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Growing peppers can be a real test of patience for even the seasoned gardener. Sometimes it feels like we wait all season for the fruits to appear. Understandably, it’s quite discouraging when our plants only produce small peppers.
So, how can we fix this?
The best way to get big peppers is to make sure your plants are spaced far enough apart, that they aren’t getting over-watered, and to prune and fertilize them to promote fruit growth.
I’ll go over how to do all of these things in detail and explain the simple mistakes you might be making that are causing your peppers to produce small fruits.
Reasons your peppers are producing small fruit
There are a couple of reasons why your pepper plants may not be producing the large fruits that you’re looking for.
For starters, they may have been planted too early. Peppers aren’t frost tolerant so if you plant them too early in the season when the nights still get cold, then you may accidentally stunt the growth of your peppers.
When peppers are stunted, you may notice that they grow slowly and tend to be smaller than expected.
Another reason your peppers may be producing small fruits is that they are not being watered properly. Too little water will certainly cause distress to your plant, but too much water can also cause problems as peppers do not like wet feet.
Lastly, your soil may not have the proper nutrients needed to support large fruit growth. If the pH of the soil is off or the levels of NPK found in the soil are too high or too low, then this can negatively affect your peppers’ fruit production.
How to care for pepper plants to get bigger fruit
Luckily, there are lots of ways that you can care for your pepper plants to encourage them to produce the big and beautiful fruits that you’re looking for. Let’s take a look at some of those ways.
Proper planting for peppers
The first step in ensuring that your peppers produce large fruits is to make sure that they are planted correctly.
As I mentioned earlier, peppers that are planted too early in the season can quickly have their growth stunted by cold outdoor temperatures.
To have a successful pepper season, don’t plant your peppers outside until nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees F.
Next, make sure that your peppers are not planted too close to each other. Plants that are too close together will compete for important resources like water, nutrients, light, and space.
Peppers should be planted roughly 18 inches apart from one another, or a foot and a half. If you’re not sure you have enough space in your garden for this, then consider planting your peppers in containers so that they have plenty of their own space.
If you do decide to grow your peppers in containers, then make sure they are planted into the correct size container.
If the container is too small, then the roots can become root-bound and your plant’s growth will be stunted. Leading to small fruits as I mentioned earlier.
If you start your peppers in a small container, don’t worry! You can still save them from becoming root-bound by potting them up. Potting-up is just a fancy way of saying transplant into a bigger container.
The best-sized container for planting peppers in is a 5-gallon bucket or something similar in size.
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Proper watering for peppers
While it’s important to always keep your peppers properly watered, you also don’t want to overwater them.
Peppers hate having wet feet or water-logged roots. This can lead to stunted growth because of their inability to take in nutrients through their roots and in a worst-case scenario can lead to root rot which will kill your peppers.
Unless you live in a particularly dry region, you don’t need to water your peppers every day. Every other day should be fine.
Although, it is important to note that peppers grown in containers will dry out a lot quicker than peppers growing directly in the ground. So check on your container peppers often and if you notice that their leaves are starting to wilt then water them immediately.
To cut back on how often you have to water, try mulching around your peppers. This will help the soil to retain moisture in the hot summer months and keep your peppers from drying out. This article covers the best mulches to try on your pepper plants.
It might also be worth setting up a drip line in your garden so that all you have to do is remember to turn it on and off whenever you want to give your peppers a good watering and you don’t have to deal with the fuss of watering your plants by hand.
Pruning pepper plants
Sometimes pepper plants put more energy into producing big leafy greens than they do towards growing fruits.
When this happens, pruning your plants can help to encourage the plant to put more energy towards the fruits.
To prune your pepper plants, start by getting a good pair of pruners, garden shears, or a sharp pair of scissors.
Mature pepper plants can start to get a bit woody so the tool you’re using to prune must be plenty sharp to cut through the stems.
When you go to cut stems off of your plant, you want to trim your lower branches. For mature pepper plants, you can trim up to 8 inches of foliage off of the bottom. For smaller plants, start by only trimming about 3 or 4 inches off of the bottom.
Take special care not to trim off any branches that already have flowers or small fruits attached to them. You don’t want to cut off any of the fruits that you’ve been working so hard to grow.
Pruning can also help to take some of the weight off of your plants so that they don’t end up falling over from heavy foliage.
Fertilizing pepper plants
I preach this in pretty much anything I write about gardening but always start your season by testing your soil!
Once you know what the nutrient makeup is of your soil, you’ll have a much easier time caring for everything in your garden.
That being said, if you notice that your peppers are looking a bit small, then consider helping them out by giving them a boost with fertilizer.
We have a whole article about fertilizing peppers so you can check that out for a much more detailed overview of pepper fertilizers.
But, to give you a quick run down, try to look for a fertilizer that has higher levels of potassium and phosphorus. A good all-around fertilizer that I like is Neptune’s Harvest fish fertilizer.
Just remember to read the label carefully so you know exactly how much fertilizer to use. Overfertilization can do more harm to your plants than good.
Getting your peppers to produce large fruits is simple if you take the proper steps.
Make sure you plant your peppers properly by giving them plenty of space from other plants and planting them when the temperature outside gets warm enough to not stunt their growth.
Take care not to overwater them to prevent root rot. If the foliage is growing to be quite large and bushy, then give them a good pruning to promote fruit growth. And lastly, don’t be afraid to give your pepper plants a boost of nutrients by fertilizing them.
At the end of the day, little peppers are still edible too, so don’t let them go to waste!
Check out these must-have gardening products
You don’t need much to start gardening, but some tools and products will make a difference in how comfortable and effective gardening can be for you. Here are my favorites:
- Garden Trowel. A good garden trowel will last you many years. I love how sturdy this hand trowel from WOLF-Garten is, the metal doesn’t bend and it has a nice grip.
- Trimming Scissors. I use them for delicate pruning and harvesting all summer long, and they’re super handy. These Teflon Trimming Scissors are extra nice because they don’t rust as easily.
- Dutch Hoe. Dutch hoes may seem old-fashioned, but there’s nothing like a quick sweep through the topsoil to get rid of small weeds – no bending required. I love WOLF-Garten’s selection: this dutch hoe coupled with their universal handle.
- Grow Lights. These grow lights from Mars Hydro are super strong, yet dimmable, so they fit every stage of growth. They don’t put out too much heat and are very economical.
- Seedling Trays. There’s an art to choosing the best size for seedling trays so that it holds the perfect amount of water and gives the roots enough room to grow. These germination plugs are perfect when coupled with 1020 bottom trays.
- Liquid Fertilizer. You’ll need to feed your plants from the seedling stage, all the way to fruiting. This organic fish & seaweed blend is a very versatile option. Use it half-strength for young plants and full-strength for established plants.
Browse our list of tools, fertilizers & pesticides, indoor growing products and seed shop recommendations – we hope you find our selection useful and it saves you some time!