AUBURN, Ala. – There are more than 20 species of peppers in the world and hundreds of varieties. North American growers, however, are most familiar with two kinds – sweet and hot.
Sweet and Hot Pepper Varieties
Sweet pepper varieties include bell pepper, paprika, pimento, banana and cherry pepper. Their name is a misnomer because not all sweet peppers are sweet. This category refers to those peppers without heat. They are typically used for flavoring, cooking or stuffing.
Hot peppers include cayenne, red and green chili, jalapeño and the red-hot pepper. This variety is usually used as a spice in food.
Peppers are easy plants to grow and don’t take up much garden space. Pepper plants are ideal for Southern gardeners because they favor warm temperatures. You may grow peppers from seed or buy plants in flats as a local nursery.
Dr. Joe Kemble, an Alabama Extension specialist of commercial horticulture, said when choosing plants in flats, select plants with green, strong foliage.
“Be sure there are no suspicious looking spots on the leaves and stems,” Kemble said. “Many diseases enter the home garden from infected transplants. Check the tag or label for additional information about the variety, shape, size and flavor.”
Plant peppers in a location with full sunlight (at least eight hours of direct sunlight). Be sure the site does not receive too much wind. A strong wind easily breaks the pepper’s delicate stems after transplanting. Also be sure that the site drains well.
“The planting hole should be slightly larger than the soil ball surrounding the roots of the plant,” Kemble said. “Plant the pepper slightly deeper in the garden than it was in its container. Space holes about 12 to 18 inches apart.”
After planting, water the plants well and regularly check them the first weeks for wilting or drooping. Growers can also add mulch around the plants to help conserve moisture and control weeds.
Peppers can be harvested with they are ripe or unripe. Sweet peppers become sweeter and hot peppers become hotter as they mature. Your personal taste should determine when you want to harvest peppers. Be gentle when pulling peppers off the plant to avoid damaging the plant. Plants can often be rather brittle and break apart easily.
Six to eight plants should provide a family with enough peppers to last through the summer. Peppers can be stored fresh, frozen, dried or pickled, so you don’t have to worry about a bumper crop spoiling.
For more information, visit Alabama Extension online or contact your county Extension office.