Vegetable production: Getting your soil right for bell peppers

Here’s some expert advice on the cultivation of bell, or sweet, peppers and how to prepare your soil to produce healthy yields.


  • Bell pepper seed can be sown directly into the field, but commercial farmers prefer to transplant seedlings bought from vegetable seedling growers or prepared by themselves.
  • Sowing your own seed can be laborious and costly if you aim for a good plant stand.
  • The emergence of directly sown peppers is hampered by soil crusts caused by raindrops, resulting in poor plant stands.
  • This can be overcome by frequent irrigation prior to emergence, but this results in an unnecessary increase in water use and production costs.
  • Stands established using seedlings are more even and uniform can achieve earlier maturity than direct-seeded plants.
  • Seedlings also reduce thinning cost and can tolerate and avoid early unfavourable plant growth conditions.


Plan you plant population according to the type of chemical spraying system or method you are going to use to ensure the implement (if you use one) can fit between the rows, for effective control of pests and diseases.

  • 10 to 12 seed can be planted 45 cm apart in rows that are 75 cm apart.
  • Plants can be thinned into 2 plants per stand when they are 8 cm to 10 cm tall.
  • The plant population is around 30 000 plants/ha or 12 150/acre.
  • If you use seedlings, you can plant them about 150 cm apart with a space of 20 cm between the plants.
  • In this case the plant population will be about 33 000/ha.
  • If you plant your seedlings further away from each other, your plant population will decrease.


Establishment periods:
Frost free areas: February to May
Moderate areas: September to December
Cold areas:          October to December


The exact time of maturity varies depending on the exact variety of bell pepper. It can take between 60 and 90 days after planting.

Consult the seed packet or the nursery providing the seedlings for the exact number of days.

Keep in mind, however, that the number of days to maturity on the seed packet refers to the days after transplanting until the plant produces a full-sized fruit.


It is important to avoid growing peppers in the same soil more often than once in 3 or 4 years and to also incorporate fallowing in you crop rotation program.

Tomatoes and peppers are susceptible to many of the same diseases and should never be grown in successive seasons in the same soil.

  • Soil used for plant beds should have had no peppers grown in it for 4 to 5 years, preferably never before.
  • There is not a standard preparation method for the soil and it depends on the clay content of the soil.
  • Bell peppers prefer sandy to loam soils.
  • The depth of soil preparation should be at between 300 mm and 600 mm.
  • When preparing the soil, keep root development in mind.
  • The soil must permit adequate root growth to support the plant and supply water, oxygen and mineral nutrients and must be free of toxic elements.
  • Early root development should be encouraged.
  • It is very important to enrich your soil with organic matter in the form of dead leaves, compost, saw dust or animal manure.
  • It is a source of plant nutrients and acts as a soil conditioner.


  • A soil test accompanied with a nutrient management plan should guide the organic matter, fertiliser, lime and manure you supplement.
  • The aim of your nutrient management plan is to balance your crop requirements and nutrient availability.
  • This must optimise crop yield, while minimising groundwater contamination, and improving soil productivity.
  • Your fertiliser programme will depend on the type of soil, nutrient status and the pH of the soil.
  • Sweet peppers can be grown under a wide range of conditions, but some are more favourable than others.
  • After doing a soil test you will be able to determine what nutrients you must supplement the soil with.
  • Factors like nutrient withdrawal figures, the fertiliser history of the soil, soil type, soil acidity, amount of water and micro elements should also be taken into consideration when you prepare the soil.

The following guidelines are basic recommendations for loamy soils or when the organic matter exceeds 2.5%.

The ideal soil status for sweet pepper production should be:

pH (H2O):                5.6 – 6.8
P (phosphorus):      30 – 60 mg/kg
K (potassium):        100 – 250 mg/kg
Ca (calcium):           300 – 2000 mg/kg
Mg (magnesium):   120 – 300 mg/kg
Na (sodium):           10 – 50 mg/kg

Nitrogen (N) is important for the plant during the growth and reproduction periods. This element is mobile in the soil and leaches out easily. It is advised to use split application*. Too much nitrogen, accompanied with high rainfall and humidity delays, maturity.

Phosphorus (P) is important for root growth, flower ripening and ripening. Potassium is associated with resistance to drought and cold, and fruit quality. P is usually applied with potassium fertilisers during planting.

Sweet peppers are also sensitive to calcium deficiency, as well as deficiencies in micronutrients such as zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), boron (B) and molybdenum (Mo).

*Split application of an element is when you apply calculated amounts of fertiliser during a certain growth stage of the plant according to the requirements of the plant.

Also read: Vegetable production: An introduction to planting healthy bell peppers


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