Ideas & Inspiration

How to Care for Peppers and Tomatoes

Keep an Eye on the Garden
Ripe tomatoes in the garden

Make it a habit to scout your garden every day, checking progress and looking for signs of pests and diseases. 

Are your tomatoes having trouble setting fruit? When temps are higher than 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 75 degrees Fahrenheit at night, tomatoes are unable to set fruit.

It’s a similar scenario for peppers, though hot peppers such as jalapeños have more heat tolerance than bell peppers. Bell peppers may drop flowers in the hottest days of July, but will rally as nights grow cooler later in the summer.

The solution? Keep plants fertilized and watered. And when the weather starts to cooperate, your plants will be ready to produce.

If you see a soft, sunken, water-soaked, sometimes moldy, spot on the bottom of tomatoes or peppers, that’s blossom end rot. This problem has to do with inadequate delivery of  calcium to the developing fruit. Most soils provide adequate calcium, so to alleviate this, make sure plants receive consistent watering, 2 to 3 inches a week when planted in the ground. Fertilize with an organic product designed for tomatoes.

Caring for Peppers and Tomatoes
Watering can waters peppers in the garden

Finding it hard to water the plants? Snake a soaker hose through the garden and heap mulch on top. For more efficient watering, hook up a hose timer to the spigot to control the flow.

“Suckering” tomato plants, or removing the suckers, makes sense because it promotes air circulation, keeps down disease and focuses the plant’s energy on growing fruit. The small leaves and tender stems called "suckers" can be pinched off with your fingers; pruning snips give a clean cut to thicker stems.

Tomatoes also benefit when you remove leaves from the bottom of the plant, up to 18 inches from the ground. This eliminates soil-borne diseases and blight that can splash onto lower leaves.

How and When to Harvest
Gardener harvesting tomatoes

The rich color that signifies a ripe tomato comes from warmth, not light. When temperatures are cool, go ahead and pick fruit that’s red-orange and bring it inside to ripen. Lining up your garden’s best fruit along a sunny windowsill isn’t the speediest way to ripen it; rather, put unripened tomatoes in a loosely closed paper bag.

Peppers put on a show as they change from green to yellow to red. Generally, the redder the pepper, the hotter it is. Picking peppers encourages more production in the plant. Unlike tomatoes, it’s best to store fresh-picked peppers in the refrigerator. 

You can pull fruit off the vine, but may find it easier to use pruners or snips to make a clean cut on the stem.

Tips for Growing Peppers
Red and yellow peppers in the garden

On the whole, peppers are more easygoing than tomatoes. If you’re planting in mid-season, choose thin-walled and smaller peppers, such as banana peppers, that will mature faster. 

Just like tomatoes, you can cage or stake peppers to keep branches from breaking when they become loaded with ripening fruit.

Peppers are not susceptible to many pests, although aphids can be a concern. Knock them off with a spray of water or with insecticidal soap, being careful to get the underside of the leaves.

Tip: Watch for dry, pale patches on pepper and tomato fruit not lush with leaves. This is called sunscald. Erect shade covers over plants at risk by attaching a piece of lightweight cloth or row cover to stakes with clothespins.

As you ease into the lazy, hazy days of summer, remember to keep an eye on the tomatoes and peppers in your garden. Consistent watering, fertilizing and attention to pests and diseases will pay off with tasty homegrown fruit.

Have you been too busy to set out tomatoes and peppers this year? No problem! Very often, you can find mature edibles in containers. These pots have everything you need: plants, potting soil and a cage to support growth. When you get the plants home, be sure to put the tomato and pepper plants in a spot that gets six to eight hours of sunlight each day, and make sure they’re regularly watered. Even better: set up drip irrigation, it’s easy when you start with a kit.

If you already have tomatoes and peppers in the ground, give extra attention to your plants to get the best harvest. 

Stretch the tomato and pepper harvest well into fall by pampering plants through the summer heat. Peppers often wait until nights cool down in late summer to load up with fruit, so timely fertilizing and staking make a good crop even better. Spend a little time spoiling your plants in the season to have savory tomatoes and sweet peppers to harvest.

When buying edibles late in the season, look for fruit that is already set and also has flowers for future fruit. Remember that ripening tomatoes and peppers fit right into a foodscape, providing jewel-colored fruit to complement summer-loving annuals like geraniums.