I would easily say that most vegetable gardeners will grow at least a few pepper plants annually. Pepper variety selection may be based on if the person likes sweet peppers or more hot peppers.

When my youngest daughter was seven and eight years old, she was on our local softball team that won the state tournament in back to back years. I remember being at a tournament and the team was taking a lunch break at a Subway. I can still remember her telling folks how much she loved banana peppers. For some reason, how she said her likeness for banana peppers and plus even liking peppers at that young of an age stuck with me all these years later. For the gardeners, peppers are not hard to grow if you just keep a few things in mind. I will be sharing information by use of a UGA publication by Malgorzta Florkowska and Bob Westerfield, UGA Horticulturists.

For starters, peppers belong to the vegetable family Solanaceae. They share this family with tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes. Peppers are a warm season plant that will not perform well if planted when there is a chance of frost or cool weather along with wet soils. You need soil temperatures at least 70 degrees F with the nighttime temperatures staying above 50 degrees F before you plant peppers in your garden.

Peppers are a plant you just should not plant too early. Peppers are a self-pollinating plant that will like a good sunny spot in order to perform. You can start your own plants indoor from seed, but you need to do so 6 to 8 weeks prior to transplanting into the garden. Many gardeners find it easier to buy their transplants, but growing from seed is an option if you dedicate the time.

Having a great garden site is important for production. The spot needs to receive 8 to 10 hours of sunlight per day and the area should drain well excess moisture. Right now, you still have time to take a proper soil sample in order to get liming and fertilization recommendations based on the soil you are working with in the garden. The soil pH should be in the 6.0 to 6.5 range. If you choose to not soil test, you can follow this general recommendation for peppers. You can apply a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 13-13-13 at a rate of 2 pounds of fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden. You can lime at a rate of 20-25 pounds of lime per every 1000 square feet. You will need to till or spade the soil to a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches and then level the area with a rake.

Sweet or hot peppers are the two major pepper types. I remember at a men’s meeting at church, my cousin and another gentlemen talking about the extreme hot peppers each will consume. The pungency of a pepper is found in the seed. The pungency is measured according to the Scoville Heat Index. Our information states that the mildest peppers such as sweet bell peppers, banana peppers and cherry peppers are at the bottom of the Scoville Heat Index. The middle of the scale would be the serrano, red cayenne and yellow hot wax peppers for example. The top of the Index would be your habanero and chili peppers. It is up to you to find the peppers varieties you prefer and what your goals are with the peppers.

When planting peppers, you need to do so correctly. Proper spacing is important. Space your peppers 12 to 24 inches apart in the row with each row 3 feet apart. Mulch can be beneficial by conserving water and reducing weed issues. You do need to keep the mulch off of the plant stem. How you water your pepper plants will be important for proper fruit set and development. Ideally, you will use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to help keep the root zone moist. The root zone by our literature should be six inches deep.

Peppers are not hard to grow, but they can have problems that you have to handle to get a good crop. You can have problems with blossom-end rot that is related to a calcium deficiency in the soil and poor irrigation habits. There are commercial products that can help for blossom-end rot in the short term, but managing your soil pH is a better option. It is suggested to use certified disease-free seed and transplants to help reduce issues with bacterial wilt and bacterial leaf spot for example.

You may also have to deal with problem insects such as European corn borer, corn earworm and armyworms. A good cultural practice is to use crop rotation in your pepper growing efforts. Do not plant peppers or other family related items in the same garden spot more than once every two years. You should remove all plant debris from the garden spot at the end of the growing season to reduce insect and disease issues the following year.

For more information, contact UGA Extension-Gordon County at 706-629-8685 or email Extension Agent Greg Bowman at gbowman@uga.edu.

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