The Vegetable Garden

    Pepper - Care

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      Care

      Peppers thrive in a well-drained, fertile soil that is well supplied with moisture. Use a starter fertilizer when transplanting. Apply supplemental fertilizer (side-dressing) after the first flush of peppers is set. Because a uniform moisture supply is essential with peppers, especially during the harvest season, irrigate during dry periods. Hot, dry winds and dry soil may prevent fruit set or cause abortion of small immature fruits.

      Harvesting

      Fruits may be harvested at any size desired. Green bell varieties, however, are usually picked when they are fully grown and mature—3 to 4 inches long, firm and green. When the fruits are mature, they break easily from the plant. Less damage is done to the plants, however, if the fruits are cut rather than pulled off. The new, colored bell pepper fruits may be left on the plant to develop full flavor and ripen fully to red, yellow, orange or brown; or they may be harvested green and immature. Some (including "white," light yellow, lilac and purple) are colors that develop in the immature fruit and that should be harvested before actually ripening, when they turn red.

      Hot peppers are usually harvested at the red-ripe stage; but "green chiles," the immature fruits, are also required for some recipes. Some dishes may actually call for a specific variety of chile to be authentic. Hot pepper flavor varies more from variety to variety than was previously appreciated.

      To dry chiles, individual fruits can be picked and strung in a "ristras" or entire plants can be pulled in the fall before frost and hung in an outbuilding or basement to dry. Always exercise caution when handling hot varieties, because shin, noses and eyes may become painfully irritated. Plastic or rubber gloves may be helpful when picking or handling hot peppers.

      Common Problems

      People who use tobacco should wash their hands with soap and water before handling pepper plants to prevent spread of tobacco mosaic disease. Grow resistant varieties if possible.

      Watch for accumulation of aphids on the underside of the leaves, especially near growing branch tips. When a large aphid population is present, sticky "honeydew" appears on the lower leaves and fruit. If this situation occurs, apply a suggested insecticide. Bacterial diseases may be transported on purchased transplants, so look over potential purchases carefully for any leaf spotting or stem cankers.