Peppers an easy to grow staple of the backyard vegetable garden. Whether growing bell peppers or the hottest varieties available, these plants yield a flavorful crop with minimal fuss.
Peppers, like most garden crops, come in a wide variety of types. The two major categories of peppers are bell peppers, which come in number of colors and have sweet, thick walled fruit, and hot peppers, which come in a wide range of heats from the mild Hungarian yellow peppers to the fiery habanero. Modern hybrids resist cross-pollination between varieties, so spacing between the two types is not as crucial as it once was.
Be sure to look for pepper types that suit your climate and growing season. Longer season peppers might not have sufficient time to reach maturity in northern climates, while short season peppers may not produce well in the mid summer heat of southern states.
Like tomatoes, peppers are a tropical plant, and require warm temperatures for growth. Plants can be started from seed indoors, 6 to 8 weeks before the appropriate outdoor planting time, or seedlings can be purchased from the local garden center.
If starting from seed, sow in a high quality seed starting soil at a depth of ¼”. Temperatures should be kept constant between 65 and 90 degrees to stimulate germination and growth.
When selecting seedlings from a garden center, look for plants with a sturdy stem and 3 to 5 sets of healthy leaves. Seedlings should not have blossoms or fruit.
Whether you are starting with seeds or plants, choose an assortment of varieties to extend the harvest and produce a variety of colors and flavors. Short season peppers mature in as little as 70 days, while longer season varieties require 90 days or more.
When planting seedlings in the garden, choose an area with well-drained soil and plenty of sun. Peppers need a steady supply of water, but are not very tolerant of soggy conditions, and like most garden vegetables, require 8 or more hours of sun each day.
Set seedlings in the ground at about 1″deeper than they were set in the pot, leaving 18″ between plants and 24″ between rows. Add a garden stake or tomato cage to provide support for the growing plant, and mulch well between plants to keep soil warm and moist and to hinder weed growth.
Pruning and Care
Peppers don’t require routine pruning. Inspect plants regularly for broken branches that should be removed. Fertilize with a balanced vegetable fertilizer or add organic soil amendments such as coffee grounds or egg shells to provide nutrients when plants begin to set fruit.
Peppers can be harvested at any time after the fruit have reached the desired size. Green bell peppers are generally harvested before full maturity, when the fruit are still green, but can be allowed to ripe on the plant until they reach their mature red color. Allowing fruit to ripe on the plant will produce a sweeter taste, but harvesting some of the fruit from a plant before maturity simulates additional fruit production.
Because harvest doesn’t have to wait until maturity, peppers are best removed from the plant with a sharp pair of garden pruners or a knife. Avoid pulling or breaking fruit from the plant, because pepper branches are easily damaged.