Get to Know & Grow Sweet & Hot Peppers

Many dishes would be less exciting without the hot peppers we all know and love. And salads would be pretty boring without bell peppers. Nearly all varieties of popular peppers are descended from one species, so they all have the same easy growing requirements. Read on to learn more, and get growing.

Green, sweet and hot peppers all need a well-prepared bed and lots of water. But other than that, they're fairly straightforward to grow. Some varieties are even pretty enough to plant in flower beds or containers. 

Care and Feeding

  • For a wider selection, start from seed indoors in January or February. If you want to plant them later, most nurseries and hardware stores should have a few varieties of starter plants. Just make sure the soil is 70 degrees or warmer before you plant them.
  • Choose a sunny spot where peppers were not planted the year before. Peppers like well-drained soil, so if you have clay or a boggy yard, work in lots of sand and compost. If your whole yard is unsuitable, consider a raised bed or container.
  • Use a light fertilizer (look for "5-10-10" on the bag) when planting seedlings - richer fertilizers will result in bushy plants that bear less fruit. Fertilizer again when the first fruits begin to form.
  • Be prepared to water your peppers generously, and mulch them to help retain water once the weather is reliably hot. They need about an inch of water a week, and there's a dry, hot spell, you'll need to water them every day.
  • Once your pepper plants are well established, there are just a few things to remember:
    • Taller varieties will need to be skated or corralled in tomato cages once they get big.
    • If you're growing red, yellow or purple peppers, don't worry if they stay green for a long time. Their final color will appear only at the end of their growing cycle.
    • Harvest ripe peppers with kitchen shears to avoid damaging plants.

Five Fun Facts:

  1. Bell peppers are very high in Vitamin C, especially when they are allowed to reach optimum ripeness. Red bell peppers carry the most vitamin C, and all bell peppers are a good source of Vitamin E and the carotenoids usually associated with tomatoes.
  2. As of 2012, China was the world's largest producer of green peppers (both bell and hot) at 51 percent of world production, followed by Mexico (7 percent) and the U.S. (4 percent).
  3. Capsaicin is the alkaloid compound that gives hot peppers their heat, making them an essential ingredient in many tasty dishes. It's also the active ingredient in pain relievers used for sore muscles, shingles, and other ailments.
  4. If you can't handle the heat of a chili pepper, reach for milk, ice cream or yogurt - certain dairy proteins act like soap and blind to capsaicin, stripping it away to ease mouth pain.
  5. Capsaicin and capsicum are both derived from the Latin capsa meaning "box" or "case".

Five Historical Facts:

  1. Bolivia is believed to be the "nuclear center" of the capsicum annuum genus from which nearly all domesticated peppers are descended. There are roughly 25 known varieties, half of which are regularly consumed by humans.
  2. Chili seeds dating back 9,000 years have been found at archeological sites in Mexico.
  3. Columbus was looking for black pepper in the Caribbean when he found sweet and hot peppers. He decided to name them after the spice he sought.
  4. Europeans initially did not eat peppers - the shiny, colorful fruits were considered to be lovely living decorations.
  5. Spanish monks were the first Europeans to cook with peppers - their heat was a cheap substitute for black pepper, which was then a scarce spice for the rich.