Growing peppers in a cold climate is in many ways similar to growing tomatoes, but still different. Tomatoes are more popular, more forgiving and a bit easier to grow. Overall though if you are successful in growing tomatoes, peppers can be your next thing to conquer.
We love to grow peppers. There are so many delicious recipes that call for peppers, peppers are also on the dirty dozen list and expensive to buy organic. It makes sense to grow our own.
Choose an early pepper variety
With early, we mean that the days to maturity should be below the number of frost-free days in your area. We have about 100 frost-free days, so the peppers we grow need to be below that to get a bit of a harvest window. There are many choices for early pepper varieties. Here are some that we have successfully grown in our garden:
- Early Jalapeno (70 days) Productive.
- Doe Hill (60-65) Very tasty and beautiful yellow tomato pepper.
- King of the North (70 Days) A pepper that actually matures in a short season.
- Super Chilli (65 Days) Hot, productive.
- Orange Bell (85 Days) Tasty.
As with any seeds it is best to get them from local growers, or a climate similar to yours. Those plants have already been adjusted to the weather and will grow and produce better.
Soil or hydroponics
We grow most of our peppers in the aeroponic Tower Garden. It does not matter what system or garden you use, but aeroponic (meaning the roots are in the air and get watered with nutrient solution) simply allows plants to grow about 30% faster. This advantage is what moves us to grow them in aeroponics.
Taste-wise I think the soil-grown peppers are better. Often they are larger, take longer to mature and are healthier. But at the end of the season, we have fewer peppers, and many are still green.
Peppers take up a lot of real estate in the greenhouse comparing to the yield they bring. Growing them hydroponicaly allows us to grow them vertically. Another advantage.
Since the alternative to homegrown peppers are store-bought hydroponic peppers, we prefer to grow them ourselves. Yes, most greenhouses of today do grow things also in water instead of soil.
If you choose to grow in soil, containers are a great option. Use compost-rich soil and water regularly.
Start peppers indoors about 8-10 weeks prior to planting them out
You want the seedling to be just about setting out buds but not blooming yet. In our area, our last frost date is May 26. Start the seeds indoors mid to end of March. If you have grow lights or a very sunny window, the seedlings will grow faster so plant them later. In most cases, it does not work to start seedlings earlier to get ripe fruit earlier. If the seedling is overgrown, it will suffer, and you will get ripe fruit later, or not at all.
Read more on starting seeds indoors here: Starting seeds indoors.
Since plants in aeroponics grow fast we start them 6 – 8 weeks prior to being able to move the plants outside or into the greenhouse. The plants do not need to be transplanted, we just move the whole Tower Garden out.
Read more on planting a hydroponic garden here: Planting a hydroponic garden.
Choose a sheltered location
Peppers are a summer crop and prefer a warm, dry spot. In a cold climate, a greenhouse or a south-facing hot microclimate is best for them.
A warm spot on your deck can be a great location for peppers grown in pots or grow bags. See how to grow in grow bags.
We have had great success with peppers in a greenhouse as well as in the Tower Garden alongside a south-facing wall. To grow them in an open garden in a cold climate is not worth it.
Even in raised beds in a sheltered location, they do not grow well as the picture above shows from a local demonstration garden. The fruit did set, but it is still very small even at the end of the season.
Protect pepper plants
Peppers like it warm. In case of a cold spell, give them as much protection as you can. I like the Plant Protection Blanket, it is light weighted and can be left on for days, as needed. You can cover a whole bed with it, or wrap an individual plant.
Aphids love peppers
We have tried to grow pepper plants indoors in our window garden room. It is nice and warm there and it seems like the perfect place. However, we have given up on it because aphids love pepper plants.
In the greenhouse pepper plants are also often infested by aphids. We shower them with a garden house a few times to reduce the population of aphids. Otherwise, we just leave them alone. Usually, as the plants get stronger the aphids don’t do too much harm to the plants. Also, as the season progresses, in an organic garden lady bags and other beneficial insects move in and keep the aphids at bay.
Water the pepper plants
Pepper plants do not need constant watering. Keep them moist but not wet. Much like tomato plants.
Watering plants with tap water may or may not harm beneficial bacteria in the soil, but it sure is to cold for heat-loving plants. It is better to use stagnant water that is warmed up from the sun. That way the plants will not go into shock every time you water.
If you grow in water instead of soil, add a water heater in spring and also at the end of the season. If the summer nights are cool, you can also have a heater on a timer to heat only during the night.
Pruning and support
Pepper plants are just like tomatoes from the nightshade family. They also come in determinate – bush type, and indeterminate – vine type, varieties. Personally I have only seen vine type peppers in a commercial greenhouse. For home use, especially early peppers are normally bush-type peppers. A bush pepper plant does better with a cage to support it.
We do not prune our pepper plants. Some growers like to start plants very early, only to prune them back to force branching. It is an option, we haven’t found it to be necessary.
You can prune pepper plants back at the end of the season and bring them inside. They will overwinter and continue to grow next spring.
Since growing peppers is so similar to tomatoes, here are