The Q&A Archives: No Peppers In The Low Desert

Question: I planted a few different types of bell peppers this year from seed. The plants are between 3-5 feet tall. They look great, there are a lot of blooms but no peppers have set yet. I fed with tomato fertilizer and a couple of times with fish emulsion (higher in nitrogen) -- is that the problem? Should I trim back the pepper plants, feed them something different or not at all?

Answer: Lots of foliage at the expense of flowers and fruit can signal an overabundance of nitrogen and/or not enough phosphorous. If you had no flowers, this would be a likely problem. Since you have alot of blooms, the problem sounds like a lack of pollination. There aren't as many pollinators (bees, etc.) around as in past years, as the honey bees have been decimated by a mite and the media's Killer Bee scare (Most people immediately exterminate any bee they see these days.)

Also, pollen isn't very viable much over 90 degrees F., so your plants may not set fruits until our temps. cool back down. Try gently tapping and shaking your plants in the early morning, or hand-pollinate with a Q-tip to see if you can get some fruit to set. In our low desert, make sure you transplant peppers and tomatoes by March 15 (last frost date) to ensure they have time to grow and set fruit before heat hits. At this point, you might want to provide protection for your plants from afternoon sun to coax them through the summer.

Here's some basic info on fertilizer and nutrients that plants require. The 3 numbers on a fertilizer bag refer to the percentage of N (nitrogen), P (phosphorous), and K (potassium) in the bag. There are different formulations for different purposes. In general terms, nitrogen produces lush green growth, phosphorous helps strengthen stems and produce flowers, and potassium keeps the root system healthy. If you're applying fertilizer to fruiting (e.g., tomatoes) or flowering plants, you're not as interested in the plant developing leaves as you are in it flowers and fruit, so you'd use a formulation lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorous, such as 15-30-15. Bone meal is an organic source of phosphorous.

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