Out of all the things we grow in our veg beds, it is the bell and the chili pepper that are notorious for taking the longest to mature. Why? Because perfection takes time. Time to achieve optimum size, shape, color, and, naturally, that heat!
This last feature applies solely to chilies and not bells. That’s because bell peppers are actually not peppers, at all. Not even related. While foliage on each may look similar, bell peppers are, surprisingly, botanically classified as berries. Who knew?
Along with similar growing times and foliage appearance, they also share a common need for specific nutrients at different stages of development. So, what exactly is the best fertilizer for peppers and chilies? Is there just one? Perhaps, but the best pepper strategy often includes switching it up a bit to achieve full maturity.
- Ideal N-P-K Ratio for Peppers
- Granules vs Liquid Fertilizer
- Organic Pepper Fertilizer
- Ideal pH for Peppers to Grow
Choosing the Best Chili and Pepper Fertilizer
For quality peppers, it’s important to choose a fertilizer that supports each stage of growth. From seed to fruit, peppers require lots of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, just in different amounts. Let’s take a look at each stage.
Stage One – During early growth, more nitrogen is needed to encourage healthy foliage and prepare each plant for flower production. Flowers and fruit have not yet formed so less phosphorus and potassium are needed. An 11-3-8 NPK, or similar, will support this.
Stage Two – Once plants have begun to form buds, switching to a feed that is heavier in phosphorus and potassium, like a 5-10-10 fertilizer, will direct the plant’s focus from foliage forming to flower and fruit production. Continuing with a high nitrogen fertilizer will give you lots of vibrant, green leaves but few flowers.
Ideal N-P-K Ratio for Peppers
Your fertilizer’s NPK ratio will be a three-number formula on the label. This formula indicates its proportions of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. For example: A 11-3-8 NPK contains 11% nitrogen, 3% phosphorus and 8% potassium.
Now that we understand what specific nutrients are required at different stages of growth, where do we go to find those? The best fertilizer for peppers and chilies will have these proportions reflected in their NPK.
Granules vs Liquid Fertilizer
Choosing an application method is simply a matter of what works best for you and your lifestyle. Liquid nutrients are quickly carried to the roots, allowing for immediate uptake. They can keep crucial pH levels balanced, too. But, caution is recommended, as over-feeding could lead to root burn.
Concentrated granules are slow-releasing and provide a consistent flow of nutrients for several months at a time, saving you time and effort.
Cost-effective and time-saving liquids allow for simultaneous watering and nourishment and give you control over how much is applied and when. Vital nutrients flow directly through the soil to the roots. Which is especially beneficial for those living with shorter growing seasons. Liquid options are also typically less expensive.
As a slow-release choice, I find granules to be time-saving for you, the grower. Highly concentrated, they provide consistent nourishment for several months at a time. If applied prior to rainfall, no watering is needed for activation and is less likely to leach into nearby water sources, preventing contamination.
Organic Pepper Fertilizer
There are several options available that organic gardeners have been using for years. Fish emulsion is one of the best natural sources for high nitrogen content. Well-rotted compost is a popular go-to for organic phosphorus and potassium and can naturally be found in kelp meal and hardwood ashes, as well.
Ideal pH for Peppers to Grow
Peppers and chilies prefer a soil pH range of 5.8 – 6.8. Anything above will block access to all those vital macronutrients you’re providing. If your plants aren’t responding to nutrients, testing your soil with a soil test kit will indicate if a high pH is a cause.
5 Best Pepper Fertilizer Reviews
I’ve done some extensive testing and research, including feedback from pepper growers across the gardening and retail spectrum. I’ve specifically looked at what fertilizers performed best, which are the easiest to use and which are the best value for money.
1. Espoma Garden-Tone Organic Fertilizer 3-4-4
My number one choice of best fertilizer for peppers goes to tried and tested brand Espoma and their Garden-Tone organic fertilizer. This one is perfect for the start of the growing season when your peppers and chilies seedlings and new plantings need an extra boost of nitrogen and a little less prosperous and potassium.
Typically, what you get with this product just like most other fertilizers in Espoma’s range is their brilliant patented Bio-Tone microbe formula that helps to disburse nutrients in the soil.
This is a slow-release formula that is perfect for peppers grown in already nitrogen-rich soil. I regularly augment with compost, and I was really pleased that this didn’t overwhelm the plants. I’ve also used it with success as a corn fertilizer, again, right at the start of the growing season to help establish roots and develop healthy plant structures.
How To Use: Mix the recommended amount into the soil prior to planting or apply to seedlings 7-10 days after planting peppers 18-inches apart. Repeat monthly from May to August.
Customer Reviews: Pepper growers are reporting results within just 1 week of application and surprising bumper crops after a full season of using this organic product. Awarding Espoma’s Garden-Tone 4.7 out of 5 stars and my pick for best buy. Check the latest Espoma Garden-Tone price here.
- Organically-grown high yields
- Results after just one week
- Organic odor may be attractive to pets
2. Dr. Earth Organic Vegetable & Herb Fertilizer 4-6-3
My second pick proved effective and versatile when testing it as both a top dressing and a water-soluble tea. This fertilizer works best once your pepper and chili plants are more established and they need additional phosphorus once buds have started to appear. The addition of a slightly higher ratio of phosphorus will encourage flower production that will eventually lead to those all-important fruits of your labor.
This fertilizer from Dr. Earth contains probiotics plus seven different beneficial microbiotics. I’d read that this helps to metabolize nutrients and it certainly helped with the overall plant size and yield of my jalapeno and cayenne peppers. They definitely looked bigger than usual. Click here for prices of Dr. Earth Organic Tomato, Vegetable & Herb Fertilizer.
How To Use: New plantings: add 1 ½ cups to the soil before planting. Established plants: apply ¾ cup for every 10 sq ft of growing area. Repeat every 2 months.
Customer Reviews: Consumers are feeling that Dr. Earth’s feed is great value for money. Putting it at the top of their “favorites” list. In small gardens, it can last for several growing seasons and the results are far better than other pricier options. Awarding it 4.6 out of 5 stars.
- Great value for money
- Probiotics and seven beneficial microbiotics
- Animals may be attracted to the organic smell
3. Jobe’s Organics All Purpose Fertilizer Spikes 4-4-4
Jobes Organics All Purpose Fertilizer Spikes are perfect for pot and container-grown peppers and chilies because they offer a slow-release and measured feed that can be popped into the soil at the beginning of the season and then forgotten about.
Let’s face it, growing peppers can take up a lot of room especially if you have a small plot so growing these varieties of plants in pots and containers outside your backdoor or even on your windowsill indoors is a great space saver for your veggie patch. Just make sure you choose a good quality compost that has been enriched with organic matter to ensure your plants get the nitrogen they need at the beginning of the growing season.
These spikes are just so easy to use and mess-free. They contain Jobes’ patented Biozome formula and proprietary microorganisms that are perfectly blended to create a beautiful balance in fertility between the soil and plants. Resulting in an abundance of brightly colored peppers and chilies.
Check prices for Jobes Fertilizer Spikes here at Amazon.com.
How To Use: Containers – place spikes into the soil evenly around the edge of the pot in the amount recommended per container size. Beds – 8 spikes per square foot of soil.
Customer Reviews: High yields with little effort seems to be the common consensus among pepper growers who have tried Jobe’s organic spikes. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
- Patented Biozome formula for balanced nutrition
- Higher flowering ratio
- Not recommended for use in nitrogen-poor soil
4. Down to Earth Organic Vegan Fertilizer Mix 3-2-2
A great product now from Down to Earth and one that comes highly recommended, especially if your preference is to garden with a 100% vegan approach.
This all-natural and totally organic fertilizer is made without the inclusion of any animal or animal by-products. Instead, it boasts nutrient-rich plant-based ingredients such as alfalfa meal, canola meal, and soybean meal.
I tested this nitrogen-rich fertilizer on my potted candlelight peppers which don’t typically have that much heat to them. Not only did I get a surprising number on each plant, but the flavor of each was much more pronounced and sweet.
If you are using this as a fertilizer for container plants, it is worth bearing in mind that some people (and their dogs!) find the smell a little, well, organic. Check out Down To Earth Vegan Fertilizer price here.
How To Use: Vegetable beds – apply 2.5-5 lbs per 100 square feet and thoroughly mix into the top 3″ of soil. New transplants – add 1-2 tbsp per hole, mix into soil and water in well. Repeat once per month during the growing season.
Customer Reviews: Gardens are using this on everything from veggies to kitchen herbs and loving the purely organic results. Great value for money. 4.7 out of 5 stars.
- Purely organic results
- Versatile use on any nitrogen-hungry plant
- More product may be needed than other options
5. Miracle-Gro Performance Organics Fertilizer 9-2-7
I always like to include Miracle-Gro when I’m testing fertilizers, just because their name is synonymous with feeding. It has to be said that their relatively new range of Performance Organics is not to be sniffed at.
This offers a concentrated, granular formula consisting of a 9-2-7 NPK and essential micronutrients for high yields in less time. I sprinkled this around the base of my habanero chili plants and I honestly can’t describe the heat that developed. Not to mention the surprising size, vibrant color, and flavor of each one! See details of Miracle-Gro Performance Organics here.
How To Use: Shake even around the base of each plant then work into the top 1-3”. For containers, apply 2 tbsp for every 4 liters (1 gallon) of soil. Then repeat every 4-6 weeks.
Customer Reviews: Long-time users of Miracle-Gro’s flagship vegetable feed were hesitant to switch to an organic option until they saw the same, dependable results they expected. Reporting they’ll stick to organic now, going forward. Earning this quick-release option 4.6 / 5 stars.
- Quick-release for immediate nutrient absorption
- Helps to improve nutrient-poor soil
- May exhibit a slight organic odor
Fertilizing Peppers Indoors and Outdoor
In short-season regions, peppers are often started indoors and mature plants are brought indoors in late autumn to finish their cycle. Early-sown pepper seedlings will need extra nitrogen to start them off right. Then a transition to more phosphorus and potassium when moved outdoors.
Seeds sown outdoors should follow this same pattern. Plants brought indoors in autumn will not need anymore fertilizing as they near the end of their term.
Chili and Peppers in Pots and Containers
New pot-grown seedlings benefit most when fertilizing starts with a granular form. This prevents over-feeding and root burn when applied based on pot size. Once established, you can switch to a liquid option that can be applied whenever you water if you wish.
Chili and Peppers in the Greenhouse
In a greenhouse environment, compost is a pepper’s best friend. Compost increases nitrogen levels in the potting soil. Providing the nourishment and beneficial bacteria your plants need when they need them while allowing you the freedom to use just one balanced NPK throughout the season.
How to Fertilize Peppers
Whether choosing a slow-release or quick-acting fertilizer, knowing what to apply and when makes it easy to grow healthy pepper plants. Full of lush foliage and flowers. Let’s recap:
Stage One – More nitrogen is needed in the form of fertilizer or compost for healthy foliage and flower production preparation.
Stage Two – Once flower buds appear, switch to more phosphorus and potassium for more blooms, fresh, healthy peppers, and a higher yield.
How Often to Apply
How often you fertilize within each stage will depend on your chosen application method. Water-soluble options often need to be applied more frequently, every week or so, than slow-release spikes and granules which generally recommend a monthly routine. Either way, consistency is the key.
Over Fertilizing Peppers and Chilies
As mentioned, starting new plants off with a granular formula will help to prevent over-fertilizing and seedling failure. When over-fertilization occurs, more common in potted plants, the foliage will show signs of browning or burning. Once the roots burn, the plant can no longer absorb nutrients.
When to Fertilize Peppers
Seedlings tend to deplete potting soil of any inherent nutrients fairly quickly. The second set of leaves on each plant will indicate that its little root system is now strong enough to withstand a bit of fertilizing.
I recommend half the dose recommended on the label, based on the size of the seedling’s pot. If your soil is well-composted, you shouldn’t have to fertilize until your pepper plants are moved outside.
Verdict: Best Fertilizer for Peppers
The verdict is in! The best fertilizer for peppers and chilies will need to be consistent and focused. This is a fundamental strategy to growing healthy peppers from seed germination to harvest. Your chosen method of application should be one that fits within your comfort zone and lifestyle.
Choose Espoma Garden-Tone Organic Granules for a boost of nitrogen for newly seeded and young pepper and chili plants or, select Dr. Earth’s Tomato and Vegetable Fertilizer for slow-release formula as plants mature and need more phosphorous.
Alternatively, go for Jobe’s Organic All-Purpose Fertilizer Spikes if you’re growing in containers or pots. These are easy to use and offer a long-lasting and slow release of nutrients right where pepper plants need a good supply of nutrients.
FAQ’s Fertilizing Chili Peppers
If you’re still curious about pepper and chili plant growing, here’s a few of some of the questions I get most asked when it comes to growing these delicious summer favorites.