Choosing The Best Fertilizer For Pepper Plants

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When growing peppers, it is easy to feel unsure of your fertilizing habits. Am I fertilizing too often? Not enough? Is this Miracle-Gro even any good for my plants? Is it safe for veggies? I’ve been there, too.

After testing dozens of fertilizers, I now have a tried-and-true method for growing healthy and productive pepper plants. In this article, I’ll go through some of the best fertilizers for pepper plants. This will include both organic and chemical versions to suit all growers.

Quick summary: We recommend this all-purpose fertilizer (organic) for in-ground gardening, or this fertilizer trio (not all organic) for potted plants. Or, get this for the vegetative stage of growth and this for the blooming/fruiting stage of growth (organic options). Also, get a soil test for in-ground beds.

Fertilizing Peppers (Video):

There are countless fertilizer brands on the market today. Every gardener has their favorite, but it is best to know what is already in your soil first, before choosing a fertilizer.

However, the basic fertilizer regimen we use for peppers will work for a wide variety of fruiting garden plants, especially those grown in containers. Peppers go from seedling to leafy growth, and then right to flowering and producing fruits.

Fertilizer For Peppers
Various types of plant fertilizers.

For peppers, we usually use two fertilizers through the growing season. The first fertilizer encourages leafy growth and root development, while the second stage fertilizer encourages flower and fruit production. I’ll share which fertilizers we use, when and how often we use them, and where to buy them.

But first, I want to explain why we choose to use two fertilizers instead of just one.

Fertilizer Grades and Contents

On the packaging of most fertilizers, you will find a 3-digit number. This is an important number as it represents the percentages of three important elemental nutrients. It is called the ‘fertilizer grade.’

These numbers appear something like this:

  • 3-4-4
  • 5-5-5
  • 2-3-1

The first number represents the amount of nitrogen, the second number is the amount of phosphate, and the last number is the amount of potassium in the fertilizer. This number is a national standard for fertilizers, and it is essential to understanding how the fertilizer will feed your pepper plants.

Espoma Garden Tone Ingredients
Nutrient analysis on Espoma Organic Garden-tone (3-4-4).

Primary Nutrients

There are three primary nutrients that are essential to all plant life. They correspond to the fertilizer grade directly, and can be derived from many sources (organically and inorganically).

  • Nitrogen is first because it is the most important element for foliage production and overall plant health. Nitrogen is essential to the process of photosynthesis in new leafy growth. This is why lawn fertilizers have a large amount of nitrogen. It is also the most likely nutrient to become deficient in the soil.
  • Phosphate is a nutrient that gives plants phosphorus, an essential nutrient in most life forms, allowing plants to take in energy from the sun.
  • Potassium is essential to plant life because of its role in water and nutrient movement throughout the plant’s tissue. Without potassium, the regulation of photosynthesis could also be compromised.

Each element helps in a wide variety of ways, but these are their most critical roles. With this understanding, we can understand how any given fertilizer will impact plants.

Secondary Nutrients

While the main three nutrients are the most important, there are several secondary nutrients and trace elements, that are also critical for ideal growth of peppers.

  • Calcium is very important for healthy cellular development in pepper leaves and fruits. If your fertilizer does not contain calcium, be sure that your soil does. It is rare for ground soil to be deficient in calcium. If you need to, you can amend your soil with bone meal to add calcium.
  • Magnesium is important for healthy, green foliage. Epsom salt is one method to amend soil with magnesium and sulfur, but should only be done if you know it is required. A magnesium deficiency can cause stunted plant growth and inter-veinal yellowing.

Beneficial Bacteria

While basic elementals are the fuel for growing healthy pepper plants, soil-based bacteria play an important role in a healthy garden. Some examples include bacillus licheniformis, bacillus megaterium and other colony-forming bacteria.

Many fertilizers will include these beneficial bacteria, so be sure to check the content analysis for them! For in-ground gardening, building healthy, living soil is essential.

Best Fertilizer For Pepper Plants

When you plant a pepper seed, the seed itself contains the nutrients required to germinate and become a small seedling. However, after just a few days, the plant will require additional nutrients from the soil.

To put it simply, pepper plants require plenty of nitrogen during early growth to produce healthy leaves and roots. During the fruiting stage, plants need less nitrogen but plenty of phosphorus and potassium for the best yields. This can be achieved using a well balanced fertilizer all season, or by switching fertilizers halfway through the growing season to reduce nitrogen.

Want to keep it simple?

Perhaps the simplest fertilizer regimen is a slow release, all-purpose fertilizer. These granulated blends contain all the primary and secondary nutrients that peppers need to thrive. They can also last for months before needing replenishment!

Less frequent feeding, easy application, all organic, what more could you want?

Another great option to really dial in the nutrient levels is Fox Farm’s trio of fertilizers. They have a straight-forward feeding schedule which makes the growing process a lot easier, especially for potted plants. This may not be the ideal fertilizer for in-ground gardens, especially if you haven’t performed a soil test.

Be careful not to over-feed with these nutrients – they can burn!

Stage 1 Fertilizer for Peppers

One fertilizer I like specifically for early growth is Miracle-Gro Performance Organics (11-3-8). This water-soluble mixture provides the 3 basic nutrients along with other secondary nutrients for young, growing plants.

With an 11% nitrogen makeup, we know our plants will grow strong, plentiful leaves in the early stages of growth. However, we wouldn’t want to use this throughout the summer, as it may inhibit the production of peppers.

Miracle Gro Organics fertilizer
Miracle Gro organics fertilizer.

Tip: This fertilizer is another great option for using all season. However, consider reducing the frequency and/or amount after the plants begin fruiting.

Buy our ebook: Growing Perfect Peppers
Buy our ebook: Growing Perfect Peppers

When pepper plants are just starting to grow, they should focus energy on growing a large canopy of foliage to take in lots of energy from the sun. This will help generate maximum energy later on when the plant is producing peppers.

Stage 2 Fertilizer for Peppers

If we kept providing lots of nitrogen, the plants will look healthy with lots of leaves, but may ultimately produce fewer peppers. For this reason, I recommend reducing the strength of early-stage fertilizer, or switching to something with less nitrogen.

Once pepper plants have begun sprouting flowers, you can try a flowering-stage fertilizer. These usually have less nitrogen, but provide plenty of phosphorus and potassium for fruit production.

One great fertilizer we use for the blooming stage of growth is Neptune’s Harvest Fish & Seaweed (2-3-1).

Neptunes Harvest Ingredients
Neptune’s Harvest liquid nutrients.

Note: This fertilizer is not ideal as an all-season fertilizer. It does not provide calcium or magnesium, so you may have to supplement if your potting soil lacks these nutrients. It also has a slightly fishy smell. However, it works great as an all-season supplement!

Another stage-two fertilizer is Fox Farm’s Tiger Bloom. While it is not organic, this liquid fertilizer is easy to apply while watering and is great for potted plants. It is potent, so be sure to follow the instructions for proper dilution.

How Often To Fertilize Peppers

Many casual gardeners fertilize whenever they remember to do it. This is not ideal, as you may be over or under-feeding your plants. To get the most out of your pepper plants, you’ll want to keep track of when you fertilized last and stick to a schedule.

When to Start Fertilizing Young Peppers

Once your plants have sprouted their first true set of leaves, you can apply a light feeding of fertilizer. If you start seeds in seed starting mix, the soil likely does not contain any nutrients. That is why it is important to begin fertilizing as soon as the plants need it.

For most pepper varieties, fertilizing should begin about 1-2 weeks after the seeds have sprouted. The first application should be light (half strength at most, depending on fertilizer potency), as the tiny plants don’t grow very fast. However, fertilizer will play an essential role in forming healthy roots early on, as well as strong stems and leafy growth.

If your seeds were planted in a nutrient-rich medium, hold off on fertilizing until they are established in a final planting location. Compost, potting mix, and other soils often contain all the nutrients that peppers need, in which case there is no need to add more!

Pepper Fertilizer Frequency

Aside from the initial fertilizing (the first ~3-5 weeks of growth), which should be 1/4-1/2 the normal strength at most, we simply follow the packaging guidelines. Most fertilizers are administered weekly or bi-weekly.

Do not over-fertilize and expect good things to happen. Pepper plants require a steady supply of nutrients, not an abundance of nutrients all at one time.

Note: If you plant in a medium that has built-in nutrients (potting soil, etc.), hold off on fertilizer until the plants are more mature and have used the available nutrients.

Nutrient Burn and Flushing

If you provide too much fertilizer, your pepper plants will show you. Leaves will develop brown spots, usually towards the edge of the leaf.

Nutrient burn spots on pepper leaf
Nutrient burn at edges of pepper leaf.

If you notice brown spots and have ruled out disease, you may be over-feeding your plants. Non-organic liquid nutrients are the most likely to cause nutrient burn, since they are immediately available for plant use. One option is to flush the nutrients from the soil to reduce the amount of excess compounds.

To flush your potted pepper plants, water the plants with plain water, allowing the excess water to flow out of the pot’s drainage holes. This process washes away some of the excess nutrients from the soil and root system.

If your plants are in a raised bed or in the ground, simply water without nutrients, skipping a few weeks of fertilizing. Basically, allow time for the fertilizer to be used by the plants before adding more.

Soil pH

While nutrients are what fuel healthy pepper plant growth, the pH of your soil is arguably just as important. Most peppers grow best in a soil pH between 5.8-6.8, or slightly acidic soil.

Why is pH important, you ask? Well, if the pH is too low or too high, your pepper plants may not be able to access and use the nutrients from the soil, even if they are present. This is called ‘nutrient lockout’ and can be detrimental to productivity and overall plant health.

You can test your soil’s pH with a simple meter, though the readings are often inaccurate. If you suspect you have alkaline soil, you can get a soil test.

Read Next:

I hope this article helps you choose the best fertilizer for your pepper plants. Remember, it’s important to “listen” to your plants. If a plant is unhealthy or nutrient deficient, you’ll know it!

What works for some people in certain climates may not work for others, so experiment with new feeding regimens. What’s your favorite fertilizer? Feel free to leave questions or suggestions in the comments below.

Calvin Thumbnail


One of the original Pepper Geeks! When Calvin isn’t gardening or learning more about peppers and botany, he might be traveling new places or playing some music.

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  1. Great article, and sorry, i flicked through, so this may have been mentioned. don’t forget to point out that the NPK is the % of nutrients in the mix. So, a 3,4,3 would be 3% nitrogen 4 % Phosphorus and 3% potasium. The rest of the packagec may just be water.
    I’m here in the Philippines, so I get perenial plants. Although, this is my first/second year growing here. I’m using a 30.10.10 to get the chillies started, this is after planting into their final container, I then use a 20.20.20 to help flower production and then a 15.15.30 to grown the chillies. I’ve also added a lot of slow releasing chicken manure and bone meal in the last pot on. Lots of habanero and hundreds of labuyo (the Philippines Thai chilli) .
    When I was growing in England, I used to use a product called chilli focus. Any thoughts on that?

  2. Thank you so much for all your knowledge and sharing it! I’m new to pepper growing but with your videos and advice I know I’m off to a good start!

  3. Good info, but no mention of Marconi peppers, which I’ve become more favored & love long “sweet” banana’s than Bell peppers & any “hots@. Are Marconi’s fertilized the same as Bells?

    1. Yes, I’d treat them the same as bell peppers. Nitrogen early, then giving a feeding of nitrogen and potassium once the plants start fruiting.

    1. It is best to compost your spent coffee grounds rather than applying directly to the garden. It’s a great compost addition, and easy to find a bunch for free at local coffee shops

  4. Thank you so much for all the information! I’m super excited to start my pepper growing journey and this helps sooo much! It’s nice to have a guide line rather than just doing trial and error until something works lol I’ll for sure be coming back and referring to your website or Youtube for more! Thanks again, keep doing what you do! 🙂

  5. Does it matter what kind of epsom salt you use? like the big buckets you can get for having baths in, is that fine because it’s still epsom salt? or is there a big difference?

  6. Hi! New at growing peppers. I have hobenaro plants. I have two in each pot. They’re growing tall but I’m nervous i won’t develop any peppers but the time the growing season here is over. Can these be brought inside over the winter time?

  7. Thank you very much.. is there any fertilizer that trigger faster riping of sweet peppers

  8. Thank you for the advice. This will be my first time growning peppers from seed. I need all the help I can get!!!

  9. Hello Calvin,

    Thanks for your advice, I was really happy to come across this site. As a Scotch Bonnet devotee, I was happy to come across other pepper people. I use Tomorite (Levington brand) seems to work very well with my plants appears to meet the proportions you recommend for minerals.

    Thanks again for your advice

  10. Hi Calvin,

    Thanks again for your advice on the transplanting of my Jalapeno plant. Unfortunately, I tried switching to the Fox Farms trio, and ended up hurting my Jalapeno pretty bad (despite using half dose, I must have went wrong somewhere).

    The Jalapeno plant is shedding perfectly healthy leaves, and definitely seems to be “droopy” overall. I have already flushed the raised bed that it lives in with purified water, once yesterday and once today. I came back home this evening and found even more leaves that have fallen from the plant. At this point there are many branches that have lost most of their leaves, although there is still a decent amount remaining.

    On the flip side, I have quite a few jalapenos ready for harvest, and they see to have grown quite a bit in the past few days. Any recommendations? Would it be wise to try to move it to a new home, with fresh, “untainted” soil, or do you think I should just harvest what I can and consider it beyond saving at this point?

    It’s my first plant, about 6 months old, and I am admittedly a bit heartbroken. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    1. @Logan, Ended up being root rot, found out when transplanting. Cleaned roots, moved to fresh soil and new leaves are growing in on the left stem but not the right (it’s barren now). Unsure if there’s a way I can salvage it or if it’s just dead (and trim it?).

  11. I see you recommended a Miracle gro Performance for the growth stage of peppers. Is there a Miracle Gro Performance you would recommend for the flowering stage? We’re growing… *coughs* 13 hot pepper plants indoors. Ghengis Khan Brain, Bleeding Borg 9, Wartryx, Hurt Berry, Red Savina (my favorite pepper to just eat cause they taste so good,) Black Prince, Fish, Pequin, Peter, Kristian (Thai,) and Carolina Reaper (more than one plant of some I really enjoy my super hots.) We got the P2500 light you recommend, and I think are ready to start the weak strength fertilizer.

    1. I would recommend just reducing the strength of the performance organics, so instead of using the full scoop, do a half scoop for the same amount of water. That should keep the plants growing without over-loading on nitrogen!

    2. @peppergeek, Sorry for the confusion. When I first read your response, I thought that was your instructions while they are still too small for full strength first stage fertilizer. It seems more likely as I re-read your response, that was your recommendation for miracle grow performance for the flowering stage. Thank you again.

  12. with all the talk about full strength, half strength, quarter strength, but if I make a gallon of half strength, how much do I give each plant, etc?

  13. Hello, just wondering when I should use the calm mag fertilizer. Currently my hot pepper plants are about 3 inches tall with nice looking leaves.

    1. I wouldn’t worry about using Cal Mag unless you know there is a deficiency. Cal Mag is more commonly needed in hydroponics, as these nutrients can be easier to deplete, and sometimes aren’t included in base nutrients. If you’re in soil, chances are you won’t need to amend with Cal Mag.

  14. Thanks for this article.

    My seeds have just sprouted, and going by your book (great book BTW), on page 50, you guys have this:

    Use your stage 1 fertilizer (see Chapter
    3) to feed the seedlings. Continue with
    lower strength at the recommended
    frequency until they are transplanted.

    However, in chapter three (or the whole rest of the book, for that matter), there is no mention of “stage 1”, so this will be a tremendous help.

    1. Thanks for bringing that up – what we mean by “stage 1” is a higher nitrogen fertilizer. It is not required to use multiple types of fertilizers, but early on, young plants need the nitrogen to form healthy foliar growth. Stage 2 would be a lower nitrogen blend with higher phosphorus and potassium for good flowering and fruit sets.

  15. I use Miracle Gro alot. Would this work for peppers. I ordered 2 different pepper seed paks from you. I believe AJI and Ghoast Japaleno. I will try your recommended fertilizers, just wondered about Miracle Gro.

  16. The last 2 years my green pepper plants did not grow at all! I’m adding fruit& vegetable skins to my garden soil in hopes this will help ! My friend is a excellent grower & im getting some xtra help for this coming season ! I hope I can read your articles to finally get my pepper plants growing .I’m in Ohio

    1. Well, I hope you can find some success with your friend’s help. Fertilizer might help, but there are lots of possible causes for slow/stunted growth. Best of luck!

  17. how can i get my fruit or vegtable to ripen to early there about golf ball size when they start to ripen im in mexico and use mostly grow bags

  18. I’m wondering if you’ve done any comparative studies between 2 stage nutrients and just using an even NPK from start to finish? I’ve been running a small pepper farm since 2019 and have been growing peppers longer than that. I’ve consulted with a bunch of the big names in pepper growing, like Johnny’s Research Farm that has been doing comparative studies for decades. They’ve been researching the best methods for growing peppers for nearly 50 years and they, along with all the other farms I contacted, recommend using an even NPK from start to finish. It out performs 2 stage nutrients every time. I’m wondering why you are recommending so many different products? Is it just for ad revenue? I recommend doing a comparative study between an even NPK, and what you are currently doing to see for yourself. All the growers I know that started off with 2 stage nutrients have now switched to an even npk from start to finish.

    1. @PDX Peppers, this is interesting. I remember growing up in the 80’s, with crappy hard clay ground, and growing tomatoes and peppers with even NPK. We didn’t have access to all the fertilizer types out there today. Things did great most years, with dark green leaves and high production.

  19. What’s a good fertilizer that’s not too strong for the pepper plant seedlings? My ghost pepper plants are 3 inches tall, and healthy. Could I use the “Grow big.” Accordingly?

    1. Yes I’d use a reduced strength of grow big if you have it. You can also use basically any high-nitrogen fertilizer (6-4-4, 3-1-2, etc – high ratio, not necessarily high number), and use it at a half strength until the plants begin growing more rapidly.

  20. I need some help. I’ve been trying to follow you so I can have the most amazing pepper patch eva. I got Miracle Gro Organic 9-2-7. I’ve put down compost, top soil, perilite and peat. I want to know how to use the fertilizer. I’m planting Memorial Day weekend in northeast MA on my harbor side garden. Should I sprinkle some fertilizer and mix it into the soil and/or put fertilizer in the hole when I transplant with other stuff. This my passion and I know it’s yours so guide me to my pepper nirvana.


    1. Hey Mark – sounds like you’re off to a good start with some compost amended into the soil. If you’re planting in ground, I would recommend raking the fertilizer into the soil. For potted plants, we use a water-soluble fertilizer that can be applied during irrigation. The slow-release nutrients work very well for raised beds or in-ground plantings. (Miracle gro makes things confusing by making 2 types of the same fertilizer. One is slow release/added to the soil, and the other is mixed into water. Read the instructions on yours to see which it is and follow them!)

  21. Can I make compost tea from my homemade compost and water my pepper plants when they get a little bigger?

  22. Awesome information!!!
    My pepper seedings are small…will follow your professional advice…thanks a million

  23. In your fertilizer video you say you started with the diluted fish and seaweed fertilizer, but in the article mention the miracle grow as the stage one fertilizer. Do you just use the diluted fish and seaweed to give some nutrients until its big enough and out of the seed starter mix then use the miracle grow as the phase 1 fertilizer?

  24. I bought Miracle Grow performance organics. Directions say to put 2 scoops per gallon, in watering can.

    Problem. Because this product is chunky and dense, it immediately falls to the bottom of the can. I called miracle grow and, after much conferring, was told to crush it up first!

    Of course, once crushed up, what was once 2 tbl spoons is now, probably, closer to 3.

    This is an I’ll conceived product and you should not be recommending it. Sorry.

    1. We usually use some warm water first to dissolve it, then top off the watering can. It’s part of the drawback of using organic fertilizer, some of the products are not easily dissolved in water. We also use garden tone which is very easy. Just mix it with soil and it releases over the course of a month.

  25. Please help, my super hot pepper seedling stems and leaf veins are turning purple. They are about 7″ tall now and this just started happening. I started them in seed starter then transplanted them into Happy Frog soil. The stems are going purple from the bottom up. The leaves are not purple. They are under T5 fluorescent lights and the room temp is 72 at night and 80 during the day. As tiny seedlings I fed them half strength, or less, Neptune seaweed and fish fertilizer then switched to Miracle Gro organics when they were bigger. Any suggestions?

    1. With happy frog, you can likely just allow the soil to provide nutrients for several weeks. However, purple coloration is normal on many pepper varieties, especially around the nodes. However, if it is severe and the plant looks unhealthy, then it may be some sort of issue. More likely that it is simply the natural anthocyanins that are present in the plant’s tissue.

  26. I really appreciate the helpful guide. Just to clarify, your recommendation is

    1-2 weeks after the seeds sprouted in tiny cells or when they have true leaves to give a one-time dose of 1/4 neptunes fertilizer.

    Then wait until they get to about 6 inches to transplant to a larger container (3 inch). At this stage, add the high nitrogen fertilizer you recommended, and continue to do so weekly or biweekly as instructed.

    After they get close to a foot tall, prune the top and keep 6 leaves (not including initial leaves). Let them bush out. Continue to use water soluable high nitrogen fertilizer.

    Then transplant to ground and provide bone meal and rock phosphate. Let grow, pinch off any flowers.

    Continue to fertilize with the high phosphate potassium and calcium fertilizer.

    Once fruited, reduce fertilizer and use neptunes again.

    I hope I have that correctly, I’ve watched your many many videos and wanted to summarize. Thanks in advanced!

    1. Yes, with a couple modifications: If you transplant to a soil with added fertilizer, you may not need to fertilize when they are still young.

      Also, topping/pruning is optional! We don’t really prune our plants anymore. It can help keep the size smaller, but unless you planted very early, it may not be beneficial.

      Flowers are a sign of a root-bound plant, so if your timing is on point, you shouldn’t start seeing flowers until the plants are fairly large. But yes, we do recommend pruning any while the plants are still small.

      Best of luck!

  27. I’m curious why you recommend using 2 stage nutrients intended for photo period plants like cannabis when peppers are not a photoperiod plant? I used to go this approach as my background is in cannabis growing and just transfered everything directly over. I then realized that wasn’t the move as they are not comparable species. I now use an even npk mix and have since improved results. May be worth checking out and comparing results 🙂

  28. Thank you for the great info. Which helped me a lot. But, last year was a hot year and I got a lot of growth out of my pepper plants. I had many in the 4 to 5 foot tall range and a couple over 5 foot tall. Now here was the problem. I didn’t get many fruit out of the plants. Some of my bells only produced 3 peppers on them with many others having up to maybe 6. I even had a Admiral that didn’t produce any fruit at all and didn’t grow very good. I am planning on getting a truck load of manure and tilling it to my soil. Or should I use Miracle Grow for the soil and till it instead?

    1. I’d just be sure to use rotted manure, and not fresh. Fresh manure can be overly high in nitrogen and burn plants. A slow release granular fertilizer may be another good option if you don’t need/want to add bulk to your soil.

    2. @Mike,
      You may need to go easy on the nitrogen, soon as the pepper plant starts to show flowers, once it’s a foot or so, start to use a furtilizer that has more phosphate and potasium but very little nitrogen

  29. I slightly over fertilized my plants. Do I need to flush them or can I just exclude nutrients the next couple waterings? I don’t want to stress my plants out too much by oversaturating the soil. Im using fabric grow bags and not sure of the best method to flush them out. Any chance pepper geek will do a video on flushing pepper plants? Cant find one anywhere online!

    1. I would just water without nutrients for a few rounds of watering. Been there and done that, the plants will handle it! Just go lighter next time, and maybe avoid if your soil is nutrient-rich

  30. Trips are seriously affecting my plant, I have been using chemicals for treatment but they are still there, your advice is needed, please.

  31. Your article is helpful, I’m in Nigeria, I’m using both organic and inorganic fertilizer NPK 15 15, I hope it’s a good fertilizer?

  32. Have had very good success growing in 3 & 5 gal containers. Now I see that grow bags are becoming popular. What would be the benefits or downside to growing peppers in 5 & 7 gal bags? Have you growing peppers in these bags? I mostly grow melrose, marconi, UFOs and starfish peppers. Any advice for someone that has never used these bags before?

    1. After our first year with grow bags, the drawbacks are that they dry out more quickly, can develop mold and/or algae on the outside, and are difficult to clean. They do, however, grow very healthy plants and are great for easy storage.

  33. Which nutrient is needed when the pepper plants are heavy with peppers? My plants are LOADED, and I’m just waiting for them to ripen before harvesting. But my plants themselves are looking a little sad, with drooping and yellowing leaves. How do I perk them back up?

    1. You can always add a low dose of all purpose fertilizer while plants are full of peppers – this can help avoid some fruit forming issues, especially in potted plants. Otherwise, just wait it out and keep the watering even!

  34. Hi! I started my peppers from seed and they were doing great… however i went away for a 3.5 week trip with my family and when I returned there is trouble. My plants all look way smaller than they should… small leaves, small plants. Most plants have peppers on them but the plants are way smaller than in years past. They’re in a raised bed in Maryland. It’s been hot and I think my plant waterer was less than diligent… Can I save them? My tomatoes are similarly small-leaved and stunted looking.

    1. I’m sure they can be saved! All you can really do is give them what they need – if that is more water, then water more and allow them to recover in time. We’ve seen plants come back from having literally 0 leaves, as long as the roots are not too damaged peppers are very resilient (with enough time). Best of luck – Calvin

  35. Hi my pepper plants it’s super chilly starting to have peppers that are shriveled I just started using miracle grow organics for edibles i’m not sure what could be the cause of the all of a sudden shriveling peppers some are green and not yet mature

  36. I have several pepper plants and the super hots don’t seem to be flowering at all… they’re all super big and green. Our regular hits seem to be doing well, flowering and fruiting. Is there anything you can suggest for the super hots?

    1. I would try cutting all fertilizer at this point in the season (assuming you’re in the US). If it is very hot where you live, that could also play a role in fruiting. As cooler temps arrive, we always see a boost in productivity!

  37. My chilli is now flowering nicely, at this stage, do i continue fertilising the the soil and what’s the best fertiliser for flowering because currently what I have is multipurpose plants food. Thanks counting your expert advice.

    1. You can continue using that fertilizer just reduce the strength (maybe use half of what you were using during growth stage). Or, there are some bloom-stage fertilizers specifically designed for flowering/fruiting.

  38. Hello Peppergeek,

    I am starting to get a ton of buds and some flowers on my Purple UFO. I watered it with Neptune’s Fish Fertilizer 2-4-1 because I could not find the Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer 2-3-1 near me, and I did not want to delay fertilizing any longer.

    Would this make much of a difference? Should I switch to the exact 2-3-1 you listed here? Thank you for all of your help!

  39. I have bell pepper plants that I planted last season. I live in Malibu, CA. They are starting to get new leaves from the bottom and a couple of the plants are starting to get flowers. Should I cut the plant down and let it go again or leave them alone?
    Thanks…..just found you….and glad I did!

    1. I would let the plants go on their own! As long as they are in a large enough pot/in a raise bed, they should produce naturally. Good luck!

  40. Hello! 26 Days in with 30~ pepper seedlikngs (cayenne + habanero’s) most with first set of true leaves, few with third set sprouting. My question is in regards to fertilization frequency; The soil seems to require regular watering every 3-4 days at this rate (bottom watering in tray, filling up 1/4 high and letting them sit for 20-30 mins before emptying water/soil turns brown). I started these in a seedling mix (Jiffy, Natural & Organic Seed Starting Mix) which has no fertilizer and/or life sustaining elements that potting soil may have offered if used from the beginning. Should I continue to add the 1/4 dosage fertilizer (or closest to 1:1:1 until after being transplanted into potting mix) with EVERY watering in the few weeks to come? Thank you for all that you do!

    1. If the soil has a lot of nutrients built in, you can let them acclimate for 2-3 weeks after transplanting without fertilizing. Then start back up after the plants have adjusted and used up some of the soil’s nutrients.

  41. Hi,
    First time gardener. We love green chiles so thought we’d try them. I hope I didn’t post this twice. I tried once but it disappeared, so I’m trying again. Thanks
    Hoping you can help with some advice. We have about 70 New Mexico chile plants showing some of their 2nd set of true leaves. They’ve been outside in the Tucson sun in solo cups for about a week and seem happy. Some people here in Tucson say they water their chile plants twice a day, keeping soil moist. But I read online that it’s a good plan to let the plants dry out in between watering til the leaves wilt a bit telling you it’s time. Can Tucson sun and heat require a twice a day watering? This will definitely not allow the soil to dry. I’ve checked closely.
    2nd question. Fertilizer. Local grower recommends Botanica’s 14-18-14 acid plant food for our plants. This is way off from the fox farm grow big recommended by a major New Mexico seed company, and we notice you use fox farm as well, but Tucson being a location with its own unique heat and sun we aren’t sure what to do. We’d sure appreciate advce. Thanks, K.

    1. Tucson is hot, but twice-daily watering may be overkill. During the hottest parts of the year for us in CT (around 90-100°F), we may water our potted peppers once per day. If they are in the ground with a good mulching, they won’t need water nearly as often as when grown in pots.

      As for fertilizer, as long as the plants are getting what they need, you can use whatever you’ve got. More nitrogen early on (which the Botanica’s has), and reduce it once the plants are starting to fruit (you could simply give a lighter feeding of the same fertilizer). Then, give them plenty of phosphate, potassium and calcium.

      Hope all this helps!

  42. I am looking to do a few of my peppers hydroponically. Last year I used the general hydroponics big 3 plus CalMag with pretty decent success. This year though, I would like to try something different. Any recommendations on what to use on them? It is mostly NuMex Hatch Chiles and they will be grown in coir grow medium.


    1. We haven’t really experimented with hydro much yet – we used general hydroponics’ Maxi series (maxigro, etc.) which were simple, but did have some big swings in pH. It was more likely due to the small reservoir we used though. I’ve heard masterblend is a good chemical nutrient for hydro. Good luck and let us know what you use and how it goes!

      1. I did end up getting the 3 part Master Blend nutrients and it has been working quite well so far. It does drop pH significantly, so pH Up is a necessity.

  43. Great instructions! Thank you! Any tips on adding lime to soil? Amount to start with? What to look out for?

  44. I have 4 red chili pepper plants growing that were healthy with a full canopy of leaves, about 6″ – 8″ tall enjoying the S. Florida sun every day until one morning when an iguana ate the big leaves leaving only the stems and baby leaves and shoots at the stem bases. Will they survive (protected by wire cloches) and if so should I go heavy on the nitrogen for a couple weeks to encourage new leaf growth?

    1. Hey Patrick,

      Dang, that’s a tough break. Yes, they should survive assuming they don’t get infected with anything. Our cat chewed a plant down to the main stem and it made a full recovery and produced decent yields be the end of the season. Don’t over-fertilize, but yes I would give a good feeding as usual to promote leafy growth.

      Good luck!

  45. I use an old trick that my farmer Grandfather taught me when putting newer plants outside. He takes a 1/2 gallon waxed milk carton, cuts off the pouring spout area off and then cuts three sides of the bottom of the carton. You set the carton into the soil with the new plant inside. When the weather is too cold in the evening or if a big rain is coming he has the carton set over the plant and either flips the lid open or closed. We had hundreds of these and would go through the garden and close them on cold nights using a stick with a hook on it and then as the day grew warmer we would open the lids for them to get sun. Efficient and inexpensive.

  46. i started my sweet pepper seeds indoors. i usually wait till the second set of leaves appear and then i fertilize them with some alaska fish fertilizer at 1/2 strength. i have them in yogurt cups. when they get larger i transplant then into potting soil and put them under lights.i have a crockpot that i put a bath towel over and place the tray that holds the transplanted plants on top of c.pot. i have it on low that keeps it around 75-80 degrees. it seems it is taking forever for the second set of leaves to you suggest that i fertilize the first set of leaves or wait till the second comes in . your thoughts

    1. Yes, you can use egg shells, but I would work them into the soil early to help them break down as much as possible during the season.

    2. Bake the egg shells then add vinegar. It changes the calcium carbonate to immediately available calcium citrate. There are videos on YouTube about it. Now this works great with Epsom salt because you now are getting calcium magnesium and sulphur!

  47. Hi! Not being critical, but I just lost a bunch of seedlings because I “followed the directions” on a liquid fertilizer….even though I cut it in 1/2 for the first feeding! It was too much and it also created a fungus/damping off problem.

    What I learned from a county extension is that most of these ratio’s are for growing or more mature plants, not for seedlings. They also told me that nitrogen can stimulate damping off diseases on young seedlings even if their first true leaves have appeared. The problem with “…use 1/2 pkg ratio…” or one pepper site that says “…use 1/4 pkg ratio…” is that you don’t know what the total amts are to start? 1/2 of what, specifically? Also, what you use depends on what your growing soil is; soiless/potting soil/compost/etc (for example, most composts have all the potassium and phosphorus plants need, and just need a little nitrogen until they are about 6 weeks old) Anyway, would like to see more depth on an article about nutrition for pepper starts/seedlings; it’s pretty vague in most articles.

    1. Hi Norm,

      I’m sorry to hear about your issue. I hate to see anyone lose their plants to an avoidable cause like this. We will take this opportunity to add some further information on recognizing nutrient burn and how to flush out nutrients if necessary.

      To clarify on the “1/2 strength” directive, what we mean is to use 1/2 the amount of fertilizer in the same quantity of water. If the packaging recommends 1 tsp per gallon, use 1/2 tsp per gallon of water. This is the procedure we follow for seedlings after they reach about 1-2 weeks of age in seed starter mix. Like you said, if you sow seeds in a nutrient-rich medium, you likely won’t have to add any fertilizer until the plants are much larger.

      However, not all fertilizers are created equal. Some are much more potent than others, in which case 1/4 or less strength may be appropriate. For example, a 10-10-5 vs a 2-3-1 nutrient grade. However, directions on the packaging should also correspond with the strength of the fertilizer.

    2. Half strength doesn’t mean soak the pot when they are young. I only add small amounts of liquid fertilizer around the base of the stem. I mean like 2 ounces of half strength then lay off for 10 days. Sounds like you had a watering problem. Let the soil dry out. Peppers love this! The hotter the pepper the drier and hitter it like things.

    3. Yes sir i had my first experience with dampening off this week. This seedling was outside being hardened off. 2 hours later i pick up my great looking Aji Mango pepper plant and it just falls over!! Broke my heart! The week before i put a product called Rev root stimulator, the top of the soil looks very dark and i could see how it ate away at the stem!

  48. Hi Pepper Geeks,

    I am preparing to start my first grow. I have everything I need, including a nice seedling starter kit which came with seed trays and an automatic watering system that works via a capillary mat (kind of like the one shown here My question is: How do you recommend adapting fertilizing to a continuous watering schedule? I got the Fox Farm trio and it says to use 1/2 tsp per gallon once per week. But if I’m using continuous watering, should I just fill the reservoir with this level of concentrate once per week?


    1. Hi Willy,

      Happy to hear you’re starting your first grow, exciting! As for the auto-watering system and fertilizer, we have never used one. However, I suspect that the concentration of nutrient will deplete over time, so you may need to change out the reservoir every so often to ensure the plants have enough nutrients. However, too much is bad. I’d recommend reducing the concentration of fertilizer by around half while the plants are young, and perhaps switching on and off between nutrient-rich water and plain water. Again, we’ve never used that type of system, so I can’t say for sure.

      Just FYI, over-watering is bad news for peppers! If your system is keeping the soil too moist, you may want to allow them to drain/dry out between waterings. Just something to keep an eye on!


  49. Hi Calvin

    Thanks for the great info!

    I’m just getting into veg gardening and have many vegetables, including peppers beginning to mature and will fruit in the next few weeks or so.

    Based on your recommendations, I want to check if the fertilizer I have will be suitable. Its a 3:1:5 organic slow release fertilizer. However, I notice you recommend a high P fertilizer, as opposed to a high K one, whereas I have a high K fertilizer.

    1. During the fruiting stage, a low-strength fertilizer is best, so a 3-1-5 should be just fine. Phosphate is important for pod formation, but as long as you are using a good soil mix, you should be okay. Just don’t give too much nitrogen at this point!

      Best of luck,

  50. I have seedlings with about 4 leaves. I’m thinking about using the Miracle-Gro Performance Organics. What the best way to mix it for feeding for young plants? I’m growing Carolina reapers and ghosts peppers

    1. Hi Glen,

      For young plants, we recommend using fertilizer at 1/2 strength. So if the Miracle Gro calls for 1 tbsp per gallon, use 1/2 tbsp per gallon until the plants have 3-4 sets of true leaves, then move up to full strength.

      Hope this helps,

  51. Hey Calvin, et al.,

    I am a first time grower, and purchased a couple habanero plants from Bonnie Plants. The packaging recommended using miracle gro potting soil to transplant, so that’s what I’m using right now. I’m wondering when to fertilize my plants since it claims to have 6 months of fertilizers. I’m also supplementing every 2 weeks a foliar spray (1tbs/32oz spray bottle) a couple sprays per plant (4-5).

    My habaneros are currently fruiting, so I was wondering when I should start fertilizing again. I know you mentioned using the fish fertilizer, but it’s a little pricey to purchase the fertilizer and cal mag (is there one in particular). Have you used garden tone throughout fruiting? It looks like low N @ 3-4-4. Also have you used miracle gro performance edible, red capped bottle?

    Sorry for so many questions, I just want to be able to produce some good amount of peppers. I’m in zone 10b, 2 gal container, indoor limited spacing.

    1. Hey there,

      While the peppers are fruiting, the plants don’t need much nitrogen, just a bit of phosphorus and calcium. We can’t recommend FoxFarm’s trio enough, or just Grow Big and Tiger Bloom (switch to tiger bloom when flowering starts). We have not used the red cap Miracle Gro. We use this calmag, but it is pricey and highly concentrated.

      If you want to keep it simple and cheap, you can just use an all purpose fertilizer like Miracle Gro organics mentioned in our article, and just decrease the strength to 1/2 when the flowers come.

      Hope this helps and that you get a nice big habanero harvest!

  52. Hi there! I have a fairly big raised pepper garden. This years crop consists of habenero, datil, pablano, cayenne, banana, jimmy nardello, tinidad scorpion and ghost. I am so confused with fertilizing. If I use the Neptunes Harvest now while I have fruit, do I also need to use the cal mag at the same time? I’ve noticed some leaf curl on my ghost plants but we have had a ton of rain as well. And what is the best way to apply the fertilizers? Thank you for your time!!

    1. Hi Lori,

      Cal-Mag is usually only needed if you notice a deficiency. When you do, you can use it together with other fertilizers (like the Neptune).

      It is most likely due to the rain that your ghost plant’s leaves are curling, so I wouldn’t worry about the cal-mag just yet. Just be sure to keep to a consistent schedule with your main fertilizer and let nature take its course!

      Good luck,

  53. Hi, I read your article and the questions and contributions so amazed me. I am also growing pepper in the northern part of Ghana. I planted my pepper mid August this year and the rains came in heavily. I experience stunted growth and folding leaves. I thought it was due to lack of nutrients and apply NPK but there is no changes. In my mind I associated it to the too much water. My question now is , can my pepper growth change when the weather become warmer?

    1. Hi Wilfred,

      Too much water can definitely cause issues. If you get too much rain, only time will help as the weather begins to dry out.

      Best of luck!

  54. Hey Peppergeek!

    I have been doing growing sweet bell peppers indoors (inside a grow tent under T5HO’s) and they’ve been doing great. I use a CalMag supplement and the Neptune’s Harvest 2-3-1 that you mention. I’ve had good results doing about 15-25% strength of Neptune’s Harvest and half strength CalMag (following manufacturer’s recommendations per gallon).

    However, I am growing in coco coir, specifically a lightly amended coco blend that has about 2 weeks of fertilizer, which should now be out of my media. I am feeding with the nutrients every single watering, and I wanted to mention this on here for other growers as well as get your opinion. Some people like to do 75% to full strength of the feedings, and do it every so often.. But I have found a light feeding throughout the whole grow to be ideal in an inert media like coco.

    My peppers are now budding and the flowers are opening up. I was thinking of increasing my 2-3-1 strength to 50% and continue up to 100% for fruit production.

    How do you feel about this approach? Any advice for coco or semi-hydroponic growing?

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Very interesting approach! I do like the sound of that, it seems like it would be a lot easier to remember to fertilize if you are just doing it with every watering. As for the coco coir, we have yet to grow in that medium. The only advice I would give is to be careful with nitrogen as flowers begin to bud. The Neptune is relatively low in nitrogen so you shouldn’t run into issues there!

      Good luck, and please keep up informed as your plants begin producing peppers!

      Thanks a bunch,

  55. Thank you very much!
    It is so crazy, as for my case I’m thinking the clay colored pots attract the aphids and the soil I used for potting wasn’t that healthy. It’s been raining a LOT here and still, the ground plants are thriving. I decided I’m planting my next seedlings directly on the ground, or maybe a bigger % of them all. Again, thank you very much!

  56. Hi! This is some interesting read. I programed a schedule of a 12-24-12 fertilizing for my peppers, every 21 days, as the package recommends. Anyway, my plants are fruiting now and i don’t know if I should fertilize them as i scheduled with that same fertilizer or switch to a different fertilizer with a different nutritional proportion. 30% of my plants are planted directly on the soil and they’re spectacular, the potted ones, though, are kind of struggling. I’m assuming the soil i used to pot the other plants wasn’t healthy, besides that, the potted plants are ideal aphid magnets, really couldn’t tell why. Back to my question. What should I do about the fertilizer. Thank you in advance

    1. Hey Rolando,

      You could stick to the same fertilizer all season, but I would cut back on the frequency/amount by half later in the season to avoid losing flower/pod production. Too much Nitrogen can cause this.

      Glad to hear your in-ground plants are thriving. We’re having the opposite – our potted plants are great and in-ground is struggling with the full sun and soil.

      Good luck!

  57. Hey all. I started a bunch of hot pepper varieties this year from seed. Once germination took I moved them into a grow tent with LED lights. I began feeding with Jack’s brand 20-20-20 water soluble after new leave growth began. They started looking incredible and growth exploded. I kept up the recommended feeding and now my plants are all showing yellowing of the leaves and leaf dropping on older growth and leaf curling on the new growth.
    I still have flowering which I’ve been snipping off. All of my plants are still indoors due to still being cold nighttime temps here in N.E. and I’m really feeling disheartened. I don’t know why they went from looking so good to so poorly and I haven’t changed a thing. I even questioned over watering, but I let them dry out well before watering again.
    Does anyone have any suggestions or advice? I’ll try anything.
    Thanks for everyone’s time.

    1. Hi Jeff,

      We are in N.E. as well and will soon be moving plants outdoors.

      A few things to consider regarding the yellow leaves / curling leaves.

      1. Are your plants in large enough pots? If you don’t transplant them into larger containers they may become root bound as they outgrow the pots. This can cause the curling leaves and stunted growth. The flowering suggests that this might be a possibility.
      2. Is there enough airflow in your grow tent? It is important that the temperature doesn’t get too hot and that the plants get fresh air on a constant basis. Keep a temp gauge in your tent and always have an air outflow and a fan circulating the air.
      3. Overwatering is definitely a possibility regarding the yellow leaves, but it could also be the plants’ inability to uptake nitrogen. You could try another fertilizer like Fox Farm ‘grow big’ or Miracle Gro all-purpose organic.

      I hope this helps, and the flowering is a good sign that the plants are still doing okay! You can stop snipping them off now, they need time to mature (especially the hot ones).


      1. Very helpful information as i start my chili journey all the way from Nairobi Kenya.

    2. Hi Jeff,
      I am having a similar issue, although, I live on the west coast and have many peppers on my plant already. After having thoroughly looked at my plant and reading up on possible causes, I am assuming my pepper plant is having trouble absorbing nutrients. I just read an article that referred to adding epsom salts to the top layer of soil and scratching it in (about a tbsp or two dependingon size of plant). If you are still having the leaf issues, maybe check this info out online. I am going to give it a try.
      I also might try switching to a different fertilizer like Calvin suggested.
      Good luck

  58. I recently bought two pepper plants that have peppers growing and are flowering as well. One is a chili pepper plant the other habenero. I also have a baby ghost pepper which has yet to produce peppers.
    They are all in containers and will be transported into bigger pots soon. I was hoping you could tell me which plant food is best? Also how many hours of sunlight is recommended (we live in fla) and as far as the fertilizer I read your recommendations for fish and seaweed.
    Thank you for all info provided.

    1. We are liking the MiracleGro Organics fertilizer for early stage growth. We also had good results with Fox Farm’s 3-stage liquid fertilizer set.

      As for light, full sun (sun all day). Just put the containers in the most well-lit location possible and they’ll be happy. Be sure to gradually transition them outdoors if they are still inside.

      Good luck with the spicy peppers!

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