Pepper Paradise

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Welcome to Paradise

peppersframed.jpg (199x137 -- 4355 bytes)Peppers are fast becoming one of the most popular of all vegetables to grow, second only to tomatoes, why? Well...Why not?  There are hundreds of varieties available to the home gardener, especially if you grow them from seed. They come in all shapes and colors, and range from the sweetest to downright fiery. One final attribute, most are prolific producers, are not seriously fussy about the soil pH, and have relatively few problems with pests and diseases.

Often, gardeners get addicted to growing peppers by chance. They buy a variety at the local nursery for fun and to experiment. It turned out to be such a success, next year they plant three. Because of the limited varieties offered at garden shops, they’re now buying seed and starting their own. With hundreds of varieties and all easy to grow it’s easy to become a real fan of peppers. Soon they have a dozen different cultivars thriving in their garden.

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Kinds of Peppers

Lets talk about kinds of peppers.  There are almost as many varieties as there are of tomatoes!  They come in various shapes and sizes from small tapered or ball shaped ones to long cones and big round bells.  Thick fleshed ones are best for roasting and cooking, while the thinner ones are great for eating raw.  And some of them are HOT!




How hot?



3/4" dia.

50X hotter than Jalapeno


Red 2" taper very, very hot
Big Thai Red 4-8" taper very hot
Cayenne Red 4-8" taper very hot

Red Chili 

Red 1-3" taper hot
Cherry Red 1 1/2" dia hot
Hungarian Wax (banana) Yellow 5-7" taper fairly hot
Jalapeno Green 2-4" taper fairly hot
Anahaeim  Green 7-8" taper mild hot
Robustinni Yellow 3-4" taper mild
Paprika  Red 2-4" taper mild
Mole’ Brown 2-5" taper sweet
Cherrytime Red 1-2" dia sweet
Cubanelle Green 7-8" lobed taper sweet
Shepherd (Italian) Red/Green 7"+ taper sweet
Bell Many 4X4" lobed sweet

Seeds and Seedlings

Only the most common types - banana and bell types are usually available as started seedlings for transplanting into the garden.  For small gardens, these are the best way to go.  To get a wider variety, you must start with seeds.  Information on seed starting and tending seedlings is available here.  

Peppers must be started about 2 months before planting out time.  Peppers like the extra warmth of being started with soil that is warmer than the ambient room temperature.  This can be accomplished by placing the seeded flats over any heat source that will raise the soil temperature about 5-10 degrees (75-90F degrees).  Use a humidity-retaining cover over the seed trays until sprouted, then gradually raise it, misting occasionally if the air in your home is too dry.  Once they have at least one pair of true leaves, peppers can be transplanted into individual pots and grow on in a sunny window sill or under lights.

Peppers cannot be planted out until the outdoor soil and night temperatures remain above 65 degrees.  Planting out too early in cold and wet conditions will stunt them and harm fruit production.  But remember, they must be hardened off just like your tomatoes before planting out.

Pepper Pointers

Peppers, especially hot pepper plants with their usually small but colorful fruits, are ideal for spot planting around a garden, providing contrast in flowerbeds, or brightening a container garden. When growing peppers in beds, avoid planting the peppers where other members of the nightshade family have been previously planted as they are subject to similar diseases. To prevent cross-pollination, hot pepper plants should not be planted near sweet or bell pepper plants.

When buying pepper plants choose those that are sturdy with deep green leaves and without fruit or blossoms.

Choose a location in your garden, patio or home that receives morning sun - and at least 6 hours of sun daily.

While full sun and heat are good for peppers, too much can damage the fruit. Protect from the intense afternoon sun with taller plants (or beans on a trellis), by planting them in a block no more than 1½ feet apart, or situating house or patio pepper plants so that they will receive filtered light in the afternoons.

Transplant pepper plants to garden beds two to three weeks after the last frost and when the soil temperature is at least 65 °F (18 °C).

When transferring pepper plants to a garden bed or container, do so in the evening or on a cloudy day to reduce the chance of sunscald.

Keep the soil moist—not soggy—to encourage root development and prevent blossom wilting and bitter-tasting peppers. Use a mulch, such as straw, grass clippings or plastic mulch, to keep moisture in and protect roots.

Ensure that the soil drains well, whether in a garden or container, so that the roots aren't sitting in water. Raised beds are helpful in poor-draining garden soil.

Chili peppers like an acidic soil: 5.0-6.0 pH.

Soil Preparation

Peppers enjoy an well-amended soil that contains plenty of organic matter, supplemented with a balanced fertilizer or better yet, one with slightly higher nitrogen and phosphorous levels. Place in an area that will receive the most sun and plant 18 inches apart with rows 3 feet apart.  Soil must be well drained too.  Work the top 8-10 inches of soil several weeks before planting. Break up the large clods. Remove rocks and trash, weeds, etc.

Peppers grow best in soils which have lots of organic matter and drain well. If possible, spread 2-3 inches of organic material over the  planting area. You can use materials such as compost, leaves, peat moss or rotted hay. Work it into the top 4-6 inches of soil. Work the garden soil only when it is dry enough not to stick to the garden tools. This is particularly important if you have clay soil. 


Add 2-3 pounds of a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 for every 100 square feet of garden area. Spread the fertilizer evenly over the area. Mix it with the top 3-4 inches of soil when working the soil before planting.  

When the first fruits are about 1 inch in size, scatter 1 level tablespoon of fertilizer around each plant. Scatter it about 6 inches from the stalks. Work it lightly into the soil. Water the plants after fertilizing. Fertilize them every 3-4 weeks throughout the rest of the growing season.

If you plan to grow single plants, dig a hole 2 feet wide and 10 inches deep. Refill the hole with half soil and half organic matter. Mix 2 level tablespoons of fertilizer into this planting area.  This same approach would work for container grown peppers, but watering needs will be increased so keep an close eye on your container grown peppers.


Two to 3 weeks after your last frost, plant out your healthy, green plants 6-8 inches tall.  Make the transplant holes at least 3-4 inches deep - about an inch or two deeper than they were in their pots as they will grow roots from the stem and better feed the plant.  Small fruiting varieties can go in at 1-1.5 feet apart. Bell pepper plants will require more space, and may require staking or caging to support the heavy fruit, so get those in place at planting time.  Choose a cloudy day or an evening to plant.

Pack the soil gently, and firmly around the plant. Leave a slightly sunken area around each plant to hold water. Adding a "collar" of anything from paper cups (with the bottoms cut out) to circles of plastic garden edging (staple the cut ends together to form a ring) around the base of your plant will help keep cutworms away from your young, tender tomato stems, and also helps to catch water. Put these on when you plant, carefully sliding them down over the planted seedling and pushing gently about 2" into the earth.  Filling the collar with water immediately after planting with drown any cutworms inside the area. 

Care During the Season

Mulch isn't necessary, but does help retain moisture and keep roots from overheating. Place a 2-3  inch layer of organic material such as  compost, leaves or hay around the growing plants, but keep it a good 6-12 inches away from the base of the plants. Mulching helps stop weed growth and water loss from the soil.  Pepper have very few pests or diseases.


Water the plants slowly and deeply to help grow a strong root system. Do not let them wilt, or yields and fruit quality will be low.  Prolonged hot days may require that you create some temporary shade for them during the hottest part of the day.   Use anything from sheets of cardboard or wood, or erecting a frame to hold an opaque blanket, etc. that will shade the plants.

Keep the watering regular to avoid alternating wet and drought.  Fluctuating moisture levels will cause wilt and blossom end rot.

Pepper Problems

Blossom end rot
Blossom end rot

Large, sunken water soaked spot develops on blossom end of fruit, spot turns black and mould may grow on surface. Maintain the soil pH around 6.5. Liming will supply calcium and will increase the ratio of calcium ions to other competitive ions in the soil. Avoid drought stress and wide fluctuations in soil moisture by using mulches and/or irrigation. Plants generally need about one inch of moisture per week from rain or irrigation for proper growth and development.

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Intense sunlight on peppers causes thin, wrinkled, tan areas develop on the pods which become white and papery. The areas of the fruit that are exposed to the sun are susceptible; usual spots are on the shoulders of the fruit near the stem end. Sunscald often occurs when plants lose leaves from foliar diseases or from sudden pruning of the plant canopy. Control leaf diseases with pesticides to prevent leaf drop which exposes fruit to sun, or make a shading frame that dapples the sunlight. Both Habanero and Rocoto peppers are especially prone to this problem.

Verticillium wilt
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A disease caused by a soil fungus Verticillium, that enters plants through the roots and plugs the water-conducting vessels. Once the fungus enters a growing area, it can be a problem for years as it withstands extreme environmental conditions. The first noticeable symptom of this disease is severe wilting of occasional plants when they start to produce pods. Plants usually recover at night, but after a few days they wilt severely and the leaves begin to turn yellow and fall. Plants eventually die. Verticillium wilt is a problem only in areas where peppers have been extensively grown for several years. Using a crop rotation, where peppers are not planted in areas where tomatoes, eggplant or other nightshades have grown in the past 3-4 years.

Phytophthora Pod Rot
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The same fungus that causes chile wilt is responsible for phytophthora pod rot. Pods infected by this fungus shrivel and rot. A white mould can often be found inside the pod when it is broken open. The disease can become severe following periods of heavy rainfall and high humidity, especially when plants are crowded or over fertilised with nitrogen. Control by using the same practices used to control wilt below.

Phytophora Root Rot (Chile wilt)
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Chile wilt, sometimes called root rot or phytophora root rot, is caused by the soil-borne fungus, Phytophthora capsici. The fungus becomes a problem when soils are excessively wet because of over-irrigation or heavy rainfall or both. Plants wilted; dark brown canker at base of stem. Planting on a raised bed and avoiding excessive moisture in the plant bed are the best means of controlling this disease.

Tobacco Mosaic Virus
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Tobacco mosaic virus may be seed-borne, soil-borne on crop debris and is carried on tobacco products and by certain chewing insects. It is readily transmitted mechanically from plant to plant by gardeners' hands, their clothing, and their tools. Tobacco mosaic virus frequently infects pepper and many weeds.

Leaf curl
Pepperleafcurl2.jpg (139x129 -- 4060 bytes)

Often caused by a virus. If the leaves are yellow and sickly looking, with leathery new growth, throw the plants away, don't compost them. Leaf curl can also be caused by aphids, they stick the leaves together and suck out the juices. So, open some of the leaves to see what you find. If you see aphids, try a garlic spray or insecticidal soap. (garlic sprays - one bulb garlic crushed up and placed in one pint oil; use approximately one teaspoon per 2 pints of water to spray, adding a drop of dish soap to help it stick).

cutworms2.jpg (139x89 -- 2685 bytes)

Plants are clipped off at ground level. The insects injure the plants at night and hide in the soil during the day. Damage from later generations is less severe since the plants are larger and better established. To prevent cutworm injury, surround the plants and stems with paper cups that have had the bottoms removed.

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Green aphids suck sap causing a downward leaf curl. The insect is a known carrier of the mosaic virus. A heavy infestation will coat the leaves with sticky honeydew. A black, sooty mould can grow on the honeydew. The insects can be green, white, pink or black. Try spraying the affected areas with a mixture of soapy water and chile powder, (mix two pints of water, 1 drop of detergent or liquid soap and a teaspoon of hot chile powder).

Cercospora capsici Leaf Spot
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Round water soaked spots form on leaves and stems. The spots enlarge to 1/4 to 1/2 inch and turn white with dark margins. Infected leaves drop. When the fungus threatens to spread during periods of high rainfall, spray with one of the copper fungicides suggested for control of bacterial spot. The fungus does not live in the soil but is carried in the seed.

Blossom Drop
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Can occur if the ambient temperatures around the chile plants are either too low or too high; when night temperatures drop much below 60 degrees F, when night temperatures are above 75 degrees F, or when day temperatures are much above 90 degrees F. The problem can also be caused by the use of a fertiliser with too much nitrogen in it. Try a 5-20-20 or 5-20-10 type, instead of a higher nitrogen 20-20-20 balanced type.

Iron Chlorosis
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Chlorosis has occurred when the leaves turn yellowish but the veins remain green. Iron is needed for the production of chlorophyll and therefore, a lack of iron results in a loss of the green color in the leaves. In severe cases, leaf color may change from yellow to white to brown. Use Iron Chelate to cure problem.

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
Tomato spotted wilt virus

This virus can cause dwarfing of the pepper plant. Remove and destroy affected plants.  There is no cure.


Pick pick peppers at either their immature green stage, or when they reach their fully ripe red, orange or even brown stages. Use garden shears to cut them from the stem, as pulling them will result in breaking off the stem.  Cool them as soon as possible after harvesting to retain flavor and quality. If you have to rush out to pick green ones on the eve of a frost warning, treat them like tomatoes to get a bit more ripening.  Store them in layers between sheets of newspaper in a good, sturdy brown paper bag. Close the top of the bag and store in a slightly cool, but dark place to allow them to ripen properly.  They will shrivel during this process.


Peppers can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks, but they will lose their peak flavor after a few days, so eat them fresh or cook them up in various recipes as soon as possible.

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