When to pick bell peppers – for refreshingly versatile fruit

Learn when to pick bell peppers at the right stage for a multipurpose fruit

A green bell pepper growing on a plant outside
(Image credit: Alamy)

When you have spent months cultivating your bell pepper plants, learning when to pick bell peppers is vital to preserving the fruits of your hard work. 

When you have spent so long learning how to grow bell peppers, it can be tempting to pick bell peppers before they are ready. This can result in bitter fruits that leave an unsatisfying aftertaste, however. 

While you can pick peppers whilst they are still green, leaving bell peppers on the vine can result in softer, sweeter fruits. Discover the best time to pick your bell peppers for versatile fruits for a range of dishes. 

When to pick bell peppers  

‘The ideal time to pick bell peppers depends on how you intend to use them,’ advises Rachel Crow, garden editor for Homes & Gardens. ‘Bell peppers picked earlier whilst they are green are often crisper and tend to be less sweet than a fully ripened bell pepper – often with an earthy taste. Leaving bell peppers on the vine result in yellow and then red bell peppers, which tend to be softer and sweeter.’ It is important to never pick a bell pepper too early, however, as they will not ripen off of the vine. 

Here is what to look for in each stage of bell pepper growth so you can reap a variety of flavors from your vegetable garden ideas alongside a range of pepper companion plants

Green bell peppers  

A green bell pepper growing on a plant outside

(Image credit: Alamy)

It is important to time the picking of a green bell pepper so you do not pick them too early. Underdeveloped peppers are a dark green shade and are incredibly bitter and unpleasant to eat.

Waiting until bell peppers are the right size is vital to harvesting the best green bell peppers. Bell peppers are typically large enough to be picked around 10 to 14 days after the fruits first begin to form. This time frame can vary depending on the weather, however, so it is best to check your peppers frequently. 

'Another thing to look out for when picking a bell pepper is size. They grow to around four to five inches in height and three inches in diameter. A ripe bell pepper will have a shiny tinge and feel firm in the hand, whilst also smooth to touch,' adds Samantha Richards, garden expert at Gazeboshop (opens in new tab)

Yellow, orange, and red bell peppers  

red bell peppers growing on a plant outside

(Image credit: Alamy)

‘It is a common misconception that yellow, orange, and red bell peppers are different varieties. However, these shades are simply green bell peppers that have been allowed to ripen,’ explains Rachel. 

To achieve these sweeter, more nutritious peppers, leave green peppers on the vine and continue to care for and water the plants as the peppers begin to ripen and fully change color. ‘It can take approximately two to three weeks after reaching maturity for a bell pepper to turn fully red,’ Rachel adds.

'The peppers become sweeter the longer they are left on the vine. But this does mean your plant will bear fewer fruits, something to bear in mind,' cautions Samantha.

It is important to pick red bell peppers as soon as they fully change color. Leaving red bell peppers on the vine for too long can lead to over-ripening. Overripe bell peppers are soft to the touch and begin to shrink and shrivel. At this point, they should be disposed of. 

How to store picked bell peppers 

Much like how to store mushrooms, freshly picked bell peppers can be stored in your refrigerator crisper drawer for seven to ten days. It is recommended to store bell peppers whole and unwashed in a mesh bag to allow for air circulation. If you must use a plastic bag, ensure that it has holes as sealed containers could encourage spoiling.  

Will peppers ripen off the vine?  

Peppers are not likely to continue to ripen off the vine, but there are a few things you can do to mimic the process. 

Leave the bell pepper on the countertop or on a window sill at room temperature to encourage the pepper to continue ripening. Placing a bell pepper in the fridge will stop the ripening process. Like growing tomatoes, bell peppers will ripen best on the vine, however, so whilst this is a quick fix, it is not recommended for the best fruit.  

Chiana Dickson
Chiana Dickson

Chiana is a junior writer for Homes & Gardens having joined Future plc as a new graduate in 2022 after achieving a 1st class degree in Literature at university. She first became interested in design as a child after spending her summers helping her parents redecorate her childhood home. As a long-time reader of Future’s homes titles, Chiana is constantly finding new inspiration at work as she focuses on emerging trends, how-to’s, and news pieces.