How To Care For and Fertilize Pepper Plants For Big Harvests

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You’ve grown your pepper plants from seed or purchased a few healthy starts from your local nursery, and now you’re ready to plant them in your garden or containers. You may be wondering when is the best time to fertilize pepper plants and how often you will need to feed them during the growing season to keep them healthy and strong.

So when is the best time to start fertilizing a pepper plant?

The best time to fertilize bell peppers or hot peppers is two weeks after the first two true leaves appear. Afterward, you can fertilize every two weeks with a half-strength balanced liquid fertilizer during indoor growing. Add fertilizer into the planting location in the form of compost before planting. Once the pepper plants are in the ground, you can begin a fertilizing schedule every two weeks.

Read on to see how and when we feed our pepper plants for a BIG harvest yearly.

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

The Essential Nutrients For Bell Pepper Plants and Hot Peppers

The three essential nutrients needed to grow pepper plants in your garden are nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium.


So, why do pepper plants need nitrogen?

Nitrogen is needed for 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.

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Why do plants require phosphate?

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 in the soil 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 your own homemade compost, as long as the iron content is high enough. 

Another option is to add iron sulfate in liquid form by foliar spraying the plant leaves.

 A woman'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 ( Capsicum spp) 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
An inforgraphic showing the stages of making compost at home.

Fertilizing Hot Pepper and Bell Pepper Plant (Step by Step)

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


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 at first, 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 leaves as well.

  • Epsom salt foliar spray: To make an Epsom salt foliar spray, use 2 TBSP of Epsom salt in one gallon of water. Apply the spray once a month. 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 2 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 is working for your garden. Apply compost tea bi-weekly.

What happens when you over-fertilize pepper plants?

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.

Can’T I just Buy an Over-the-counter Fertilizer?

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 and 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.

Additional Care Tips For Bell Peppers And Hot Pepper Plants

Growing peppers is very easy. I find them one of my best crops yearly, and they usually have the same pest or disease pressures that other plants in my garden tend to have. So here are a few of our best planting tips to ensure you end up with a bumper crop of peppers this year:

Seed Starting: If you are in a cooler region, you will need to start your pepper seeds indoors 12-8 weeks before your last frost depending on varieties. Again, check the pepper seeds package for details.

Set pepper seedlings out after the last spring frost. You can plant peppers almost anywhere, from in-ground gardens to raised beds, even containers.  

Soil Requirements: I get asked fairly regularly, do pepper plants like acidic soil or alkaline? Peppers do best with a neutral soil pH between 6.5 and 7. All peppers require well amended, well-draining soil to grow best.

Spacing and location: Planting peppers 12 to 24 inches apart ensures good air circulation and will help reduce diseases. In addition, pepper plants require at least 6-10 hours of daylight per day, so place them in a spot that receives full sun.

Natural fertilizing: Peppers love homemade fertilizers like compost, so add compost to the soil before planting and side-dress through the season with compost around the base of the plants. 

Watering: A single pepper plant requires 1 1/2 to 2 inches of water a week through rain or manual watering. Wildly varying water conditions can cause blossom end rot, so it is best to stick to a schedule.

Mulching: Be sure to add mulch around your pepper plants to help keep the weeds down and the soil cool and moist.

  • Learn More: See our post explaining how weeds grow and why removing them from your garden beds is vital.
Mulching of young pepper in the garden.

Be sure to Stake Pepper plants.

Pepper plants, unlike tomatoes, do not require heavy-duty support, but support is helpful. If you stake pepper plants, you can protect them from losses during heavy winds. When staking a pepper plant, it is best to add the stake during planting to avoid disturbing the root system.

Tomato cages work surprisingly well for pepper plants. Tomatoes tend to get too large and heavy for those cheap flimsy tomato cages, but the cages offer up enough support for the smaller, less heavy pepper plants.

Harvest & Store Ripe Peppers

Harvest peppers when they are ripe for your needs. Use shears or a sharp knife and resist pulling them from the plant. Pulling can damage the plant. 

 Be sure to pick all your peppers before the first frost of fall. Unripe peppers will ripen indoors if left on a counter in a warm sunny location. 

You can store your peppers in the fridge for up to a week or sometimes more. But you can also pickle, freeze, and dehydrate your peppers for later use. 

Healthy Deep red bell pepper against a bright white background.

Fertilizing Peppers for Maximum Yield!

And there you have it. If you provide your pepper plants with a balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium, your pepper plants will thrive.

The best tip I ever received from a fellow gardener was to test my soil before I added any additional nutrients. It’s an excellent piece of advice because without knowing what condition the nutrients in your soil, you could be adding too much or not enough.

If you want to grow a pepper garden and have a healthy, robust harvest, be sure to have your soil tested before you plant.

Ok, so that’s how we fertilize bell peppers, but is there a separate article on what to feed chilli plants? No! Hot pepper or jalapeno plant fertilizers will be the same, so go ahead and use this guide on your hot pepper beds too!

Check out these posts if you love vegetable Gardening as much as we do!

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