When I first started gardening I lusted after the gorgeous, compact hot-pepper plants I saw in the planters of my neighborhood tapas restaurant. Brightly colored and curved like little sabers, I knew these plants packed the most punch per square inch for my balcony garden.
These days my daughter likes to grow peppers in her own bed at the garden plot. Right now we’ve got some sweet pepper going and a variety called Mad Hatter that produces some bizarrely shaped fruit, perfect for pickling.
These peppers reflect the broad categories of sweet and hot. While you might want to create some different conditions for the sweetest vegetables that’ll differ from what you’ll want to do for the hottest peppers, in essence growing a pepper to harvest is similar.
You will find a hot tip for keeping hot peppers hot, direct from ag-extension research!
In this way, peppers are very similar to fruits like strawberries, where you want to be promoting vigorous growth and sometimes targeting specific nutrients for boosted flavor.
One of the keys here is the right fertilizer that’ll sustain your plants from sprout to table.
We’ll check out the top pepper fertilizer and a handful of others that’ll get you going on the path to sweet and juicy or ravishingly hot little beauties.
This is one of my 2023 sweet peppers at about 6 weeks old and then a little later in my garden plot (behind the broccoli). You can get good early growth like this with my top pick, Bloom City Organic Wild Fish Fertilizer and Plant Supplement:
All of these fertilizers are great options for peppers, but you do have to grok the basics before you can navigate the sea of available growth supplements. That’s why I’ve included my favorites for a range of growth conditions, including specific fertilizers gardeners like for hot peppers.
You’ll also find some basic tips for growing healthy pepper plants from the start. So, are you ready for my favorite pepper fertilizers?
I’ll guide you through:
- Why you should fertilize pepper plants
- How to pick the right fertilizer for peppers
- Instructions for applying fertilizer to pepper plants
- And much more.
If you want to save time, check out my quick list of favorite fertilizers for peppers. Below that you’ll find more in-depth analysis of my top picks specifically for peppers.
Bloom City Organic Wild Fish Fertilizer
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Jobe's Organics Vegetable and Tomato Fertilizer Spikes
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Miracle Gro Water Soluble All-Purpose Plant Food
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Dr. Earth Organic 5 Tomato, Vegetable, and Herb Fertilizer
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Fox Farm Grow Big FX14092 Liquid Concentrate Fertilizer
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My Overall Top #1 Pick: Bloom City Organic Wild Fish Fertilizer and Plant Supplement
Listen, you’ll get great peppers using any one of the above fertilizers, but for a number of reasons, I chose Bloom City Organic Wild Fish Fertilizer and Plant Supplement to top the list. This complete formula is perfect for growing peppers right from the start, which is particularly important if you have a short growing season, like I do here in New Hampshire.
In addition to a solid ratio of NPK for early growth, this fish fertilizer supplies trace elements and beneficial microorganisms. These nutrients are readily available to the seedlings, promoting healthy root development, strong growth, and overall vigor.
Containing salmon, Bloom City Organic Wild Fish Fertilizer is rich in amino acids, something other fertilizers often lack. Amino acids are essential building blocks for growth, metabolism, stress tolerance, and nutrient uptake — you can’t give a veggie plant a better start than that.
Bloom City Organic Wild Fish Fertilizer is water-soluble and a snap to use: Pour one to two ounces into a gallon watering can, or as much as you need. I like to save and wash empty anti-freeze jugs for applying liquid fertilizer like this. One jug of diluted fertilizer will take care of a row of pepper plants 10-20 feet long, at least at the beginning of the season, though you’ll need more as the plants mature and fruit.
The 4-3-0.4 NPK ratio means nitrogen-rich so pepper plants get a great start in leaf and root development. You’ll want to supplement with a phosphorous (K) fertilizer around the time your pepper plants start blooming.
Sweet and hot peppers are natives of Central and South America, so often prefer quite moist growing conditions. With a diluted liquid fertilizer like Bloom City Organic Wild Fish Fertilizer, you’re giving your peppers not just the nutrients they need, but also a good thorough soaking.
Lastly, I love this formula for its organic values. Many fish fertilizers are produced from stock fishermen cannot sell directly to distributors, for any number of cosmetic and other reasons, but it’s still a quality source of nutrition for garden peppers. There’s something very satisfying about supplying my garden with a rich mix of elements harvested from the sea — give your peppers a good meal!
Top 5 Best Fertilizers For Peppers
No time to read? No problem! Below are my top 5 fertilizers for pepper plants.
- Bloom City Organic Wild Fish Fertilizer (My Top Pick)
- Jobe’s Organics Vegetable & Tomato Fertilizer Spikes (Best Pick for Peppers Through Harvest)
- Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food (Best Pick to Remedy Pepper Problems)
- Dr. Earth Organic 5 Tomato, Vegetable & Herb Fertilizer (Best Pick for Sweet Peppers)
- Fox Farm FX14092 Grow Big Liquid Concentrate Fertilizer (Best Pick for Hot Peppers)
Why Should You Spend on A High-Quality Fertilizer For Your Peppers?
Why bother with fertilizer, at all?
Peppers hail from Central and South America, where the sun is warm and the air humid. Displacing them into your home garden can mean comprising with fewer and smaller fruits.
(An aside, here: Peppers are technically berries, by botanical definition, but we’ll continue to call them fruits or vegetables to prevent any “unberrible” problems!)
That is unless you bulk up your pepper plants with all the vitamins and water they need. The sun conditions outdoors will vary, of course — up here in the Northeast we’re supposed to be having one of the coolest, cloudiest summers on record this year.
There’s not a lot I can do to offset this lack of light and warmth, but I have actually considered “mulching” my pepper plants with tinfoil. Tinfoil-hat idea? I’ve had wackier gardening notions…
Hang on, this gardener is already growing peppers in lasagna pans. There’s nothing like garden innovation!
In climates where they’re not native, pepper plants require extra nutrients to support their growth and withstand the relatively adverse conditions.
Cold temperatures can slow down metabolic processes in plants, reducing both nutrient availability in the soil and nutrient uptake in living plants.
By providing additional nutrients, especially nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), gardeners can help peppers maintain their vigor and resilience. Adequate nutrient levels promote healthy root development, stronger stems, and improved nutrient absorption.
Phosphorous, in particular is key for helping plants cope with drought stress. And research has shown that depriving hot pepper plants of water to a certain extent results in a hotter pepper. So dose your liquid fertilizer judiciously with infrequent waterings for maximum spice!
Furthermore, extra nutrients can enhance the plant’s ability to tolerate cold stress, ensuring continued growth and productivity even in challenging cold climate conditions. Check out this in-depth fact sheet on extending the season for sensitive garden plants, if you’re growing peppers with a long growing season in a temperate area.
The Relationship of Flavor and Plant Health
As you might guess, the relationship between plant health and the flavor of vegetables is closely intertwined.
A healthy plant is more likely to produce flavorful and delicious vegetables, while plants that suffer from various stresses or diseases may leave you with bland or off-flavored results. Why is that so?
Healthy plants have well-developed root systems capable of efficiently absorbing essential nutrients from the soil.
These nutrients, including macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as many micronutrients play a crucial role in the synthesis of sugars (!), amino acids, and other compounds that contribute to the flavor of vegetables.
Not surprising that when you feed a plant it produces more sugar and hence more flavor.
But there’s so much more to it…
Photosynthesis and Sugar Production
Photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into energy, is vital for the production of sugars.
Healthy plants with ample access to sunlight, water, and nutrients can carry out photosynthesis effectively. The resulting sugars then contribute to the sweetness and flavor of vegetables.
But what about fighting off diseases and pests, those marauding insects and rodents who want your sweet vegetables even more than you do?
Disease and Pest Resistance
Healthy plants have stronger immune systems, making them more resistant to diseases and pests. When plants are not burdened by infections or infestations, they can allocate more energy and resources to their growth and flavor development.
Under drought, extreme temperatures, or other negative environmental factors, the plant may divert energy away from flavor development to cope with stress. This can lead to a decline in quality and taste.
Phytochemicals such as antioxidants and volatile compounds are responsible for the distinctive flavors and aromas of vegetables. Healthy plants tend to produce higher levels of these compounds, contributing to more intense and desirable flavors.
As you can see, the overall health and vitality of plants directly impacts the flavor of vegetables in numerous ways.
By providing optimal growing conditions, managing diseases and pests, and ensuring proper nutrient availability, you’ll be growing vegetables that are more flavorful at the table.
Sometimes fertilizer dosage comes into play, when you want a uniform harvest of peppers ready at about the same time (or staggered times).
I often find that liquid fertilizer is a great compromise for even dosage and ease-of-use, although spikes probably provide maximum dosage control.
You can also make liquid fertilizer out of dry — follow our easy guide for how to do this.
What to Consider When Choosing The Right Fertilizer For Peppers
Nutrients Essential to Healthy Pepper Growth
Pepper plants require a range of macronutrients and micronutrients to support their growth and development:
- Nitrogen (N): Essential for leaf and stem growth, promoting overall plant vigor.
- Phosphorus (P): Crucial for root development, phosphorous is also key for pepper flowering and fruiting, much as a peonies need a shot of phosphorous once in a while to keep up their showy blooms.
- Potassium (K): Helps regulate water uptake, improves fruit quality, and enhances disease resistance.
- Calcium (Ca): Essential for cell wall structure, preventing disorders like blossom end rot.
- Magnesium (Mg): A component of chlorophyll, necessary for photosynthesis.
- Sulfur (S): Important for protein synthesis and enzyme activity.
- Iron (Fe): Required for chlorophyll production and enzymatic functions.
- Manganese (Mn): Supports photosynthesis, enzyme activation, and nutrient uptake.
- Zinc (Zn): Aids in hormone production, carbohydrate metabolism, and enzyme function.
- Copper (Cu): Important for reproductive development and lignin synthesis.
- Boron (B): Essential for pollen development, fruit set, and calcium utilization.
- Molybdenum (Mo): Needed for nitrogen fixation and enzyme activity.
- Chlorine (Cl): Involved in osmotic regulation and photosynthesis.
Specific Nutrients for Sweet Peppers
Sweet peppers, known for their mild flavor, have specific nutrient requirements to enhance growth and flavor development.
- Phosphorus (P): Adequate phosphorus promotes flower production and fruit development, resulting in larger and sweeter peppers.
- Potassium (K): Sufficient potassium levels contribute to improved flavor, color, and sweetness of sweet peppers.
- Boron (B): Essential for proper pollination and fruit set, leading to well-formed sweet peppers.
- Calcium (Ca): Helps prevent blossom end rot, a common disorder affecting sweet peppers.
Specific Nutrients for Hot Peppers
Hot peppers, known for their pungency and heat, have specific nutrient requirements to support their flavor and spiciness.
- Nitrogen (N): Balanced nitrogen levels promote vegetative growth and leaf production in hot pepper plants.
- Phosphorus (P): Adequate phosphorus supports flowering and fruiting, contributing to the development of hot pepper pods.
- Calcium (Ca): Sufficient calcium levels prevent blossom end rot, ensuring healthy hot pepper pod formation.
- Magnesium (Mg): Important for chlorophyll production, enhancing photosynthesis and overall growth in hot pepper plants.
It’s important to note that while these specific nutrient needs are highlighted for sweet peppers and hot peppers, a well-balanced fertilizer containing all the essential macronutrients and micronutrients is generally suitable for both varieties.
When fertilizing peppers, it’s crucial to consider factors such as soil composition, existing nutrient levels, and the specific requirements of the pepper variety being grown.
Conducting soil tests and following fertilizer recommendations based on the results can help ensure optimal nutrient levels for healthy pepper growth and maximize flavor and yield.
Remember to follow the instructions provided by the fertilizer manufacturer and adjust the application rates based on the specific needs of your pepper plants and the recommendations of local agricultural extensions or gardening experts.
My Reviews of the Best Fertilizers for Peppers
1. Bloom City Organic Wild Fish Fertilizer (My Top Pick)
This water-soluble fertilizer is my top pick for healthy peppers.
It provides a baseline for robust growth, from seedlings to fruiting plants, promoting roots and leaves with an NPK ratio of 4-6-0.4.
It’s easy to dilute in a watering can or any jug, like I described above, and one bottle will supplement a fine harvest of peppers.
|PROS (+)||CONS (-)|
|+ Robust nitrogen and potassium content for baseline health|
+ Helps plants from sprout to flower
+ Water-soluble for easy application
|– Can be stinky!|
2. Jobe’s Organics Vegetable and Tomato Fertilizer Spikes (Best Pick For Peppers Through Harvest)
These fertilizer spikes are a convenient way to feed peppers. The slow-release nutrients support growth stages as they become necessary.
It’s the simplest method of fertilization out there and you’ll love the results.
The negative of these is that you’ll need a lot to provide one plant with nutrients — 8 to 16 spikes. This is unwieldy and expensive for large gardens.
|PROS (+)||CONS (-)|
| + 2-7-4 ratio will produce a good pepper harvest on strong plants|
+ No-fuss, targeted application
+ Slow release lasts weeks
|– Pepper plants need up to 8-16 spikes, making this expensive and unwieldy for large gardens|
3. Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food (Best Pick to Remedy Pepper Problems)
This budget-friendly, all-purpose food is one of my go-to remedies when a plant needs help.
The 24-8-16 NPK ratio packs a punch of nitrogen and phosphorous to aid plants bounce back for a strong harvest.
You’ll find you can use this product on all your plants, indoors and out, for a boost or as a reliable supplement.
|PROS (+)||CONS (-)|
|+ Robust NPK ratio for rebounds|
+ Can also be used regularly to support plants at all stages
+ You’ll use this product for all plants, indoors and out!
|– You might need to target-feed potassium for specific problems|
4. Dr. Earth Organic 5 Tomato, Vegetable & Herb Fertilizer (Best Pick for Sweet Peppers)
This is one of the safest fertilizers out there, hand-crafted of human- and feed-grade ingredients.
And even though it has some of the highest-quality ingredients you’ll find on the market, its price is definitely in the affordable range.
This potassium-rich formula guards against drought stress, key for growing sweet, juicy peppers in the height of summer heat.
|PROS (+)||CONS (-)|
|+ 4-6-3 NPK ratio aids water usage and drought resistance essential for sweet, juicy peppers|
+ Can be used for other vegetables
+ Filled with targeted, human-and feed-grade nutrients
|– Might be too strong for seedlings|
5. Fox Farm FX14092 Grow Big Liquid Concentrate Fertilizer (Best Pick for Hot Peppers)
This is another favorite liquid fertilizer and great for gardeners specializing in hot peppers.
It’s made of worm castings, one of the most natural and effective ways of providing plants with nutrients, from the major players NPK to specific micronutrients like boron.
Your only issue might be regulating application so you don’t end up watering your hot peppers too much, which can dilute their heat.
|PROS (+)||CONS (-)|
|+ Contains worm castings, one of nature’s best nutrient-delivery systems|
+ Easy to apply with water
+ 6-4-4 NPK ratio promotes great all-round growth with targeted micronutrients like boron
|– Too much watering can actually dilute hot-pepper flavor|
My Top Pick: Bloom City Organic Wild Fish Fertilizer
When it comes right down to it,
The 4-6-0 NPK ratio is gentle enough for pepper plants starting out and will provide them the drought-tolerance that peppers need to produce tasty fruits.
This is also key for hot peppers, where you want to tread that line between drought-stress and too much water, which can dilute heat.
The water-soluble solution is designed for fast uptake that’ll last for weeks, making this product worth every penny.
It’s also easy to use; I prefer liquid fertilizers because of their efficient application with your regularly-scheduled watering and their good solubility making dosage more exact across plants.
You’ll find it does have an odor, but I’m always willing to take a little “natural” smell in exchange for the best homegrown peppers at the table!
Final Thoughts on the Best Fertilizer for Peppers
Peppers are a fun vegetable to grow. If you stagger plantings a little, or just harvest at different times and preserve a stockpile in you fridge, you end up with a rainbow of veggies beautiful raw and cooked.
Without proper nutrition, though, they won’t be able to thrive or have that taste and heat you want, so you need to accompany their growth with the right fertilizer from seedling to picking.
Watch you don’t over-fertilize or over-water hot peppers, as this will cause just as many problems and taste issues as under-fertilizing.
Sure, you can find peppers year-round in the grocery store, but, like all vegetables, I find they taste all the better for the effort I put into them over a growing season.
With a little extra knowledge and luck, you’ll be plucking beauties like this one in a few months.
And you’ll know you’re getting the freshest vitamins, amino acids, and phytochemicals from your homegrown peppers — green for goodness, red for robust, and yellow for “hello, taste!”