New varieties of peppers are introduced each year, each featuring a different mature color and unique flavor. Peppers make the perfect addition to any garden and are fairly easy to care for as long as you know what it takes to keep them thriving. There’s nothing better than having the choice of any pepper you could possibly imagine, in your backyard. Being able to go outside and cut a few of these ripe babies fresh off the stem is convenient and will make any dish that much better. Pepper gardens are ideal for anyone who loves fresh fruits and vegetables, salads, or making homemade salsa from jalapenos or other peppers of your choice. This quick guide will help you learn what it takes to maintain your own pepper garden. Pretty soon, your friends will be calling you Peter Piper because you’ll have the best peppers in town.
- Choose a site with full sun, but consider planting taller plants nearby to provide shade on extremely warm days. Peppers are tropical plants that thrive in the sun, however temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit can scorch your plants, causing the leaves to wilt and fruit to fall off or drop.
- Make sure the soil drains well. Standing water encourages root rot and will kill your plant.
- Leave plenty of space between plants. Try to aim for spacing transplants 1 1/2 feet apart in rows at least 2 feet apart. Keep in mind that most hot-pepper cultivars need less room than sweet ones.
- Use stakes or other gardening tools to support the plants. This is especially important if you start your plant out in a pot or container, as the fruit starts to bloom and weigh the plant down, it becomes common for the plant to tip over on a windy day.
- Water during dry spells to encourage deep root development and to keep your plants from drying out or becoming scorched. Lack of water will produce bitter tasting peppers. Yuck!
- Pull any weeds. This will help reduce damage to the roots.
- Pick any weevils or other pests off your leaves. If pests become a problem consider a natural pest deterrent. Many recipes for these can be found online and made at home using common household ingredients.
- Plant where tomatoes or eggplants grew previously. Peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants are all members of the nightshade family and are subject to similar disease.
- Forget to water.
- Buy Transplants from a garden center. This is of course, completely optional (I bought transplants from Lowes and they did just great last summer) but you will have more choices and better chances of your plant producing more peppers if you plant from seedlings instead. If you do decide to forego seeds and buy a plant from your local garden center, look for one that has strong stems and dark green leaves. Try to avoid any plant that is wilted, brown, or has holes in the leaves. Also try to avoid plants that already have tiny fruits on them, they won’t produce as well.
When it comes to pepper plants, roots are very touchy. The best way to start your pepper garden from seedlings is to plant them indoors in peat pots about 2 months before the last frost date. When sowing seedlings, aim for 3 or 4 seeds a pot. It is crucial to maintain soil temperature and moisture during this period. Soil temperature should be kept at 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Always remember to water your seedlings. You want the seedlings to be moist, but not wet. This is extremely important. Keeping your seedlings in sunlight for at least 5 hours a day is also key to growing a healthy, strong, pepper plant. If you are planting your seedlings indoors and do not have a window available, keeping them under a light for at least 12 hours a day should suffice. Once your seedlings grow and are about 3 inches tall, it will be time to thin them. This can be done by leaving the strongest plant in each pot and cutting the others off at soil level. Once your plant is 4 to 6 inches tall it is ready to be transplanted and can be moved outside to your garden.
Transplanting To Garden
When it comes times to transfer your plants to your garden, simply follow the above tips (see planting section). Keep in mind that peppers are very susceptible to transplant “shock”, which can interrupt growth. To avoid shocking your pepper plants, make sure that the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit before transplanting. A good rule of thumb to ensure this temperature and avoid shock is to plant 2 to 3 weeks after the first frost. Planting outside on a cloudy day or during the evening is also ideal, as it will reduce the chances of sun scorch. Providing temporary shade for your plant is also never a bad idea if you just can’t help but plant on a sunny day.
Maintaining Growth & Health
As mentioned before, pepper plants are especially susceptible to root rot, however evenly moist soil is essential to good growth and health. This can be the trickiest part about caring for your pepper plants because you don’t want to water your plants too much and kill them, but it can also be easy to under-water your plants. Since pepper plants thrive in sunny areas, under-watering can be a death trap as well because sun scorch is a very common problem. In order to avoid these types of issues, you can invest in a thick mulch. The good news? Mulch is fairly inexpensive and most places like Lowes carry it and will even have great sales during the summertime, where you can purchase a decent size bag for $2. Other materials that will work are straw or grass clippings. All 3 of these items will help lock in moisture and keep soil temperatures warmer.
Most sweet pepper varieties will become even sweeter as they mature. Watch for change in color to determine when they are ready to harvest. Peppers generally will change from green to bright red, yellow, orange, or sometimes even brown or purple. Mature hot peppers, offer an even greater variety of color and feature the best and spiciest flavor when fully grown. A good rule of thumb is to watch for how dark the pepper gets. The darker the pepper, the hotter and tastier it will be. Earlier in the season it is important to harvest peppers before they ripen. This will help encourage the plant to keep bearing; a mature fruit can signal a plant to stop production. Once you have harvested your fruit a few times early on in the season, your plant should continue bearing fruit and as the season progresses you should have an abundance of mature fruit as long as you follow these tips and tricks. My pepper plant was still bearing fruit in October or November. 2013 was a great year for peppers. I had homemade salsa many times thanks to my jalapeno plant, and many salads with banana peppers, fresh from the garden.
When harvesting your peppers, never pull or pluck your peppers from the plant. Instead cut them. This can be done with pruning sheers. When a frost is predicted, pick all fruit or pull plants up by the roots and hang them in a cool, dry place indoors. This will allow for the fruit to ripen fully.
Peppers can be preserved by freezing (without blanching). Hot peppers can be dried.