An argument could be made that the success of a garden relies almost entirely on the quality of its soil. We have tested and tinkered with many, many potting soils, soil amendments, and other products 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 in 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 help to improve it.
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 garden plants, these recommendations should help too!
Best Soil for Peppers in Pots
Head to your local nursery, and you’ll probably have several bagged 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.
1. Fox Farm ‘Happy Frog’ – Buy on Amazon >
This bagged potting soil has been a dream come true for our pepper plants. After we sprout our pepper seeds, they reliably grow fast and healthy in this soil.
Happy Frog has everything a pepper plant needs to grow, including forest humus, perlite for excellent drainage, natural slow-release nutrients, beneficial mycorrhizae, and more. As soon as you grab a handful of this soil, you can feel that 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 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. Plus, it is more expensive.
Soil comparison (video):
Watch our soil comparison video where we tested 5 popular bagged potting mixes to find a winner.
2. 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 fertilizer, 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 nice to give your potted plants as much good microbial life as possible from day 1.
We have also seen good results from Miracle Gro’s line of organic fertilizers, which can provide pepper plants with all the necessary nutrition through the season.
Other good potting soils for peppers:
- Black Gold potting soils
- Pro Mix soils (fertilizer usually required after the first month of growth)
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 potting 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 Containers)
Finding the golden ratio is going to depend on your climate, how often you can water your plants, and other personal preferences. However, I will share a simple, rough template to start with for a basic homemade pepper plant soil:
- 1/2 peat moss. Peat moss (or coco coir) are used to increase the soil’s ability to retain nutrients and moisture. We prefer peat moss as it does not compact over time like coco coir can. Peat decreases pH, so lime is often added as an amendment to counteract the acidity.
- 1/4 organic matter. This can be homemade compost, rotted manure, chicken manure pellets, etc. This should be as diverse as possible, coming from multiple sources if possible.
- 1/4 drainage. Perlite, vermiculite, or sand all work great for aiding in drainage. They also give the roots more channels to grow through and better access to oxygen.
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, along with additional amendments, and compare the results of each plant to hone in on your perfect recipe.
Other amendments to consider adding:
- All purpose slow-release fertilizer
- Bone meal
- Blood meal
- Alfalfa meal
- Feather meal
Some plants may prefer more organic matter, while others might need a looser soil for easier root 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 soil.
Though the percentage of organic material required is somewhat low (5-10% for in-ground soil), it is the most essential part of top-performing soil. Compost, rotted manure, alfalfa, and other ingredients 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 of 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 we do not recommend using peat moss for in-ground beds. Instead, simply amend your garden soil with compost in the fall, or at least 2-3 weeks prior to planting in early spring.
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 if your soil is clay heavy. Top soil is another natural, cheap option for filling raised bed with good draining material.
Two lighter ingredients that are common for drainage, particularly 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 dry perlite.
The benefit of mixing your own soil is a cost savings over bagged soils. Additionally, if you get the materials delivered in bulk, 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 planned growing area to learn exactly what is already in your ground soil.
From here, the best course of action is usually 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 other vegetables.
Sand, Silt, Clay, and Organic Matter
One of the things a soil test will tell you is the sand, silt, clay and organic matter content of your soil. These are the 4 primary components that make up natural, living soil. Some plants prefer denser, clay-rich soils, however, most vegetables prefer a well-draining, loamy soil.
There are many varieties of peppers, but most thrive in a sandy loam soil. This means a soil made up of primarily sand and silt, with just a touch of clay, and around 3-5% organic matter.
Regardless of your soil’s composition, compost and other bulky organic materials will steer your soil in the right direction over time. Compost is not only rich in nutrients, but it also adds structure to the soil, improving aeration and the ability for 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 plant a “cover crop” in the fall. This keeps the soil organisms alive and active, while also helping to avoid soil erosion. Some crops, such as peas, can add nitrogen to the soil if mowed just before flowering.
Another option is to simply cover the soil with a tarp or a thick layer of mulch when not in use. This can be ugly, but the goal is still achieved. We have used 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.
Do Peppers Like Acidic Soil?
Perhaps as important as soil structure and nutrients is pH level. A soil test will tell you the soil’s pH, a difficult thing to properly test for at home. With this knowledge, you’ll know what to add to reach a perfect pH for peppers.
Peppers grow best in soil with a slightly acidic pH, between 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 already 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.