaves appear, begin fertilizing pepper plants with a half-strength, well-balanced liquid fertilizer every two weeks. Pepper plants grow slowly initially, so be patient and resist the urge to over-fertilize.

    Before Planting Outdoors

    Before placing bell peppers or hot pepper seedlings outdoors, work some compost into the top 3-4 inches of soil. You can also side-dress throughout the season with more compost.

    Bi-weekly Fertilizer

    Fertilize your hot peppers and bell pepper plants every two weeks once they are established. A good pepper fertilizer ratio is 15-10-10.

    Heavy nitrogen fertilizers are preferred during the plant’s growth stage to encourage solid stems and leafy growth. Still, high nitrogen fertilizers should be reduced for a higher phosphorus fertilizer before the plants begin to flower.

    Add Foliar Feedings to Your Fertilizing Schedule

    There are so many benefits to adding a foliar fertilizing spray like seaweed extract or fish emulsion to your fertilizer schedule.

    Foliar sprays feed the plant far more efficiently and quickly than fertilizers added directly to the soil. The sprays also help stimulate root development and help immediately eliminate common nutrient deficiencies.

    Regularly applying foliar fertilizers helps build healthier, more vigorous plants with stronger immune systems to help fight off diseases and stand up better to pest pressures, making foliar spray a great fertilizer for peppers.

    A gardener spraying foliar fertilizer over a healthy green pepper plant in a garden row.

    What is the best time to spray foliar fertilizer?

    The foliar feed should be applied in the early morning when the air is cool. Spray the leaves of the pepper plants until you see the liquid dripping. To help the application stick to plants and not simply roll off the leaves, add a dash of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil (like neem). Do not forget to spray the underside of the leaves as well.

    • Epsom salt foliar spray: To make an Epsom salt foliar spray, use 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt in one gallon of water. Apply the spray once a month. Please do not use the spray when it is sweltering outside, or you will risk burning the leaves on your plants. 
    • Seaweed Extract or Fish Emulsion Foliar Spray: For optimum results, it should be applied to the garden every two weeks, more frequently (every week) if plants are under stress. Check the bottle for dilution instructions.
    • Foliar Feeding Compost Tea:  Compost teas are liquid versions of the solid compost material. They contain soluble plant nutrients and a complex community of beneficial microorganisms. There are varying degrees of agreement on the effectiveness of compost tea, but like anything gardening, it’s up to you to decide if it works for your garden. Apply compost tea bi-weekly.

    The Essential Nutrients For Bell Pepper Plants and Hot Peppers

    So you now understand when and how to fertilize pepper plants; now we dig into the nitty gritty. What do pepper plants need nutritionally to thrive, and how do we provide it through a fertilization schedule?

    The three essential nutrients needed to grow pepper plants in your garden are nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium, and each nutrient plays a keen role in the health and development of the plants. Understanding how nutrients impact pepper health will help you identify issues of over or under-providing those minerals and allow you to adjust through the gardening season as needed.


    Nitrogen is needed for pepper plants to grow. If your pepper plants don’t have access to enough nitrogen, they’ll be unable to create amino acids and protein, which is why a nitrogen deficiency can cause stunted growth: The plants will not have all the building blocks required to build cells. 

    If your pepper plants have too much nitrogen, they will continue producing leafy growth at the expense of fruit production. 

    Some Signs of a Nitrogen Deficiency Include:

    • Stunted foliage production
    • Smaller leaves
    • Lower leaves will turn yellow and possibly fall from the pepper plant
    • The yellowing leaves spread up the plant

    Natural Sources of Nitrogen: 

    • Alfalfa Meal
    • Bone & Blood Meal
    • Coffee Grounds
    • Fish Emulsion
    • Grass Clippings
    • Leaves
    Pepper plants with yellowing leaves indicating that the soil may lack essential nutrients like nitrogen.


    Phosphorus is the nutrient responsible for healthy plant root development, flowering, and fruit production. In addition, phosphorus will help strengthen stalks and stems, improve flowering and seed production, and promote early maturity.  A phosphorus deficiency tends to inhibit or prevent shoot growth.

    Signs of Phosphorus Deficiency Include:

    • Leaves turn dark, dull, blue-green,
    • Leaves may also become pale
    • Reddish purple color leaves develop on the older leaves of the plant. 
    • Flower and fruit production is significantly reduced

    Natural Sources of Phosphorus: 

    Bone meal is one of the best natural phosphorus sources that will be bio-available for your pepper plant.

    My Seedlings are Turning Purple; Why?

    You may have experienced seedlings with red or purplish leaves and stems early in the growing season.

    Site conditions, such as rainfall, temperature, moisture, and soil aeration, can affect the phosphorus mineralization rate from organic matter decomposition. Organic matter will decompose, releasing phosphorus more quickly in warmer climates and slower in cool, dry climates.

    The good news is once the soil warms up, the available phosphorus will rectify the condition.

    A picture of a leaf with reddening purplish leaves. The leaves may indicate the plant has a phosphorous deficiency.


    Potassium is essential for the movement of water, nutrients, and carbohydrates in plant tissue

    Typical symptoms of potassium deficiency in a pepper plant include:

    • When a pepper plant begins presenting with brown scorching and curling of leaf tips, it could be a sign of potassium deficiency
    • Cholorises (bright yellowing) will appear between the leaf veins
    • Purple spots may also appear on the bottom of the leaves
    • Plant growth, root development, and fruit development are usually reduced in potassium-deficient plants

    Natural Sources of Potassium

    • Homemade compost made primarily from food byproducts is an excellent source of potassium.
    •  Wood ash can also be used, but ensure that you apply small amounts of wood ash, as too much can ‘burn’ your plants.
    An infographic listing all the potential nutrient deficiency of a pepper plant including visual images of what that deficiency would look like in a leaf.

    Essential Secondary Nutrients and Minerals for Pepper growth

    Calcium, iron, and magnesium are the three secondary nutrients required for healthy, well-developed pepper plants that will yield lots of fruit.


    The clearest indication that your bell pepper plant or hot pepper plant is deficient in calcium is a condition known as blossom end rot. The disease affects immature peppers — especially the plant’s earliest fruits — and causes them to develop a pale green or yellow recessed area on the bottom of the fruit.

    In the long term, adding eggshells, small amounts of lime, or bone meal to the garden soil will help improve the levels of calcium and will help you avoid pepper blossom end rot in the future. Note eggshells take a long time to break down in the soil, and it will take time for the calcium in those shells to be bioavailable for your pepper plants. If you needed to add calcium yesterday, use bone meal.

    An image of a pepper plant with blossom end rot.


    If iron is not available to pepper plants, chlorosis will result. The symptoms of iron deficiency appear on the youngest, newest leaves and present as pale yellow or white between the leaf veins. 

    You can add chelated iron powder or blood meal directly to the soil to add iron. You can also add organic fertilizer or homemade compost if the iron content is high enough. 

    Another option is adding liquid iron sulfate by foliar spraying the plant leaves.

    A gardener's hands filling a watering can with liquid fertilizer. Two pots of small pepper seedlings are on either side of the image.

    Magnesium Sulfate

    Peppers suffering from magnesium deficiency may display leaf curling, yellowing of the leaves between veins, stunted growth, or lessened sweetness in the fruit.

    1. Amend The Soil with Compost Yearly
    2. Add Epsom Salt to the Garden Beds
    3. Try a foliar spray of seaweed or Epsom salt.
    4. Raise the pH Level of Your Soil

    Watch for Over Fertilization

    Spots, pale coloring, brown or reddish leaves, and yellowing veins indicate too much fertilizer has been used. Also, look for deformed leaves that have signs of nutrient burn.

    If the leaves on your plant are distorted, it could indicate they are not receiving the right amount and mix of nutrients.

    To fix over-fertilized peppers, first, hold off on adding any fertilizer to the soil or leaves and drench the soil well to help wash away excess fertilizer. You may need to soak several times, but be careful to spread the watering out, or you risk causing overwatering issues with your pepper plants.

    Be Careful Using Pre-Mixed Fertilizers

    All-in-one solutions like pepper and herb fertilizer or fertilizer sticks for tomatoes and peppers can be helpful or harmful to your crop, depending on the specific conditions in your garden.

    The problem with premade fertilizers is that you have no control over the balance of nutrients. If your garden is very low in nitrogen, for example, and you keep adding more premixed fertilizer to supplement it, you will likely end up with too much of one or more other nutrients, leading to more health problems for your plants.

    That’s why I always recommend testing and diagnosing your pepper plants’ nutritional needs and tailoring your fertilizers to match.

    Healthy young pepper plants in the garden.

    Expert Tips

    1. Start with a Soil Test: Test your soil to determine its nutrient levels and pH, aiming for a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. This will guide your fertilizer choice.
    2. Choose the Right Fertilizer: Use a balanced N-P-K fertilizer for young plants. Switch to a phosphorus-rich formula as plants flower to support fruit development.
    3. Incorporate Organic Matter: Enhance soil with compost or well-rotted manure to improve structure and nutrient availability.
    4. Apply Fertilizer Correctly: Fertilize around the base of the plant, not directly on stems or leaves, and water thoroughly to help nutrients reach the roots.
    5. Water Wisely: Maintain consistent soil moisture, especially during flowering and fruiting stages, to facilitate nutrient uptake.
    6. Use Mulch: Organic mulch helps retain soil moisture, stabilizes temperature, and adds nutrients as it decomposes.
    7. Limit Nitrogen Late in the Season: Reduce nitrogen application once the plant begins to fruit to encourage more energy towards fruit production rather than foliage.
    8. Monitor and Adjust: Adjust fertilization based on plant growth and health signs, such as yellowing leaves or stunted growth, indicating possible nutrient deficiencies.

    By focusing on these key strategies, gardeners can ensure their pepper plants receive the nutrients they need for a healthy and productive growing season, all in a concise and effective approach.


    When to Start Fertilizing Pepper Plants?

    After the first two true leaves appear, begin fertilizing pepper plants with a half-strength, well-balanced liquid fertilizer every two weeks.

    What nutrients do pepper plants need?

    Pepper plants need a balanced mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, emphasizing phosphorus during the flowering and fruiting stages.

    Should you fertilize pepper plants when fruiting?

    Yes, you should fertilize pepper plants when fruiting. Switch to a phosphorus-rich fertilizer to support fruit development.

    What happens when you over-fertilize pepper plants?

    Over-fertilizing can lead to salt buildup in the soil, which can burn the roots, inhibit water uptake, and potentially kill the plant.

    How Often to Fertilize Pepper Plants:

    Fertilize every 2-3 weeks during the growing season, adjusting based on plant growth and soil conditions.

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    Final Remarks

    Proper fertilization is key to growing healthy and productive pepper plants. By understanding when and how to apply the right nutrients, gardeners can enjoy a bountiful harvest of peppers. Remember, less is often more; avoid over-fertilizing to ensure your plants thrive throughout the season.

    Author: Laura Kennedy

    Writer & Owner of Little Yellow Wheelbarrow

    Laura is a highly skilled gardener and fervent flower enthusiast. Despite her playful battle with plant spacing guidelines, Laura’s work inspires gardeners to create thriving, beautiful spaces that reflect both creativity and sustainability.

    Editor’s Note: This article was first published on June 16th, 2022. It was updated on Feb 14th, 2024, to improve reader experience and add expert tips and FAQ.