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Ornamental Hot Peppers

Ornamental Hot Peppers

Courtesy of the National Garden Bureau


The majority of chile varieties offered in nurseries and from seed companies are quite domesticated, some are hybrids. They grow in a similar manner to bell peppers and many other vegetables, but a number, like some of the Peruvian, Bolivian, and the bird peppers, walk a bit on the wild side.

Under some growing conditions, the lack of flowers and fruit set may pose a problem. Occasionally they don't produce flowers—more often in short summer climates, especially in “wilder” chile varieties. Experts speculate that less domesticated varieties need the cooler weather of early fall to set fruit; and/or flowering may be triggered as the days get shorter in September. Avoid this problem by growing more domesticated chiles ('Hungarian Hot Wax', 'Cherry Bomb','Marbles',and 'Bulgarian Carrot'), especially some of the new F1 hybrids including 'Serrano Del Sol', 'Ancho 211', 'Thai Dragon', and 'Conchos' Jalapeño. In cool weather areas, prolong the growing-harvesting season by growing chiles in containers; bring them inside when frost is threatened.

Blossom drop, which results in little to no fruit set, occurs when the temperatures are above 90ºF during the day or below 60ºF at night. When the weather is more suitable, fruits will set. Sometimes pollination is poor, in that case hand pollinate a number with a Q-tip.


It is easy to get started growing chile peppers. Many nurseries have young starter plants available in the spring; Jalapeños, Hungarian Wax, Hot Cherry, Anaheims, and an occasional ornamental pepper plant are most common.

Choose sturdy looking plants with dark green foliage. Avoid those with yellowed leaves and long spindly growth as they generally fail to thrive. For a greater choice of chiles, many gardeners, including the thrill-seeking fire-eaters, order seeds from mail-order seed companies that offer a plethora of ethnic and specialty chile peppers.

Some folks want to grow the hottest pepper on the block while others prefer their peppers on the mild side. Obviously the heat varies with the variety; anyone with a delicate palate would not tolerate even the mildest Habañero. Yet, it is possible to control the heat to a degree depending on your climate, the growing method, and by timing the harvest. For spicy peppers, start by selecting hot types from the list above. Consider the growing conditions: Peppers cultivated in a hot climate with days in the 95ºF range are spicier than those grown where days are in the 70ºs. Drought-stricken chiles are hotter than those grown with lots of water. If you yearn for spicy peppers and live in a cool climate, cover the soil with black plastic mulch or grow peppers in containers on a concrete or brick patio in full sun. To turn up the fire, keep the water and nitrogen fertilizer to a minimum. Alternatively, if you prefer milder peppers, keep the plants well watered& - but not soggy - and provide afternoon shade in hot climates. A general rule of thumb is the riper the chile, the hotter it is. That said, ripe peppers have a different flavor than unripe ones. Let your personal taste and the recipe determine when to pick each pepper.


A valuable resource for chile gardeners is The Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State in Las Cruces, New Mexico (www.chilepepperinstitute.org), which provides much technical information on growing chiles.
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