Growing Hot Peppers - Turn Up the Heat in the Vegetable Garden

Habanero Chili Peppers
Courtesy of the National Garden Bureau

When Wilbur Scoville first devised a means to test the heat of peppers, his hottest entry then came in at 20,000 units. Habanero and Thai chilies can go as high as 60,000. Compare that to the sweet bell pepper at zero. It is thought that all peppers, hot and sweet, developed from the wild chiltepin pepper of Central America. Although a perennial, they are widely grown as annuals. Columbus is credited with bringing peppers back to Spain, as a substitute for true pepper (Piper nigrum).

Latin Name:

Capsicum annum, C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. Pubescens, C. frutescens

Common Name(s): Hot Pepper, Chili (Chile, Chilli)

Zone:

Usually grown as annuals. Hardy in tropical zones (11 and above)

Size:

Varies with variety and climate. Most are about 1' W x 2-3' H. Some can grow as tall as 5'.

Exposure:

Full Sun

Days to Harvest:

Varies with variety. Most take at least 55 - 80 days from transplant.

Description:

Peppers are in the Solanaceae family, with tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes. The term ‘hot pepper’ is not a botanical classification. They are often grouped by their fruit shape and/or heat intensity. The most commonly grown variety is C. annum, which includes cayenne, paprika and jalapenos, as well as sweet peppers. The hottest are in C. chinense, which includes Habanero and Thai Chilies.

Harvesting:

You can keep your plants producing by harvesting regularly, once they reach an eatable size.

Many gardeners like to allow their peppers to fully ripen and change color, but ripe fruits tend to lose some of their heat. Cut the fruits from the plant, don’t pull. Hot peppers are best used within in days of harvest. They can also be canned or frozen.

Suggested Varieties:

‘Czechoslovakian Black’ - The plant is very ornamental and the tiny fruits pack a punch.

Good for drying.
‘Habanero’ - Still the test for a hot pepper lover. There are now several varieties of Habeneros available.
’Cherry Red’ - Small, round cherry bombs are thick skinned and nice for stuffing.
‘Hot Lemon’ - Lemon in color only, these have a nice balance of heat and flavor
’Robustini’ - Extremely prolific producers

Cultural Notes:

Peppers need warmth (at least 70 degrees F.), to grow and set flowers. However at extreme temperatures, 90 degrees F. and over and under 60 degrees F., they will drop their blossoms until conditions are more favorable. They can handle most soils and a neutral pH. A sprinkling of Epson salts at planting seems to help fruit set, as does crowding the plants in their bed.

Maintenance: Very few pests attack peppers. Aphids can be a problem. You may notice distorted leaves when aphids are present. There are some hardy caterpillars who will feast on the fruits.

Some Tips for Using Your Hot Pepper Harvest