Tomato and pepper plants are quintessential summer staples in most vegetable gardens. Most guides about planting tomatoes recommend planting tomatoes deep, which provide several benefits. Information on planting peppers deep is scarce, but there do appear to be some benefits, however they don’t benefit from very deep planting like tomatoes do, and do come with some risks.
Below is everything you need to know about planting peppers deep as well as some related frequently asked questions about transplanting peppers in general.
Why Tomatoes Can (and Should) Be Planted Deep
Tomatoes greatly benefit from being planted deep because they can quickly grow roots all along the stem. Planting them deep not only gives them a better anchor in the ground, but also allows for a deeper and more extensive root system to soak up nutrients and water, supporting massive growth above the ground.
There isn’t really a limit to how deep you can plant your tomatoes, as long as you keep a few sets of leaves above ground. You can either plant them vertically as usual but into a deeper hole, or lay them on their side for a few days to turn upward and then plant them sideways into a trench. You can read more about these methods of planting tomatoes deep here.
Can You Plant Peppers Deep Like Tomatoes?
Peppers can be planted deep, but it is generally not recommended. The main benefit of planting peppers deeper than the top of the root ball is to help keep the plants from falling over. However, peppers take longer to grow roots along their stems, and they can rot more easily than tomato stems. It is recommended to plant peppers deep enough to cover the original root ball, but the soil level can go up to the level of seed leaves with minimal risk of rotting.
Unlike tomatoes, pepper plants don’t seem to get the same significant benefits as tomatoes when planted deep. There isn’t clear evidence that transplanting peppers deeper than the top of the root ball affects overall yield. However, at least one study showed that planting peppers up to the seed leaves or up to the first set of true leaves reduced the risk of pepper plants falling over. The study found that peppers in the group that didn’t fall over as much (the ones planted deeper) had a larger harvest of ripe peppers, but no difference in overall pepper yield, suggesting that pepper plants tipping over may slow down fruit development and ripening.
Pepper plants will produce side roots from the stem (called adventitious roots) but they do so more slowly than tomatoes, so if planted too deep, there is more of a risk of stem rot if planted too deep.
The general recommendation is to not transplant peppers deep, only deep enough to cover the original root ball. However, planting deep enough to cover up to the seed leaves (the first two leaves after sprouting) seems to carry a low risk of stem rot, especially if your pepper seedlings are already at least several inches tall.
How Deep to Plant Peppers
When transplanting pepper plants, try to bury them only deep enough to cover the original root ball. If you want to plant them deeper for more support, cover with soil up to the seed leaves.
For larger pepper seedlings, a safe planting depth is about an inch above the root ball, which should give your peppers more support while minimizing the risk of stem rot.
Related Pepper Planting Questions
Should You Fertilize Peppers When Transplanting
Peppers should be transplanted into rich, well-draining soil, but in any case do benefit from additional fertilizer. Either apply organic, slow-release fertilizer into the planting hole and mix into the native soil before transplanting, or top dress with slow-release fertilizer after transplanting. Always follow the directions of your specific fertilizer to avoid overfertilizing, which can burn your roots and kill off your transplants.
Peppers don’t need fertilizer when transplanting, but a light application of slow-release fertilizer can give them a boost to increase growth and get established more quickly. Organic fertilizers are preferred since they are more gentle on roots and break down more slowly, avoiding overfertilization. You can also use low-NPK slow-release fertilizers.
Good organic fertilizers to use will have higher phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), promoting the growth of more buds, flowers, and fruits as they break down and release nutrients into the growing season. If you want to promote more vegetative growth early on, you can give regular feedings of high-nitrogen (N) fertilizer, then cut down on the nitrogen after your pepper plants get established and are lush and full of foliage, but before the first flowers appear.
Example with HollandBasics 2-8-4 Power Bloom Fertilizer: This organic, continuous-release fertilizer is perfectly formulated for strong blooms and fruiting. However, since it’s ground into a fine powder, it breaks down faster than granular organic fertilizers. Apply 1 tablespoon into your planting hole and mix into the native soil, then transplant your pepper plant as usual. Water well afterward.
This example also applies to other continuous-release fertilizers with similar NPK values, like Dr. Earth Organic Tomato, Vegetable & Herb Fertilizer (another great fertilizer for peppers).
Do Peppers Transplant Well?
Peppers transplant well, as long as they don’t suffer too much root damage and have been hardened off if moving from an indoor environment to an outdoor environment. Water thoroughly after transplanting to lessen transplant shock.
How Many Times Should You Transplant Peppers
You can keep transplanting pepper seedlings into increasingly larger pots without any issues. However, transplanting into the ground, moving already established in-ground plants to a new location, or transplanting from a larger pot to a smaller one can sometimes cause transplant shock, and ideally should be done only once during the growing season.
Pepper plants are fairly resilient, and can take constant transplanting. In fact, if you’re starting pepper plants from seed, it’s normal to transplant them a few times if you are moving them from smaller to larger seed-starting pots before their final transplant. However, transplanting outside or from a larger pot to a smaller pot comes with the risk of transplant shock, which can set back growth and your harvest. It’s not recommended to further re-transplant your peppers once they’re already established in their final location.
How Can I Reduce Transplant Shock in Peppers?
To reduce transplant shock, gradually expose pepper seedlings started indoors to full sun over 1 to 2 weeks before transplanting. When transplanting peppers of any size, avoid damaging the roots as much as possible. After transplanting, water your peppers well.
There are a few main causes of severe transplant shock. For seedlings, root damage and sudden exposure to outdoor conditions after growing indoors for so long are the main culprits. Gradually expose your pepper seedlings to full sun over several days, up to 2 weeks. Start with less than an hour of direct sun, or a few hours on an overcast day, then bring them back inside. The following day, give them a little more time outside. Continue the process for anywhere from 7 to 14 days, then transplant. After transplanting, water thoroughly. This will allow the soil to settle around the roots, as well as give them an ample supply of water as they adjust to their new environment.
This will get your pepper plants adapted (“hardened off”) to outdoor conditions, including wind, sun, and fluctuating temperatures, and will make them more resilient to transplant shock.
You may still notice some minor wilting after transplanting, but after one or two days, your pepper plants should perk up.
Pro-Tip: If you can wait to transplant on a day that is not too hot and sunny, that will also reduce the chance of transplant shock.
What About Pepper Seed Depth?
Pepper seeds should not be sown deep. Plant no more than 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep.
Except for surface-sown seeds, the general rule is to sow seeds about twice their length in depth. Pepper seeds are typically around 1/8 inch in diameter, so should be planted about 1/4 inch deep, and no deeper than 1/2 inch.
The deeper you plant your pepper seeds, the longer it takes for the sprout to reach the surface. If planted too deep, you risk having your sprouts use up all the stored energy in the seed and dying before they can start photosynthesizing their own energy from the light.
- Mangan, F. X., Vavrina, C. S., & Howell, J. C. (2000). Transplanting depth affects pepper lodging and maturity. HortScience, 35(4), 593–595. https://doi.org/10.21273/hortsci.35.4.593
- How to grow peppers. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. (2020). https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/gardening/peppers/