Growing Peppers in Containers
A Green California Wonder sweet bell pepper, grown in a nice sunny spot on my balcony.
Peppers, like tomatoes, are a popular garden center vegetable in my part of the world. Like tomatoes, they are nightshades and have somewhat similar growing requirements. They produce best when the weather is warm. They enjoy all the sun you can give them. They taste better when provided with a deep and constant supply of moisture although I find they are nowhere near as thirsty as tomatoes. They are heavy feeders. And they are also able to produce fruit from perfect flowers: flowers that self pollinate.
The thing with peppers is that they're a little more fussy about their heat and sunlight. Because they grow into somewhat stocky and compact plants, they are not able to climb and collect sunlight like a vine-forming tomatoe plant. You have to be a little more selective when it comes to placing them on your balcony. I've found that without enough light, my pepper plants don't produce. Because they are heat loving, you want them to grow fast during the warmer part of your season. The optimal temperature for fruit set is 60°F to 75°F (15°C to 24°C). Keep them well fertilized. Give them lots of light and heat and don't cheap out on the water.
For some varieties, the best you can provide just won't be enough. Forget about growing anything even close to those big plump thick-fleshed monsters you can purchase at the grocery stores. However, you should be able to grow some decent tasting peppers with the right conditions. When I've grown bell-type peppers in the past, such as California Wonder for example, they usually ended up tasting bitter due to a lack of consistent moisture. Providing enough sunlight is another problem I have. But the truth is, I tend to abuse my peppers. I don't water them enough and they are a favorite target of the aphid colonies. It's a wonder I get any peppers at all.
I find Jalapeño Peppers to be very easy to grow in containers on the balcony.
These little hot cherry peppers were spicy and didn't require much attention.
In fact, aphids are a common pest on my balcony and my peppers always seem to be their favorite food item. I recycle much of my potting soil from the previous season and never clean my containers. So every year, the aphid eggs left from last season hatch in the spring and find a host to suck on. That's my theory. I've also found aphids on peppers brought home from my local garden center on several occasions. If the plants are healthy and given everything they need to remain that way, they can usually manage with a few aphids. A full blown infestation is a little different.
If you're like me and have problems with larger, sweet pepper varieties, there is still room for hope on the balcony. Hot pepper plants desire similar growing conditions but unlike sweet peppers, a little bitterness and toughness can usually be overlooked. My hot peppers end up sliced on a pizza, simmered down into a sauce or blended into a chutney. And sometimes dried and crushed for storage and eventually used in sauces. So unlike the sweet peppers that we like to eat fresh and raw, we can somewhat neglect and abuse the hot peppers and still end up with an enjoyable crop.
Another garden center purchase. I didn't expect much from these Cubanelles and for a time, got lazy and rarely watered them. And still, the plants produced decent looking peppers.
These are Hungarian Hot Wax Peppers - banana shaped and hot, but not too hot. They start out a light yellow-green and ripen to red.
I've tried growing a few pepper varieties over the years. Some started from seed indoors and others purchased as seedlings at a garden center. Generally, they all form compact plants that grow well in containers with limited space. They don't sprawl all over the place and you don't need a massive container the size of a bath tub to make them happy. I give my pepper plants minimal support against blowing winds and for fruit support. A tomato cage works great but sometimes the wind thrashes the plants up against it and causes them much damage. Some of the smaller hot pepper varieties like jalapeños are our favorites. California Wonder is a popular bell variety that will do well in a container if you can provide ideal growing conditions. Same with Cubanelle. Lately I've been growing a lot of Hungarian Hot Wax peppers.
I see lots of pepper plants at the garden center in the spring already flowering and sometimes even setting fruit. You might be tempted to buy these plants thinking you'll have a head start on the season. But many times after these have been transplanted, the existing flowers fall off. Any peppers that are on the plant usually remain small and inhibit the formation of new peppers on the plant. It is better to select starter plants that are not flowering and let them spend their energy growing roots, stems and leaves after they have been transplanted. Bigger and healthier plants produce bigger harvests.