Peppers: A Growing Guide

Peppers come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and flavors—plus, they're easy to grow.

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Growing guidelines
Evenly moist soil is essential to good growth, so spread a thick but light mulch, such as straw or grass clippings, around the plants. Water deeply during dry spells to encourage deep root development. Lack of water can produce bitter-tasting peppers. To avoid damaging the roots, gently pull any invading weeds by hand.

Although peppers are tropical plants, temperatures over 90°F often cause blossoms to drop and plants to wilt. To avoid this problem, plan your garden so taller plants will shade the peppers during the hottest part of the day. If you plant peppers in properly prepared soil, fertilizing usually isn't necessary. Pale leaves and slow growth, however, are a sign that the plants need a feeding of liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion or compost tea. Learn more about compost tea.

Problems
Since sprays of ground-up hot peppers can deter insects, it's logical that pests don't usually bother pepper plants. There are, however, a few exceptions. The pepper weevil, a 1/8-inch-long, brass-colored beetle with a brown or black snout, and its ¼-inch-long larva, a white worm with a beige head, chew holes in blossoms and buds, causing misshapen and discolored fruits. It's a common pest across the southern United States. Prevent damage by keeping the garden free of crop debris. Hand pick any weevils you spot on the plants.

Other occasional pests include aphids, Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, hornworms, and cutworms. See the Top Ten Garden Pests page for information on these insect pests and how to control them.

Crop rotation and resistant cultivars are your best defense against most pepper diseases. Here are some common diseases to watch for:

  • Anthracnose infection causes dark, sunken, soft, and watery spots on fruits.
  • Bacterial spot appears as small, yellow-green raised spots on young leaves and dark spots with light-colored centers on older leaves.
  • Early blight appears as dark spots on leaves and stems; infected leaves eventually die.
  • Verticillium wilt appears first on lower leaves, which turn yellow and wilt.
  • Mosaic—the most serious disease—is a viral infection that mottles the leaves of young plants with dark and light splotches and eventually causes them to curl and wrinkle. Later on, mosaic can cause fruits to become bumpy and bitter.

See the Pepper Problems for more information on some of these diseases and control measures.

Harvesting
Most sweet peppers become even sweeter when mature as they turn from green to bright red, yellow, or orange—or even brown or purple. Mature hot peppers offer an even greater variety of rainbow colors, often on the same plant, and achieve their best flavor when fully grown. Early in the season, however, it's best to harvest peppers before they ripen to encourage the plant to keep bearing; a mature fruit can signal a plant to stop production.

Always cut (don't pull) peppers from the plant. Pick all the fruit when a frost is predicted, or pull plants up by the roots and hang them in a dry, cool place indoors for the fruit to ripen more fully. To preserve, freeze peppers (without blanching), or dry hot types.

Go Green Using Tips From America's Top Organic Experts!  Learn more.

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