Whether you prefer a sweet and crunchy bell pepper or a hot and spicy Carolina reaper, peppers are a food almost everyone can get behind.
Even more wonderful is the fact that pepper plants have a largely hands-off growth cycle, meaning you can plant them, and they’ll do most of the rest themselves.
But here are a few aspects of growing where you’ll want to get involved rather than leave the peppers to do their own thing.
One of these is fertilizer, which can make all the difference between a few small peppers and a bountiful harvest.
Knowing when to add fertilizer is just as important as knowing how often, so let’s look at how to get that timing right.
When To Start Fertilizing Pepper Seedlings?
The best time to begin fertilizing is when your pepper plant seedlings gain their first set of true leaves.
However, there are a few additional things to consider, such as transplanting and supplements.
Timing Is Everything
When your pepper plants first sprout, the seedlings have starter leaves known as cotyledons to allow photosynthesis to begin.
Soon after, you’ll see a set of true leaves unfurl, kicking photosynthesis into full gear and beginning the plant’s march toward adulthood.
Once you see the first set of true leaves, it’s time to fertilize for the first time.
To give a rough timeline, you should plant pepper seeds in flats indoors approximately 8 weeks before the expected final frost.
Excluding delays in germination, seedlings should develop their first leaves about two weeks after planting, which equates to 6 weeks before the final frost.
When planting outdoors, the seeds will be planted right after the final frost, so you usually begin to fertilize two weeks after that same frost.
Nutritional supplements are a bit different from fertilizer, however.
These are usually started later on, and we’ll discuss them in a little more depth later on.
Please also note that you will need to wait 7 to 10 days after transplanting before fertilizing again, so the plant can establish itself.
Liquid Soluble Or Slow Release?
This is the source of much debate in gardening circles, but the simple truth is that nutrients absorb at different rates. Thus, slow-release formulas tend to give a burst of one nutrient while releasing hardly any of another.
Meanwhile, liquid-soluble fertilizers dissolve instantly, giving the plant a more balanced nutrition.
The only downside is that you will have to fertilize more often. However, these fertilizers can be given in place of watering, meaning you’re not actually doing any additional work.
The Best Fertilizer NPK
You want your pepper plant to focus on those delicious peppers, so a little care is needed for the best results.
If you’re amending the soil before transplanting, you can use a 4-4-4 fertilizer for the plant’s entire growth cycle.
However, you’ll get better peppers if you use a little less nitrogen, such as a 5-10-10 fertilizer.
If you’re willing to invest a little extra into your peppers, you can get an even bigger yield in return. This means using more than one kind of fertilizer and providing supplemental nutrition.
How To Fertilize Your Peppers?
We won’t get into a lot of detail here, but it’s important that we at least touch upon the fertilization process.
What follows is a bare-bones guide on when to fertilize and when to start using supplements.
You must be careful when growing in containers because the nutrients won’t leach out properly. As a result, it’s easy to over-fertilize.
To avoid this problem, continue to give your pepper plants 4-4-4 fertilizers every 2 weeks at ¼ strength until the point where you would normally transplant them to the garden.
At this point, switch to a 5-10-10 formula, diluted to ½ strength without interrupting the feeding schedule.
In the Garden
Start the plant off with a 4-4-4 NPK liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks at ¼ strength while it’s still being kept indoors.
After you’ve transplanted your peppers to the garden and they’ve had a little recovery time, switch to the 5-10-10 at full strength and continue with feedings every 2 weeks.
When To Begin Providing Supplemental Nutrition?
There are a lot of different supplements out there, but two, in particular, are important.
Peppers are notorious for becoming deficient in calcium and magnesium when encouraged to bear more fruit, so you should consider providing both to your pepper plants.
Calcium is essential for healthy cell growth and can be purchased in multiple forms, or you can make your own calcium tea by boiling eggshells.
Whichever way you choose to go, give the first application after you transplant the peppers to the garden or their permanent container.
Follow any instructions on the package (when there is one) and feed every month.
Magnesium is important for healthy foliage, and Epsom salts are a great, natural way to ensure your plant always has enough.
There are two ways to apply the Epsom salts, both of which begin at the same time you begin using fertilizer.
The first method is simply adding a teaspoon around the base of your plant, where it can dissolve into the soil.
Another popular method is to dilute 1 teaspoon into a gallon of water, pouring the mixture into a spray bottle.
Use this to mist the plants, ensuring any grow lights are turned off, or natural lighting is filtered until the leaves dry.
You can mix these two methods, using the foliar spray on your seedlings, then switching to the undiluted salts after transplanting.
As with fertilizing, you can give your plant Epsom salts every 2 weeks, although it’s best to do so on opposite weeks from when you fertilize.