Most urban gardening sites would claim that pepper is a perfect candidate for container gardening. That’s true, but only if you know how to do it. My experience in growing pepper in pots has not been smooth sailing at the start. These plants can be quite finicky about soil condition and the weather. After making a few mistakes early on, I finally managed to successfully plant pepper in pots. Once you find the right formula, growing pepper in containers then becomes a breeze...
Here are a few tips on how to grow pepper successfully in containers:
When growing pepper from seeds, choose the right variety
When growing pepper from seeds, the quality of the seeds is very important. In buying seeds, I always opt for a local brand, vis-à-vis the foreign or imported seeds. This is because the local seeds have supposedly been tested to thrive well our climate zone. It is also important to determine what type of variety grows well under certain temperatures. I made the mistake of growing bell pepper from seeds, only to realize later that bell peppers will not thrive in the warm climate of Manila. Unfortunately, the instructions in the seed packets that I bought do not explain these things properly, so I had to make additional research on my own.
To learn more tips about how to sow seeds, please visit my post on “How to Sow your First Seeds in 10 Easy Steps“.
Do not overfertilize
Beginner gardeners tend to fertilize too much, thinking that this will help the plants bear more fruits. In the process however, the plant produces too many leaves and not enough fruits or flowers. If this happens, simply prune away the excess leaves in the lower stem and leave just a few healthy branches or stems in the plant. This will allow the plant to focus more on producing flowers, rather than growing a lot of leaves. Limit the foliage to around 3 main stems only so the plant can focus on producing peppers.
Feed the plants regularly
While you should not overfertilize, it is also important to feed or condition the soil regularly. When grown in containers, pepper plants are a heavy feeder and they can easily deplete the nutrients in the soil. Condition the soil regularly with a lot of organic matter, such as compost, coffee grounds, banana peels, crushed egg shells, fish parts, and other forms of organic fertilizers. Make sure to bury them along the sides of the container where the root tips are concentrated.
Use the right container size
Most pepper plants would benefit from large containers to allow the roots to spread better and support the plant. An ideal container size would have around 18 inches in diameter and depth. Make sure there are enough holes at the bottom to allow excess water to drain properly. A smaller sized pot is still do-able but this may inhibit the growth of the plant to its full potential. When using pots, use a well draining soil, mixed with a good amount of compost and a little coarse sand or perlite (if available).
Watch out for pests
In my first few months of gardening, my young pepper plants got heavily infested with pests, specifically aphids and ants. These two insects are actually arch enemies, since ants feed on aphids. In my case, the aphids attracted more ants and both of them attacked the young buds and leaves. This caused the leaves to curl and also stunted the growth of the plants. Eventually, I learned to control the ants by sprinkling baking soda on the ant colony, while I also controlled the aphids by spraying them with organic insecticide. After controlling the pests, the plants grew well and produced more peppers.
Water only when needed
As a rule of thumb, water the plants only when the soil gets dry because these plants don’t want to be soaked. To check if the plants already need watering, dig around two inches into the soil and if it is already dry, then the plant already needs to be watered. Typically, in our warm weather in the Philippines, watering three times a week is needed. This frequency can be increased during summer when the temperature gets really hot.
Expose the plants to sunlight
Lastly, pepper plants need at least 6 hours of sunlight. Sunlight enables the plant to produce pepper continuously. However, too much sun can also scorch the leaves of the plants and cause the leaves to curl, especially during the summer months. In this case, move the plants to an area where they can get partial shade. Planting them in container pots allows the gardener to move them around easily, adjusting the sun exposure as needed.