Next to tomatoes, peppers of all colors, flavors, and varieties are a gardener’s summertime favorite. Peppers are a Native American vegetable that give the home gardener a plethora of choices and options. You can grow peppers that are sweet with a hint of spice to a pepper with a 5-alarm fiery-hot flavor. You can grow peppers that are crispy and peppers that are tender; peppers that are robust and plump as well as peppers that are long and skinny…there are many choices available. And the colors! There is a pepper of almost every color imaginable.
Planting & Transplanting Tips
If you can grow tomatoes, you can grow peppers, and vice versa. The two are remarkably similar. Your peppers need full sun in well-drained soil. It is wise not to plant peppers where tomatoes or eggplants grew previously, as all three are members of the nightshade family and are subject to similar diseases.
While you can purchase pepper plants at a local garden center, you will get better choices when you grow from seed. Start your plants indoors about two months before the last frost date for your area. Keep the soil temperature around 75 degrees, and make sure the soil stays moist, but not soaked. Your seedlings will need at least 12 hours of light daily as they get started.
Seedlings are ready to be transplanted to the garden when they are approximately 6 inches tall. Make sure you harden them off for at least a week before you transplant. Peppers are very susceptible to shock when being transplanted, so do not skip the hardening off process. Make sure your outdoor soil temperature is at least 60 degrees before transplanting, which is typically a few weeks after the final frost. You may want to provide your newly transplanted pepper plants with a bit of shade as they adjust to the outdoor sun.
When buying transplants, look for dark green plants with strong stems. Space your transplants about 12-18 inches apart. You will want to provide your pepper plants with stakes or a support system, especially if your gardening area is susceptible to storms and strong winds. If you should suffer a bout of cold weather early in the season, provide your young transplanted pepper plants with hot caps.
Mulch with straw or grass clippings. This encourages water retention while keeping diseases out. Water deeply as peppers need the moisture to set their flavor. Lack of water can make your peppers taste bitter and unsavory.
Pepper root systems are a bit fussy – so pull up weeds with care and make sure your stakes are in place early on so that root systems are not damaged.
Apply an organic liquid fertilizer a few days after transplants have had time to adjust, and again as you see fruit sets appear. You may need to give your plants an extra boost of natural and organic fertilizer if you see pale leaves and slow growth.
Pests & Diseases
Pests typically do not bother pepper plants too much – mainly because of their hot flavor! (FYI many natural gardening sprays are made with ground hot peppers for this very reason.) But there is one main exception – weevils can damage pepper plants. The weevil will chew holes in your blossoms and buds, and may cause your plants to have discolored and damaged fruits. You can prevent weevils by keeping your garden free of extra debris, and pick off by hand and kill any weevils you see on the plants.
Occasionally aphids and cutworms can damage pepper plants.
The best way to avoid disease in your pepper plants is to practice crop rotation. If you have a crop that is severely affected by disease, pull it up and do not compost it. Destroy the plants to avoid further spreading the disease.
Harvesting Your Peppers
Peppers are really fun to grow because their flavor changes as they age…and sometimes their color changes too! Most sweet peppers just keep on getting sweeter and sweeter as they mature. Hot peppers will change colors as they mature. Most peppers achieve their best flavor when fully grown. However, you need to harvest some of your peppers before they fully ripen so that your plant will keep on bearing fruit. Some peppers will send a signal to the plant to stop production when mature fruits are left on the stem.
Always cut your peppers from the plant, or gently twist them off – don’t yank or pull them off. Before the frost, pick all the fruits you can. You can also pull the plant up by the root and hang them in a cool, dry place to allow the final fruits to ripen. While peppers are best fresh, you can also freeze peppers or dry them for long term storage.
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