Fertilizing Pepper Plants: The What, When, And How

Hot peppers belong to the Capsicum genus along with bell peppers. There are thousands of different varieties. Most hot peppers prefer the same kind of growing environment, which is a tropical one with warm weather and soil that drains well. A big part of providing the right environment is nutrition. Fertilizer that provides essential nutrients to the plant is a major factor in growing peppers. If your pepper plants cannot get the minerals they need, you will find that the leaves fail to develop and they might not flower. You won’t get any fruit if your plants do not flower.

Using commercial fertilizer to fertilize pepper plants

What nutrients do pepper plants need?

When choosing a fertilizer for your pepper plants, look for the string of three digits on the side of the container. The three numbers are the fertilizer’s N-P-K ratio, which means how much nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) it contains. These three nutrients are considered the main three nutrients that you need for a healthy pepper plant.

The recommended N-P-K values for peppers is 5-10-10. A fertilizer with 5-10-10 on the label will contain 5% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 10% potassium. One that has 2-10-10 will contain 2% nitrogen but 10% each of phosphorus and potassium. Here is an example of a 5-10-10 fertilizer that generally works for pepper plants, but testing will find the right soil values for you.

5-10-10 Tomato & Vegetable Fertilizer
5-10-10 vegetable fertilizer is a good fit for most chili peppers and soils (5% nitrogen, 10% phosphorous, and 10% potassium.)

Last update on 2024-07-14. We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. 

Your pepper plant needs phosphorus to be able to absorb the sun’s energy. Potassium is important for the flow of nutrients within the plant, so both minerals are required for the pepper plants to start producing fruits. Nitrogen is important for the healthy development of the plant’s vegetation, but timing and moderation are important when applying it. When used appropriately, nitrogen will significantly increase yield. Note that these three minerals are the most important, they are just some of the many that a pepper plant will need.

To determine which of the essential nutrients may be lacking in your garden soil, you have the option of testing it with a soil pH test kit. Even though a balanced fertilizer will be beneficial in many instances, it is recommended that you test the soil before making amendments. A balanced fertilizer will contain the nutrients that most plants need.

If a soil test shows that the soil in your garden contains adequate phosphorus, you can go with a fertilizer that contains only a small amount of that mineral or none at all (10-0-10). The same goes for the other minerals.

MySoil – Soil Test Kit (Mail-In)
While there are DIY soil test kits, they aren’t particularly accurate. MySoil provides a mail-in service to fully test your soil, so you know exactly what you need to do to optimize your pepper growing. It tests 13 different nutrients and pinpoints the exact fertilizer type you should be using.

Last update on 2024-07-14. We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. 

What do the best fertilizers for peppers have in common?

Along with the basic three nutrients, all good pepper plant fertilizers will provide the other micronutrients that pepper plants require (in smaller amounts.) They should dissolve completely if they are water-soluble, or they should deliver their nutrients at the appropriate time during the growing season if they are extended-release fertilizers. Any instructions for using them should be easy to understand.

For example, calcium can help the plant to build a stronger structure and keep it from developing a condition called blossom end rot. Magnesium can boost the health of the foliage. A good pepper plant fertilizer will solve for these needs, as well as N-P-K values.

Can you make homemade fertilizers?

There are a few good homemade fertilizers that you can use to feed your pepper plants. One that is popular with many pepper farmers is Epsom salt fertilizer. Epsom salt consists of magnesium sulfate and has been used in gardening for centuries. Add Epsom salt to the soil before transplanting your pepper plants, and you can also use it in the form of a foliar spray. Drench the plants with it about once a month.

You can also use homemade compost to fertilize your pepper plants. Even though compost’s main function is not to act as a fertilizer — you use it to condition the soil — it does have some fertilizer value. One option that many gardeners use is to apply compost tea when watering. You make compost tea by placing your compost in a cloth bag that you then soak in water.

Fertilizing peppers (step by step)

The method you use to fertilize pepper plants can differ depending on the type of fertilizer you are using. If yours comes with a recommended schedule for fertilizing your pepper plants, you can use that as a guide. But the steps below should apply to most commercial fertilizers.

  • Work the fertilizer into the soil before transplanting or add it to the hole before planting the seedling.
  • Apply granular fertilizer in a circle around established plants and provide each pepper plant with lots of water to make sure that the fertilizer releases its nutrients for the plant to absorb. Keep the fertilizer granules from directly touching the plant to prevent burning.
  • Dilute concentrated liquid fertilizer before applying it. Pay careful attention to the ratio of fertilizer to water. Apply the diluted liquid fertilizer to the soil around the plant rather than to the plant itself. Keeping the leaves wet could cause your pepper plant to develop a disease.
  • Apply a layer of mulch around the base of pepper plants. Mulch will keep the soil from drying out too quickly and will also assist with weed control. You can till the mulch into the soil when the growing season ends, which will help to replace nutrients.

When should you fertilize pepper plants?

Phosphorus and potassium can be applied to the soil before planting your pepper plants, along with some nitrogen and Epsom salt. Hold off on fertilizing for a couple of weeks after transplanting seedlings but apply most of the nitrogen before the first fruit set. For maximum fruit production, your pepper plant will need lots of leaves since leaves are what will support the fruit. The early development of foliage is important because the pepper plant will stop growing and focus on fruit development once the fruit is set.

After the first harvest, the plant will re-start growing its vegetation before the next harvest. You can give it more nitrogen in addition to spraying it monthly with Epsom salt. If you can give pepper plants enough nitrogen to start, they will take less time growing out their foliage between harvests. The less time taken between harvests, the more fruit you will get. More nitrogen should be applied weekly throughout the season until two weeks before the last harvest.

Can you over-fertilize? (And how to fix!)

It is possible to over-fertilize pepper plants. The effects of over-fertilization include a slower process of flowering and setting fruit. Browned edges of the leaves can also indicate when your plant is being provided with too high a concentration of nutrients.

If you believe that you’ve used too much fertilizer (in the ground or a container), you can fix the problem. Flush them with water to remove some of the excess fertilizer. Then water them without adding fertilizer for two or three weeks.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on June 24, 2024 to include new content.
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