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For the past three years (since I started gardening) I've tried with no luck to grow peppers. Two years ago I was able to grow a few pepper plants (out of many) but the peppers did not get very big. I've tried almost every variety of both seed and the pre-grown variety you get from the nursery. I've tried every spot in my garden.

The seedlings always get about 3 inches tall and then die and the pre-grown plants always die. I think they are getting plenty of water. All my other plants (squash, tomatoes etc) do just fine.

What could I be doing wrong?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

It is difficult to come up with something that has a strong effect on peppers and not tomatoes. Don't expect your fruit to be as big as store-bought bell peppers. As with most fruit & veg, most varieties simply do not get that big. (Other types like anaheims, jalapenos, etc. are more like the store varieties in size).

Peppers love the sun. Yes they need water but don't water log them. I give them lots of water but it is >100F outside as I type this (they dry out quickly). As for nutrients they want a well balanced fertilizer - comparable to tomatoes. I've just looked in Rosalind Creasy's "Edible Pepper Garden" and she says "well balanced" is the key. They particularly need calcium and phosphorus, but too much nitrogen will result in lots of foliage and premature pod drop (i.e. don't go overboard with the nitrogen).

Are there any particular symptoms such as yellow patterns on the leaves? That could be a symptom of Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV); or a particular kind of wilt/insect. The best solution for TMV is to keep all smokers away from your plants.

Most ailments that Creasy lists (eg. the various wilts and fungi) also affect tomatoes. Could you have a nematode problem?

If you think you do have a fungal or nematode problem (other than TMV), you could try growing them in a large pot. Peppers in pots generally don't do as well but you should get fruit, but make sure you fill it with store-bought compost and nothing from your garden. That should isolate them from anything that might be in your soil. You could sterilize the compost for good measure if you think you're being sold dodgy merchandise.

On average I find the plants generally do better than seeds, although there's less variety available. They have a head start and you don't have the random chance of germination.

Where are you getting your seed? My supplier must have well over a hundred different pepper varieties so "I've tried almost every variety of seed" is an exaggeration :-) Could it be a bad supplier? Less likely with a specialist nursery, but more than likely with a grocers, and possible with the Lowes/Home Depot type place.

One final thought: Seedlings dieing within an inch or two could be "damping off", although usually it occurs before the first proper leaves come out. This is caused by fungi and oomycetes in the soil which thrive in dark, humid conditions. The solution is to use sterilized starting soil; start the seeds in a bright, well-ventilated place; and allow the soil surface to dry between waterings. Also delay fertilizing (actually I usually only fertilize once, after they've been transplanted).

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For calcium / phosphorus, I mix some bone-meal and lime into the soil when I'm planting them (also for tomatoes). –  Niall C. Jun 19 '11 at 0:56
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I get my seeds from a local big box store (walmart, lowes etc). "Every verity" is definitely an exaggeration. I've tried jalpenos, banana, bell and long sweet peppers. There is a reputable mom and pop seed supplier in town, I do plan on seeking there advace aswell. In the meantime, I'm going to try the container garden. Thanks for the detailed answer! –  Fatmuemoo Jun 19 '11 at 1:04
    
Long sweet didn't do well for me last year when I tried them. Plants fine but no fruit, partly due to lack of water, but also I think they were northern varieties. Bells can vary as well - the standard is CalWonder but it has been disappoint for me. Banana Pepper plants grow well for me, as do cubanelles. First time for gypsy and ancho this year - plants look good, but no fruit yet. –  winwaed Jun 19 '11 at 1:14
    
Actually I usually buy my pepper plants from Lowes. No problems yet. I don't buy many perhaps 2-4 as a guarantee against poor germination of the seeds. –  winwaed Jun 19 '11 at 1:18
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