Home gardens should include pepper plants. They are striking with colorful pods and lovely foliage. Their fruits are attractive and nutritious and can change foods into exciting culinary creations. Growing peppers is easier than one might think.
The first steps to pepper production involve planning. Consider the cultivars you want to plant. There are thousands of varieties, including disease resistant sweet and chile peppers. Selection options include heat level, colors and flavors.
Also ponder the location and type of garden. A sunny raised bed or containers make great options for most varieties. Peppers do not mind a little shade, so planting with other vegetables is a possibility.
Check your garden’s soil. Well-drained sandy/loamy soil high in organic matter with a pH of 6-8 provides ideal conditions for growing peppers.
Fine-tune your irrigation system. Successful irrigation of peppers includes watering until the soil is moist, not wet. Drip irrigation is recommended.
Many peppers have a long growing season, so start seedlings indoors 8-10 weeks before the expected last frost. Follow seed packet instructions exactly for greatest success. Most cultivars germinate between 10-21 days at a temperature of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Seedlings will need well-draining soil that is aerated but retains water, a light source and sufficient water. Mid-May to June is typical in our area for transplanting into your prepared garden. Season extenders allow earlier plantings.
Fertilizing peppers is not recommended after plants have established. Fertilize with 10-10-10 in establishing seedlings, and mulch with compost to provide nutrients to transplants. Avoid heavy nitrogen sources to encourage pod production.
Peppers are self-pollinators but easily cross-pollinate. Resulting seeds may produce non-true-to- parent varieties, so seed saving of open-pollinated peppers should include isolation of flowers as soon as they appear.
Fruit set will occur when night temperatures are 65 to 80 and day temperatures are less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Fruit load, maximum weight of fruits, varies by cultivar and depends on stem size, amount of foliage and extent of root system. Because of this, immature pods can be harvested early to encourage greater production. Clip pods that are green and immature. A slight pull of red pods will release them if they are ready to harvest. Continued harvest of immature pods yields highest production. These pods are tasty and less pungent and can be used for mild cuisine.
Taste and pungency (50 percent genetic and 50 percent environmental) are often how we select peppers. Flavor depends on the variety’s unique set of aromatic substances. Pungency is related to the capsaicin level in the pepper. This level increases with maturity and stress level (drought or too much water that stresses the plant).
Do not pick your peppers too early. They may survive the first frost and produce more harvestable pods until the second frost, providing you with a final harvest of peppers to spice up your autumn cuisine.
To learn more, attend the free Gardening in Nevada talk “Spice it Up with Tomatoes and Peppers,” 6-8 p.m., Feb. 21 at Bartley Ranch Regional Park in Reno. Also visit https://chile.nmsu.org.
Pamela Van Hoozer is a master gardener volunteer with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Horticulture questions? Contact 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit growyourownnevada.com.