The basis of pepper plant nutrition is to maintain plants with a balanced growth between those which do not flower or form fruit before the plant has reached sufficient size and plants which remain in a vegetative state by being slower to come into flower than the variety's character.
The main fertilizers applied to the growing crop are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. There may also be occasions when another nutrient is required, due to a deficiency of an essential nutrient. However, advice from an extension officer should be sought before attempting to remedy a suspected nutrient deficiency. In fact advice should sought from extension or advisory officers whenever in doubt about any aspect of crop nutrition; in this way a better understanding will be gained by the farmer.
When the base fertilizer has been added during the final stages of soil preparation there is normally no need to apply a nutrient feed immediately after planting. However in areas or seasons of very high rainfall when serious soil nutrient losses from leaching can occur it may be preferable to apply the feed soon after planting. If applying fertilizer after planting it is usual to apply 1 ounce (28 grams) of a general bag fertilizer with an N:P:K ratio of 11:22:22. This should be sprinkled around each plant but taking care not to get any on the plant's leaves otherwise they may become scorched and then become prone to disease. If conditions are dry this fertilizer application should be watered in, but care must be take not to let it be washed off into the gullies.
Under normal conditions the plants start flowering at about forty days from planting out. The plants should be given another fertilizer application at about this stage. The aim now is to assist the plant to produce flowers and fruit. Therefore the fertilizer applied has a higher proportion of potassium to nitrogen. A suitable fertilizer has an N:P:K ratio of 8:4:32. This is applied at the rate of half an ounce (14 grams) per plant.
The pepper plants will start to set fruit within four weeks after the first flowers have been seen. Figure 14 shows the fruit development stages from flowering. When the plants start to bear fruit another fertilizer application is made. As at the start of flowering stage another application of N:P:K 8:4:32 is applied at the rate of half an ounce (14 grams) to each plant.
Hot pepper fruit development from open flower stage
Following the application given when the first fruit were developed further applications are made approximately every four to six weeks. These feeds are a little higher in nitrogen and the N:P:K ratio is 11:22:22 (the same as would have been used for the first feed after planting if required). This provides an increase in both nitrogen and phosphorus so as to maintain satisfactory plant growth and continued development of both roots and leaves. The shorter period (of four weeks) is usually suitable on sandy soils which drain quickly, while the six week period is more suitable for plants on the clay soils.
When the fertilizers are applied by hand to individual plants the materials are usually applied in a circle around each plant. An alternative is to apply the fertilizer in a band along the rows of plants. If a serious nutrient shortage has been detected then foliar feeds can be used, these will give a quicker response from the crop plants. But if foliar applications are to be given ensure that the material you plan to use is suitable and be very careful to follow the manufacturer's instructions for dilution, application rate and conditions. Growers who have drip or trickle irrigation systems have the opportunity to apply liquid fertilizers through the irrigation system.
Application of fertilizer
When preparing seedling composts.
During land preparation.
Immediately after planting
(unless applied during final stages of site preparation).
At start of flowering.
When first fruit set.
Thereafter at four to six week intervals, according to soil type.