Peppers, being the second favorite garden vegetable, come in varying shapes, sizes, and colors. They even range in flavor from wonderfully sweet to fiery hot. Peppers are fairly easy to grow, and thanks to their compact growing habit they make great plants for container gardening. The vibrant colors of the mature fruits can even make pepper plants a nice addition to flower beds. Once pepper plants begin to set fruit they will continue fruiting throughout the growing season. Peppers are one of the only garden plants that can be dug up at the end of the season, stored in an area where it is protected from freezing, and replanted the following spring.
Sow seeds indoors 6 – 8 weeks before your last frost date. Sow 1/4″ deep in moist seed starting mix, keep soil moist, but not wet. Sweet peppers are easier to germinate, as they do not require extra soil heat. Hot peppers on the other hand need to maintain a soil temperature of 75 – 78°F in order to germinate. As soon as seedlings emerge provide them with a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight, or supplement with 10 – 12 hours under a fluorescent light.
Once your seedlings are 4 – 6 inches tall they are ready to be planted, be sure to harden them off for a week to 10 days before planting. Pepper plants are easily affected by transplant shock, which can postpone growth for weeks. To help prevent shocking your plants be sure the soil stays at least 60°F before planted, the addition of organic matter to the soil will also help alleviate transplant shock. Plant 18 – 24 inches apart, if your garden is exposed to high winds stake your plants.
Although peppers are a heat loving plant, temperatures over 90°F can cause blossoms to wilt and fall off. To avoid this either plant taller plants in an area where they will provide shade to the peppers during the hottest time of the day, or give the plants a light mist during this time to help keep them cool. Keeping the soil evenly moist is also essential, lack of water can produce bitter tasting peppers. Watering deep during dry weather and applying a thick mulch of leaves, straw, and/or grass clippings will help with this.
Peppers can be harvested and eaten at any color stage, though sweet peppers become sweeter and hot peppers are at their best flavor when allowed to fully mature. Always cut peppers from the plant with a sharp knife or garden shears, pulling can damage the roots and the plant.