Hot or Sweet Peppers

Hot or Sweet Peppers

by Elmer Krehbiel, Master Gardener
March 19, 2004

The gardening trend since 1993 is for colorful peppers in the landscape, in containers, and in vegetable garden beds. There are several different sizes and shapes of plants, and many sizes, shapes and colors of the fruit.

Hot peppers are used worldwide more than any other spice. Salsa is now consumed more than ketchup, and peppers are one of the main ingredients in it. They are favored for ethnic dishes in many countries. In this country, they are increasing in popularity in Cajun, Creole, and Southwestern cuisines.

Peppers are grouped as sweet bell, sweet non-bell, and hot. If allowed to mature before picking the fruit, the sweet varieties develop more color, sweet flavor, and also higher vitamin A and C content. They contain six times more vitamin C than oranges.

Pepper Varieties

Hot pepper varieties require more days to mature. The flavor is measured in Scoville units, where the higher the number is, the hotter the pepper. Some mild varieties with about 3,000 units are Anaheim Chilies, Ancho (Poblano) Garden Salsa, Paprika and TAM Jalapeno. Medium-hot varieties are Hot Banana, Cascabel, Jalapeno (Chipoties), Pasillas, and Rocotillo. Chili de Arbol, Serrano, and Hot Yellow Wax are hot varieties. Cayennes, Chiltepin (Piquin), and Tobasco are very pungent. The extremely hot varieties are Chiltepin, Habaneros (215,000 units), Jamaica Scotch Bonnet, and Thai Dragon.

I have two specialty seed catalogs that list 39 bell, 25 non-bell, and 76 hot pepper varieties.

Soil Conditions for Peppers

Soil temperature needs to be 80 to 90 degrees F to germinate seeds. Peppers require about 50 percent more time than tomato seeds. The seedlings need to be moved to one-inch pots and later to four-inch pots before setting out to grow and produce.

Pepper plants should be moved to the outside two to four weeks later than tomato plants. They are easy to grow in five-gallon containers with wire cages to prevent wind damage. Pepper stems are brittle and break easily.

Soil needs to be more than 65 degrees F, moist and fertile, so that peppers grow fast and develop fruit before hot temperatures arrive. They need nighttime temperatures above 65 degrees and daytime less than 80 to 90 degrees F. to develop fruit. If air and/or soil temperatures are lower, the young plants may be stunted. If too much fertilizer is applied, they will grow large plants but not produce much fruit.

Peppers may be consumed fresh, cooked, preserved, dried, or used to make salsa or other sauces.

More on Hot Peppers

Dr. Elmer Krehbiel is the former President of Keep Brazos Beautiful. See his column in The Eagle.