Why Are My Bell Peppers So Small? 9 Reasons and Solutions

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A gardener holds up a pepper wondering why are my bell peppers so small.

I love to grow bell peppers, and they’re a favorite for many other gardeners too. But one thing about homegrown produce is that it might look different than what you’re used to seeing at the grocery store- especially in terms of size. That’s definitely been the case for me before, and it’s left me wondering “Why are my bell peppers so small?”

The most common causes for small bell peppers are the plant producing flowers too early in the season, fruits developing on the lateral stems, growing the pepper plants too close together, soil nutrient imbalances, inconsistent watering, high heat and humidity, lack of sunlight, and pests/diseases. It’s also possible that the plant is a miniature variety.

In this post, I’ll cover each of these causes in detail, and what you can do to get bigger fruits. In some cases, a few simple fixes can make a big difference, and in other cases, nothing is actually wrong!

Let’s dive in!

9 Reasons Your Bell Peppers Are Small

Some of these issues are in your control- like watering, fertilizing, and sunlight exposure. Others, like the weather, aren’t something you have any say over. So do what you can with what you have!

Let’s break each of these down in detail.

1. Flowers Forming Prematurely

Pepper plant seedlings in a plastic cup.

You won’t have any peppers at all without pepper flowers, but it has to happen at the right time. Especially when it happens early in the season, small bell peppers are often due to a plant flowering too early in its life cycle.

Sometimes flower buds bloom on your pepper plant even when they’re still at the transplant stage. You might think that early flowering is a sign of a strong plant, but it isn’t.

A plant that flowers before it’s naturally mature enough to do so is experiencing some stress- usually in the form of a too-small pot. The plant has run out of room to expand its roots, so it flowers to produce seeds while it still can.

Fruit that develops from these premature flowers will be very small and likely misshapen. And they may not taste good either.

So remove these stunted fruits and pinch off any flowers and flower buds that grow until the plant is at least 12 inches tall and has been planted in its permanent home for at least a couple of weeks.

2. Peppers Growing on Lateral Branches vs. Main Stem

A pepper plant with flowers and immature fruit developing on a lateral stem.

Fruits produced from the main stem of plants are typically larger than those formed on lateral stems- those that branch off the main stem. This is because the nutrient flow from the central branch is more generous to fruits closer to the main stem.

On the other hand, lateral stems are branches that travel outwards from the main stem and give plants a bushy structure. These side shoots typically produce smaller fruits.

Your pepper plant may produce more pepper fruit on its branches than on the stem. While the fruits are smaller, they are just as delicious as the larger ones, so you don’t necessarily need to do anything about this.

However, careful pruning can help more peppers develop on the main stem. Snip off the flower buds that sprout on the lateral stems to redirect the energy to the fruit growing on the main stem.

3. Crowding Plants Too Close Together

Pepper plants with proper space between plants in the garden.

Overcrowding bell pepper plants is a common yet often overlooked mistake. I know I’ve been guilty of trying to cram too many plants in a small space before. It seems like a good idea when the plants are small, but in my experience, it almost always backfires later on in the season.

Overcrowding causes competition for resources, which leads to some plants losing their share of nutrients and sunlight. This is why some pepper plants are small- and small plants typically produce small fruits.

If you’re hoping to produce succulent and large peppers, it’s best to give each plant adequate spacing between nearby plants in the garden. A good rule of thumb is to aim to leave at least 12 inches of space between each bell pepper plant. This gives them enough room to grow their root systems and reach peak size potential without competing with one another.

4. Soil Nutrient Imbalance

Bell pepper plants need lots of nutrients to produce fruits- namely, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. But their nutritional needs change as the plant matures, and if you don’t supply the right nutrients at the right level at the right time, your plant will struggle to produce full-size peppers.

Graphic outlining the functions of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium for plants.

In the early seedling stages, peppers need lower amounts of phosphorous and potassium- but they need a lot of nitrogen to produce healthy foliage.

Once the plant matures to the flowering and fruiting stages, it needs less nitrogen and more phosphorous and potassium to form flowers and eventually, healthy fruits.

Fertilizing pepper plants can help ensure they have the nutrients they need to grow strong and produce larger fruits. Use nitrogen-rich fertilizer for four weeks or younger young plants, which should be around the early stages of leaf production. As the plant matures, add more potassium and phosphorus into the soil.

5. Watering Too Much or Too Little

Peppers need lots of water to produce fruit, and that water must be consistently available. That means not letting your peppers go through cycles of drought and drenching. If there’s no consistent moisture, your plant will likely only be able to produce small peppers.

Aim to give your bell peppers 1 inch of water weekly, remembering to account for rainfall. I think this video from MIGardener has a great explanation of what 1 inch of water actually looks like:

If, like me, the time sometimes gets away from you before you get out to water your peppers, a soaker hose or automatic drip irrigation system can be a big help.

6. High Heat and Humidity

Bell peppers are more sensitive to heat and humidity than spicier varieties. According to Michigan State University Extension Office, bell peppers thrive in soil that’s between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

But that can be tricky since summer temperatures and humidity levels fluctuate so much.

One year, when we had a particularly hot, humid stretch of weather, I noticed a lot of my pepper plant flowers turning brown and falling off. The ones that did manage to make it to the fruiting stage produced small peppers.

There’s not much you can do to battle humidity, but you can help combat excessive heat. Try putting up a shade cloth over your peppers, especially in the afternoon hours. Give your peppers a thick layer of mulch to help retain moisture, and water frequently and deeply.

7. Not Enough Sunlight

Like all plants, bell peppers produce their food, in the form of sugar, through photosynthesis. And sunlight is an indispensable part of that process, so your plants may not have the energy they need to produce large fruits if they aren’t getting enough sun.

I’ve covered how much sun bell peppers need in much more detail, so you can check that out if you want more information. But here are a couple of key points:

  • Pepper plants need at least 6 hours of sunlight daily to grow healthy and strong, but they’ll gladly take up to 10 hours daily.
  • Trim tall plants that block sunlight from reaching your pepper plants.
  • If your peppers are in pots, move them to a sunnier location.

Sometimes, you have to make peace with the fact that the spot you’ve chosen for your peppers just doesn’t have the ideal conditions. That’s ok- trial and error have been my best teachers! If you’ve realized that the place where you planted your peppers this year is just not sunny enough, scout out a brighter spot for them next year.

8. Pests and Diseases

Pests and diseases can be detrimental to pepper plants, as they can stunt their growth or even kill them altogether.

One of the most common pests affecting pepper plants is aphids- tiny pests that suck moisture and essential nutrients. I’ve had terrible aphid attacks on my peppers before, and I eventually had to pull one plant.

Green aphids on a garden plant leaf.

Remove as many pests as possible by pruning affected leaves and spraying the plant with neem oil or insecticidal soap. Choosing good companion plants for bell peppers can also be a help here- some plants have naturally pest-repelling properties.

Blossom end rot, characterized by a black surface on the fruit, can also cause small bell peppers.

A green tomato with brown discoloration from blossom end rot.

Blossom end rot is often due to a lack of calcium- whether that’s from low soil calcium or inconsistent watering that disrupts the plant’s ability to transfer calcium from the soil to the fruits. Do a soil test to see if your soil is calcium deficient, and supplement with bone meal if necessary.

These are just a couple of the more common pest/disease issues that affect bell peppers. Make it part of your gardening routine to carefully look over your plants often to spot early signs of pest or disease activity. Be on the lookout for:

  • Spots on leaves or fruits
  • Discoloration on leaves or fruits
  • Holes in leaves or fruits
  • Living pests on the underside of leaves or clusters of eggs
  • Plant growth slowing down
  • Wilting or drooping that doesn’t respond to watering

9. You’re Growing a Miniature Variety

A bowl full of red and green miniature bell peppers.

There are hundreds of pepper varieties out there, and they all look pretty much alike in their seedling stage. Some varieties naturally produce miniature fruits, and you may be growing a mini variety without even realizing it.

The miniature peppers I’ve seen usually have an elongated shape with concave sides- they don’t have the rounded, full shape that’s common to most bell peppers. But there are also mini bell pepper varieties that look just like their standard counterparts- only smaller.

In this case, there’s nothing to worry about- just pick the little fruits and enjoy them!

Infographic outlining the 9 reasons for small bell peppers.

Frequently Asked Questions about Small Bell Peppers

Yes, small peppers are edible. But they often have less sugar content than a large fruit, so they usually have a bitter flavor.

Yes, harvesting ripened peppers from your mature pepper plants encourages your plant to keep producing more fruits.

The best way to get the biggest bell peppers is to ensure that you consistently give your plants good care. That means giving your plants plenty of sun exposure, water, and fertilizer, and keeping the garden uncluttered with too many plants or weeds.

Final Thoughts

I hope this post has been helpful to you. We’ve probably all wondered how to make bell peppers grow bigger at one point or another. After all, gardening is something you practice over the years, and there’s always more to learn!

I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any more questions about small bell peppers, or do you have any other growing tips to share? There’s no better way to learn that from each other, so please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

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