Growing peppers in the Pacific Northwest is easy when you follow some basic guidelines. Tomatoes and peppers belong to the same heat-loving plant family. Both can grow and produce fruit in the Maritime Northwest but peppers need more tender-loving-care and more heat!
Peppers are more tender than their cousin the tomato by 5-8° F. Peppers need nighttime temps to be 55° F or warmer. Although they can handle 50° F nights, these cooler temps will slow or stop peppers from growing. So, you can plant your peppers outside as late as mid-June.
Picking a Pepper Start
When growing peppers in the Pacific Northwest, seek out larger plants that look strong and hearty. The stem should be hard and sturdy and leaves should be dark green.
These plants have been “grown hard” which means they have been exposed to the elements each day and protected at night. Starts that are small with delicate leaves and tender stem have not been hardened off as long.
Feeding Your Peppers
Peppers require fertile, well-drained soil. Fertilize your plants when you transplant them with seaweed extract and an all-purpose liquid fertilizer. After fruit is starting to form, fertilize every two or three weeks.
Use a dry fertilizer for tomato, vegetables and herbs high in phosphorous; Molbak’s recommends Espoma Organic Garden-tone 3-4-4. Fertilize containers with a liquid fertilizer such as Neptune’s Harvest 2-4-1 Fish Fertilizer to promote flower and fruit formation.
Small compact bushy plants are best. If your plant gets spindly, prune off the top few leaves or small fruit – this will encourage side branches to grow and strengthen. Peppers are related to tomatoes and though they are less prone to late blight, it is still important to rotate these crops.
Find the Heat
Plant your peppers in a warm, sunny sheltered spot that gets eight or more hours of continuous sunlight. West or south facing beds that run along fences, walls or buildings will collect and reflect heat and be warmer than beds in the middle of the yard.
Plant in raised beds under low hoops covered with plastic or floating row cover. Keep plants pruned to 24” and grow under cover all season. Peppers can be grown in large containers or grow bags. Consistent watering is required to prevent blossom end rot.
Sweet & Hot
Most gardeners growing peppers in the Pacific Northwest choose the kind of pepper they like to eat. It is good to know sweet peppers tend to be shorter season and require slightly less heat then hot peppers. Hot peppers tend to be longer season, many varieties are so long they will not ripen on the vine in our climate.
Thin-walled varieties Jimmy Nardello (sweet) and Hot Portugal (hot) require less heat and less light than the thick-walled bell peppers. Mini Bells are a variety that produce reliably. Hot pepper favorites include Czech Black, Thai and Early Jalapeño.
Pick the first peppers that the plant produces as soon as they size up, this will encourage the plant to make and ripen more fruits.
At the end of the season, pull the whole plant and hang it upside down in a dry place. Hot peppers will dry and can be used for years. Sweet peppers can be left on the kitchen counter to ripen like “vine ripened” tomatoes.