Fertilizer for Pepper Plants: Here’s What You Need to Grow Lots of Chillies

If you’re new to growing chilies, fertilizing peppers can be confusing. When do you start feeding chilies? How often? And, what’s the best fertilizer for pepper plants? Get answers to all of these questions and more.

Fertilizer for pepper plants, peppers, leaves and flowers

Growing chillies for over 10 years, I’ve done a lot of experimenting when it comes to fertilizer for peppers. Here I’ll share what I do to consistently grow healthy plants and start fertilizing peppers for maximum yield.

Before we begin, I want to mention that I use water-soluble fertilizers, and my fertilization methods are just one way to feed peppers. Other gardeners do it their own way. The key is to test and see what works best for your pepper plants.

Grow Hot Peppers is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a monetary commission. Learn more.

Recommendations Preview:


FoxFarm Liquid Nutrient Trio Soil Formula

Three solutions for different stages of plant growth. Not 100% organic.

+1 seller


Neptune’s Harvest Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer

Organic liquid solution derived from seaweed & North Atlantic fish.

+1 seller

Bonus Supplements: Calcium | Magnesium | Compost | Compost Tea

Let’s continue!

Best Fertilizer For Pepper Plants

A high-quality fertilizer has the three primary macronutrients that pepper plants need to thrive: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen (N) supports green, leafy growth, phosphorus (P) encourages root development and flowering, while potassium (K) gives pepper plants the ability to fight off disease and stay healthy [source]. Fertilizers have an “NPK” rating, such as 5-10-10, which indicates how much of each nutrient it has.

Below, are examples of the best fertilizers for pepper plants, depending on the growth stage.

Pepper Seedlings


  • Organic liquid solution
  • Can be used as a foliar feed
  • Doesn’t burn seedlings


  • Fishy smell. Be careful not to get any on your hands because it doesn’t come off easily.


  • Water soluble liquid concentrate
  • Designed for lush vegetative growth (NPK 6-4-4)
  • Contains trace minerals


  • Not 100% organic fertilizer
  • Can cause nutrient burn
  • After buds appear, must switch to another fertilizer that supports flowering & fruiting (see below)

Flowering & Fruiting Pepper Plants


  • Organic liquid solution
  • Enriches soil
  • Supports flowering and fruiting plants


  • Fishy smell that may attract animals


  • Liquid concentrate fertilizer can be used in soil & hydroponics
  • Higher in phosphorus (NPK 2-8-4) designed to encourage abundant fruit & flowers
  • Can be used as foliar fertilizer


  • Can burn plants if too much is used


  • 100% organic liquid solution
  • Higher in potassium (NPK 0-5-7) designed to enhance flavor of fruits & veggies
  • Can be used as medicine for sick plants


  • Can be pricier at times

» Bottom Line: Use fish emulsion for 100% organic gardening or FoxFarm Nutrient Trio for solutions specifically designed for each growth stage.

Secondary Nutrients

Besides macronutrients, pepper plants also need trace minerals and micronutrients to continue growing and successfully complete their life cycle [source]. Soil and fertilizers may not have enough of these secondary nutrients.

You can supplement your pepper fertilizer regimen with minerals and nutrients before plants show signs of stress. Below, are common sources of secondary nutrients.

When To Start Fertilizing Pepper Seedlings

when to start fertilizing pepper seedlings
Pepper Seedling with True Leaves

Pepper seeds have just enough energy to support the cotyledons, which are the embryonic leaves that first appear. After pepper seedlings grow their next set of leaves — known as true leaves — they need to be fertilized regularly so that they continue growing well.

» Jump To: Best Fertilizer for Seedlings

more on when to fertilize seedlings

Fertilization generally starts about two weeks after pepper seeds have germinated. During this time, seedlings usually have their first set of true leaves.

How To Start Fertilizing Peppers

how to start fertilizing peppers

After the first set of true leaves, you can start fertilizing pepper plants with a diluted amount of fish and seaweed fertilizer, or another water soluble fertilizer that supports leafy growth.

  1. Check the instructions on the fertilizer container to figure out what the 1/4 strength measurement is.
  2. Add the 1/4 amount of fertilizer to the right amount of water. (The fertilizer container will have this information.)
  3. Pour the fertilizer mixture in a plant tray so that your seedlings soak up water from the bottom.
  4. Wait for the top of the growing media to turn a darker color, which lets you know your seedlings are properly watered. Remove any leftover water in the tray.
  5. Fertilize young pepper plants weekly using this process unless the packaging instructions say otherwise.

» Related: How to Care for Pepper Seedlings after Seeds Sprout

Foliar Feeding Epsom Salt

fertilzing peppers with epsom salt magnesium sulfate

After your chilli plants have three or four sets of true leaves, you can spray magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) directly to the leaves and stem. This bonus application, known as foliar feeding, helps seedlings grow strong, green foliage and take in nutrients.

Epsom Salt Foliar Spray Recipe

  1. Add 1 teaspoon of epsom salt to a gallon of water and shake it up well. (Don’t use epsom salt that has additions like scents or bath crystals.)
  2. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and spritz the leaves and stems with the solution until thoroughly covered. (Don’t spray plants if the grow light is on because it can dull the bulbs.)
  3. Check your plants the next day to make sure they don’t show any signs of stress. If everything looks good, continue to the next step.
  4. Give your plants a foliar feeding every other week.

grow tips

If your pepper seedlings have light green to yellow leaves, this could be a magnesium deficiency. Epsom salt for pepper plants can help.

​Fertilizing Potted Pepper Plants

fertilizing potted pepper plants

As pepper seedlings grow and move to bigger containers, you can start giving them more fertilizer. Generally, pepper transplants can have 1/2 strength fertilizer when they’re potted outdoors.


  • Check the container instructions to determine the 1/2 dosage amount. Then, continue your chili plant fertilizer schedule as normal.
  • If your potted peppers are flowering, switch to FoxFarm Tiger Bloom (if using). Alternately, you can continue using fish emulsion.

The 1/2 strength dosage refers to fertilizer for peppers in pots. If your peppers are in the ground, you can use the full dosage.

grow tips

Watch for nutrient burn when applying more fertilizer. (This isn’t an issue with fish emulsion.) This burn appears as brown spots on the outside edges of leaves. To remedy this, water your plants from the top so that the water drains out the bottom of the pot and flushes out the excess fertilizer.

And, never purposely over-fertilize your pepper plants as it just causes damage.

Everything up to this point has covered the basics of fertilizer for peppers. The next sections describe bonus supplements that you can use to make sure your chillies also get those important secondary nutrients.

Calcium For Peppers

calcium for peppers prevents blossom end rot (BER)
Calcium Deficiency Causes Blossom End Rot (BER)

Calcium is essential in plants like peppers because it helps build strong cell walls and membranes. With chilli plants, a common sign of pepper calcium deficiency is blossom end rot (BER) — this is where the walls start to rot and collapse.

You can prevent issues like BER and keep your chillies flowering and fruiting well by applying calcium. Sources of calcium include Cal-Mag and bonemeal.

Apply the Cal-Mag or bonemeal by following the instructions on the label. Cal-Mag is typically added to water and bonemeal is mixed into the top layer of soil. A monthly feeding of calcium is usually sufficient for peppers.

calcium deficiency in pepper plants

Besides BER, another sign of calcium deficiency in peppers is crinkled or bubbly leaves. Capsicum chinense varieties tend to develop this, which is why I always use Cal-Mag as one of my hot pepper fertilizers.

Need help keeping your pepper plants healthy?

Learn to treat pests, vitamin deficiencies and other common pepper plant problems with this illustrated ebook. It’ll help you take action before things get out of hand!

Pepper Plant Compost

pepper plant compost soil
Pepper Plant In Compost Enriched Soil

Healthy pepper plants need quality soil, and adding compost enhances it even more. The decomposed organic material in compost helps soil retain moisture, which comes in handy to chili plants during hot weather. Compost also has lots of vitamins and minerals, such as manganese and zinc, that give plants the ability to fight off pests and diseases.

When transplanting peppers into the garden, mix 2 inches of compost into the top inches of soil. You can also layer 1/4 to 1/2 inch compost on top of the mix.

soil ph for peppers

A soil pH of 5.8 to 6.8 is best for peppers because it ensures chilli plants can absorb nutrients. Potting mixes are typically in this range. If planting in garden soil, use a soil test kit to check the pH and apply compost to help keep the pH in balance.

Compost Tea For Peppers

compost tea for peppers as foliar spray
Compost Tea As Foliar Spray

Another way to feed peppers is by using compost tea — a concentrated liquified form of compost. This tea is full of beneficial microbes and vitamins, and there are so many benefits: for example, better nutrient intake and more productive plants. You can apply compost tea as a foliar spray or water your pepper plants with it.

Making Compost Tea

If you have compost, you can “brew” a batch of tea. An easy method is to drop a handful of compost in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water and let it sit for 24 hours. Stir the mixture and use it right away so that it’s most effective.

If you don’t have compost, you can use ready-made compost tea bags. Steep a bag in 2 to 5 gallons of water for 8 to 12 hours, then use it immediately.

Using Compost Tea

Pour the compost tea in a watering can to apply it to the base of your plants. Otherwise, add the tea to a garden sprayer and in the early morning, use it as a foliar spray on the tops and undersides of leaves.

Feed your plants with compost tea once or twice a month.

grow tips

Why add compost tea if you’re already using compost? Tea delivers nutrients to your plants faster than compost does. Steeping compost in water extracts the vitamins, which go straight into plant roots and pores (stomata) of leaves. Compost tea is especially useful for pepper transplant shock and other situations where plants need to recover quickly.

Recap Of Fertilizers

All of the products mentioned throughout this post are listed below for your convenience.

Primary Fertilizers:

Secondary Nutrients:

Potting Mix with Organic Nutrients:

Tools for Fertilizer Application:

» Related: Recommended Pepper Growing Supplies


As an email subscriber, you can download the fertilization cheat sheets​ that go with this article. You’ll get all of the steps in a printable, at-a-glance format + a sample feeding calendar.

Manure As Fertilizer

First, if you buy bagged potting mixes for containers, don’t use manure as fertilizer because the mix already has everything needed to support your pepper plants. Plus, manure has to be aged — whether planting in pots or the ground — so it doesn’t burn your plants.

Good animal manure sources include cow, rabbit, sheep, and chicken. (Speaking of the latter, here are some great chicken coop plans to create your own supply.)

You can use animal manure when planting in the ground if you prepare it in the fall. To do this, add fresh manure (about 2 to 3 inches) to the soil, and till so that the manure has enough time to age before spring planting.  

FAQs About Fertilizer For Peppers

What’s Next?

I hope this guide gives you a better understanding of fertilizer for pepper plants. Again, this is just an example of what I do, and you may prefer other chilli plant fertilizers as you continue growing peppers.

Coming up we are picking peppers! Yes!! This harvesting chillies guide explains when to pick peppers for fresh eating, seed saving and more.

Related Posts

Photo of author


Jenny is the creator of Grow Hot Peppers. She is a self-taught gardener and has been growing peppers and a plethora of veggies for over 10 years. When she’s not writing or gardening, she loves eating spicy foods, hiking, and going to the ocean.

9 thoughts on “Fertilizer for Pepper Plants: Here’s What You Need to Grow Lots of Chillies”

  1. Please re-check you math!! 1/4 tsp in one quart is EXACTLY the same as 1tsp in 1 gallon. You should have written 1/4 tsp in one GALLON if you actually wanted 1/4 strength. (or 1/16 tsp in one quart).

    • The 1/4 strength was in reference to the fish emulsion/ or seaweed. The 1 tsp to a gallon was in reference to the Epsom Salts. No math issue in the article. The article stated to use 1/4 strength of fish or seaweed then 1/2 strength based on the labels directions.

  2. I have just begun to put my plants in the sunlight and I think I scalded the leaves. Is there a way to fertilize to help build stronger foliage faster? My plants are week and timid and have been growing for over a month now. They just don’t seem to be growing. Is there anything I can do? In particular how should I introduce them to sunlight without scalding the leaves. I don’t get a lot of morning sun where I live but I get quite a bit of afternoon sun from 1-5pm.

    • I have more experience with tomatoes, much the same. This spring I planted some of my seedlings in a planting soil that I later found out was too strong (nutritious) for the delicate roots. Too much nitrogen no doubt. Those seedlings remained dormant, shocked and grew very very slowly long into the season. I have learned that seedling-soils are weak, low in N.
      As far as too much direct sunlight burning leaves. I live in Sweden and have the burden of short, intense growing seasons. I have to sow seeds indoors, early in the spring and plant outdoors as late as early June (last frost). I have to condition all of my plants/seedlings for this shocking transition. Direct sun will burn them up every time. Short exposures of any direct sunlight must be shaded with shading-cloth. Always. I transition all of my small pre-grown plants on a mostly shaded patio. A nearby oak and a birch provide diffused light throughout the day. I still cover the whole patio with shading-cloth. If the weather is really warm and sunny, this transition time will be more than a week long.

  3. I have a very healthy, 3foot tall Carolina Reaper plant in a 5gal pot. It just began to finally fruit about a week ago, and now got about a dozen small fruits on the plant. I have been using Epsom salt and used bonemeal a few days ago, but the leaves were lightening slightly and becoming dull, and lost two leaves, but that hasn’t been common. I just added miracle gro blooms food 8-8-8 plus has calcium, but I only used 1scoop for a gallon, rather than 2, because I want to give the plant nitrogen but not too much, since I have been using the bonemeal and Epsom. I’m keeping a close eye on it, as to get this far has been a lot of work! Hoping I did the right thing though.. It’s beginning to produce lots now.

Comments are closed.