Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gardening Thursday – Growing peppers

After posting all of the pepper pictures and receiving several questions, it seemed a post devoted to peppers was in order.  Per Wikipedia “Capsicum is a genus of flowering plants in the nightshade family, Solanaceae. Its species are native to the Americas, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years by the people of the tropical Americas, and are now cultivated worldwide.” 

Peppers (so named by Columbus because the flavor reminded him of black pepper) are generally broken down into sweet or hot with the heat level being zero for sweet peppers and measured on the Scoville Scale for the hot or Chile peppers.  The heat in peppers is a function of the amount of capsaicin in the ribs of the plant and ranges from 1,000 for anaheim, 4,000 for jalapeno, 50,000  for cayenne, 300,000 for habanero, and now the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper with a Scoville rating of 1,463,700 (per Guiness World Records).

As nightshades, peppers are similar in growing conditions to tomatoes and are susceptible to the same bugs and diseases, although I rarely have problems from either - I do occasionally get blossom end rot if I let them get too dry.

Peppers like well drained garden soil with a pH around 6.5 and not too much nitrogen fertilizer.  I pretty well treat my peppers and tomatoes the same, except I don’t plant the peppers deeply like the tomatoes – click here for my tomato planting post.  They are tender and must be protected from frost and freeze, so I usually transplant mine about a week after the average last frost date.  Like most plants, it’s important for them to develop a good root system early on and any blooms (or fruit) should be removed for the first week or so. Sweet peppers and chiles like slightly different growing temps.

Chile fruits do not set when mean temperatures are below 60*F or above 90*F. However, flowers drop when night temperatures are above 75*F.  Fruit set may be stalled if temperatures rise above 90*F after several flowers have set and fruits are developing. 

Sweet peppers grow best in air temperatures 65° to 80°F and are most easily grown from transplants, planted  after the last frost in spring after the soil temperature has risen to at least 65°F. In temperatures greater than 85°F, peppers may drop their blossoms although set fruit will ripen. The ideal temperature for sweet peppers is a daytime temperature around 75°F and a nighttime temperature around 62°F.  They both like afternoon shade to give them some relief in the hottest part of the day and mine get this from the large maple trees across the road to the west of my garden.

Since it’s been getting hotter earlier in the year, I’ve started planting my peppers earlier as well.  I like plants that are as large as they can be without beginning to bloom yet (or I pinch them off) so they can hopefully beat the heat with a good fruit set.

Like most veggies, I give them 1 ½ inches of water per week applied every 3-4 days.

From a feeding standpoint, I again, do it just like tomatoes with a handful of compost and a little calcium into the planting hole, then a low nitrogen fertilizer when I get golf ball sized fruit and every 2 ½ months thereafter – remember too much N will grow plant material at the sacrifice of peppers.

Peppers are shallow-rooted, so cultivate around them with care. Mulch is good to keep soil temperature and moisture even. 

In the long growing season of the South, peppers can get pretty tall and since the branches are brittle and break easily, I support mine as shown in my plant support post.  Here’s 5’-1” Bev standing in my pepper patch and a couple are a foot taller – I think she’s been sneaking in some extra fertilizer.

Make sure you use both hands and small shears to harvest as you will get more than you want if you try to pull them with one hand – this is the voice of experience.

Chile heat levels are the results of two factors, the plant's genetics and the environment in which it grows.  This information comes from the National Gardening Bureau - “Peppers cultivated in a hot climate with days in the 95ºF range are spicier than those grown where days are in the 70ºs. Drought-stricken chiles are hotter than those grown with lots of water. If you yearn for spicy peppers and live in a cool climate, cover the soil with black plastic mulch or grow peppers in containers on a concrete or brick patio in full sun. To turn up the fire, keep the water and nitrogen fertilizer to a minimum. Alternatively, if you prefer milder peppers, keep the plants well watered—but not soggy—and provide afternoon shade in hot climates. A general rule of thumb is the riper the chile, the hotter it is.”

Here is an article regarding pepper growing from the New Mexico Extension Service.

All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Have a great day and thanks for stopping by Almost Heaven South.



  1. I feel so informed about all those different peppers now! great post!

  2. Your pepper plants are huge!!! I only grow sweet banana peppers. Thanks for the tips.

  3. Fantastic information Larry! You answered my questions and even more.

  4. Those are the biggest pepper plants I have ever seen! Must be that southern warmth and hospitality :) I sure envy that wide open garden space you have.

  5. This is great, Larry... I certainly know alot more about peppers than I ever did. Blogging is just so wonderful...

  6. Well that explains why my peppers aren't hot until later in the summer. Lordy, those are tall! Mine are healthy as all get out, but only about waist high.

  7. Your pepper plants are big! Love to grow peppers. Next summer crop, I am going to make more of an effort.

    Great garden post.


  8. Wow, your pepper plants are beautiful! You must have a green thumb! Thanks for the great tips and for stopping by!

  9. I loved this posts.I learned all kinds of good stuff I didn't know before I tuned in here. I hope you have a great day. Blessings..Mary

  10. I had no idea peppers grew to such heights Larry. I've been wondering why some chilis were hotter than others and now I know. Very interesting. Gardening takes a lot of knowledge and hard work.

    I thought of you guys yesterday when we toured the Food Garden at Biltmore Estate in Asheville. They have a fascinating Farm to Plate program. It's a do-not-miss if you're ever over that way.

  11. Larry, I was THRILLED to read this post about peppers because I have them growing out of every inch of my pepper bed. I don't have enough tomatoes grwoing anymore so I can't make salsa.

    What do I do to preserve them? They are huge and in the stores they are very expensive. I don't want to waste anything, so how do I 'put them up' for use down the road?

    I appreciate your knowledge and your help!


    paige1and2(at) wildblue(dot)net

    Thanks so much!

    Now that I'm not so busy this weekend, I'm off to reading the rest of your posts!


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