Pepper plants are fantastic edible plants to grow at home. Here is MEG’s pepper plant knowledge base on how to grow pepper plants in Minnesota.

How to grow pepper plants | "Purple" cayenne
How to grow pepper plants |”Purple” Cayenne

Contents

I’m new: pepper grow bag information

Greetings new pepper plant owner! Growing peppers in grow bags is easy, and we know you’ll enjoy your experience. Here’s some super helpful information for successfully growing pepper plants. You really only have two variables to control—sunlight exposure and applying water. Read these two articles for more information:

Pepper plants | the basics

Pepper plants are members of the Solanaceae family or you may know them as “nightshades”. “Who cares” you might say? It means peppers share similar characteristics to tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes and even tobacco. The more you know! If nothing else, it’s fun trivia to regurgitate during social gatherings :)

We commonly think of peppers as being sweet or hot. Bell peppers are familiar sweet peppers. Habaneros and cayenne peppers are two of the familiar “hot peppers”. There are of course many more than these.

How to grow bell pepper plants
“King of the North” Bell Pepper
How to grow Habanero Peppers
Habanero Peppers

Plant growth stages

Here’s a quick and simple explanation of pepper plant growth.

Most popular pepper plant varieties are “determinate-growth” plants. This means they go through a vegetative growth stage, flower stage and fruit stage in that order. Once the plant transitions to the next stage, it can’t go backwards.

Vegetative stage

Jalapeño pepper plant during vegetative growth stage
Jalapeño pepper plant during vegetative growth stage

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes with much of the work being done within the plants vascular system and within the soil. During the vegetative stage, the plant is primarily focused on growing a central stem and developing the framework which will support the eventual fruit. Sometimes, pepper plants will grow competing main stems. For the most part however, they usually have one main vertical stem (think of it as the main trunk of a tree). As the plant grows vertically, it grows lateral shoots (branches) which extend from the main vertical stem containing multiple leaves on each shoot. You may also notice the plant seems to grow at a faster rate as it gets larger around mid-May. This is because the plant will have more leaf surface area which results in faster creation of sugars through photosynthesis thereby allowing the plant to grow quicker (Here’s the sugar chemical formula for the plant geeks C6H12O6).

Vegetative stage tips

  • Water, water, water!!! This is the main growing stage of the plant. Water helps with literally all the biological life inside the pepper plant. Without water, bad things happen.
  • The plant should grow according to the information in the last paragraph. If it isn’t growing vertical, is misshapen, parts start falling off like it has leprosy, or leaves start to discolor, seek help! There’s something going on that needs to be addressed before it gets out of control.
  • As the plant grows, it’s a good idea to start adding supports. These can be stakes or cages to support the plant once the peppers arrive. Plants with smaller peppers (i.e. Thai pepper) most likely won’t need supports. Bell peppers will definitely benefit from support. If you’d like to know about other ways to support your plants, they like it when you talk to them :)

Flower stage

"Purple" Cayenne pepper plant entering flowering stage
“Purple” Cayenne pepper plant entering flowering stage

After the plant has reached its predetermined growth, it will begin growing flowers at the nodes of the plant. The nodes are the locations where the stems and leaves (branches) are attached. You might also call them the crotches of the branches.

The flowers are perfect flowers meaning they each contain male and female reproductive parts and can self-pollinate. Insects and wind are two common ways of pollinating pepper plants. You really don’t have to worry about this part. It doesn’t take much for the pollen to get jostled around and end up where it’s supposed to. If a flower fails to pollinate, it will abort and fall off the plant. This is something to look for. If you see more than a few flowers on the ground, there may be an issue with the plant. Otherwise, everything should be hunky-dory.

Flower stage tips

  • Keep watering!
  • Watch for flowers dropping to the ground indicating failed pollination
  • ***bonus tip*** If you so much as sneeze on the plant, it will probably be enough to pollinate a few flowers :)

Fruiting Stage

Thai Chili Pepper plant in fruit stage
Thai Chili Pepper plant in fruit stage

The knee bone is connected to the thigh bone. Ha!

After the flowers pollinate, the miracle of life begins all anew. What we refer to as a “pepper” is actually the plant’s ovary which begins to grow until ripe. Then we pick the pepper and throw it into our favorite dish. That’s a really quick explanation without going into a lot of detail. Here’s some items to know at fruiting stage:

Fruiting stage tips

  • Keep watering!
  • The fruits become bigger and heavier. It’s easier for the branches to break at this point too. Brace or tie loaded branches to something sturdy like a stake or cage.
  • Watch for color changes to indicate when the fruit is reaching peak ripeness/flavor
  • ***Bonus Tip***If this is your first time growing a particular pepper plant, pick peppers at different times once they’re changing color. You’ll taste a difference in flavor and you will find your perfect time/color to harvest peppers according to what your taste buds tell you.

Harvesting

Harvested habanero peppers
Harvested habanero peppers

Harvesting peppers is our favorite time of year. All of the persistent watering and patience has finally paid off at last! Here are some helpful tips on harvesting peppers:

  • Harvest peppers as they begin to ripen. They won’t ripen all at once. Regular harvesting will ensure you get the peppers at their peak flavor and avoid spoilage or damage from insects or other pests. See the FAQs below for more info on identifying ripe peppers.
  • If peppers are picked before they turn to their final color, simply place them on a counter or table and wait (It’s just like watching paint dry!).

Post-harvest processing

There are many ways to process peppers after harvest for preservation. Some of the popular methods are freezing, drying, canning and smoking. Here at MEG’s Edible Landscapes, we typically freeze sweet peppers and dry/smoke hot peppers.

Drying hot peppers

Hot peppers are typically dried and/or smoked. They can be processed further after drying to produce salts, powders or pepper flakes. There are a variety of ways to dry peppers. The main objective is to get them completely dry so they won’t rot. Food dehydrators work well for this task or air drying works also. If air drying, make sure to slice the peppers first. This will help dry out the inside of the pepper where much of the moisture content is located. If you’re interested in smoking peppers, check out our article on the subject here.

How to smoke peppers
Smoking peppers

Freezing sweet peppers

Freezing sweet peppers is a super simple method to quickly preserve recently harvest sweet peppers. We harvest, rinse and then slice the peppers “hot-dog style” before adding them to a freezer bag or container. This allows for a quick easy access when cooking stir fries or adding sweet peppers to recipes.

How to freeze peppers
Storing sweet peppers in freezer container

FAQ

How do I know my peppers are ready to be harvested?

This is a common question. Peppers may be harvested or picked at any time when they’re growing. However, the flavor profile will be different depending on when the peppers are harvested. Peppers will change colors when they mature. Most start out green and mature to another color. This isn’t always true though. “Purple” Cayenne peppers, for example, start out purple and turn red when they mature. Step one for knowing when to harvest is know what color your peppers will be when mature.This could literally be any color of the rainbow. MEG’s pepper plants will either have this information on the bag tag, or the information will be listed on the product information in the online store.

Can my pepper plant grow inside?

“Yes” is the short answer. You will need to have sufficient light for the plant to thrive though. If you have a sun room or multi-season room with a southern exposure, you should have sufficient light. The plant will tell you if it’s not getting enough light. Plants tend to grow tall and thin (sometimes referred to as “spindly”). If your plant looks like it’s reaching for light, it’s a tell-tale sign it doesn’t have enough sunlight. You’ll need to find a better location or add an artificial light source.

Can peppers ripen off the plant?

Absolutely! Minnesota is know to get an early frost in late summer. If it looks like we’re going to have an early winter, it’s ok to harvest the peppers and bring them inside to finish ripening. The peppers must be physiologically mature however! This means the pepper must be fully grown (physically speaking) in order to ripen completely off the plant. If you were to pick an immature pepper and place it on a counter, it will eventually rot before ever fully ripening. We know because we tried it at different stages before. This would be a good experiment for you to play with also. It helps with identifying physiologically mature fruits.