potting peppers: ideal growing medium and container size

tcleigh(6)March 20, 2011

this will be my second year trying to grow hot peppers, so please excuse my ignorance...

im wondering about the ideal soil(less) mix. ive had limited success growing hot peppers (jalapeños, habaneros, serranos) in a mix of potting soil, sphagnum, top soil, and manure. in fact, i planted about 10 plants in my raised bed last year and only harvested about 5 peppers total! i did, however, plant a tabasco pepper plant that exploded in late summer, constituting my only pepper success story last year.

this year i'm growing different peppers from seed under a grow light. im planning on planting some in my raised bed, but i'd like to plant the majority in containers for mobility and to experiment with soil mixes. im guessing my peppers didn't do so hot in my raised bed due to the high water retention of the soil mix, so i was thinking of just mixing course sand with potting soil for the container peppers to create more drainage.

any suggestions as to a simple and effective medium for potting hot peppers (i'll be planting habaneros, scotch bonnets, and serranos)? also, what would be a good container size to allow for full maturation without restricting growth?

any tips would be greatly appreciated!

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Hey There,

Check out the link below, it is an earlier GW posting. This is a popular topic.

Good Luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Soil Medium

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 7:52PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

First piece of advice is avoid sand in containers.
Sand compacts and fills the spaces between larger particles, thus impeding drainage.

Secondly, a good size container would be about 5 gallons to start...however, I think most folks
will agree that you can grow larger, more productive plants in larger containers.

Now, for my recommendation on a soil-less mix.
In my opinion, bark is a far more suitable filler ingredient than potting soil, peat moss,
coco coir, or any other organic component. I start with fine-grade Orchid Bark (fir bark), and then
I add in ingredients that increase moisture retention while still maintaining excellent drainage -
gritty ingredients such as perlite, turface, or pumice.

To provide Calcium, and to slightly raise the low starting pH of the bark, I add Dolomitic Garden Lime -
1 tablespoon per gallon of soil mix. Garden Lime is inexpensive, and one bag will last many years.

A very cost efficient container mix uses this recipe:
5 parts bark, 1 part potting soil, and 1 part perlite. Add in 1 tablespoon Dolomitic Garden Lime
per gallon of soil. Mix well, plant, water, and fertilize as you would normally.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 7:56PM
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esox07 (4b)

Josh (greenman28):
Now I am really intrigued. Can you describe this Orchid Bark (Fir Bark) in detail and let me know if it is common in garden centers or where I would go to find it. And when you say 1 part potting soil, I take that to be regular basic black dirt type soil and not some exotic blend of pete or moss or other components???
If you would post that here but also contact me offlist, I would much appreciate it: pepperpikker@gmail.com

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 9:40PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, sure thing!
Orchid Bark is usually sold at nurseries or garden centers, and I see it at Home Depot
and other big box stores in my area. I use E.B. Stone's product, but there are many brands available.

If you can find bags of mulch which have fine enough bark, that'll work, too. For the mix we're talking,
you want your bark to be 1/2 inch or less. Big, chunky bark will not work. Needs to be fairly fine.
Avoid Cedar and Redwood bark - and no artificially colored bark, either.

1 part potting soil, yep you got it. Anything you have on hand will work. The purpose of the
potting soil is to act as a binder to clog up drainage, thereby increasing moisture retention.
But you want to keep it to just 1 part, otherwise your mix starts holding too much moisture.
If you happen to have peat moss, or some other exotic brand of potting soil, you can use it
for the 1 part.

I'll contact you.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 11:41PM
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Josh, if you use this kind of free-draining soil, do you have to water from above? I am guessing moisture would not wick up from the holes in the bottom of the pot in something this loose, but I don't know. I wish I could grow stuff in containers right now, I'd love to try your recommended soil mix!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 12:49AM
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esox07 (4b)

Josh, thanks,
Between your posts here and your personal email (with pictures), I think I have a good idea how to tackle this project. Thanks for the help and happy growing.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 1:25AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

My pleasure, plantslayer and Pepperpikker!

For the record, this mix was developed by Al (Tapla). More can be read in the Container Forum.

Plantslayer, this mix is best watered from above, yes.
However, Raybo uses a modified version of this mix in his self-watering containers.
For better wicking, I think they do something like 3 parts bark, 2 parts soil, 1 part perlite....
but don't take my word for it! Check over in Containers.

Once an appropriate bark is found, you can produce huge volumes of mix for far less money.
It does take some leg-work up front.


    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 1:55AM
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I use mostly bark based soil mixes and found,in general they aren't that much cheeper (depending on ingrediant prices in your area.Here bark orchid bark is very expensive)to make but will give WAY better results and I had plants in it that are 5+ yrs. old and doing fine without doing more than topping off the pot with more mix every so often.

So in the long run they are way cheeper,all things considered.
Only reason I repot stuff is to go to a bigger pot,not to refresh the soil mix like you have to do with peat based stuff.
If you are growing Manzanos or Rocotos you'll see they really love the bark based soil mix.
I only grow non bell peppers and love bark based soil mixes.
Once you know how to use them.
To me the secret is keep everything as uniform in size as you can as far as bark and perlite goes.
Small perlite and big bark lets the mix compact down somewhat.Separate into layers in the pot.
Some people screen the bark and perlite but I don't.
I just eventually find out which pots are faster or slower draining and add more peat to make them all pretty much the same.
No soil mix is perfect.It boils down to what works for you in general.
Like a cooking recipe.You adjust it to what you like though it's basically the same ingrediants.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 3:46AM
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I was at Home Depot and found this product. The brand is "Grower's Gold", called their "Outdoor Growing Mix". As you can see, the ingredients are pretty darn close to what has been recommended here. I bought some and will give it a try. It was only $9.97 for 1.5 cubic feet. That should be enough for three to four, 5-gallon containers.

They had Orchid Bark and Perlite; I didn't find Pumice. The OB and Perlite were $3.97 for 8-dry quarts.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 3:20PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

That product is mostly peat moss, unfortunately. Which is why the "wetting agent" is added,
and why they advise not to overwater - peat moss is hydrophobic when dry, and hydrophilic
when wet: the worst of both worlds, as it were.

In addition, coconut coir holds as much moisture as peat moss, and yet it actually has less loft...
in other words, it compacts even more readily.

I'm sure that would be great for raised beds, but I wouldn't be so quick to use it for containers...
unless the containers are in direct contact with the earth, which is essentially a mini raised bed.


    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 4:08PM
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Could it be repaired by adding more perlite or Orchid Bark?

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 5:52PM
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esox07 (4b)

sworegonjim: At Home Depot, was that "Orchid Bark" actually the Miracle Gro Orchid Mix? Or was it plain Orchid Bark?

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 6:55PM
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I just went to Home Depot's website and looked at two Orchid Mix bags. They had the Miracle Gro Orchid Potting Mix at my store. I am confident the other bag was plain ole Orchid Bark. Several 8-dry quart bags of potting material were each $3.97.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 7:24PM
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esox07 - I'm not sure. I am waffling. I zoomed in on a photo of the Miracle Grow Orchid Mix bag, and I think that could have been what I saw.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 7:37PM
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esox07 (4b)

Probably was. That is the stuff I used to start my seeds this year. But now I am looking for the permanent container mix and hope I can find some Fir (Orchid) Bark somewhere to make the GreenMan28 recipe. The darn garden stores dont start really stocking up quite a while up here. (S. Central Wisconsin).

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 9:41PM
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I know what you mean. We're ready to rock'n roll, but the weather and the stores aren't up to speed yet.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 10:18PM
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kosherbaker(LA CA-10)

I posted this in the other thread that esox started and I guess I'll d oit here as well. Here's the direct link to the thread that Josh was talking about above:
Container Growing Info


    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 1:11AM
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Thanks everyone! Just checked back in for the first time since my initial post and it's so nice to have so many great answers to my questions. I'm definitely going to try a bark-based mix for most of my containers based on the tips here. I might mix it up a little bit in a few of them just for sake of experimenting, but I'm going to steer clear of sand based on recommendations here and elsewhere. I appreciate all the help!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 11:31PM
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greenman or smokemaster (or anyone):

any ideas where to find larger quantities of fine-grade fir bark? im very interested in a bark-heavy recipe, but all the bags im finding online are smaller and more money than i'd like to spend. i'll have around 25 3-gallon containers going this year, so economy-size bags would be ideal.

obviously the domestic orchid grower won't usually need so much potting medium, but orchid distributors must get it from somewhere...

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 3:29PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Well, for starters, where do you live?


    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 6:27PM
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I'm in GA. Easy access to a home depot, lowe's, or local nursery. They seem to only have the small bags though...

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 10:02PM
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green_grocer(5b - MI)


Just to throw in my 2 cents, you might consider a landscaping supply for larger quantities of fir bark... a quick google search (or other search engine of you choice)should garner results in your area. I am fairly certain the cost per yd is much less than the cost per foot bagged, and if you have something to haul it in, it could be well worth the time to get it that way.

Just my opinion,

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 10:46PM
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kosherbaker(LA CA-10)

TCLeigh have you looked into EarthGro Groundcover Bark that HomeDepot sells for $4 per 2sq ft? Make sure to look into Groundcover Bark and not the Nuggets or Mulch as the latter two are too large.

I'm also curious why you settled on the 3 gallon containers? Are those transitional or final places for your peppers?


    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 12:26AM
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Orchid Bark,not mix, I use.$13.-$15. a bag.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 1:52AM
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thanks, green grocer and kosherbaker. those are good tips.

kosherbaker: i settled on 3-gallon pots because i plan on being around to water sufficiently throughout the summer. also, im on a pretty tight budget and the 5-gallon nursery pots were twice as much money ($1 vs. $2). i'm also going to be moving to a different region in august and i would like to take as many plants with me as possible. i figure the 3 gallon pots will keep the plants smaller. i don't want to limit pepper production, though. --- anyone had success growing hot peppers in 3-gallon pots? i know ideally they would be in 5-gallons, but i'm hoping they'll do fine in 3-gallons...

smokemaster: that's what i need! where did you pick that up?

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 11:10AM
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The nursery 100yrds up the street.
They have a different brand at Homey Depote.
I never used the Homey Depote stuff,can't carry bags of it on the bus. LOL

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 7:25PM
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Ok, I have read many different threads on pot sizes. I still don't know what is what exactly, but I have a friend who works at a landscaping nursery, and I asked him for some 3 gallon, and 5 gallon containers. The containers he gave me are 10" wide, and 9" and 12" high respectively. I don't care what they technically are in regards to volume, what I wan't to know is will these be sufficient to grow, new mexico green, sante fe grande, jalepeno, and serrano plants?



    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 8:23PM
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esox07 (4b)

They will probably work but I would suggest they are are on the small side. The optimum size would be around 15-16" wide at the top and that deep or deeper. Your harvest will probably be quite a bit smaller with the 10" pots. Many pots you find may be called 1 gallon or 3 gallon or 5 gallon but many times they are really not that big. I bought some "1 gallon" pots and after doing the math, they are actually 3/4 of a gallon. I would try to find pots at least 12" wide and that deep or deeper for best results. A 12"x12" pot would be around 5 gallons.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 11:40PM
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What then would be the ideal container for habaneros?

    Bookmark   May 24, 2014 at 7:33AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

OK. It was back then 2011 but things have evolved since then.
Now a widely used container soil is called Al's 5-1-1. Go to "Container Gardening" forum for some education.

About Container size :

It depends on :
--- variety,
--- climate
--- season length.

For example, I have a cool growing condition (Heat Zone 1, PNW) and also relatively short season for peppers ( May to September) that is about 5 months. So then "Root Bounding" is not a big issue for me. But it you have like 8-9 months of growing season (like Socal, FL) then it is another situation.

About Habaneros , I am growing them in 3 gallon pots. But, if you have a longer growing season, perhaps a 5 gall. would be better.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2014 at 8:33AM
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Seysonn_ 7b-WA/HZ1

Plant out time is here.

I like the older threads rather than starting a new thread. There are already some useful information there.
This thread dates back to 2011. Since then there has been quite some changes in container growing medium concept. In the past MG potting (and similar brands) used to be the potting soil option. They are mostly pet moss based.

Al (Tapla) has made a significant contribution by developing and introducing 5-1-1 mix, It is 5 parts pine/fir bark fine , 1 part peat moss and 1 part perlite. The amount of peat moss really depends on the structure of the pine bark one uses. I, myself, get finer pine bark that does not need any peat moss. So I skip PM and instead I add DE (floor dry) for better moisture retention. DE also facilitates drainage after it is saturated. I have experimented and found out that one pound of dry DE absorbs one pound of water. So my 5-1-1 is 5 parts pine bark, 1 part DE and 1 part perlite.

As mentioned bigger pot is better. That is especially true if you have a long growing season, like in CA and FL where growing season can be 8 to 9 months. But in our PNW practical pepper growing season is about 5 months. Last year I used pots ranging from 2.5 to 5 gallons. Most did ok. This year I will use no smaller than 4 gallon nursery pots (= 5 gallon liquid). I got some of those for free from a landscaping crew in my neighborhood.. I also got reusable grocery shopping bags which also are 4 gallons in volume. I prefer these 4 gallon containers over the 5 gallon HD /Lowes buckets which are not very nice looking. Those buckets actually hold no more than 4 dry gallons.

Are you ready to pot up ?


    Bookmark   March 19, 2015 at 4:00PM
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