I’m married to a Cajun, so many meals start out with chopped and sautéed onion and bell pepper. I also love to eat fresh banana peppers with every summertime meal. Except for a few purple ones, most peppers begin their lives green and ripen to beautiful shades of gold, orange, and red. It takes time for this color change to happen and that’s why they are more expensive at the grocery store. Once they turn color, they are even sweeter, more flavorful, and better for you, as the vitamin C and Vitamin A goes up considerably.
Peppers are warm weather plants and should be planted from transplants between now and the end of April—the sooner the better. They cannot tolerate a frost or a freeze and thrive with mild and moderately warm temperatures in spring and early summer. Often summer heat and drought kill spring planted sweet peppers in Texas, but hot peppers tend to be more heat tolerant. Both however produce well again in the fall if irrigated and tended through the summer. Pepper plants should be spaced 18-24 inches apart. They can be grown in large whiskey barrel sized (30 gallon) containers but do best planted in the ground.
Peppers require at least 8 hours of direct sun each day for maximum production. They require rich loamy soils that drain well. It is ideal to till in several inches of compost or organic matter and incorporate 2 pounds of lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, 16-6-12, etc.) per 100 square foot of bed or every 35 feet of row before planting. For smaller plots use 2 teaspoons per square foot or foot of row. The ideal soil pH for growing peppers is 5.5-7.5.
Pepper transplants should be planted into well cultivated soil. Dig holes that are the same size as the existing pots they are growing in. Gently firm the soil around them. Do not bury the stems. Water thoroughly with a water-soluble plant food (Miracle Grow, etc.) at the labeled rate.
Peppers grow and set fruit best when the temperatures are warm but below 90 degrees. About 3 weeks after transplanting, fertilize them with 1 cup of high nitrogen fertilizer (21-0-0, etc.) for each 35 feet of row. Sprinkle half of the fertilizer down each side of the row. Lightly work it into the soil and then water. Repeat this fertilizing process every 3 weeks to keep the plants vigorous. The main pest problems on peppers are leaf miners, spider mites, nematodes, and foliage diseases. If they occur treat with an appropriately labeled pesticide.
Depending on the variety you should pick peppers 65-80 days after transplanting them into the garden. Peppers can be harvested at any size but are the most flavorful when they reach full maturity. Green peppers that turn red generally taste sweeter and are much higher in Vitamin A. Be careful picking the peppers as the plants are brittle and prone to breaking. It’s best to cut the peppers from the plant with hand pruners. Wash, prepare, or refrigerate them immediately. Peppers are native to Central America.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com), and follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.