Different plants in the garden require more or less sunlight to thrive. Some prefer partial sun, like leafy greens, beets, and other cool weather crops. Other plants require more energy from the sun to produce their large fruits.
Peppers grow quickly and produce bountiful harvests of large fruits. As a result, chili pepper plants can be demanding in terms of sunlight. In this article, I’ll share our lighting guide for growing peppers in the sunlight.
How Much Sun Do Peppers Need?
From seedling to full-grown plants, peppers need strong light to grow best. If you don’t provide grow lights indoors, plants can become tall and leggy instead of low and strong. The same is true for outdoor plants.
In short, peppers should be planted in a location that receives 6-12 hours of direct sunlight daily. Prioritize morning sun over afternoon light to avoid the most intense time of day for direct sunlight.
Tip: Pick a spot that gets the most sunlight by observing your available growing space before planting. There are apps available to survey your yard and pick the best spot.
The more sunlight a pepper plant receives, the more energy it can use to convert to crop growth. Peppers can survive off of 6 or fewer hours of sunlight, but you will likely end up with smaller harvests.
Can Peppers Plants Grow in the Shade?
If your gardening space is limited or covered, you may wonder if peppers can be grown in the shade.
While peppers prefer plenty of direct sunshine, the plants may still be grown in partial shade. However, growing in full-shade is not recommended for peppers. Attempting this will lead to smaller plants and poor yields.
Without any direct sunlight, water will not be used nearly as quickly by the plant. This can lead to poor soil aeration and drainage, along with slower transpiration.
However, the main concern is the lack of energy available to the plants for photosynthesis. Shade leads to slower growth, smaller harvests, and generally unhappy pepper plants.
Transitioning Peppers from Indoors to Sunlight
While peppers grow best in full sun, the transition from grow lights to sunlight must be done slowly. Sunlight is intense, so the hardening off process must be gradual.
When you are transplanting peppers outdoors, begin with just a few minutes per day in direct sunlight. Then, move the plants back into shade or indoors. Over the course of 2-3 weeks, increase the direct sunlight time each day by 10-15 minutes until the plants can be in sun all day.
This slow process will increase the plant’s ability to handle direct sunlight. The energy from the sun will then be usable by the plants, instead of causing them harm.
Can Peppers Get Too Much Sun?
If you rush the hardening off process, your plants will undoubtedly suffer from sun scald on the leaves, wilting, and even complete leaf drop. It won’t likely kill the plants, but they may need to re-acclimate by growing new foliage, effectively slowing down the time to harvest.
However, even properly hardened off pepper plants can get too much sun. During the hottest days of summer, the afternoon sunshine (usually between 3:00-5:00 PM) can cause stress for pepper plants.
Learn more about hardening off peppers here.
During a particularly hot period, provide temporary shade during the afternoon hours. This can be done with garden fabric, an umbrella, or by moving potted plants into the shade.
Growers in zones 9+ may need to plan for extreme temperatures by employing one or several of the above techniques. Shade cloth can help keep the peppers from dropping flowers during a heatwave, increasing overall plant yields and decreasing sun stress.
What is Sun Scald?
Sun scald is essentially a sunburn for your plants. It can affect both leaves and fruits. Tender plants that are not adjusted to direct sunlight are the most vulnerable.
Fruits can also become burned when they are exposed to prolonged direct sunlight. The leaves of your pepper plants should provide shade to the hanging fruits, but if they become exposed, they may develop soft spots.
This can cause fruits to become unusable, at least partially. Avoid sun scald by hardening off plants properly, and by providing partial shade when necessary. Again, afternoon sun is the most intense, so the plants may need a bit of relief during particularly hot weather.
Can I Grow Peppers in a Sunny Window?
Many growers wonder if the sunlight from a sunny window is sufficient for growing peppers. We have personally experimented with growing seedlings and potted pepper plants in windows.
Unfortunately, sunlight through a window is not ideal for growing pepper plants, regardless of age. Young pepper seedlings will likely grow to be leggy and weak, and full plants may not produce harvests.
This is due to the limited time and intensity of the sunlight that reaches plants through a window. Some plant varieties thrive with filtered and/or indirect sunlight, but not peppers.
For indoor growers, I recommend using an efficient grow light for seedlings or full plants. In particular, LEDs are becoming more affordable and can ensure your plants get a strong start to the season.
I highly recommend Viparspectra’s p1000 LED light for a great, versatile indoor light.
If you must use a window for growing peppers, find a south-facing window that is not obstructed by trees or other shading objects. South is the ideal direction because it will receive morning, mid-day and afternoon sunlight (in the Northern hemisphere).
When to Plant Peppers
If you are planning to grow peppers from seed, you will need to determine when to plant them indoors. This depends on your particular climate, and can vary from early January, all the way to early May.
If you live in a warm climate with a short winter, you can plant much earlier than those in cooler climates.
Generally speaking, pepper seeds should be sown indoors 8-10 weeks prior to your last local date of frost. This allows the plants to get a head start, prolonging the growing season outdoors.
If your climate doesn’t experience freezing temperatures, you may be able to plant at any time of the year, though you should time it so the plants are not too heat-stressed during fruiting.
What Temperatures Kill Pepper Plants?
Peppers grow best in temperatures between 70-85°F. They can tolerate temperatures as low as 55°F before showing signs of stress, and up to 100°F. This range will vary slightly based on the species of pepper.
In short, temperatures below 32°F will likely cause pepper plants to die. If it is a soft freeze, where the roots do not freeze, your plants may survive. However a hard freeze will kill pepper plants.
Fun fact: Capsicum pubescens pepper varieties are the only domesticated pepper plants that are known to tolerate cold well.
Provide protection from cold temperatures with garden fabric, a thick layer of mulch, or by moving plants closer to the warmth of your home.
I hope this article helps you determine how much sunlight to give your peppers. I wish you the best of luck growing your plants. Here’s to a huge harvest!