We grow many of our pepper plants in pots – and, many of the hobbyists we follow prefer to plant their peppers in pots. Pepper plants do quite well as potted plants, and there are several benefits to using pots when growing peppers…
Though, growing peppers in pots does potentially have a few drawbacks…
When grown in a container, the container's size (and sunlight) will generally be the limiting factor that keeps a pepper plant from reaching its full potential. When planted in too small of a container, pepper plants become root-bound and require very frequent watering.
Typically, the garden store or seed seller will recommend a minimum planting distance. Based on the variety, that usually ranges from 12 inches to 4 feet. The table below is an approximate guide to convert plant spacing into a suitable pot size.
We typically add straw (or lawn clippings) and homemade compost to our potted pepper plants. The compost provides many nutrients near term as well as beneficial microbes, while the straw/grass will decompose to give the plants a slow release of nutrients for the longer term. It's also beneficial as straw is cheap and the compost is free – reducing the amount of potting soil we need to buy.
Using the above ingredients, we build our pot as follows…
We like to put the straw and compost in the middle layer so the plant grows down to it and to reduce weeds, grasses and other volunteer plants that would inevitably sprout from the straw and homemade compost. We also bury the bone meal at the compost/straw layer and below. We've found that putting bone meal at the upper layer can attract animals that dig in the soil and potentially damage young plants.
As the straw decomposes, the soil level will drop. When completely consumed (in about 2-3 months), another batch of straw, bone meal, compost and soil can be added to top off the container, if desired. We'll consider topping off our pots mid-season, if we see signs of the plant becoming root-bound.
We now buy our soil in bulk from Soil3. We mix the 27 cubic feet of organic soil they provide with 3 cubic feet of peat moss and 8 cubic feet of perlite, saving a total of $50 (in 2019), or 16%, compared with buying potting soil by the bag from the big box stores.
For potted plants, peat and perlite are helpful in their ability to improve the soil's substructure by resisting compaction – creating a loose, well-draining soil that traps oxygen and encourages root formation. Both of these additives also absorb some of the excess water and potentially leeched nutrients, allowing them to be released back to the plant's roots at a later time. Additionally, the peat moss helps to lower the soil's pH (making it more acidic). Most pepper plants prefer a slightly acidic soil.
Not only does building our own potting soil save us money, it's a higher quality soil. As an added bonus, it saves us multiple trips to the store for what would equate to a back-breaking 23 bags of potting soil!
After a growing season, we typically emptied the soil from our pepper pots into our raised beds or other landscaping areas – allowing us to build fresh pots the following year. This annual flush-and-refill is a lot of work and a significant expense. The soil3 website claims their soil has enough nutrients to last up to four years in raised beds without fertilizer. Their soil does appear to be high quality, so we tried reusing it for second year.
After the growing season, settling and decomposition of the straw and compost left the top 1/3 of our pots empty. We chopped up and returned the old pepper plants back to their pots. A layer of grass clippings and compost was then added, followed by a sprinkling of bone meal and a pinch of rock dust. The pots were then topped off with a couple inches of fresh soil.
By doing this, we hoped to return many of the nutrients lost during the previous growing season. Other than replacing nutrients, a concern with soil reuse is it may allow the mosaic virus or other pathogens to remain in the soil and more easily affect the following year's plants.
After year one, we're happy with the results. These reused pots produced healthy and productive pepper plants. Using the same process, we're going to keep a few pots for third year to see how they work out.
Selection of our favorite accessories for growing, storing, serving, and celebrating peppers