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?

  • 1
    Answering a few questions can improve this question and might give us a chance to get you headed in the right direction. What varieties of peppers have you already tried? What zone are you in? When are you putting the peppers out to get started, both seed and starter plants? How do you judge when to water? Have you gotten a soil test done?
    – Anubis
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 1:07
  • Far too little info is included with the question to even take a wild guess. But I have a similar problem, my chiles don't die, even green [no apparent nutrient issue symptoms], but they just don't grow either, maybe a few inches of plant growth all season followed by a few small fruits. Frustrating as my tomatoes do well, and at my old house just one town over my chiles were huge and loaded with fruit.
    – Max Power
    Commented Apr 1, 2020 at 1:42

4 Answers 4


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).

  • For calcium / phosphorus, I mix some bone-meal and lime into the soil when I'm planting them (also for tomatoes).
    – Niall C.
    Commented Jun 19, 2011 at 0:56
  • 1
    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
    Commented Jun 19, 2011 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
    Commented Jun 19, 2011 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
    Commented Jun 19, 2011 at 1:18

Out of ten seeds I have succesfully managed to grow 3 Trinidad Scorpion peppers plants "the hottest chilli in the world", not bad considering I live in England. I started them off in the greenhouse in spring and moved them to the windowsill indoors in the winter. I don't give them plenty of water; I just make the soil moist. After a couple of months I feed them a little tomato grow in water. They are now about 3 feet tall. I hope that has helped a bit.

  • What kind of mix did you use?
    – J. Musser
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 4:13

Around here, we have high calcium soil, and the peppers take forever to get going unless I add magnesium. Epsom salts are cheap, and the effect is nothing short of astonishing. Of course, your soil/results may vary.


If your peppers are fine until the transplant, it could be that they're just not mature enough. Three inches tall doesn't sound very mature, if you want them to get very big or be productive. It could also be a deficiency in your soil. I recommend a soil test. They might need more magnesium, manganese, nitrogen or something. They might need less nitrogen. Knowing exactly how they die would help, like if the shoots shrivel, or if the leaves turn yellow, or if they wilt. It could be an insect pest.

It could also be a pepper disease that your tomatoes are resistant toward.

It could also be that the sun is shining too brightly when you transplant them, especially if you plant them later in the season than a lot of people do. That could make them wither and die if you don't shade them. You might try planting after the sun starts to go down, or shade them for a couple days.

If your peppers are looking sad before you transplant them, I'm guessing your peppers just aren't getting much light. You could put them under a table lined with mylar blankets and put some CFLs in there, both 6500k and lower (lower ones help against damping off better). Or just give them an overhead light. That might be slightly easier and cheaper.

I also recommend giving them some potassium sulfate approved for organic gardening, unless the stems are already super strong, which could indicate they have enough. If they're soft and bend easily, or ironically, if they're getting bark, they could use more potassium. They'll get strong fast if you give them that. It should only take a few days. Tomato stems get strong faster with potassium sulfate. Potassium, if you don't have enough, after application, will strengthen the plants, help protect against disease and insects, help the plants grow faster, and increase fruit size, among other things. If you give them too much, they may get nitrogen deficiency, but it's a lot easier to give a pepper plant too much nitrogen than it is too much potassium, unless you're applying ashes or something, in which case, you don't want to add heaps of them. I recommend avoiding ashes unless you're experimenting, and know how much and what kind to use. Don't listen to people who act like potassium sulfate is a lot more expensive than harmful kinds of potassium like potassium chloride. It's not that expensive, although it is really somewhat more expensive than potassium chloride.

I don't recommend just using an NPK fertilizer with potassium in it. In my experience, they don't seem to add as much potassium as is helpful, or the other nutrients overpower it somehow. Just pure potassium sulfate should work fine, unless you've got a lot of potassium in your soil and don't need it anyway. I've been using a tablespoon or a half tablespoon per gallon of water, but a teaspoon is the recommended for deficient potted plants, according to someone who answered an Amazon question about it. This is the kind I got. My plants seem to enjoy it. This will initially make your plants drink more water for a couple days, though, but it is supposed to help with drought tolerance.

Along with Wayfaring Stranger's answer, I have also heard that peppers love Epsom salt. I haven't verified this yet, but I have given them a little before with no negative consequences.

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