It can be a challenge to get your pepper plants growing, so once you start to see flowers it’s such a relief! But then you start seeing fruit and wonder if it’s ready, or
You don’t want to pick them too early, but you don’t want the animals (or your neighbors!) to get to them either. So when’s the right time to harvest your bell peppers? Let’s get into it!
When to Pick Bell Peppers
Bell peppers are ready to harvest around 14-17 days after they have begun to grow the fruit. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. Bell peppers are ready to harvest when they are firm, a large enough size, and turning the color you want to harvest it at (whether that’s a red pepper, or a green pepper, etc.).
Let’s dive a little deeper on each of those.
You also want to check the firmness of the peppers. When you give the pepper a slight squeeze, if it feels soft, it can use a little more time to ripen.
If the pepper has less “give” and feels more firm, it’s probably at a great place to harvest it.
The Pepper Starts to Turn the Color You Want It
Fun Fact for the day: Green peppers are just less ripe than other colored peppers.
It’s true. A green pepper is simply just a pepper that hasn’t been allowed to fully mature and become a red or yellow sweet pepper. While you can buy different varieties of peppers, these were just bred to taste better as a different color pepper, but any bell pepper seed will produce a green pepper.
Once you see red tinges on a pepper you want to harvest when it’s red, you can go ahead and pick it (as long as its firm and large enough).
If you want a yellow pepper, once it starts to turn that color is when you should pick it.
The pepper will continue to ripen on the kitchen counter, but if you leave it on there too long you might miss the stage you’re looking for and end up with an orange or black-looking pepper.
Stages of Ripeness for Bell Peppers
- Green Peppers
- Yellow Peppers
- Orange Peppers
- Red Peppers
- Black or Purple Peppers
When to Pick Green Bell Peppers
Green bell peppers are one of the more common varieties you’d find on the market. They’re often the cheapest varieties because they take the shortest amount of time to grow since they’re a less mature variety.
You can pick green bell peppers at almost any stage, but it’s often a good idea to wait until they’re 3-4 inches long. Otherwise, you get a small amount of fruit and it’s almost not worth your while.
When to Pick Yellow or Orange Bell Peppers
Yellow and orange bell peppers are the stages in between red and green. These colors are both edible and are much sweeter than their green predecessors.
They move pretty quickly between these two colors, so keep an eye on your pepper plants for the optimal harvesting moment.
When to Pick Red Bell Peppers
Red bell peppers are one of my favorites. Unlike other peppers that get spicier when they are allowed to ripen (like jalapeno peppers), bell peppers just get sweeter and sweeter.
Red bell peppers are the most mature flavor of bell pepper, which means they take the longest to get to that stage. You want to pick red bell peppers when the skin is still firm.
In general peppers take a while to ripen anyway, so waiting and harvesting peppers at the red stage can be a battle of patience.
It’s a little tricky because after the red stage bell peppers start to go bad, so you don’t want to wait too long to harvest them. If you do this right though, you get delicious sweet peppers.
How to Harvest Bell Peppers
Now that you know when to harvest peppers, let’s talk about how to do it. Pulling your pepper off the plant can work, but you might end up damaging the plant more than you think.
It’s ideally best to use a nice pair of pruning shears (they run anywhere between $10-$25), while my favorite pair is just $13 at the time of writing this.
I have yet to find better pruning shears than these! They're lightweight, super sharp and cut through practically anything in the garden.
How Do You Cut Bell Peppers Off the Plant
Cut the stem around an inch above the bell pepper fruit. This keeps the stalk attached to the fruit, and tells the plant to stop sending its energy that way. If you cut the fruit off but leave the stem, when new energy starts flowing up that way, it will only be wasted.
The few minutes of extra work cutting the stalk when you take off a pepper is well worth not having to deadhead the plant later when all those flowers start dying and dropping.
What to Do with Bell Peppers
Pepper plants produce quite a bit of fruit once they’re really in season. You might end up with more bell peppers than you wanted in the first place.
So what can you do with all those extra peppers?
Aside from giving them to your neighbors, here are a couple of options for you.
Drying Bell Peppers
After harvesting bell peppers, you’ll want to get them ready for when you need them. This is when I recommend drying your bell peppers, which can be done in a number of ways.
You can use a dehydrator, sundry them, or dry them in the oven.
Frequently Asked Questions About Harvesting Bell Peppers
Here are some answers to common questions about picking and growing bell peppers.
How Cold is Too Cold for Bell Peppers?
If the weather forecast predicts temperatures below freezing, you should pick your peppers before that happens. Otherwise, your harvest will likely be ruined and you won’t have any viable peppers.
How Big Should Bell Peppers Be Before Picking
If you like green bell peppers, you can harvest them at almost any point. Harvesting them when they are smaller will shift the plants’ energy towards producing more flowers, which means more peppers.
Will Bell Peppers Ripen Off the Vine
Peppers, like tomatoes and eggplant, can ripen off the plant. They just do it at a much slower rate. A pepper harvested from a plant when green will ripen in about 6 days when placed into a paper bag with an apple, banana or other fruit that gives off ethylene when ripe.
If you want to speed up the process, place a piece of bread inside the bag as well. The peppers should be checked every few days after 3-4 days and when the skin has turned from green to tan, when they can be eaten.
How Many Bell Peppers Will One Plant Produce?
Great question. This one depends on the variety of pepper grown, as well as the conditions you are growing them in. Typically, it’s around 5-10 per plant, but I have some in the garden right now that have produced well over 10 and are still going.
How Long After Flowering Do Bell Peppers Appear?
Bell peppers like to take their sweet old time. It can take around 50-60 days to ripen after a pepper flower is self-pollinated. However, these immature peppers are still referred to as unripe.
Should I pick the flowers off my pepper plants?
The only reason to pick flowers off of pepper plants is to get them to put their energy into growing taller. This is a good idea if your plants are only a 10-12 inches tall. The splashback from dirt getting hit with rain can transmit disease which will negatively impact your plants.
By getting them to grow a little taller, you are protecting the plant from some of the impacts of disease and pests.
Do Green Bell Peppers Turn Red After Picking?
Green bell peppers can turn red after picking, but once they are picked they only have a certain amount of time to ripen before they go bad. If you had left the pepper on the plant longer, you have a better chance of getting a nice, firm red pepper with that sweet flavor you’re looking for.
How Do You Get Bell Peppers to Turn Red?
Time. You just have to leave it on the plant a little bit longer. You might not be able to do this all the time due to weather impacts, pests and disease pressure.
Peppers start off green, then turn yellow, orange, and eventually red as they go through the ripening process.
You can preserve your bell peppers in a few different ways.
- Drying peppers
- Pickling peppers (thanks Peter!)
- Giving them to your neighbors
Green and Yellow Bell Pepper Recipes:
- Roasted Red Pepper Soup Recipe with Goat Cheese Croutons
- Pesto Sauce for Pasta Using Green Peppers
- Italian Stuffed Peppers
The bell pepper is a vegetable that has been around for centuries. In fact, it was being grown in Peru in the 1500s. Today the bell pepper is found on almost every grocery store shelf and in many home gardens, in a few different colors and flavors.
The most popular varieties are sweet bells which include ‘Big Bertha’ (red), ‘Golden Bells’ (yellow), ‘Sweet Chocolate'(brownish-purple) and ‘Rocotillo'(bright orange).
Bell peppers are a popular vegetable when it comes to cooking because they can be prepared in so many different ways. Knowing when to harvest them is critical to getting a good yield from your harvest, and making sure they don’t go bad before you get to enjoy them!