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How To Know When To Pick Bell Peppers – And Tell If They’re Ripe!

One of the hardest things for many gardeners to know is when to pick their bell peppers – or more importantly, how to tell when their peppers are ripe enough for picking!

Bell peppers are a staple in backyard gardens. Known for their large size and big flavor, they are delicious for everything from fresh eating to stuffing, grilling and more. But unlike tomatoes that come on a bit earlier in the season, bell peppers can seem to sit stagnant on the plants in early to mid summer.

At least with red, yellow and orange bell peppers you get a hint of their ripeness when they turn color. But when it comes to green bell peppers, it can really be a mystery if they are ripe or not! But as you will see below, even with peppers that turn color, there can be a trick to knowing when to pick for peak freshness.

when to pick peppers
It can be hard to know when bell peppers are ripe for the picking. That can be especially true for green bell peppers – which start and stay green!

One thing is certain, it takes pepper plants longer to produce harvestable fruit than most other vegetable plants. Gardeners often become frustrated at their pepper plants, thinking something must be wrong as their tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and other vegetables go into full production mode much earlier.

The Waiting Game – How To Know When To Pick Peppers

The simple truth is, pepper plants simply take longer to mature their fruit. Especially when it comes to bell peppers. The first peppers that form on the plant can seem to hang for weeks without growing or coloring.

This is typical as the first fruits take more energy and time to mature. Because of this, it is actually better to remove the first early fruits of the season and let the plant use its energy to simply grow and build up power.

It can be tough on gardeners to actually remove small peppers from their plants the first few weeks. After all, that’s what you planted them for! But in the end, removing those first few slow growers will pay big dividends in late summer.

how to harvest green bell peppers - tell when peppers are ripe
Removing the first few peppers can help your plants produce better. The first few peppers can take a long time to mature. Because of this, they use a lot of the plant’s resources which can slow overall production.

It’s important to remember though that even with early picking of immature fruit, pepper plants will take longer to mature. With that in mind, continuing the course of watering and fertilizing is important. See: How To Fertilize Bell Peppers

As the summer heats up, your pepper plants will eventually begin to produce more rapidly. And when they do, knowing when to pick them is a huge key to help keep your plants producing more right up until the first frost.

How To Know When To Pick Bell Peppers – The Secrets To Success To Tell When Peppers Are Ripe

The first secret to success with picking peppers is to know that unlike tomatoes, they develop better on the plant than off it.

Once a tomato begins to slightly turn a shade of pink on the plant, it can be picked. This is because at that exact point it begins to turn, it stops taking in energy and nutrients from the plant. But that is not the case with pepper plants.

Peppers develop more flavor and texture when they mature on the plant. Especially when it comes to larger bell pepper varieties. Bell peppers can ripen and develop additional flavor and color off of the plant, but they do so at a much slower pace than when compared to tomatoes. So much so that leaving them in place (besides the first early fruits) is the best way to allow them to fully ripen.

maturing red peppers  - how to tell when peppers are ripe
Bell peppers will develop better flavor and color on the vine than off of it.
How To Tell A Pepper Is Ripe – How To Know When To Pick Bell Peppers

So how do you know when a pepper is ripe? There are actually 3 simple keys to success for knowing it’s time to pluck a pepper from the plant. The first two are making sure your pepper is the right size and color. Meanwhile, the third is looking for tightness and firmness in the skin.

The size of a mature bell pepper will vary depending on how you are growing it. In a traditional garden setting where a pepper plant can develop full, bell peppers should be about four to six inches in diameter and size when mature.

If you happen to be growing your peppers in a raised bed or container the peppers usually will be a bit smaller. They can still be as tasty and full of flavor, but with less soil, the plants will not produce as big of a pepper. For container peppers, three to five inches is usually maximum maturity size.

Looking For The Right Color And Firmness – How To Know When To Pick Bell Peppers

As for color, a mature bell pepper will have a deeper hue when ready for picking. For red, yellow and orange peppers, this is easier to notice. But for green bell, watch for the outer skin to turn from a lighter green to a much more deep green color.

It can be tricky at first, but once you start watching your peppers closely, you will be amazed at how much you see them turn different hues of green. Especially late in the season when green bell peppers can turn three different shades of green in just three days!

Finally, you want to pick your bell peppers when the outer skin is firm and tight. As soon as the color and size get to the appropriate point, you want to pick your peppers before they begin to loosen their outer skin.

When this occurs, they are already starting to over-develop and over-ripen – and they won’t have the ideal crisp freshness either. As the season progresses, know that it is better to pick peppers a bit early than late.

Pick Often! How To Know When To Pick Bell Peppers

The later and later into summer you go – the more you need to pick peppers more often. As the summer sun and heat settles in plants will ripen at a rapid paste.

By picking often, not only do you keep peppers fresh and crisp, you also keep the plant from suffering fruit overload. If there are too many peppers on a plant, the plant will slow or even stop producing new blooms. But by keeping it picked – it will indeed keep on maturing more and more peppers.

Finally, remember that you can pick red, orange and yellow bell peppers while they are still green. If you need the flavor of more green peppers, they can be picked before they turn and sweeten up. This can be a nice little trick if you happen to need a few more green peppers for a dish!

Here is to knowing how to tell when your bell peppers are ripe. And even more, picking them at the peak of freshness!

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This Is My Garden is a garden website created by gardeners, for gardeners. Jim and Mary Competti have been writing gardening, DIY and recipe articles and books and speaking for over 15 years from their 46 acre Ohio farm. They publish three articles every week, 52 weeks a year. Sign up today to follow via email, or follow along!