Easier to grow than tomatoes, peppers are a perfect edible for the beginner gardener.
The added bonus of jewel-colored fruit that turns from green to red and yellow and orange makes peppers as ornamental as they are tasty.
Pepper varieties include bell peppers, thin-walled banana peppers and Cubanelles, the new snacking peppers that are sweet and meant to be eaten raw, and chiles like jalapenos and poblanos.
Peppers are utility players, content to grow in raised beds, containers and garden beds.
More importantly, all that color and flavor comes from sunshine, so choose a location with a minimum of six to eight hours of sunlight a day.
Optimal growing temperatures are between 70 and 85 degrees for bell peppers, even higher for chiles. Consult plant tags for more specific information.
Bell peppers may drop flowers in the hottest days of July, but will rally as nights grow cooler later in the summer.
In Northern zones with shorter summers, get a quick fix by selecting thin-walled and smaller peppers such as banana peppers that will mature faster. Bell peppers will come later in the season.
Tips for planting peppers:
- Set seedlings out after the last spring frost in a bed that has not grown peppers in recent years.
- Plant 18 to 24 inches apart in a container or bed with well-drained soil. Nourish with compost when planting. Water when first planted, and offer up an inch or two of water each week.
- Use a well-balanced organic plant food every couple of weeks, beginning six weeks after planting and again after flowering.
- Mulch to keep down weeds and to cool the soil.
- Stake or cage the peppers for support once fruit appears.
- Picking fruit encourages more production. Use nippers, scissors or a knife to make a clean cut. Store fresh-picked peppers in the refrigerator.
- Go ahead and plant sweet and hot peppers close to each other — it’s an old wives’ tale that they will all grow hot. Because peppers are self-pollinating, you would need to save seeds and grow a crop the next year for any cross-pollinating heat variations to appear.
Peppers are seldom plagued by pests. Aphids are the main concern. Knock them off with a spray of water or with insecticidal soap, being careful to get the underside of the leaves.
Peppers put on a show as they change from green to yellow to red and all the shades in between. Generally, the redder the pepper, the hotter it is.
It’s OK to pick them green, especially if you want them to keep longer in the refrigerator.
But they will have more flavor if allowed to mature to orange or red. You will have less fruit, however, because ripening fruit slows down fruit production.
Hot peppers like chiles belong in your garden, too. If you’re a wannabe chilehead, then you’ll need to know about the Scoville scale, the measure of a hot pepper’s heat.
Scoville starts at 100 for mild poblanos and goes up to 100,000 to 300,000 (extra hot) for habaneros.
Check plant tags for Scoville measures; Bonnie Plants offers Scoville numbers for all its hot peppers.