Peppers, whether you prefer the fiery chili variety or the sweet and tangy bells, are a welcome addition to any garden and table. Peppers, once established, are easy to grow and maintain, and produce high yields for your efforts! Follow these simple steps to grow picture-perfect peppers in your garden.
# 1 – Start your peppers from seed. It’s cheaper than buying those six-packs from the store, and you’ll have more varieties to choose from. PLUS, most peppers from the store have been raised in ‘climate and pest controlled’ conditions, and are easily stressed once removed from that idyllic growing environment and into real life: your garden. First, choose the variety that tickles your fancy and taste buds.
Do you want peppers to make salsa? Choose three or four of the MANY varieties of chili peppers, from Cayenne, Hungarian, Santa Fe Grande, to Anaheim, Cubanelle or Jalapeno, OR, for a sweeter, milder chili, the creamy yellow Banana pepper. If you prefer sweeter bells for salads and roasting, go for the super sweet varieties of the yellow bell, Yellow Wonder, or Gypsy.
# 2 – Plant! Gather your containers. You can use six-packs, peat pots, yogurt cups, or milk cartons: fill with a well-draining potting soil, and sow the seeds two to a hole, water to dampen, then place the containers inside a plastic bag until they germinate.
Peppers LOVE heat, so speed the germination by placing them in a warm spot. Once the sprouts have poked their way through the soil, remove the bag and place the seedlings where they can get adequate sun or artificial light, at least 8 hours a day. Once the plants have their true leaves, fertilize lightly and prepare to either report or move them into your garden!
# 3 – Now it’s time to move them outside. Once you have healthy, sturdy seedlings with at least 4 inches of growth, you can move them into the garden. You can harden them off first, if your weather is still cool, by setting them outside in a protected area each day, increasing the hours they stay outside during the course of a week.
Make sure all danger of frost is past, as peppers will not grow well if the weather is still cold, and you need them to thrive and put down roots once you transplant, before moving them into the garden. Dig your hole and carefully place the pepper plant inside, backfilling with rich compost. Peppers don’t like soggy soil, so water well, but do not flood them.
# 4 – Care: give them what they need, steadily. Peppers are heavy feeders, so be sure to fertilize with a phosphorus-rich fertilizer once during initial growth, and again at pepper production time, after the blossoms have set. If the weather turns suddenly cool, cover the soil under the peppers with black plastic to help hold in the heat.
Be sure to remove the plastic as temperatures increase. It’s also important to water steadily, but not OVER water peppers. An inch a week is the rule, and it should be done all at once. It helps to water at the roots, not on the leaves, as watering on the leaves can encourage disease.
# 5 – Be on the lookout for pests! Peppers generally do not attract a lot of annoying, plant destroying insects, but there are a few. One, the Tomato Horn Worm, will freeload on peppers if he’s allowed to. These large, green caterpillars can decimate a plant in days, but they are easy to spot. As soon as you notice entire sections of the plant mowed down to the stem, start your search on the underside of leaves.
Another clue, look on the ground beneath the plant. If you see small, pea-sized black droppings, you have a Horn Worm! Remove them immediately. Whiteflies will also settle on pepper leaves and suck them dry of their juices. These little buggers are seasonal and don’t stay around long in most areas. Get sticky traps, or spray with an appropriate insecticide, OR, if you want to stay chemical-free, ask your local nursery for an organic alternative.
# 6 – Pick those peppers! Depending on the variety you choose, it should take 60 to 90 days for your plants to start yielding bushels of ripe produce! And it always seems as though they ALL ripen at once, so it’s a good idea to plan what you will do with them once harvest time is near.
Gently cut them from their stems, rinse, and prepare to either can, freeze or cook the awesome veggies. You can successfully dice or slice the peppers and freeze them for future stews or hot dishes. Salsa is an excellent choice for chilis, which can be canned to prolong its shelf life. Whichever way you go, you can enjoy your pepper harvest all winter long!