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Many gardeners are 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.
There are many different 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 garden plants. They go from seedling to leafy growth, and then right to flowering and producing peppers.
For peppers, we use two fertilizers through the growing season. The first fertilizer encourages leafy growth and sturdiness, 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.
Understanding Fertilizer Grades
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:
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 soil. This number is a national standard for gardening soil, and it is essential to understanding how the fertilizer will feed your pepper plants.
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 now choose the optimal fertilizer for pepper plants.
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 allow for pepper pods to develop. This can be achieved using an even-grade fertilizer all season, or ideally by switching fertilizers halfway through the growing season.
If you want to keep it simple and stick to one brand, Fox Farm makes a great trio of fertilizer that you can buy on Amazon. They even have a straight-forward feeding schedule which makes the growing process a lot easier.
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 supplemental nutrients to 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.
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 later on when the plant is producing actual pepper pods.
Espoma Garden Tone provides plenty of nitrogen as well but is not water-soluble. If you prefer to use a mix-in fertilizer instead of one that is water-soluble, this may be a good option.
Tip: If you prefer to use just one fertilizer for the entire growing season, use this one!
The fertilizer we use for the later growth stage 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 means dropping the nitrogen level slightly while providing plenty of phosphate and potassium for pepper pod production.
If we kept providing lots of nitrogen, the plant may appear healthy with lots of leaves, but might ultimately produce fewer peppers.
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!
Schedule and Frequency Of Fertilizing
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 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, 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.
How Often To Fertilize Peppers
Aside from the initial fertilizing, which should be half the normal dose, we simply follow the packaging guidelines. Most fertilizers are administered 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.
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 someone else. What’s your favorite fertilizer? Feel free to leave questions or suggestions in the comments below.