How to grow peppers
Whether your taste buds tend toward sweet, pungent, or sizzling, peppers deliver. In the kitchen, they easily fill the roles of appetizer (think jalapeno poppers), salad garnish, or main course (chile rellenos). Thin-walled peppers cook quickly, making them a natural for pickling or frying. Thicker-walled bell peppers make terrific stuffed peppers or grilled kebabs. When it comes to peppers, there's something for every cooking style and palate..
Here's how to grow peppers in your home garden.
Peppers are a warm-season crop that should go into the garden when soil and air have warmed, with nights steadily above 55 °F. Don't set plants out too early in spring. Wait until one to two weeks past your region's average last frost date.
Start with young plants you pick up at a garden center, or consider growing peppers from seed. This requires sowing seeds indoors about eight to 10 weeks before your region's average last frost date. Sow three pepper seeds per pot, in Miracle-Gro® Seed Starting Potting Mix. Peppers have a notorious reputation for slow germination, taking anywhere from 14 to 21 days. Hot peppers usually take the longest, needing up to 3 weeks to germinate. After the first set of true leaves appear, thin seedlings to the strongest one. If necessary, transplant seedlings into larger containers until they?re ready to go into the garden. In the garden, space plants 18 to 24 inches apart (depending on variety), or one plant per 18-inch (or larger) pot. Water thoroughly after planting.
As peppers form, branches can break under the weight, especially during summer storms. Support each plant with a stake or small tomato cage at planting time.
Pepper plants need consistent soil moisture to yield well. Check the soil: When the top inch is dry, you need to water. If a busy schedule or forgetfulness makes watering unlikely, install a soaker hose or drip irrigation.
Mulch around plants with 2 to 3 inches of Scotts® Nature Scapes® bagged mulch, straw, shredded leaves, pine straw, or untreated grass clippings. Mulch helps reduce weeds and keeps soil moist, which can reduce watering chores.
Growing peppers need a steady supply of plant food. Miracle-Gro® Shake 'n Feed® for Tomato, Fruit & Vegetables Plant Food will feed your peppers for up to 3 months, providing loads of extra nutrients for a big harvest. A month after planting, mix this into the soil around your pepper plants, following label directions.
As peppers ripen, color shifts from green to red (even green peppers eventually turn red) or whatever hue the pot tag or seed packet indicates. You can pick peppers at any point in their color journey, but flavors change as colors intensify. The longer hot peppers remain on a plant, the stronger the heat becomes.
Harvest with a knife or shears, cutting peppers from the plant. Leave a short stem stub attached to the pepper to help it last longer. Store almost ripe peppers in a warm spot, like on the kitchen counter or near a bright window. If you see any softening or shriveling skin, move them to the fridge. Refrigerate fully ripe peppers in a vegetable storage drawer set to high humidity.
Use care when handling hot peppers. Capsaicin, the compound that produces heat in peppers, is concentrated primarily in the veins, ribs, and seeds. To be on the safe side, wear gloves when working with hot peppers.
In the kitchen, use fresh peppers in sandwiches, salads or salsa, or roast or fry them to include in other dishes. Peppers taste fantastic tossed on the grill, and they make wonderful pickles or jam. Freezing peppers works well, especially for ones you plan to use later in cooking.
Ready to start planting and growing your own peppers? Click on any of the product links above for more information, to purchase the product online, or to find a retailer near you.
Written by Julie Martens Forney