It takes about 120 to 150 days for a bell pepper seed to grow into a mature plant ready for harvest. But there are a lot of steps between planting a seed and harvesting a pepper.
We’re going to tell you what you need to do from seed to sprout to harvest to get the best bell peppers in the shortest amount of time.
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For Faster Growth, Start Seeds Indoors
Pepper seeds take anywhere from five to 21 days to sprout. The biggest factor in whether you’ll wait one week or three weeks to see any activity is soil temperature. Warmer soil temperatures make the seeds germinate faster.
The ideal temperature for bell pepper seeds is 80 to 90 degrees (26.7-32.2°C). The closer you can get to this, the faster they will sprout. These warm-weather plants are typically started indoors because, ultimately, you’ll end up with a bigger plant that produces more peppers.
If starting your bell pepper seeds indoors, start them about eight weeks before the last expected frost. In warmer climates, you can start them in late winter; in cooler climates, wait until mid to late March.
Bell pepper seeds need a lot of strong, bright light for at least 12 hours a day, though as many as 18 hours a day can be beneficial. Most indoor spaces do not have that much light, even in the sunniest windowsill. For best results, use a grow light.
Keep the seedlings indoors until the soil temperature reaches about 70 degrees F (21.1°C). The only sure way to determine this is to check the soil temperature with a soil thermometer. For the most accurate results, get a reading between 9 and 11 am.
Hardening Off and Transplanting Seedlings
Hardening off is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that your bell pepper plants stay strong when transplanted. The stronger they are, the more likely they are to produce bigger, better fruit more quickly.
What is hardening off? It’s the process of gradually exposing your seedlings to the outdoors after starting them inside. Your bell pepper seedlings have been indoors, shelters from the sun, wind, and train, and there is a lot to adjust to when moving outdoors.
Plan for the hardening-off process to take about a week to ten days, and you should wait until after the last frost to begin the process.
On the first day, move the seedlings outdoors for about an hour, keeping them away from direct sunlight. Then, bring them back inside under the grow lights. That’s it! That’s day one.
The next day, place the plants in an area where they get bright sunlight for an hour. Then, move them into the shade for an hour before bringing them back inside.
Every day over the next two weeks or so, gradually increase the number of hours the plants are outside and in direct sunlight. Avoid parts of the day when high winds or thunderstorms are forecast and water your plants before setting them out in the bright sunlight.
After the seedlings are hardened off and the overnight temperatures are at 60 degrees or above, it’s time to transplant. You should place the seedlings about two feet apart, and try to make sure they are buried as deep as they were in their pots.
From Flower to Fruit
After a few days or weeks, bell pepper seedlings will grow and mature, eventually producing small white flowers. Once you see flowers, you can expect to see bell peppers begin to form in about two weeks.
The bell peppers themselves take about five weeks to reach their full size and two more weeks after that to ripen and change color. Interestingly, all bell pepper plants will produce green peppers first. Green peppers are just immature versions of red, yellow, or orange peppers.
The Next Season
Once temperatures reach the 40s and 50s, bell pepper plants go into dormancy. They stop producing fruit and may lose all their leaves, but in some climates, they will live through the winter and come back to life in the spring.
Bell peppers are perennials, which means they’ll come back year after year. That said, remember, they are hot weather plants, so if the soil gets too cold over the winter, it could kill off the root system. But, in warmer climates where freezing temperatures are rare, bell peppers will return the following season.
While it takes anywhere from 120 to 150 days to grow and harvest bell peppers from a seed, there are some things you can do to make sure your harvest is at the low end of that range.
Because bell peppers like warm weather, it’s best to start them indoors. This way, you don’t have to wait for the weather and soil warm-up, giving your pepper plants a six to eight-week head start.
When it’s time to transplant your seedlings, take the time to harden them off first. The process may seem a little tedious and time-consuming, but ultimately, it’s the best way to make sure your seedlings stay strong and healthy when transplanted outdoors.
While you can’t make your bell peppers grow and produce fruit any faster, there are plenty of things you can do to make sure they have everything they need to thrive. The happier your plants, the more likely they are to grow strong and deliver a healthy harvest.