Choosing The Best Fertilizer For Pepper Plants

Many pepper growers feel unsure of their fertilizing habits. Am I fertilizing too often? Not enough? Is this Miracle-Gro even any good for my plants? Is it safe for vegetable plants? We’ve been there, too.

In this article, we’ll go through some of the best fertilizers for pepper plants. We’ve tried many different fertilizers, both organic and chemical, and determined some of our favorites.

Quick summary: We recommend this fertilizer trio to keep things simple. Or, get this for the vegetative stage of growth and this for the blooming/fruiting stage of growth.

There are countless fertilizer brands on the market today. Every gardener has their favorite, and you’ll find what works best for you and your plants. Each vegetable has a different growth period and pattern, but peppers are pretty standard.

The fertilizer regimen we use for peppers will work for a wide variety of flowering garden plants. They go from seedling to leafy growth, and then right to flowering and producing fruits.

Pepper Geek participates in various affiliate programs, meaning links contained in this article may provide us a commission should you make a purchase on the linked website.

Organic Fertilizers

For peppers, we use two fertilizers through the growing season. The first fertilizer should encourage leafy growth and root development, while the second stage fertilizer encourages pepper pod production. We’ll show you exactly 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 relative amount of three important elemental nutrients. It is called the ‘fertilizer grade.’

These numbers appear something like this:

  • 3-5-5
  • 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.

Primary Nutrients

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

1. Nitrogen is first because it is the most important element for foliage production and health. Nitrogen is essential to the process of photosynthesis in new leafy growth.

2. Phosphate is a nutrient that gives plants phosphorus, an essential nutrient in most life forms, allowing plants to take in energy from the sun.

3. Potassium is essential to plant life due to 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 large variety of ways, but these are their most critical roles. With this understanding, we can choose the optimal fertilizer for pepper plants.

Secondary Nutrients

While the main three nutrients are the most important, there are secondary nutrients, or 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. 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 a great way to amend soil with magnesium and sulfur. A magnesium deficiency can result in stunted plant growth.

Beneficial Microbes

While elements are the building blocks to healthy pepper plants, soil-based microbes play an important role to healthy gardening. 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 analysis for them!


Best Fertilizer For Pepper Plants

When you plant a pepper seed, the seed itself contains the nutrients required to germinate and become a small plant. However, once a certain size is reached, the plant requires nutrients, either from the soil or from the air. Most home gardeners fertilize through the soil, and that is the method we will focus on today.

To put it simply, pepper plants require lots of nitrogen during early growth to produce healthy leaves. They then require less nitrogen, but plenty of phosphate and potassium during later-stage growth to ensure healthy fruiting. This can be achieved using an even-grade fertilizer all season, or ideally by switching fertilizers halfway through the growing season.

Want To Keep It Simple?

If you want to keep it simple and stick to one brand, Fox Farm makes a great trio of fertilizers that you can buy on Amazon. They even have a straight-forward feeding schedule which makes the growing process a lot easier.

Stage One Fertilizer for Peppers

One fertilizer we like for early growth is called 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 that our plants will grow strong, plentiful leaves in the early months of growth. However, we wouldn’t want to use this throughout the summer, as it may inhibit the production of peppers.

Another organic option is Espoma Garden Tone which provides plenty of nitrogen as well but is not water-soluble. It also includes beneficial bacteria for healthy soil. If you prefer to use a mix-in fertilizer instead of one that is water-soluble, this may be a good fertilizer to consider.

We prefer to use an organic, water-soluble fertilizer with a higher nitrogen level for the younger pepper plants. This is due to nitrogen’s effect on producing new, healthy green leaves.

When pepper plants are just starting, they should be focusing 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 actual pepper pods.

Tip: If you prefer to use just one fertilizer for the entire growing season, use one of these options and reduce strength when flowering starts.

Stage Two Fertilizer for Peppers

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

Once our pepper plants have begun sprouting flowers, we switch to our second fertilizer. This fertilizer has much less nitrogen, but provides plenty of phosphate and potassium for pepper pod production.

Neptunes Harvest Ingredients

If we kept providing lots of nitrogen, the plant may be healthy with lots of leaves, but will ultimately produce fewer peppers.

If you wanted, you could use this fish and seaweed fertilizer during early stage growth as well. It provides an excellent, highly usable assortment of nutrition that is beneficial to peppers during any growth stage.

Note: This fertilizer could also be used as an all-season fertilizer, but is slightly more expensive. It also does not provide Calcium or Magnesium, so you would have to supplement with cal-mag. It also has a slightly fishy smell. We love fish-based fertilizer, it does an amazing job!


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 Peppers

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

For most pepper varieties, fertilizing can begin about 2 weeks after seeds have sprouted. The first application should be light (half strength at most), as the root systems will be limited. However, fertilizer will play an essential role in forming healthy roots early on, as well as strong stems and leafy growth.

Pepper Fertilizer Frequency

Aside from the initial fertilizing, which should be half the normal strength, we simply follow the packaging guidelines. Most fertilizers are administered weekly or bi-weekly.

Some fertilizers are meant to be worked into the soil before the first transplanting. Just try your best to keep to a consistent fertilizing schedule. Your pepper plants will thank you!

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


Soil pH

While nutrients are what make pepper planta healthy and strong, the pH of your soil is arguably more important. Peppers prefer a soil pH between 5.8-6.2, 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 take in and use 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 low pH soil, you can get a soil test, or add some lime and hope that you were right!


I hope this helped clear the air on what the best fertilizer for pepper plants is. 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 regimens. What’s your favorite fertilizer? Feel free to leave questions or suggestions in the comments below.


Calvin Thumbnail

Calvin

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.

21 thoughts on “Choosing The Best Fertilizer For Pepper Plants”

  1. 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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
    • 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).

      -Calvin

      Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  3. 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

    Reply
    • 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!
      -Calvin

      Reply
  4. 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!

    Reply
  5. 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?

    Reply
    • 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,
      -Calvin

      Reply
  6. 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?

    Reply
    • 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!
      -Calvin

      Reply
  7. 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!!

    Reply
    • 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,
      -Calvin

      Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
    • 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!
      -Calvin

      Reply
  9. 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

    Reply
    • 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,
      -Calvin

      Reply
  10. 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.

    Reply
    • 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,
      -Calvin

      Reply

Leave a Comment