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Basic Care of Pepper Plants

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Basic Care of Pepper Plants

How to care for pepper plants through the growing season, including watering requirements, fertilizer application and pest management.

Caring for peppers (Capsicum annuum) through the growing season is key to an abundant harvest. Temperature, water, fertilizer and pest management play roles in bringing both sweet and hot peppers successfully to harvest.
These tender perennials, which grow year-round in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, are grown as annuals in most regions. Peppers thrive in warm temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit and prefer slightly cooler night temperatures between 60 and 70 F.
General Care
Give peppers 1 to 2 inches of water each time the top 1 to 2 inches of the soil feel dry. After watering, dig down in the soil near the planting area with a narrow trowel. The water should dampen the bed 6 to 12 inches deep, depending on the soil structure.
Fertilize peppers twice during the growing season, once four weeks after planting and again four weeks later. Use 1/4 teaspoon of high-nitrogen granular fertilizer, such as a 21-0-0 formula, for each plant. Scatter the fertilizer on the soil 6 inches from the stem base of each plant, and then water the soil until it is damp 6 inches deep.
Mulch pepper plants as soon as the soil warms to 75 F. Use seed-free hay, compost, leaf mold, shredded bark, organic grass clippings or pine straw. Spread the mulch 2 to 4 inches deep, leaving 3 inches between the base of the pepper plants and the mulch layer.
Mulch helps with weed control and keeps the soil from drying out too quickly. Mulching also helps keep the soil temperature consistent during hot and cool weather.
Pull weeds by hand or use a hoe to gently dislodge weeds throughout the growing season so that water, fertilize and soil nutrients go to the peppers, not the invading weed roots.
Pick peppers throughout the growing season by pinching or clipping off the pepper about half way up its stem. Harvest peppers when they reach their mature color, typically green, red, orange, yellow or purple, and feel firm to the touch.
Pepper plants don't require pruning during the growing season. Once the harvest is complete, either allow the plants to die back naturally with the first frosts or remove and discard the plants. In mild, frost-free climates, peppers often survive the winter and begin producing again the next season.
To avoid spreading disease, after harvesting peppers, wash clipper blades in a mild solution containing nine parts water to one part bleach for five minutes. Rinse the blades in water, and then dry them.
Pests: Identification and Treatments
Pepper plants are particularly susceptible to aphids. Inspect the plants weekly, especially the underside of large leaves and the inside of flowers. Look for tiny green, white or brown insects feeding in clusters. If individual leaves start to curl, it indicates a possible aphid problem. Aphids suck sap from leaves and flowers, stressing pepper plants and potentially damaging the peppers.
Look for several other pests as well:
Spider mites are tiny white insects that create a fine web on individual leaves. Spider mites suck sap from the pepper plant's leaves.
Fruitworms appear as 1- to 1 1/3-inch-long brown, pale green or light tan caterpillars that get inside the peppers and chew holes in the fruit. 
Hornworms are large green caterpillars that eat pepper plant leaves and tender young stems. 
Controlling Aphids and Spider Mites
Wipe off aphids with a damp cloth or hose them off the plants with water. Wipe spider mites off the leaves. Monitor the plants daily. If manual control fails, use a mild horticultural soap spray.
How to Apply Soap Spray
Things You'll Need
Horticultural soap concentrate
Teaspoon measure
Spray bottle
Step 1
Mix 4 teaspoons of concentrated horticultural soap with 1 quart of water in a spray bottle.
Step 2
Shake the mixture to thoroughly blend the soap concentrate with the water.
Step 3
Spray the diluted horticultural soap directly on the areas of the pepper plants affected by the pests. Apply enough to saturate the insects thoroughly.
Step 4
Repeat four to seven days later if the infestation persists.
Keep soap sprays out of the reach of children and pets. Allow the area to dry thoroughly before touching the plants. If soap sprays are ingested or get in an eye, seek medical attention right away. Horticultural soap sprays are generally safe and effective, but use caution when applying. Wait one day or more to harvest after treading pepper plants.
Controlling Hornworms and Fruitworms
Pick off hornworms and fruitworms and crush them as soon as you see them. Keep an eye out for holes in the ripening peppers and holes in the leaves.
Diseases and Troubleshooting
Mosaic Virus
Aphids potentially carry mosaic virus, a disease that attacks pepper plants and causes the leaves to appear light green, often with mosaic patterns. Once a pepper plant is affected by the virus, there is no way to cure it. Either isolate the plant -- which you can do with container-grown plants -- or remove and destroy the infected pepper plant to minimize the chance of the disease spreading. If one pepper is infected, aphids can transmit the disease to healthy plants.
Wash your hands with soap and water after handling a diseased pepper plant to keep infestations from spreading.
Blossom drop can occur when summer temperatures hit 90 F and above. Each flower has the potential to become a pepper, but when the blossoms fall prematurely, the fruit can't develop. If it gets too cold, generally below 60 F, you might also see blossom drop.

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