Bell Pepper Plant Growth Stages | Life Cycle

Out of all of the pepper (Capsicum annuum) cultivars, there are to choose from, bell peppers are famous for being both sweet and mild. Even the pickiest eaters can be coerced into enjoying a bell pepper in their salad or on their pizza.

Growing bell peppers at home is a wonderful way to add color to your veggie patch. If you’re interested in learning more, I’m happy to teach you a bit about the various bell pepper plant growth stages and what to expect from each.

Conditions for Growing Bell Peppers

I have no qualms saying that if you can grow tomatoes at home you’re more than equipped to also grow bell peppers! These vegetables have very similar needs, both belong to the so-called nightshade family, and bell peppers actually tend to be the easier to grow of the two.

Bell peppers require warm weather to germinate, flower, and fruit. They have a relatively long growing season compared to some other veggies, so you should plan to start seeds indoors unless you live in a very warm climate. 

Speaking of warmth, plastic mulch is your best friend when growing bell peppers. This material insulates the soil and can make or break a pepper crop for those of us dealing with early first frost dates.

It should also come as no surprise that pepper plants love sunshine. Bell pepper plants need between 6 and 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. I recommend erring on the higher end of this range and avoiding planting taller vegetables — e.g., corn or pole beans — in the vicinity of your peppers.

Your bell peppers will grow best in any rich, well-draining soil that holds onto moisture well but is never soggy. According to the University of Minnesota, you should aim for a neutral or slightly acidic soil pH of 6.5 to 7.0.

Bell peppers require ample moisture to thrive. Rinse with 1 to 2 inches of water per week. I strongly recommend using a soaker hose or similar setup that allows you to water the soil directly. Damp foliage is vulnerable to a number of fungal infections that can easily pass from one nightshade cultivar to another.

In my experience, bell peppers perform well in raised beds. You can even grow plants in individual containers that are between 3 and 5 gallons in volume. Be sure to drill drainage holes in any given container if it does not already have them.

bellpaper

Growth Stages Of A Bell Pepper

The average bell pepper requires 60 to 90 days to go from seed to ripened fruit. Although this growing season is not as long as some other vegetables, it’s important to remember that peppers are quite sensitive to cold temperatures. Cool-climate gardeners like myself should keep a close eye on the calendar when planning their bell pepper harvest.

While most gardeners treat bell peppers as annuals, this vegetable is actually a tender perennial. Warm-climate gardeners in USDA zones 9 and higher can overwinter bell peppers with minimal effort. With proper care, these plants will live and produce for around 5 years on average.

You can easily start bell peppers from seeds or by purchasing young plants from a local nursery. In my experience, seeds offer the widest variety of cultivars to choose from (and tend to be more economical). However, transplants are a great alternative if you don’t want to fuss with starting seeds indoors.

1. Seed Germination 

Bell peppers are fairly easy to start from seeds as long as you sow them early enough. A good rule of thumb is to start pepper seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before your region’s last frost date.

Bell pepper seeds will germinate in 7 to 10 days when kept at 85°F.

Plant seeds in a tray filled with an all-purpose seed-starting potting mix. Sow seeds only ¼ inch deep.

Many gardeners, myself included, prefer to use a covered tray to create a miniature greenhouse environment. You should see small water droplets clinging to the inside of the cover — if you don’t, the environment is too dry.

Pepper seeds need plenty of warmth to germinate. According to Cornell University, bell peppers germinate best at temperatures between 70 and 95°F. While household temperatures may be sufficient, you can increase the success rate by placing the tray on a warming mat or within a particularly toasty room.

Ensure your pepper seeds receive adequate sunlight during the germination process. You can supplement natural light with a grow lamp mounted 3 to 4 inches above your seed tray. 

2. Seedlings

After at least 7 days, your bell pepper seeds will start to sprout. The seedlings will emerge with two smooth, round leaves. These leaves are called cotyledons and have actually been inside the seed the entire time! After those first two leaves, your pepper plant will begin to develop its mature foliage. 

It’s standard practice to thin out seedlings once they grow to a few inches tall. I recommend pinching the weakest plants — pulling can damage the roots of sprouts you plan to keep. 

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, you can keep two seedlings per compartment and allow them to grow together. I haven’t personally tried this technique out myself but it supposedly helps shade and protect the fruit of each plant later on.

Wait to transplant bell peppers to the garden until the soil temperature is consistently above 65°F. Pepper seedlings can grow surprisingly fast, so you may need to repot your plants before it’s time to move them outdoors.

3. Vegetative Growth

Contrary to popular belief, bell peppers grow on bushy plants rather than vines. However, it’s not uncommon for particularly vigorous plants to require some support from a tomato cage or bamboo stakes.

Bell peppers should be planted 12 to 18 inches apart for the best results. If using rows in your garden bed, space the rows about 2 to 3 feet apart if possible.

4. Flowering

In some cases, bell pepper plants will begin flowering almost immediately after being transplanted to the garden, or 53 to 70 days after germination. It’s often recommended that you pinch off very early blooms to encourage further vegetative growth.

Once your bell peppers are in full swing, they will produce small, downward-facing, white flowers. Individual flowers usually only stick around for 2 to 3 days. But the plant will continue putting out new flowers as long as the growing conditions remain suitable.

Flowering
Bell pepper flower

5. Pollination

Peppers are self-fertile with ‘perfect’ flowers, meaning that a single flower can pollinate itself. Cross-pollination via insects and wind will almost always produce a better harvest overall.

Bell peppers can also cross-pollinate with other pepper varieties. Rest assured, this won’t affect the harvested fruit of any of your pepper plants. It will, however, interfere with the future generation of seeds. (In other words, this is only a problem if you intend to save seeds for next year.)

According to Iowa State University, temperatures that are too low or too high can interfere with successful pollination and fruit development. If temperatures rise above 85 or fall below 60°F during flowering, your bell pepper crop could be negatively impacted. Drought is another contributing factor in poor fruit development.

6. Early Fruiting

After successful pollination, you will quickly see what looks like a tiny green pepper forming at the blossoming point. This development can take as little as 5 to 10 days following pollination.

While the fruit will be little more than a nub at first, it won’t take long to grow and take on a decidedly ‘bell pepper’-like shape.

Bell Pepper Plant Growth Stages - early fruit development
Fruiting bell pepper approximately 8 days after pollination

7. Fruit Development and Ripening

You’ll only need to wait about 2 to 3 weeks for your bell peppers to ripen after the fruit starts developing. The average bell pepper will produce its first harvestable fruit approximately 75 days after germination.

The color of a harvested bell pepper often correlates with its ripeness. All bell peppers start out green and may transition to yellow, orange, and red as they ripen. With that said, some unique cultivars produce white or purple peppers instead.

Unfortunately, peppers are susceptible to several diseases that target the fruit specifically. So you’re not in the clear until those peppers are harvested, cleaned, and stored!

Avoid planting nightshades — i.e., tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, etc. — in the same garden bed year after year. Test the soil for nutrient deficiencies prior to planting your peppers and amend as needed. According to Clemson University, consistent watering is also crucial throughout the fruit development process to stave off illnesses like blossom end rot.

Bell Pepper Growth Timeline – Timelapse Video

PURPLE BELL PEPPER Time-lapse

When To Harvest Bell Peppers

It takes at least 14 days for a sweet pepper to ripen after the fruit first appears. The exact amount of time you’ll need to wait will depend on the specific cultivar, growing conditions, and how ripe you want to wait for the fruit to be.

Peppers should be harvested as soon as they reach their full size, and desired color, and are firm to the touch. This limits the chance for pests and diseases to take hold before you have the chance to enjoy your hard work. However, the fruit will generally grow sweeter and more nutritious the longer it ripens on the stem.

Bell pepper plants flower and produce fruit for several weeks, so be sure to check on your garden often to harvest any new fruit. You may be able to increase the total crop by removing peppers early and allowing them to finish ripening off of the stem. On the other hand, leaving peppers to fully ripen on the plant will limit the plant’s ability to produce new fruit.

I recommend using clean garden shears or a knife to harvest peppers. Pulling the fruit off the plant is liable to cause damage.

FAQ Bell Pepper Plant Growth Stages

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.