How to Grow Peppers in Containers

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Chilli peppers 'Cayenne' growing in a pot

If your summer gardening plans include growing a few vegetables in containers, peppers should be on your planting list. When the right varieties are given attentive care, peppers can grow better in pots than in a garden, especially in cool or windy climates. Early in the season, peppers grown in containers enjoy warmer roots than they might have deep in the ground, and later on when the plants become loaded with fruit, moving them to a protected spot will keep the brittle branches from breaking off.

Not all varieties are a good fit for containers. In my experience and that of others like the Pennsylvania Master Gardeners, small-fruited peppers with a bushy, branching growth habit are the best choices for pots. That said, one of my reasons for growing peppers in containers is to make sure I have them close to the kitchen door for quick picking, so I veer toward little sweet peppers and moderately hot jalapenos.

If I were limited to growing all of my peppers in containers, I would favor ‘Redskin’ or ‘Mohawk’ for sweet peppers, and perhaps ‘Apache’ for more spice. Cool trivia: all three of these excellent container varieties were bred in the UK.

Potting peppers on into a larger container

Potting On Peppers

Whether you start with purchased seedlings or sow your own, you will quickly discover that young pepper plants benefit from “potting on” to the next size container as often as every two weeks. Use a good quality potting mix and avoid disturbing the roots at each repotting, in which the new container should provide about two inches of new growing space on all sides. By the time my peppers are in their permanent pots, I have usually repotted them four times. Big pepper plants often need daily watering in hot weather, so I like to use lightweight, water-retentive plastic pots when growing peppers in containers.

Depending on your climate, your peppers may be fine growing on a patio table, but in hot weather the plants benefit from having their roots shaded from intense sun. This is easy to do by placing the pots in a shallow crate or planter, or even a cardboard box. If left unshaded, dark-coloured pots in particular are prone to overheating on sunny days.

Shading pepper roots using a crate

Feeding and Watering Container Peppers

Peppers may have few insect pests, but they have an above-average need for thoughtful feeding and watering. First let’s talk water, because peppers grown in containers must never be allowed to dry out, and grow best with constant light moisture. How often you must water depends on the weather, but you can easily tell how dry the pots are by tipping them slightly to judge their weight. Very light pots are dangerously dry. Should a big potted pepper dry out to the point of wilting, you will need to water it several times to put things right.

The easiest way to feed peppers growing in containers is to use a water-soluble liquid plant food every week or so, when the plants are well hydrated and not under stress. Underfed plants have pale green leaves and show little new growth, while happily fed ones get busy producing lots of flowers and fruits.

Capsicum ‘Cupid’

I often alternate homemade liquid fertilisers with various commercial products, which makes feeding my peppers as much intuition as science. If I were to buy a fertiliser especially for potted peppers, it would serve as a good source of all three major nutrients, plus calcium and magnesium to prevent nutritional stress during fruit set. Most organic fertilisers developed for tomatoes will fill the bill, but do read the label so you will know what your peppers are getting.

Supporting Peppers

Pepper varieties with a spreading growth habit like ‘Redskin’ need no staking, but upright jalapenos benefit from being tethered to a secure stake – or maybe two or three. Grow-through plant hoops are great for large plants, or you can make a wire cage to fit the pot. In addition to staking, you can move container-grown peppers to a place sheltered from wind and strong sun when they load up with fruit. This is the best way to be sure that your beautiful potted peppers make it into the kitchen.

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Comments

 
"What size pot? 1 gallon? 5 gallon? What is the minimum required?"
Gard on Saturday 11 June 2016
"Good question! In warm climates where peppers grow into big plants, some gardeners grow them in large 5 gallon containers. However, a 3 gallon pot (14 inch diameter) is suitable for small fruited peppers that like growing in containers. A heavy pot is helpful with tall varieties such as jalapenos, which tend to topple easily when they become top-heavy with fruit late in the season. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 13 June 2016
"For a 7 gallon pot and 2 jalapeno plants, how much would you do during one watering? A gallon of water? Or more/less?"
Jason on Wednesday 19 April 2017
"Jason, it will probably be more like a quart if you don't allow the soil to go completely dry. Tip the container a little to judge its weight, and try to keep the moisture levels even from day to day. Good luck!"
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 20 April 2017
"does pinching pepper plants help with branching? will pinching adversely affect fruit production?"
Sarah Boles on Saturday 6 May 2017
"Sarah, pinching will delay production, which some people think is good. Peppers vary widely in their growth habits, and it's only the early sweet peppers that sometimes set fruit before they are big enough to handle it."
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 6 May 2017
"I just bought an Orange Habanero plant from Home Depot. It's covered in green peppers and have a few tiny orange peppers but I have no idea how to care for it! I've seen a lot of articles on how to start growing them from seeds but nothing for already matured pepper plants. Any advice???"
Kathryn on Tuesday 19 September 2017
"At this point you only need to provide warm, sunny conditions for your plant. The peppers that have already set will continue to ripen, and the plants will keep blooming, too. The newest peppers won't have time to ripen before winter comes. Container-grown habanero plants can be cut back by half and brought indoors for the winter, but they are aphid magnets. It is usually best to start over with a young plant in late spring. "
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 20 September 2017

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