Compost Cover Crops Peppers

Peppers – Lush growth/no fruit – and other problems

I’ve experienced some things this year with peppers that were unusual in my garden and I thought my observations may be of benefit to you as well. I had that thought after Betty left a comment to my last post mentioning some things happening with her peppers and asking if I had any ideas. (I do.)

And by the way, if you love bees, aspire to be a bee keeper, are interested in goats, or just want to know what an amazing woman one of your fellow readers is, check out Betty’s website (Articles by Betty have appeared in Mother Earth News and on

Mainstream Info on Growing Peppers

I’m totally convinced that if I’d read and taken to heart all the mainstream information on how to grow peppers – I never would’ve grown peppers. Since none of my peppers have ever conformed to the way they say peppers are suppose to grow, I would have thought for sure I must be doing something dreadfully wrong.

The Popular “fact” – they’ll never grow if —-

In a prior post I addressed the popular “fact” about peppers that states if seedlings become stunted they’ll never recover if the soil and air temperature is below 55 degrees. Probably that’s true sometimes, but I’m glad my peppers never knew it.

One year I started pepper seeds at the end February which was way too early. I germinated them in a flat on top of my washing machine and then moved them immediately outside to a makeshift cold frame. It stayed cold through May and temps were below 55 degrees during most of the spring. The seedlings were about an inch tall for 4 months!!

I transplanted to the garden at the end of May and all grew to at least 3 feet. Several were 4 or 5 feet. (Height varies according to the variety.) All produced heavily until after the second frost.

So much for so called “facts” about growing peppers.


In my garden, the thing I’ve determined for sure is that peppers are survivors. They wait out any undesirable conditions in favor of what they like. The minute that happens – they grow!

Time Started and Transplanted

I started my peppers the second week of April this year. When transplanted to the garden in late May the seedlings varied in size from 1 to 3 inches.

What Was Added to the Beds

Last fall I blanketed the beds with leaves and straw. Nothing was added to the soil when transplanting.

To Add or Not to Add

I don’t know why, but it seems to be in every gardener, myself included, to think that everything we plant has to have a good shot of compost or the like added to the planting hole.

Fortunately for me, time restraints and/or not having any compost have saved me from doing that the majority of years.

The years that I did add compost, I never had the spectacular results that I always anticipated. Oddly enough, I get better results in the long run when I don’t add additional compost.  Growth is ALWAYS slow for the first month or so, but then things take off and performance is usually excellent.

4 out of 5 varieties

Four of the 5 varieties started from seed are in the garden now. (Somewhere along the line my California Wonder, which is my bell pepper of choice, disappeared.)

Depending on the variety of pepper, plants are 2 1/2 feet to 5 feet tall.

Shade Cuts Down on Production

I failed to consider the new growth of a nearby tree when I planted Jimmy Nardello peppers at the lower end of the garden outside the fence. Now overly shaded, peppers there are not reaching their full potential, but still bearing fruit and looking good.

The plant with ample sun is doing much better. About 2 to 2 1/2 feet tall (a bit taller than average for this variety from what I read) and heavy with peppers at the bottom and more on the way at the top.

Jimmy Nardello peppers Aug 22

Jimmy Nardello peppers on August 22

Jimmy Nardello variety is new for me this year. It’s a long skinny one that is labeled an Italian frying pepper. Although it’s not my favorite pepper, it’s one of the earliest to turn red and that’s very appealing to me.

It’s said to dry easily and I’m looking forward to trying that.

The Corno di Toro (Horn of the Bull) in the ample-sun area is 5 feet tall and also heavy with fruit. (One of the most beautiful of peppers when red. Peppers can get up to a foot long and are about 2 1/2 inches wide.)

My One Hybrid Variety

I don’t usually grow any hybrids anymore, but Carmen is one that I still grow – at least right now. Nothing new to report on these plants – just big and lush and exploding with fruit as always.  (See a picture of Carmen from a prior year here.)

A New Experience with Peppers

I had sown yellow blossom clover (YBC) in one of the beds in the upper end the garden last year. I felt they needed the help of a cover crop that could also give me a lot of organic matter. (This clover is noted for tall lush growth (doesn’t look like your typical clover) and for pulling up potassium and phosphorus from the lower levels of soil as well as fixing nitrogen. )

Forgetting that the YBC occupied the bed, I designated the spot on my garden chart for peppers.

Roots on this clover are really strong and go deep. Being in a hurry at transplant time, I cut the yellow blossom clover to ground level. (It was about a foot tall at the time.)  I dug 3 planting holes into the clover residue. Planted either Marconi or Corno di Toro (lost my markers) and literally forgot them.

In the meantime additional growth from the YBC took over that entire section. One day in late June I noticed 3 pepper plants about 3 feet tall in the middle of 3 or 4 feet of clover. At that time, other pepper plants were no where near that tall. I don’t know for sure if it was necessary, but I cut down the clover around the peppers to give them more “breathing room”.

By July the three plants were 5 feet tall with very lush growth and NOT ONE PEPPER and NOT one blossom and not one indication of any coming.  Only in the last 10 days have a couple of peppers formed. More blossoms are starting.

August 22 - Peppers that were planted in yellow blossom clover residue are 5 feet tall and have only two fruits that formed in the last 10 days.

August 22 – Peppers that were planted in yellow blossom clover residue are 5 feet tall (I’m about 5’6″) and have only two fruits that formed in the last 10 days.

The clover has not grown back but is still living because the roots are strongly attached to the soil and the stems are green. My guess is that it’s no longer fixing nitrogen since growth is almost nil.

( I do know however from Mr. Parnes’ book that  legumes such YBC can add nitrogen to the soil through sloughing off dead roots and nodules that were formed by the bacteria that cause the nitrogen to be fixed. But since the pepper plants are setting fruit, it must have leveled off somewhat.)

The First  Reason that Comes to Mind for Lush Growth and No Fruit

Lush growth and no fruit is one of the most common complaints of gardeners.  The first thing that comes to mind when I hear that complaint is too much nitrogen.

Usually too much nitrogen is caused by the gardener adding some type of fertilizer (organic or non-organic) that is high in nitrogen.  Plants then use the nitrogen for green growth.  But the price for  that lush quick growth can be “no fruit”.

I never thought about another crop (in my case the yellow blossom clover) causing this problem by fixing nitrogen in the soil. But I think that’s exactly what happened to my peppers.

  • The peppers grew more quickly than any of the other peppers when the clover was lush and growing (fixing nitrogen in the soil).
  • My guess is that nitrogen levels have now returned to normal;  thus, the probable reason plants are starting to produce fruit.

Betty Left This Comment to My Last Post:

My (pepper) plants grew but never set fruit. The rest of my garden did well. I’m thinking too little full sun because of crowding? too much nitrogen and too little something else? I use composted straw and goat manure as mulch, legume cover crop (peas) and nothing else. Any ideas?

I’ve address most of her concerns in the paragraphs above.

Too Little Sun Because of Crowding 

Considering Betty’s thoughts about “too little full sun because of crowding” being a reason for plants growing but never setting fruit AND without taking any other variables into consideration:

What is crowding? I’ve planted peppers a foot apart and had them grow lush and tall.  One might have out performed the other by about six inches, but for most part it didn’t seem to effect them.

Although my plants grow into each other when spacing a foot apart (or even two feet apart with some varieties) it doesn’t seem to cut down on their sunlight.  BUT, I don’t allow other plantings to block the sun by towering over the peppers. Many a year I’ve had a “wall” of peppers spaced at one foot apart. They were 5 feet tall, had lush green growth and were heavy with fruit until the second frost.

What about Manure?

Was it just me years ago, or do all gardeners think of manure as the magic elixir that will make everything better in the garden.

On the Up Side

In order to be sustainable, having animals and using their manures in your crop growing efforts will take you a long way towards that goal.

Not All Manures Are Created Equal

Like everything, there’s a learning curve to finding out how the manure your animals provide you with can be the most beneficial.

Many variables and circumstances influence the nutrient content of any manure.  Balance of nutrients is GREATLY influenced by not only the diet of the animal, but by the purpose of the animal. For example: does it produce milk, meat, or just look good like a horse. (For more information see Mr. Parnes’ book, Soil Fertility, starting on page 56.)

Nutrient content will continue to change in the manure as time and circumstances change.

My Thoughts Regarding Betty’s Use of the Manure

Betty said “—I use composted straw and goat manure as mulch—“

I’m going to assume that Betty used the composted straw and goat manure as mulch AFTER she planted the peppers.  Without taking anything else into consideration (since I don’t know anything else regarding her circumstances),  in all probability the manure caused too much nitrogen in the soil. Thus the growth, but no fruit.

If the nitrogen in her soil levels out, her plants could still produce fruit if they have time before cold weather sets in in Tennessee.

My best guess is that if Betty had used the composted straw and goat manure as mulch last fall and then planted the peppers in that bed this spring, it would have resulted in a more desirable outcome.

Final Thoughts

Many of the less than desirable outcomes we have in the garden can be attributed to non-nutrient disorders: too hot, too cold, too dry, too humid, variety of the crop, etc. We can’t do much about those things.

As far as most nutrient disorders, if we continue to add organic materials (residues) to our soils, more than likely nature will in time balance them for us.

When we start selectively adding things, including manure (especially during the growing season), anticipate a learning curve.  It’s only natural.


Related Posts:

Organic Residues – The Needed Energy for Soil Fertility    Tells About Mr. Parnes’ book.

Peppers – It Ain’t Necessarily So Great Picture of Carmen Peppers in this Post

Peppers – Eating Fresh from the Garden Through December

Seed Starting – Peppers An Observation

Warm Weather Crops and the Winter Sown Method

Peppers – Almost An Extra Month of Red Ones

Peppers – Can’t Get Sweet Red Ones? Here’s How.

Your Garden – Are You Breaking Rocks or Building a Cathedral?


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  • Yes, surrounding plants in rows on either side did out perform and tower over the peppers. I also think the soil may have been too rich in nitrogen from the goat manure. Next year I’ll do a little experimentation. In the meantime, I’ll hope for a little late summer, early fall fruiting! Ah, the learning curve, I learn something new every year!! Thanks, Theresa.

  • Greetings from sunny and drought bedraggled California. Bell peppers! Myself, have never done well with those. Perhaps because they’re not my favorite??? I don’t know.

    But the last couple years my brother grew a huge amount of peppers of many varieties ranging from bells and Marconi to the super hot type such as habanero and tai, plus other varying hot peppers. I made some observations.

    He was pretty much using organic techniques, Amended the soil with plenty of organic matter and manure. The plants did great and were putting out plenty of fruit.

    Then our extreme summer weather hit us. Both years I noticed that the plants that got a bit of afternoon sun from nearby trees fared much better than those that got no shade. Our summers can truly be brutal. In my own garden, I decided to try to offer my peppers some protection with some shade cloth suspended from tomato stakes. It made a huge difference, and the pepper production increased and only a few of the outer peppers got sunburned.

    So this year my hot peppers (no bells) and my Romas got some shade protection once the sun became intense. Got good results on those.

    Not so much with the heirloom tomatoes: brandywine, Cherokee purple, black krim…almost nothing from them this year with or without shading them. Go figure!

  • Will be interested in your results next year Betty.

    Virginia, that was great that you were able to rig up protection with some shade cloth for your peppers.
    When temperatures climb into the 90s, peppers and tomatoes won’t set fruit until those temperatures come down.
    I have late afternoon shade in 75% of my garden and it really makes a difference when the sun is so hot and temperatures high.
    Sorry to hear your tomatoes are not doing well.
    Appreciate your taking time to share some details.

  • Theresa, I have an idea regarding the extra compost at planting question.
    As with many crops a little bit of tough time for them is not such a bad idea, we don’t water too often as we need good root systems, for example.
    Plants with added concentrated nutrients at the roots need to look no further and therefore use up that which is available first, no need to grow a good root system as its all there. Then the shock comes when all available nutrients are used up quickly and the the plant has to start searching for more with a denuded root system, hence a check on the growth.
    I now never add additional compost, but do try to mulch and manure to the same degree every where. Failures? of course, but that is the lot of a gardener, for example this year I tried too many seed from a new supplier, so stupid, I now don’t know if the failures were down to me, the seeds from this new supplier, or the extreme weather of this year. Still, lesson learned.
    All the best
    Bon Courage!


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