Your ultimate sweet pepper guide where you’ll find tips for growing and caring for this versatile vegetable, the best varieties to grow, plus a treasure trove of recipes to preserve and cook with sweet peppers.
This sweet pepper guide is a part of a continuing series of Ultimate Guides where you can find all kinds of growing information and delicious recipes for cooking a specific fruit or vegetable (both fresh and to preserve). See more fruit and vegetable guides here. Some links in this article are affiliate links and if you click on them I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.
I decided to title this ultimate guide a “sweet pepper guide” and not simply a “bell pepper guide” because our options for sweet peppers are now many more than the traditional bell pepper. There are varieties like the popular tri-colored mini peppers, elongated mild varieties like pimento and Italian frying peppers, and even cute little cherry peppers – all are classified as sweet (in comparison to hot peppers).
When the pepper world started expanding a few years ago, you almost always had to grow the newer varieties from seed in order to try them, but now it’s just as easy to find them at farmer’s markets and often even regular grocery stores. Which means that everyone has a chance to experience the wonderful variety there is in sweet/mild peppers, whether you grow them or not.
In my book, every discussion of sweet peppers must start with this often unknown or misunderstood fact:
Green bell peppers are just unripe peppers!
Imagine if you only ever ate green tomatoes and never tasted the luscious, full-bodied flavor of a fully ripened tomato – that’s what eating only green peppers is like. You are missing out on the full flavor, not to mention the added health benefits of fully ripened (colored) peppers which include higher vitamin C and betacarotene levels.
Growing up, I never understood why people called green bell peppers “sweet” because like most unripe produce they are bitter. I don’t remember seeing sweet red peppers, so that was my only experience until I started gardening. When I saw those big green peppers turning red, yellow, orange – and even purple and brown, depending on the variety I was growing – I realized that the growers were just not wanting to wait long enough to get truly ripe peppers.
I’ve read that they’ve now bred bell pepper plants that stay green – but that is bizarre to me. Why would you never want a delicious truly ripe pepper? Harvest them green if you want some, but do at least let some ripen so you experience the way the peppers were meant to be enjoyed!
Below you’ll find how to grow sweet peppers, including tips to get those peppers to fully ripen, even if you live farther north. Plus you’ll also find links to how to preserve peppers when they’re in season as well as lots of recipe ideas for using this versatile and tasty vegetable.
Ultimate Sweet Pepper Guide: Plant & Grow
Types and Varieties of Sweet Peppers
I’ve read a number of sites that say that yellow peppers are just red peppers that aren’t all the way ripened. I don’t know what kind they are growing, but after 20 years of growing peppers that has never been my experience. If you buy a red pepper seed or plant, they will ripen from green to red, yellow peppers from green to yellow and so on. Some of the more unusual peppers do have different stages (I think there is a white pepper that goes from green to white to red), but mostly, you get what you purchased.
Here are some of the sweet pepper varieties I’ve grown and loved in my zone 8 PNW garden:
- Red Bell Pepper: Big Red Pepper (75 days), New Ace Red Pepper (62 days)
- Yellow/Gold Bell Pepper: Flavor Burst Pepper (75 days), Sweet Sunrise (80 days)
- Orange Cherry/Mini Pepper (‘Eros’ 75 days)
- Tri-Color Mini Bells (‘Mini Belle Blend’ 60 days)
- Red Cherry Pepper (75 days)
- Purple Bell Pepper (‘Lilac’ 70 days)
- Chocolate Bell Pepper (‘Chocolate Beauty’ 74 days) – SO good and sweet!
- Pimento Peppers (75 days)
How to Grow Sweet Peppers
Growing Peppers From Seed
Start seeds indoors a good 10 weeks before you want to plant (which will be when your days are warm and your nights don’t go below 45 degrees – peppers like it warm!). Pepper seeds take a long time to germinate – sometimes up to 2 weeks. It really helps to use a heated seedling mat, which I’ve found speeds germination by 5 days or so.
Feed with a fish emulsion 2 times during the seedling stage, transplanting to larger 4-inch containers when the seedlings are about 5 inches tall (get more information on starting plants from seeds here). Harden off a week before planting out.
Buying Pepper Transplants
Purchase healthy transplants from a growing center. Buy the biggest you can afford – you will need all the time you can get to get fully ripened peppers.
To plant your transplants in the garden or containers:
- Select the sunniest spot you have – the sunnier, the better. Peppers produce best with 8+ hours of sun and temps between 60-85 degrees.
- Plant 18 inches apart in garden rows or raised bed. For containers, choose pots at least 10-inches deep and across to give them adequate room to grow.
- Use an organic fertilizer in the hole during planting and add compost to the soil.
- To keep the ground warm, hold in moisture, and eliminate weeds, plant the peppers through a sheet of black plastic laid over a soaker hose or drip system. Simply stake the plastic over the area to plant and use scissors to cut large X’s in the plastic at 18-20 inch intervals. Make a hole in the opening, add the fertilizer and then the plant before tamping down the dirt around the base.
- Plant the transplants deep – up to the first few sets of leaves. The stems will root and provide a stronger base for holding up the fruiting plants.
- Add a 2-foot tall stake next to the stem of each plant and hold it to the plant with a flexible tie. This will be very important to holding up the plant when they’re loaded with large fruit later – believe me, you don’t want to skip this step!
- TIP: Remove any fruit or blossoms when you plant so that all the energy will go into developing healthy roots – it’s hard to do, but you will be rewarded with a heartier plant and more fruit, I promise!
Tips to Grow Fully Ripe Sweet Peppers
Since peppers like it so warm (they originated in Mexico), it’s hard for many gardeners to grow them all the way to fully ripe and colored in a typical 4-5 month growing season. Over the years I’ve found a few things that work to help get a good harvest of those delicious truly sweet peppers which include:
- Start seeds as early as possible or buy the biggest transplants you can. Basically, you’re extending the growing season by having the plants grow inside for a few months.
- Cover the peppers with a plastic covered hoop house. You can see mine in the photo above. I use a perforated plastic cover that allows air through and regulates the temperature to some degree without me having to manually lift the ends all the time. Any type of cover you can create to elevate the temperature will help ripen the fruit faster, especially when combined with the black plastic that warms the soil I mentioned in the planting stage.
- Grow varieties that ripen in the shortest amount of time. Some full sized bell peppers have been bred to ripen quicker, but you can also grow mini bells and cherry sizes that will definitely get you fully colored peppers in typical growing seasons.
- Open the ends of the hoop house in the warmest weather, both for cooling (the plants may drop blossoms in temps over 85 degrees) and to allow pollination from bees. While peppers are self-fertile and don’t need pollination to produce fruit, it will increase the pollination which is always a good thing, right?
- Harvest the peppers while there’s still some green showing (see the top photo of my peppers in all shades of coloring). Leave them at room temp (or even put them in a brown bag with an apple or banana) and they will continue to fully ripen (then refrigerate when ready to keep them crisp). Doing this allows the plant to put effort into ripening the other fruit and not working to fully ripen the first fruits.
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Harvesting Sweet Peppers
If you’re like me, you’ll want to wait to harvest sweet peppers until they are just that – sweet. So don’t pick green peppers only. However, like mentioned above, if you pick peppers that still are showing some green and let them ripen fully indoors, the plant can put it’s energy into ripening the other fruit.
Here’s my biggest tip for actually picking the peppers:
While you may be able to hand-pick smaller mini bells with little damage, I’ve found that the bigger bells have thick enough stems that if you just pull them, you’ll often break off an entire branch with other immature fruit on it. So sad when that happens! My solution is to use garden scissors to cut off the fruit to avoid this completely.
If you don’t have scissors available, then you’ll want to pull up on the fruit gently at first to break the stem from the branch before twisting and pulling off. Holding the plant with your other hand may also help avoid any damage to the plant.
I’ve found the following books helpful in learning how to garden and care for sweet peppers:
Cook & Preserve Recipes
How can I preserve sweet peppers?
How to Freeze Peppers (freezer)
Canned Roasted Red Peppers in Wine (boiling water canned)
Pickled Sweet Peppers @ Taste of Home (boiling water canned)
Sweet Pepper Relish @ National Center for Home Food Preservation (boiling water canned)
Canning Plain Peppers @ Healthy Canning (pressure canned)
Quick Pickled Sweet Peppers @ Simply Whisked (refrigerated)
Italian Sweet Pepper Pickles @ Shades of Cinnamon (refrigerated)
Red Pepper Onion Chutney @ Recipes Plus (refrigerated)
What recipes are there for sweet peppers?
Golden Pepper Soup @ Martha Stewart
Sweet Pepper Pasta with Sausage @ Southern Living
Cheesy Bacon Stuffed Mini Peppers @ Bell of the Kitchen
Roasted Sweet Mini Peppers & Asparagus @ Tori’s Kitchen
Taco Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers @ Betty Crocker
Sheet Pan Roasted Fish with Sweet Peppers @ NY Times
Cauliflower Rice Stuffed Sweet Peppers @ Eating Well
Chicken with Sweet Peppers and Balsamic Vinegar @ Genius Kitchen
Grilled Mini Peppers with Feta @ What’s Cooking America
Shrimp, Bell Pepper & Onions Skillet @ Primavera Kitchen
Roasted Bell Pepper Tostadas @ Pinch of Yum
Stuffed Bell Peppers with Ground Beef @ Foodie Crush
Unstuffed Bell Peppers @ Budget Bytes
Bell Pepper Oven Fries @ Delish
I hope you enjoyed this Ultimate Sweet Pepper Guide. Check out some of the other Ultimate Guides below (or go here to see them all):
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