Ideas & Inspiration
How to Grow Peppers
Easier to grow than tomatoes, peppers are a perfect edible for the beginner gardener.
Plus, you'll find that peppers are as ornamental as they are tasty. Watch as these jewel-colored veggies grow and turn from green to vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange.
Pepper varieties include bell peppers, thin-walled banana peppers and Cubanelles, 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 Fahrenheit 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.
- 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 okay to pick them green, especially if you want them to keep longer in the refrigerator.
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 chilis belong in your garden, too. If you’re a wannabe chilihead, 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.
Harvest fruit as soon as it shows stripes or patches of its mature colors and let it finish ripening indoors where pests can’t find it.
Here's how to preserve your bumper crop of peppers:
- Freeze: The simplest way to preserve peppers is to freeze raw strips in freezer bags. Wash peppers, pat dry and cut into pieces. Place the pieces on a cookie sheet and freeze for an hour or so, then move the frozen pieces to a zip-close freezer bag. Each time you add more peppers, jiggle the bag to keep the pieces from sticking together.
- Dehydrate: Cut ripe peppers into cubes, rings or strips and dry in a dehydrator. This is the best way to store jalapenos and other hot peppers.
- Cook: Grill or smoke large pieces of pepper until they are soft. Freeze for long-term use. Thaw and chop for a tasty treat on pizza, fajitas or any hot or cold sandwich. This is one of the most delicious ways to preserve peppers.
- Pickle: Combine a colorful mixture of chopped sweet and hot peppers in a clean quart jar and cover with a brine of 3 cups vinegar, 1 cup water and 1 tablespoon each of salt and sugar. Refrigerate immediately for homemade pickled peppers. Because they are never heated, refrigerated pickled peppers retain their crisp texture for up to three months.
- Boil: Blanch trimmed peppers in steam or boiling water before freezing to help preserve color and texture for stuffed peppers. Or, make a big batch of your favorite stuffed pepper recipe, and wrap the cooled, stuffed veggies individually before freezing them.
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