Without conducting a survey, I would estimate that growing peppers would rank in the top five as a favorite for most gardeners. Peppers are not that difficult to grow if you follow gardening basics for this item.

In addition, you have some varieties in peppers based on the two pepper types of sweet and hot peppers. Today, I will be going over some peppers gardening basics before the arrival of growing season by use of a UGA publication by Bob Westerfield and Malgorzata Florkowska, UGA Horticulture.

First, I would like to go over common problems that you may have to overcome in order to have pepper gardening success. In sports, many winning teams are based on a super defense. In vegetable gardening, you have to be prepared for the problems that can arise. Preparation can be the same as a great defense and be the reason you have a successful growing season.

Peppers can have issues with blossom-end rot. Blossom-end rot is the result of calcium deficiency along with bad irrigation management by the grower. The best thing you can do now is correctly take a soil sample and get it sent to the UGA Soils Lab by our office in order to get liming and fertilization recommendations. If you do have issues with blossom-end rot, there are commercial products on the market that can be a short- term answer. Checking the soil pH which is a part of a soil sample sent to the lab is seen as a long term solution.

Three of the more common insect issues in peppers are associated with European corn borer, corn earworm and armyworm. Now would be a good time to research on identification of these insects and look at researched-based solutions to these insects.

Disease can be a problem with bacterial wilt and bacterial leaf spot being the most common. We suggest to use certified-free seed and transplants in order to reduce disease issues. Do not forget to incorporate crop rotation in your pepper considerations. You do not need to plant peppers or other items in the same family in the same garden spot more than once every two years. You also need to remove all plant debris from the garden at the end of the growing season to reduce insect and potentially disease issues the next year.

As previously stated, sweet and hot are the two major pepper types. There is the Scoville Heat Index that is used to measure the pungency of the different peppers. The spiciness or hotness of peppers is actually in the seeds of the pepper. Your mild peppers such as banana peppers are at the bottom of the Index while red cayenne would be in the middle of the scale. The top of the Scoville Heat Index would be your habanero and chili peppers. Your choice of pepper would be based on personal preference and your goals with the crop.

We still have time before planting season for peppers. They are a warm weather plant and do not handle frost, cool weather or wet ground. Keep in mind that the soil temperatures need to be at least 70 degrees F along with night temperatures that stay about 50 degrees F before you plant peppers in the garden. Pepper plants need a garden spot that is well draining and will supply 8 to 10 hours of sunlight per day. Peppers are also self-pollinating.

I will add that peppers belong to the vegetable family, Solanaceae. Eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes also belong to this family. Buying pepper transplants are an easier option, but you can grow your plants from seed. Keep in mind that pepper seed will take approximately 10 days to germinate. You can start the seed indoors six to eight weeks before planting them in your garden spot.

Once a proper gardening site is selected, you need to prepare the area. You prepare your soil as you would for tomatoes by using some compost or other organic soil amendments if necessary according to our information. Make sure the soil pH is in the 6.0 to 6.5 zone. Again, now is a great time to soil test. I know some people just will not soil test so a general recommendation is to fertilize with 10-10-10 or 13-13-13 at the rate of 2 pounds per 100 square feet of garden and lime may be added at the rate of 20-25 pounds per 1000 square feet. You need to spade or till the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches and then level with a rake. Again, a soil test will be more accurate to the needs of your soil.

When it is time to plant the transplants, space the pepper plants 12-24 inches apart in the row with rows approximately 3 feet apart. It is suggested to mulch pepper plants with compost, straw or wood chips to reduce weeds and to help with water conservation. Make sure you keep the mulch off of the stems. Do not forget the importance of irrigation. You need to water peppers with drip irrigation or soaker hoses to keep the root zone moist. The root zone should be six inches deep. Finally, consistent watering is important for correct fruit set and development.

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

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