bell pepper planting question

okiebakerMay 3, 2011

We have not planted the bell pepper plants I purchased over the weekend. Can I plant now with the projected night temperatures for OKC below 50 or should I wait a week? Will it make a difference, especially Dawn? Thanks for all the assistance.

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Go ahead and plant them as long as you're positive your temps won't dip below about 40 degrees.

The issue with peppers is that if exposed to cold temperatures for a prolonged period early in their life, peppers can be slow to start producing or sometimes can produce poorly the entire season. Sometimes they produce fine, but you don't get to harvest many until fall because they are slow, slow, slow. (That would make me crazy!)

Notwithstanding the fact that a lot of us either had freezing or near-freezing temperatures last night, I think the weather is about to straighten out and behave itself. (This advice does not come with a money-back-guarantee.)

I would love to begin planting peppers in my garden tomorrow. I do have two raised beds in the Peter Rabbit garden where I just may do that. Meanwhile, the peppers destined for the main garden will have to wait for the lake formerly known as "my garden" dries up for a few days. I know we desperately needed moisture, but did it have to fall on my ground the week I needed to be planting peppers, and did almost 3" have to fall all at once? I'd rather have had an inch a week for three weeks. OK, I'm through whining.

My feeling about planting peppers anywhere in zone 7 in OK now, and pretty much anywhere in zone 6 except the northern-most parts of zone 6 in/near the OK panhandle, is that it is safe to proceed without fear of too much exposure to cold nights.

So, I say "plant 'em if you've got 'em". The weather in May is usually perfect for peppers to grow, flower and set fruit once we get past May 3rd or 4th which is when I always have my last truly cold night. A lot of you have your last truly cold night before I do since I'm in a 'frost pocket' microclimate.

I always try to plant my peppers late in the first week of May, and I usually am harvesting in mid- to late-June. That sounds so fast doesn't it? I think it works out that way because the peppers weren't subjected to cold temps before being planted and they just take off like a rocket once planted. I sincerely hope it works out exactly that way for you too.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 10:09PM
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Woah!! That's a biggie, I love peppers and want a huge harvest....but I planted mine 2 or so weeks ago.
We shall see if they are slow to produce....grrrrr.
Well, that's why I'm here.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 11:27PM
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As I moved my peppers back inside last night for still another cold night, I said that was it and I was putting them in the ground. Today I checked the forecast and it said guess what? I started to move them in and it started to sprinkle. Al saw me and came out to help. Just as we got them all inside, the rain stopped and I came inside to check the weather one more time. I was a little upset when I saw a forecast of 45. LOL Then I went to another forecast and it still said 41. Who knows? Anyway, I am not taking them inside again. It is May and time to plant peppers.

On another note....I almost never lose a pepper plant, and I had a cover which mostly protected them from the rain on those heavy rain nights. They were still outside, but not being rained on. I noticed that I have lost 3 pepper plants, leaves just fell off and they died out. All three were Goliath, so so much for hybrid vigor. Two were grillers and one was Goldrush. We just had too much rain, too frequently, and everything has suffered.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 11:39PM
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I planted mine a few weeks ago too dang it!!! I'm going to start a notebook full of notes for next year. I was so proud if myself for getting started early. I planted acorn squash too that are barely green now. I suppose those are going to die? Planted my little 2 leaf red burgandy over that started from seed too. Some of those bit the dust.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 11:59PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Don't feel bad. It took me a long time to make the connection between pepper production and the cold weather. Far longer, in fact, than I'd like to admit.

It was a huge shock when I began experimenting with transplanting peppers later and later and soon found I was harvesting peppers earlier than back in the days when I set out peppers earlier.

I think your peppers may be just fine, so don't panic. The effect of temperatures on peppers seems to me to differ from one variety to another.

Also, we are talking about two kinds of temperatures--soil temperatures and air temperatures. As long as the soil temperatures were at or above 55 degrees when you put your plants in the ground, they should be alright. It is prolonged exposure to soil temperatures below 55 degrees that often stunts pepper plants or causes them to suffer root damage from the cold soil and then they are slower to produce.

However, if air temperatures drop into the 40s for a few days and stay there, that also can cause the peppers to stall and stunt.

So, this is where it gets really complicated because I can't tell you, for example, how many hours of exposure to soil temps below 55 degrees will hurt your plants or how much it will hurt them. I can't tell you how many hours of exposure to air temps in the low 40s will hurt them, only that it tends to do so.

Of all the plants I raise from seedlings, peppers are the most time-consuming and the most pampered and babied. I hardly let them be outside at all when the air temps are below 45-50 degrees. They spend a lot of their time on the sunporch where the greenhouse effect keeps them warmer than they would be outdoors.

One reason I started raising all my peppers from seed was because I would see pepper plants out in very, very cold air temps at the stores and I knew it wasn't good for them. When I started raising my own from seed and I made a point of always keeping them "warm enough", I was amazed at how early and how quickly they produced.

Because we have had a late frost or late freeze during the first week of May at our house for abou 6 or 8 of the 13 years we've lived here, I never transplant out my pepper plants until the "May cold spell" has passed. I think tonight will be the last night I have to worry about the cold. Even if it is not, any future cold spells likely will be very brief and I don't worry about brief exposure to cold temps, as long as they stay around 40 or above. Brief exposure won't hurt the plants whereas prolonged exposure will.

It is incredibly hard to get the timing of the plants right because you're seeking to get both the right air temps and soil temps in a very erratic climate. There have been days this year that my soil temps were very, very warm...back in March and early April, and yet recently the soil temps have been much cooler. That's somewhat typical of my part of Oklahoma---erratic weather in March-May is the norm. We may have high temps in the mid to upper 90s in March and then low temps in the low 30s in May. Does weather like that make any sense? If I am crazy, it is because the weather here has made me crazy.

One key to success is to avoid too much cold exposure, but another is that you cannot plant too late or you are likely to get poor fertilization/production. Here is where we need to split peppers into two groups: hots and sweets. Sweet peppers seem to set fruit best when the nights are 60 degrees or above and the daytime highs are below about 80 or 85 degrees. Unfortunately for us Okies, sometimes there's a fairly brief window of opportunity when the temperatures are just right. I'm not saying sweet peppers won't properly pollinate/fertilize/set fruit at other temps, but just that they do it best at those temps. Once the daytime highs are regularly exceeding 90, it seems like fruit set on sweet peppers tends to drop quite a bit. Now it gets even more complicated, because even though I say sweet peppers, I think it is most pronounced with sweet bell peppers, but not with non-bell sweetes or, as far as that goes, with smaller mini-bells or the Yummy pepper line.

With hot peppers, I don't see any real change in fruit set that correlates to warm temperatures, other than sometimes just a brief slow down in the amount of fruit set that occurs once temps are in the upper 90s and hotter. It isn't as pronounced with hot peppers as with sweets. I think it matters too if the peppers are well-watered and well-fed, so I think drought stress may impede fruitset as much as or more than heat does.

Your peppers may not be slow to produce at all. Both our soil temps and air temps have fluctuated wildly this year, especially during the last 3 or 4 weeks and it is hard to predict what effect that will have on fruitset. Time will tell.

Remember that in gardening nothing is guaranteed!

All my life I heard that big (as in bigger than bite-sized) tomatoes don't set well in high heat and I thought it was true. THEN, in 2003 we had the worst drought ever (only a little under 19" of rain the whole year) here in our county. The temps were very high. The humidity was incredibly low. My Big Boys and Better Boys were flowering and setting huge loads of fruit in August when the days were in the 100s and the nights were in the 80s. This didn't make sense because in a hot, humid summer, I don't get fruit set like that in hot weather. Think about what I said. Did you catch the difference? It was the humidity. In high heat + high humidity, big tomatoes set fruit poorly for me. In high heat + low humidity, they set fruit just fine. How is it that I didn't learn that until I was about 44 or 45 years old? You see, no matter how long you've been gardening and no matter how much you may think you know, there's always something new around the corner, just waiting to be discovered. I've decided I don't mind drought as much as I used to because the fruit set is better in low humidity than in high humidity. So is the flavor of tomatoes (and peaches!) Who knew? Not me. I'm glad I finally figured it out, but I've never seen this mentioned in a book in much detail although I am certain it is true.

This is why gardening is endlessly fascinating. There's always something new to learn, to experiment with, to figure out. Gardening can be endlessly frustrating at times, but it is never dull, routine or boring.


    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 12:12AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Well, you have had an insane amount of rainfall. Even hybrid vigor can't tolerate too much moisture. If I lived there, I bet I'd be growing webbed feet by now...

So far, the Goliath peppers have not impressed me much in terms of vigor. Based on my experience with Goliath tomatoes, I certainly expected better from the peppers. The peppers may be fine once they are in the ground, but they haven't been overly impressive as seedlings.


Your plants may be fine. The general rule of thumb is to transplant your pepper plants about two weeks later than you transplant your tomato plants. Tomato plants will tolerate temperatures right down to 33 degrees with little negative effect but peppers like it a bit warmer.

Just watch and see how your peppers produce this year. If they are fine, you probably will feel comfortable transplanting them at the same time next year. If they seem a bit slow to flower and set fruit or if they stall and don't grow much for a while and then resume growing, you might want to try transplanting them a week or two later next year. That's the only way to learn what works for you in your specific microclimate and soil. Gardening is definitely a 'learn by doing' process.

The first 4 or 5 years we lived here, I kept a brief garden journal on a calendar. Every time I planted something I jotted it down on the calendar. Then, if that crop had issues, I went back and circled that planting date and my planting notes in a different color of ink and wrote myself a note to plant either (a) earlier or (b) later the next year, depending on what I thought the problem was. The next year, I'd plan my planting schedule based on notes on calendar notes from the previous year. I also wrote down the day's high and low temp, and precip if any, on that calendar. Keeping track of basic info like that helped me understand my "average" weather and its effect on my plants.

What works for one person in one location will not work for someone else in a different location. You have to figure out what works for you.

If vegetable gardening were easy, everyone would be doing it. It takes real determination and perseverance to stick with it and learn what works for you and what doesn't, and you never stop learning.


    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 12:26AM
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i have not been able to plant anything but tomatoes so far. i would like to have some bell pepper plants, yellow and zucchini squash, onions, cucumbers, potatoes, cantelope and watermelon. i am in southeast oklahoma. is it too late? if i plant within the next week or so will they still have time to make?

    Bookmark   June 5, 2011 at 11:34AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Go ahead and plant everything but onions and potatoes. They are cool season plants and won't produce if planted now. You can plant potatoes August 1st for fall, and onions September 1st if you can find the seeds, sets or transplants for fall. The time to plant onions and potatoes for spring is Feb. 15th thru Mar. 10th, so you missed that planting opportunity.

I've linked the OSU guide for fall planting. If you plant now, you'll be technically a little late for spring planting and a little early for fall planting, but I often succession plant squash and cukes every few weeks all summer long, and it isn't too terribly late for melons and cantaloupes in southeastern OK since your first fall frost is still a long ways off.

I'm digging my spring potatoes right now (and have the blisters to prove it) and it won't be time to plant the fall crop for a few more weeks. If you have seed potatoes that are already sprouted, I'd go ahead and plant them now because they might not last until the proper planting time, but you may not see any potato foliage for weeks and weeks, depending on how cool and moist your soil is. The danger in planting potatoes now for fall is that if you have a crazy amount of rainfall, the ground may stay too wet and they might rot before they sprout. That won't be an issue if you have well-drained soil.

Here is a link that might be useful: Fall Planting Dates

    Bookmark   June 5, 2011 at 3:39PM
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