Peppers, peppers, peppers – in summertime, I can eat my weight in peppers! From fresh salmon roasted with sweet peppers and onions, to jalapeño-spiced quesadillas, there’s always a way to use fresh peppers in my kitchen.
Peppers are easy to grow, even in small spaces, and they’re a great veggie for beginning gardeners. Here’s what you need to know to grow your own peppers in your garden.
Native to the Americas and Asia, peppers come in varieties sure to please every palate. Sweet bells, cayenne, pimiento, tabasco, chili . . . the list goes on! You have your choice of:
- Pepper Color: Red, purple, orange, yellow, green, take your pick! The bright colors of peppers are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, and they brighten up any dish. Did you know that what we call “green peppers” are simply unripe peppers – if left unpicked, they’ll ripen, change color, and sweeten.
- Pepper Shape: Pepper shapes are generally classified as bell (large round), banana (long and thin), and cherry (small and round).
- Pepper Flavor: Sweet bell peppers taste like summertime candy, but if you prefer the hot stuff, there are all degrees of fieriness, from lightly tangy to burn-your-tongue-off hot. The hot flavor is caused by capsaicin, a compound known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Pepper Growing Conditions
Pepper plants are generally smallish and bushy, requiring very little space. This makes them perfect for containers and smaller gardens. Even if you don’t have much garden space, you can tuck pepper plants into your ornamental beds for a pop of edible color.
Peppers grow best in these conditions:
- Climate: Peppers are warm-season vegetables, which means they grow best when temperatures are in the 70s-80s F. Peppers should be planted after the last spring frost and can be grown right up until fall. If summers are hot (90s F and above), peppers may struggle during midsummer. Peppers won’t tolerate frost and growing will slow when night temperatures drop into the 50s F.
- Sun: Peppers require at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.
- Soil: Peppers prefer rich, well-draining soil. Plants need plenty of nutrients in order for peppers to form. To see out how well your soil drains, perform a simple DIY Soil Perk Test.
- Water: Peppers need to be kept evenly watered for the fruits to form.
- Fertilizer: Use a balanced organic fertilizer, or apply compost, about once a month during the growing season. If your plants are very leafy but aren’t setting fruit, switch to a fertilizer lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus and potassium. Peppers also need adequate magnesium, which can be achieved using compost or a sprinkle of epsom salts.
Planting and Growing Peppers
Follow these guidelines when growing peppers in your garden:
- Planting Peppers: Start seeds indoors about 2 months before your last spring frost date. Since seeds can be difficult to get going from seeds, many gardeners purchase seedlings. Plant seedlings after all danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature is in the mid 60s F.
- Spacing Peppers: Plant peppers at least 18” apart. Peppers are self-pollinating, so you can grow as little as one plant.
- Watering Peppers: Irrigate peppers during dry spells, or install drip irrigation or soaker hoses on a timer. Like most vegetables, peppers like the soil to be evenly moist, but not soggy.
While peppers are easy to grow, they can develop the following problems:
- Failure to Produce: If your pepper plants aren’t setting fruit, it could be due to a number of causes. The usual culprits are weather (hot nights, dry winds, cold snaps) or nutrient imbalance (overfeeding with too much nitrogen).
- Blossom-End Rot: While usually associated with tomatoes blossom-end rot can affect peppers, too. Although technically a calcium related deficiency, blossom-end rot is caused by uneven watering practices and drought.
- Insects and Other Diseases: Aphids, spider mites, and bacterial and fungal diseases can affect peppers. Check your plants carefully for insects, especially near the tips of branches. Keep plants mulched, and water without splashing foliage to reduce the spread of diseases.
Peppers can be harvested anytime, depending on your flavor and size preference. When harvesting peppers:
- Cut the stem, since pulling or twisting can cause damage.
- Harvest peppers when green or white for a sharper flavor, or wait until they’re fully colored for more sweetness.
- Peppers should be firm to the touch when harvested.
- Wear gloves when handling hot peppers. I speak from personal experience, if you accidentally rub your eyes with peppery hands, you’ll regret it!
Enjoy your peppers while they’re fresh, or slice and pack them in olive oil to keep for a few weeks in the fridge. For long-term storage:
- Pickle: For best results, store pickled peppers in a cool, dark place.
- Freeze: Spread peppers out on a cookie sheet to freeze, then transfer to an airtight freezer bag or container when frozen.
- Dry: Chile peppers can be dried by stringing them up and hanging in a cool, dry place.