The market is saturated with different types of fertilizers to try. I have definitely experienced my fair share of poor choices when it comes to plant products so I have tried to make it simpler for you!
I went into all of my local garden centers and plant stores to ask for their recommendations of which fertilizers to use for growing peppers. They gave me a few different ones to try and I’ve put them each to the test. They also said that the best fertilizer for peppers are also normally the best fertilizer for peppers and tomatoes!
In this article I’ll go through why fertilizer is important and which ones are best, and advise on what to look for when you’re buying fertilizers.
I tested 5 different products and I found that Epsoma was the best option overall! I’ve also given my suggestions based on ease of use, ingredients in the fertilizer, suitability for different growing stages and pricing.
I picked Epsoma’s organic Garden Tone as my best overall for a few different reasons. It was easy to use, cheap, effective and had a suitable N-P-K ratio to use throughout spring and summer, meaning you don’t have to change to a different fertilizer.
Here are my top 5 fertilizer picks for pepper plants:
- Best Overall – Espoma’s Organic Garden-tone
- Best for Potted Peppers – Miracle-Gro Liquafeed
- Best Organic Fertilizer – Neptune’s Harvest Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer
- Best Products to Use Together (2) – Fox Farm Tiger Bloom and Miracle-Gro Performance Organics
Keep reading for a more in-depth review of each of the 5 fertilizers and top tips on what to look for!
Best Overall and My Top Pick for an Easy Routine – Espoma
- N-P-K ratio 3-4-4
- Slow release granules
Whilst all of the products gave my pepper plants a boost and showed signs of increased growth, I have picked Espoma as my favorite.
It is organic, which means the environment is factored in and you avoid risks of eutrophication (you can read about why that matters if you’re not sure) and long term soil health is improved.
Additionally, the espoma fertilizer is one of the most effective options, it doesn’t need to be reapplied frequently and you can use the same product throughout the season and on other plants.
This fertilizer is a great choice if you just can’t be bothered with a complicated routine or you want to be able to use just one product for all of your crops. It is a slow-release fertilizer made of granules with all of the primary and secondary nutrients that I had mentioned earlier.
Added bonus points to Espoma for their efforts to be more sustainable. They are committed to using only solar power, being completely organic and made in the USA.
The fertilizer also has a really in depth breakdown of exactly what is in it and which bacteria it has, which I haven’t seen on many other products.
|Has to be stored dry as the granules will clump otherwise
|Pricier than some other options
|Doesn’t need frequent reapplying
|Had a strong smell
Best Fertilizer for Potted Peppers – Miracle-Gro Liquafeed
- N-P-K ratio 24-8-16
- Fast release liquid
The MiracleGro Liquafeed product also impressed me. It was affordable, easy to apply and because it is added to your watering can and given with the waterings I felt confident that the fertilizer was actually reaching the plant’s roots. Not just sitting on top. The fertilizer is suitable for most plants so you can use it on other vegetables too.
The major downside of this fertilizer is that you have to reapply it more frequently than something like the Espoma fertilizer.
I’ve rated it as the best option for potted plants for three reasons. Firstly, it is suitable for frequent use. This is ideal for potted plants as their small soil volume means water retention is low. Therefore the fertilizer needs frequent topping up. Additionally, the fertilizer is synthetic meaning the nutrients are released quickly and effectively, allowing the plant to absorb nutrients efficiently. Lastly, as the fertilizer is water soluble it is carried through the soil when watering allowing the fertilizer to reach all parts of the soil and root ball.
|Super easy to apply
|Packaged in lots of plastics
|Penetrates the soil down to the roots
|Has to be stored at between 32-90ºF
|Some of the reviews mention that the bottle leaks
Best Organic Fertilizer – Neptune’s Harvest Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer
- N-P-K ratio 2-3-1
- Fast release liquid
This fertilizer is great for the blooming stage of growth. It gives a full breakdown of how to apply the fertilizer and application rates depending on what you are using it for. I was really impressed as I hadn’t seen this done before but it was so helpful. I did also end up using this fertilizer on other plants. This included my houseplants because I had more fertilizer than pepper plants in the end!
Unfortunately, this fertilizer doesn’t provide calcium or magnesium. Therefore if you want to use it long term and your soil lacks these nutrients naturally then you’ll want to supplement the fertilizer with an extra product. Make sure to use CalMag only, rather than a fertilizer which happens to have calcium and magnesium already in it, or you might over fertilize your plants.
The major downside of this product is that it’s a bit tricky to buy in the UK. But for all of the USA people this is a fab choice. You’ll have to order it online and wait a long time for it to arrive, but it works wonders.
|Suitable to be used with a sprayer
|Will smell if you leave any mixed up but not used
|Suitable for a range or plants
|Doesn’t provide all the micronutrients
Best Products to Use Together – Miracle-Gro Performance Organics and Fox Farm Tiger Bloom Liquid Concentrate
Key Features: Miracle-Gro
- N-P-K ratio 4-1.5-4
- Fast Release Liquid
Key Features: Fox Farm
- N-P-K ratio 2-8-4
- Fast release Liquid
The Miracle-Gro Performance Organic fertilizer is full of nitrogen. If you remember this is the best option for the first stage of growing where we are focused on root and shoot development. With an 11% nitrogen content the pepper plants will be able to grow plenty of great, healthy foliage.
By investing in foliage early on in the growing season you are setting the plant up for success later in the season. This is when the plant can use the lush canopy of leaves to create plenty of their own energy.
The fertilizer is water-soluble which helps to take the nutrients deeper into the soil. The roots can actually absorb all of the nutrients rather than them sitting on top of the soil.
Once the plant has grown a large amount of foliage we want to either move to a fertilizer with less nitrogen or reduce the strength of our first fertilizer. You’ll want to make the changeover when you start seeing flowers on your pepper plant. A flowering stage fertilizer provides more phosphorus and potassium and less nitrogen for optimal pepper production.
I like the Fox Farm Tiger Bloom as my second fertilizer for the season because it works well. It’s concentrated so it will last a while, and it can be used to extend the time your plant will fruit by applying later in the season.
Fertilizer Buying Guide
Why Are Fertilizers Important?
So, the seeds of the pepper contain enough nutrients for the plant to germinate (start growing). However shortly after germination the plantlet (small plant) will need a little extra help.
Fertilizers are a vital tool for any grower. They encourage growth in roots and shoots as well as encouraging flower and fruit development. I generally recommend using two different types of fertilizers for growing peppers. One fertilizer will help encourage root development. Then you’ll want to use a fertilizer that helps to encourage fruiting later on in the growing season.
So Why Use Two Fertilizers, Can’t I Use the Same One?
If you’ve ever looked at fertilizers before you might have noticed that they have an N-P-K ratio. This number represents the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. In order to understand why a combination of two fertilizers is best I’ll need to explain what each of these nutrients does.
Nitrogen – this is the nutrient most likely to become deficient because it is so important for the process of photosynthesis. Nitrogen is essential for the development of leaf growth and overall foliage health.
Phosphorus – given to the plant by phosphate in fertilizer which allows the plants to absorb the energy from the sun which is crucial for the first stage of photosynthesis.
Potassium – controls the flow of water and nutrients throughout the plant allowing them to regulate their photosynthetic process.
It is also important to know that fertilizers contain many other micronutrients like calcium and magnesium, these all help with healthy growth in their own ways.
As each nutrient has a different purpose, the growing stages which have unique goals are suitable for different products. In the earlier stages of growing peppers you will be more focused on root and shoot development, so you will benefit from a slightly different nutrient ratio compared to the later growth stages where the goal is all about fruit development.
Fertilizers can also help keep soil healthy for year round growth, many fertilizers contain lots of healthy bacteria which help to build a good base for all crops, even after your peppers have finished.
Ideally you want to start with a product which contains more nitrogen. As we learned earlier nitrogen is essential for healthy leaf growth and for the production of roots. During the secondary stage of growth the plant will need less nitrogen and more phosphorus. As well as potassium for fertilizing the peppers for maximum yield. You can use an even-grade fertilizer (which is a fertilizer that has a balanced N-P-K ratio) throughout the growing season. Or much better, switch through the growing season.
The other thing to consider is liquid fertilizer versus granules.
|Easier to control and use
|Needs to be use more often
|Better for young plants as they have a lower salt content
|Harder to keep track of
|The nutrients are more mobile so can reach the roots more easily
|Less control over the nutrients
|Easier to store
|Harder to use
|Needs using less frequently
Make sure to never combine both types of fertilizers!
As much as I recommend all of the products I’ve written about, I acknowledge that there’s loads of choices on the market. Therefore it’s good to know what makes a great fertilizer and what are the red flags.
Here’s what to look for when buying fertilizer:
- Grade/ NPK ratio
- Secondary nutrients
- Bacteria content
Are Other Nutrients Important for Plants?
It is also important to know that plants need calcium (for loads of things, one of which is to bind inorganic and organic particles together which is very important). Also magnesium (to make chlorophyll, the pigment which absorbs light and makes plants green). Finally sulfur (the main ingredient in the plant’s proteins). If you’re able to, I would advise testing your soil to see where you stand initially with these nutrients in order to choose a fertilizer best suited to your space.
There are additional micronutrients that plants need but a healthy soil will usually contain enough of these, they are boron, copper, iron, molybdenum, zinc, chlorine and manganese.
What is the Different Between Organic and Synthetic Fertilizer?
Another thing to consider when buying and choosing how to feed your plants is organic vs synthetic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers are made from naturally occurring organic material like bone meal or compost, whereas synthetic fertilizers are made with chemical processes.
Generally, soil structure will benefit from the organic fertilizer more because of the soil microorganisms. The microbes convert organic fertilizer and compost into bioavailable, useful nutrients that your plants can actually use.
However, there is a major advantage of synthetic fertilizers. That being they are taken up by the plant almost immediately. So they are more effective short term to boost the plant’s vitality, but they do not do much for improving the long term soil health.
Some organic fertilizers are padded with synthetic compounds to ensure consistent availability of nutrients for your plants. This is super important when the weather is a bit colder (some organic fertilizers will recommend applying before growing season so that the nutrients have become available for the springtime) and the soil microbes are inactive.
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I fertilize my pepper plants?
Only fertilize peppers during active growth which is spring to summer.
Each fertilizer will have a slightly different regime and the packaging should have in-depth instructions on how and when to use the fertilizer.
If you’re growing your peppers from seed then you’ll want to start fertilizing them a few days after they have germinated, when they start having little green shoots!
If you are buying pepper plugs from a plant nursery I would recommend that you ask a member of staff when to begin fertilizing, and whether they had been doing so and when they last had.
Can I make my own fertilizer?
Yes you absolutely can – whether you want to be more sustainable, reduce waste or save money there are a bunch of different ways to make your own DIY fertilizers. You can use kitchen scraps and compost them to make soil which is high in nutrients to use for your plants. This is my favorite option and it’s what I do, but obviously not everyone has space or time to do that.
You can also use grass clippings which are high in nitrogen so are great for an early stage fertilizer. Banana peels, coffee grounds and egg shells are all great alternatives too.
Can you overuse fertilizers?
It is very possible to overdo it with the fertilizer and this can have dire consequences on the plant. It can cause unsustainable growth where the plant gets big and then dies off as it cannot sustain itself to new size. Additionally the excess fertilizer can lead to a high salt concentration in the soil which affects all of the micro bacteria living there.
The signs of over fertilizing include: stunted growth, crust on the soil, wilting leaves, leaf drop and brown roots. Fertilizer burn will also lead to brown and yellow spots on the leaves. All of these effects have a further impact on the plant health as they will leave the pepper vulnerable to pests and diseases.
To try and undo over fertilizing you should remove as much of the fertilizer as possible and then flush through the soil with a thorough watering.
Is it better to practice foliar feeding or soil feeding?
Plants absorb nutrients much more efficiently through leaf surfaces than through roots so foliar feeding is an easy way to get incredible yields – however, for the average gardener growing peppers at home or on the balcony you don’t always have the option to do so. Using fertilizers in your watering can is easy and is also going to help your plants out.
If you have a bugger outdoor space and can spray your plants with liquid nutrients, try it out, it works amazingly well!
Does soil pH matter with fertilizing?
Big time! If the soil is too acidic or too alkaline then the plant won’t be able to absorb nutrients, even if they are present in the soil. You can buy cheap tests at home to test your soil’s pH, it should be around 6.0-7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral). If you do need to make any adjustments, make sure you add in any products very gradually, the best option is to apply compost as it moderates soil pH.
Which Fertilizer Will You Choose?
Every person and every plant has their own preferences, so it is important to figure out what works best for you and your lifestyle. If your priority is ease and convenience then you’ll probably want to get yourself an even grade fertilizer to use throughout the growing season, like Espoma. If you’re more fussed about maximizing the pepper yield then I’d recommend combining two fertilizers using Miracle-Gro Performance Organics and Fox Farm (to use one after the other – not together!) to really dial in the nutrients that the plants need at each stage of growth.
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