HOW TO GROW HOT or CHILI PEPPERS

Hot peppers are most easily grown from transplants. Start hot pepper seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the date you intend to set peppers into the garden. Peppers can be seeded in the garden or transplanted out 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost in spring after the soil temperature has risen to at least 65°F. Hot peppers grow best where the air temperature ranges from 70° to 95°F. Hot peppers mature in 60 to 95 days.

Description
Peppers are tender perennials that are grown as annuals. Peppers grow on compact erect bushes 1½ to 2 feet tall. The fruit follows a single flower growing in the angle between the leaf and the stem. Hot peppers can range in length from 1 to 7 inches long and in color from green to red to gold and yellow.

Yield
Hot peppers vary greatly in spiciness. Choose peppers and the number to plant according to how you plan to use them.

Site
Grow peppers in full sun in soil that is rich in organic matter, moisture retentive but well draining. Peppers prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8. Work aged garden compost into beds prior to planting. The optimal soil temperature for peppers is 65°F or warmer.

Planting time
Hot peppers grow best in air temperatures 70° to 95°F. Peppers are most easily grown from transplants. Start seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the date you intend to set peppers into the garden. Peppers can be seeded in the garden or transplanted out 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost in spring after the soil temperature has risen to at least 65°F. In temperatures greater than 85°F, peppers may drop their blossoms although set fruit will ripen. Hot peppers tolerate hot weather better than sweet peppers.

Planting and spacing
Sow hot pepper seed ½ inch deep, 18 to 24 inches apart. Space rows 24 to 36 inches apart. Sow two seeds to each spot and thin to the most successful seedling. Peppers can be transplanted into the garden when they are 4 to 6 inches tall.

Water and feeding. Keep peppers evenly moist but not wet particularly when blossoms appear and fruit begin to form. Soil that goes too dry can result in flower drop. Add aged compost to planting beds before planting and again at midseason. Water more frequently after the fruit forms. Water heavily 4 to 8 hours before harvest to turn hot peppers more mild; withhold watering before harvest to make hot peppers hotter.

Companion plants
Beets, garlic, onions, parsnips, radishes.

Care
Keep planting beds well weeded to avoid competition. Peppers are shallow-rooted, so cultivate around peppers with care. Mulch to keep soil temperature and moisture even.

Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers which will create large leafy plants with few or no fruits. High temperatures and wind can cause flowers to drop and plants not to set fruit.

Plastic mulch can improve pepper yields. Organic compost mulches will reduce weeding and watering, but not fruit yields.

Use shade cloth to protect peppers from sunburn if the temperature exceeds 105°F.

Container growing
Peppers can be grown in a large container. An 8-inch pot will accommodate a single plant. In larger containers, set plants on 12 inch centers. Peppers can be grown indoors. Peppers started indoors before the last frost in spring will get a head start on the season. Extend the season in the fall by moving plants indoors if frost threatens or if temperatures warm to greater than 90°F. Bring outdoor started peppers inside for a few hours a day at first until they get used to the lower light available indoors.

Pests
Peppers can be attacked by aphids, cutworms, flea beetles, and hornworms. Discourage cutworms by placing a collar around each transplant at the time of planting; hand pick hornworms off of plants. Flea beetles and aphids can be partially controlled by hosing them off the plants and pinching out infested foliage.

Diseases
Peppers are susceptible to rot, blossom end rot, anthracnose, tobacco mosaic virus, bacterial spot, and mildew. Plant disease-resistant varieties. Keep the garden clean and free of weeds where pests and diseases can shelter. Remove infected plants before disease can spread. If you smoke, wash your hands before working with the plants to avoid spreading tobacco mosaic virus.

Harvest
Hot peppers are ready for harvest in 60 to 95 days after sowing. Pick hot peppers when they have reached full size and their mature color. Cut the peppers off the vine. Pulling a pepper away from the plant may cause the plant to come out of the soil.

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