The 12 Reasons Your Bell Peppers Never Grew This Summer

Bell peppers
Alberto Masnovo/

Written by Jennifer Hollohan

Updated: August 17, 2023

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Not every garden season turns out the same. Some years are far better than others. And unfortunately, there are years when all of our efforts were for naught. Those are the years when our precious plants didn’t grow or did grow but did not produce much of a harvest. That outcome can easily happen with bell pepper plants, which is heartbreaking. Finding out what went wrong and problem-solving will help ensure future harvests are better. And we want to help you do that! So, below, you will find twelve reasons why your bell pepper plants didn’t grow this year… and troubleshooting tips.

1. The Soil Is Too Cold

Bell peppers are a warm-weather plant that needs warmer soil to start growing. Soil temperature for pepper seeds should sit around 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit. And even with those temperatures, the seeds can take up to 14 days to germinate. When you have cold soil, it may lead to slow germination or no germination and rotting seeds. Another issue with cold soil is that slow-growing peppers are more susceptible to disease.

How to Fix This Problem

Warm up your soil! This is easiest to do with a soil heating mat. But keep an eye on your soil blocks if you use one. The warmer they are, the faster they dry out. You can also use a plastic dome or plastic wrap to cover the seed trays as a way to retain moisture. Remove this topper once about half of your seedlings have sprouted.

rich soil, healthy soil to plant crops showing worms.

Soil temperature for pepper seeds should sit around 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. You Direct Sowed

Whether you think you don’t have space to start seeds indoors (or you really don’t) or love direct sowing, maybe you tried direct sowing your peppers. The problem is that peppers and tomatoes are two plants that do best when they get transplanted. They take such a long time to get started and need so much attention early on that it is easier to start them inside. Plus, that way, you can pay close attention to what your plants need and address any issues promptly. 

How to Fix This Problem

The answer may be easier said than done. Try to find a spot where you can start at least a few pepper plants inside next year. Then, make sure you have the tools to be successful. A few things to consider include a heating mat and grow lap. Another alternative, if you truly don’t have the space or time to start seeds indoors, is to purchase your starts. This route is more expensive. But it will improve your chances of success and may even result in an earlier pepper harvest!

Cherry tomato seeds in plant starter pot tray with soil, close up. Dwarf bush tomato seeds "red robin" for small container garden. Early spring planting in greenhouse or window sill. Selective focus.

Direct sowing bell pepper seeds instead of planting them in starter pots may hinder their growth.

3. You Didn’t Harden Off Your Starts

What is hardening off? Glad you asked! This process helps acclimate your pepper plants as they transition from their cozy, climate-controlled indoor environment to the rough-and-tumble outdoor setting. It takes about a week when done properly, which makes it hard to follow through on. After all, who has time to baby their pepper plants like that? The problem is that if you don’t take the time to harden off your pepper plants, you can damage and possibly kill them. Delicate indoor plants need the opportunity to start toughening up so they can handle direct sunlight, harsh winds, and other environmental conditions.

How to Fix This Problem

Thankfully, the fix to this issue is easy. It will just take some time. Start by bringing your pepper plants outside for only an hour or two during a cooler part of the day. Overcast weather is perfect for this process. Slowly increase the time over a week, ultimately leaving them out overnight. The weakest plants may die during this process. And that’s ok. They likely wouldn’t have offered much of a harvest. 

Young fresh sapling of bell pepper in a pot on a background of soil in the garden (vegetable garden). Pepper seedlings for transplanting into a greenhouse in spring. Bell pepper sprouts

Bell pepper seedlings need some time outside before transplanting.

4. Watering Woes

When you first start a garden, knowing when and how much to water is tricky. But don’t worry. This step can even trip up experienced gardeners. Pepper plants like damp but not soggy soil. So if you provide them with too much water, they may ultimately develop root rot and stop developing or die altogether. On the other hand, too little water can stunt the growth. However, newly transplanted pepper plants need more water than you may think. Right after they get planted in a new location, they are trying to establish a solid root system. And those roots need moisture!

How to Fix This Problem

There’s not necessarily an easy answer to this since everyone’s soil and garden are a little different. Thankfully, there is a good rule of thumb that will never steer you wrong. If you are unsure when you need to water, stick your finger into the soil. It should be moist, roughly one to two inches deep. If it isn’t, now is the time to water. Don’t ever judge your water needs based on the top layer since that typically gets quickly baked by the sun. 

Photo of a black soaker hose with two holes for watering lying on the ground under a strawberry plant. Drip irrigation system in a garden.

Morning is the best time to water your grass.

5. Transplanting Too Soon

We know, we know. Gardening season is exciting, and we want it to start yesterday! The only problem is that your plants may not agree. Every plant has different needs when it comes to soil temperature. That information should get included in your seed packet. Or you can do a quick search online. Peppers prefer much warmer soil. And that can take some time in the spring to happen. As tempting as it is to plant them early, you will most likely stunt their growth rather than get an earlier harvest.

How to Fix This Problem

The ambient outside temperature won’t help you judge soil temperatures. But there are a few handy tools that will. The first step is to use the instructions on your seed packet as a general rule. Of course, taking that information with a grain of salt is important. If the winter has been unseasonably warm or cold, the earliest transplant date will need to get altered. 

Another tool you can try is a soil thermometer. It will give you an accurate reading and let you plant at the right time. You can find them online or at a local nursery. 

White bell peppers

Transplanting your bell pepper plants too soon will stunt their growth.

6. It’s Too Hot

So far, we’ve been stressing how important warmth is to pepper plants. And now, we pivot to saying it may be too hot for the plants. Why? While it sounds odd, pepper plants like it hot but not too hot. That means the early or mid-summer heatwave hitting your area may prevent your pepper plant from setting fruit. The plants do not like temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. They won’t die as long as you keep them watered. However, they also won’t give you that tasty harvest when it’s so hot.

How to Fix This Problem

Unfortunately, this issue is largely out of your control. Aside from waiting until the heat wave subsides, there’s not much to do. That said, there is one protective measure you can take. Consider investing in some shade cloth for your prized plants. It is an upfront investment but may help encourage the fruit to set even in the hottest weather.

Heat wave sign on the city. Heat wave concept

Bell peppers do not like temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

7. Poor Soil

Watch any YouTube video about gardening, and you will hear advice about fertilizing your plants. However, almost everyone recommends adding a balanced fertilizer… no matter what. The problem is that this may not be what your soil (and pepper plant) needs. Peppers use a tremendous amount of nutrition throughout the growing season. So, if you plant them in the same bed as previous years, the soil is likely deficient in at least one nutrient. 

Additionally, peppers can suffer from blossom end rot like tomatoes. This problem gets caused by a lack of calcium in the soil.

How to Fix This Problem

There are a couple of steps to take here. Some are quicker than others. Amending soil to improve its fertility takes time. Dress your soil with a high-quality compost mix at the start and end of each gardening season. It can be store-bought or your own. Consider adding worm castings to help improve the overall nutrient balance in your soil. 

For a quicker fix, send a soil sample to the local extension office before planting season. They will conduct a thorough analysis and give you targeted advice.

Planting lily plant in spring garden using shovel. Gardener puts bulb in soil. Landscaping work outdoors

Dress your soil with a high-quality compost mix at the start and end of each gardening season.

8. Wrong pH Levels

Another factor that will directly impact your pepper plants (and other vegetables in your garden) is the soil pH. Some plants do better in more acidic or alkaline soil. And others thrive in a relatively neutral environment. Peppers prefer a soil pH range of 6.5 to 7. Anything outside of that range may stunt the growth of your plants.

How to Fix This Problem

Most nurseries will carry testing kits that allow you to determine the pH of your soil without having to send a sample out for testing. Keep in mind that different parts of your garden will have different soil compositions. So you may need to test different areas. Once you determine the levels in your soil, you can add amendments to fix it for next year.

Top view of soil in hands for check the quality of the soil for control soil quality before seed plant. Future agriculture concept. Smart farming, using modern technologies in agriculture

Bell peppers prefer a soil pH range of 6.5 to 7.

9. It’s Too Cold

The weather doesn’t always want to cooperate with us. So, even if you follow all the directions on the seed packet and consult your region’s last average frost date data… things can still go wrong. Mother Nature doesn’t always want to give us the weather we want. Your pepper plants will suffer if you end up with a relatively cool and/or rainy summer.

How to Fix This Problem

Once you transplant your peppers, you are at the mercy of the elements…mostly. Some fantastic smaller greenhouse-style options will keep your plants warmer during cold weather. Most options will be an investment, but the resulting pepper harvest will be worth it!

bell pepper plant used for paprika

Bell peppers cannot handle cold weather.

10. Too Much Shade

Peppers need full direct sunlight to thrive. If your peppers didn’t grow this year, they may have gotten too much shade. Sometimes taller plants, like sunflowers and climbing beans, can block out much-needed light and cause stunted growth in your sun-loving plants. Small pepper plants, in particular, need upwards of 16 hours of direct sunlight daily!

How to Fix This Problem

The solution will take some time. Take a few days or a week to watch the sunlight in your garden at different parts of the day. Doing so will help you determine the sunniest spots and the locations that get that prime afternoon sun. Once you find those, you can plan your garden around that light exposure. 

Purple bell peppers

Bell pepper plants need lots of sun to thrive.

11. You Left the First Flowers On

When bell pepper plants start to flower, it is an exciting time. After all, those blossoms signify the growth of peppers! But there’s a catch. Pepper plants will start to flower when they are still relatively young and short. When you allow those flowers to stay on the plant, it signals the end of growth. The plant will slow down its overall growth and leaf development to focus on producing those tasty bell peppers. And that means a small harvest or none at all. 

How to Fix This Problem

Don’t be shy about pinching off early blossoms. Keep up this process every few days until the bell pepper plant has reached a reasonable size. Then you can stop and let the veggies grow!

Sweet yellow bell peppers

Bell peppers develop from the flowers that bloom.

12. Too Many Weeds

Nobody likes to weed. It takes so much time, and they never seem to stop showing up. However, when weeds get out of control, they will inhibit the growth of your bell pepper plants. You may end up with stunted plants that produce little to no peppers.

How to Fix This Problem

While it goes without saying, weeding is the only solution. But there is a way to make that job significantly easier. Adding a thick layer of mulch or a companion plant that doubles as ground cover will help suppress weed growth. That way, you spend far less time in the garden pulling unwanted weeds and more time bringing in the harvest. 

Weeds growing on a courtyard (dandelion and grass)

When weeds get out of control, they will inhibit the growth of your bell pepper plants.

Summary of the 12 Reasons Your Bell Peppers Never Grew This Summer

1The Soil Is Too Cold
2You Direct Sowed
3You Didn’t Harden Off Your Starts
4Watering Woes
5Transplanting Too Soon
6It’s Too Hot
7Poor Soil
8Wrong pH levels
9It’s Too Cold
10Too Much Shade
11You Left the First Flowers On
12Too Many Weeds

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About the Author

Jennifer Hollohan is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on gardening, mammals, and travel. Jennifer has over twenty years of writing experience. She holds a Master of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, which she earned in 2005, and is a Herbalist. Jennifer lives in Colorado with her family. She loves hiking, admiring wildflowers, gardening, and making herbal tea.

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