An argument could be made that the success of a garden relies almost entirely on the quality of the soil. We have tested and tinkered with countless potting soils, soil amendments, and techniques to dial in the perfect soil for pepper plants.
In this article, we’ll go through some of the best soils on the market for growing peppers (and other veggies). Whether you’re growing your plants in pots, in a raised bed, or an in-ground garden, we’ve got you covered.
We’ll also touch on compost and the important role it (and other organic materials) have in building great soil for your pepper plants. If your soil is not ideal, compost will always help to improve it over time.
Keep in mind, this article can be used to find or create a good soil for more than just peppers. If you grow tomatoes, leafy greens, root veggies or other common plants, these recommendations should help too!
Best Soil for Peppers in Pots
Head to your local nursery and you’ll be faced with several potting soils to choose from. Some are cheap, others seem outrageous, but what are the best soils for growing peppers in pots?
We have grown hundreds of potted pepper plants over the years, so we have a good idea of what works well. If you’re looking for a one-stop general potting mix to use, look no further than these great options.
Fox Farm ‘Happy Frog’ – Buy on Amazon >
Happy Frog has everything a pepper plant needs to grow, from forest humus for excellent drainage, to perlite, natural slow-release nutrients, and more. As soon as you grab a handful of this soil, you know it is high quality.
Some key ingredients: Composted forest humus, earthworm castings, bat guano, dolomite lime, mycorrhyzae, and beneficial bacteria.
One of the great additions to Happy Frog soil are mycorrhizal fungi. These species of fungus form a mutually beneficial relationship with the roots of your plants, enhancing root growth, plant health, and disease resistance.
Tip: Store Happy Frog soil in a cool, dark location to avoid killing the dormant mycorrhizal fungi spores.
We were also happy with the results using Fox Farm’s Ocean Forest, but not as much as Happy Frog. Ocean Forest lacks the mycorrhyzae content that perhaps works well with Capsicum species.
Miracle Gro ‘Performance Organics’ – Buy on Amazon >
Another, more affordable option for potting soil is Performance Organics from Miracle Gro. This bagged soil is often easier to find locally than Fox Farm products thanks to large scale distribution.
This soil is good right out of the bag, containing all of the essentials to build a happy root system for peppers. It has slow-release nitrogen sources, compost, perlite, and peat moss.
One minor drawback is that this potting soil is not inoculated with beneficial bacteria or fungus. While these are not essential to a potting soil, it is always nice to give your potted plants as much life as possible from day 1.
We also highly recommend Miracle Gro’s line of organic fertilizers to provide pepper plants with adequate nutrition through the season.
Other good potting soils for peppers:
Another excellent option is to simply make your own potting soil from raw ingredients. If you are growing many potted pepper plants, the savings can be significant. Spend the extra time and save some money while you’re at it.
Homemade Soil Mix for Peppers
If you have a local nursery, chances are you have access to the basic building blocks of good, homemade soil. Here in New England, peat moss, perlite, sand and compost are all readily available to buy individually.
Basic Potting Soil Recipe for Peppers (Raised Bed or Container)
Finding the golden ratio is going to depend on your climate, how often you can water your plants, and other environmental factors. However, we will share a simple, rough template to start with for a basic homemade pepper plant soil.
- 1/4 organic material. This can be compost, rotted manure, chicken manure pellets, etc. This should be as diverse as possible, adding from multiple sources if possible.
- 1/4 top soil. Top soil is great for adding volume without adding too much additional nutrition. The last thing you want is to make your garden into an accidental hot compost pile.
- 1/4 drainage. Perlite, vermiculite, or sand all work great for aiding in drainage. They also give the roots more channels to easily grow through.
- 1/4 water and nutrient retention. Peat moss and coco coir increase the soil’s ability to retain nutrients. Peat decreases pH, so lime is often added to counteract it’s acidity.
This basic recipe is a good starting point, but we love to continue experimenting every year with our own soil combinations. Play with the ratios and compare the results of each plant to hone in on your perfect recipe.
Some plants may need more organic matter, while others might need a looser soil for easier penetration. Peppers like a good balance of both, not too fluffy, but definitely not compact, allowing for easy drainage.
Now, let’s go deeper into each of the vital components of a healthy, quality garden soil.
Though the percentage of organic material required is somewhat low (10-30%), it is the most essential part of top-performing soil. Compost, rotted manure, alfalfa, and others provide natural, slow release nutrition for your peppers.
Nutrients are, of course, critical for healthy potted pepper plants. With organic material added to your soil before planting, the natural ingredients have time to break down into usable forms of the primary and secondary nutrients.
Nutrient and Water Retention
If your soil cannot hold onto nutrients, your plants will suffer. This is the main benefit to using peat moss or coco coir. These materials increase the Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), allowing for better nutrient uptake and fertilizer effectiveness.
Organic material is also helpful for increasing water retention and CEC, so in-ground beds do not generally need peat moss. Instead, simply amend your garden soil with compost 2-3 weeks prior to planting each year.
For healthy drainage, there are several options. Sand is usually the cheapest option, but it is heavy, so keep that in mind. If you are making soil for a raised bed, sand is a great option, as you won’t be lifting the soil later on.
Two lighter ingredients that are common for drainage in potting soils are perlite and vermiculite. These are easy to find at gardening centers, and both drain very well. They also help retain moisture (which seems counterintuitive), but this makes them excellent additives for potting soil.
Perlite is an especially useful material that helps prevent compaction over time. This volcanic glass is extremely lightweight, but holds a ton of water per cubic inch (20-50% by volume). It is dusty, so be sure to wear respiratory protection when handling it dry.
The benefit to mixing your own soil is a cost savings over bagged soil. Additionally, if you get the materials delivered, you avoid using one-time use plastic bags to transport the soil.
If you are building a new, in-ground garden bed, it is best to start with a soil test. Send away 1 or 2 samples from the area you plan to transform to learn exactly what is already in your ground soil.
From here, usually the best course of action is to apply a layer of compost to the surface and lightly loosen the ground soil. This will help aerate the ground, relieve compaction, and begin to enrich the soil for growing peppers and vegetables.
Sand, Silt, and Clay
One of the things a soil test will tell you is the sand, silt and clay content of your soil. These are the 3 primary components that make up soil. Some plants prefer denser, clay-rich soils, while most vegetables prefer a well-draining, loamy soil.
There are many varieties of peppers, but most peppers thrive in a sandy, loamy soil. This means a soil made up of primarily sand and silt, with just a touch of clay.
Regardless of your soil’s composition, compost and other bulky organic materials will steer your soil in the right direction. Compost is not only rich in nutrients, but it also adds structure to the soil, improving aeration and the ability of the roots to grow freely.
Protecting Ground Soil
One of the most important things for growing plants in the ground is to keep the soil covered when it is not in use. Through the winter, into the rainy months, and in any walkways, be sure to provide some protection.
One method is to use a ground “cover crop” to plant in the late fall. This keeps the soil organisms alive and active, while also helping to avoid erosion.
Another option is to simply cover the soil with a tarp when not in use. This can be ugly, but the goal is still achieved. We use a heavy duty tarp for our in-ground beds that are not actively growing crops.
Protecting the soil helps retain the micro-organisms that keep garden soil happy. It also helps prevent the good soil from washing away or from drying out and eroding in hot, dry weather.
What is the Ideal Soil pH for Peppers?
Perhaps as important as soil structure and nutrients is pH level. A soil test will also tell you the soil’s pH, a difficult thing to properly test for at home. With this knowledge, you’ll know what you can add to reach a perfect pH for peppers.
Peppers prefer a slightly acidic pH around 6.0-7.0. This is the ideal range for peppers and many other gardener’s favorites, but the plants will grow outside of it. If you are having trouble growing peppers, then perhaps a pH test can help get to the bottom of the issue.
Why Does pH Matter? The acidity of soil dictates how well a plant can uptake and use nutrients. This is often the cause of nutrient deficiency – not that the nutrient is lacking, but that the pH is off and the plant can’t access the nutrients that are there!
I hope this article has helped you find the best soil for growing your peppers. Whether you are growing in pots or in the ground, your first priority should always be the quality of your soil.