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Gardening: Add some heat to your garden and grow peppers

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Gardening

When choosing pepper plants to transplant into your garden, be sure to pick disease-free plants only. Christopher Burtt/Provided

Peppers are a favorite in my garden as they provide such unique and colorful fruit. Whether you prefer sweet or heat, they provide a range of flavors and additions in the garden and the kitchen.

With the hundreds of varieties and cultivars, there are plenty to choose from when it comes to peppers. Whether you prefer sweet bell peppers or spicy chili peppers, the plants in the Capsicum genus can provide the fruit for you.

The pepper plant originated from Central and South America where they were cultivated for thousands of years. They have since made their way all around the world.

Pepper plants are warm season plants in the Solanaceae family. This family includes tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes as well as some ornamentals and even some poisonous plants.

If growing from seed, it is important to sow the seeds well in advance indoors as they can be slow to germinate and grow, especially the warmer the pepper.

Gardening

When fertilizing pepper plants, be sure to not add too much nitrogen as this causes lots of vegetative growth but may stop the plant from flowering. Christopher Burtt/Provided

Be careful when handling the hotter pepper seeds as these can still carry some heat, so wash your hands after sowing.

When purchasing transplants, be sure to pick disease-free plants only. Plant peppers in the ground outdoors after the last possible chance of frost as they do not tolerate freezing temperatures.

When planting in the ground, pick a sunny, well-drained spot. Raised beds are ideal for peppers as this allows for plenty of soil amendments as they like loamy soil. If you don’t have the spot for the peppers in the ground, one also can plant peppers in pots as they do very well in containers. If growing in containers, use at least a two-gallon pot or larger.

If disease has been a problem in your garden in the past, then containers are an excellent alternative.

Pepper plants are relatively simple to grow given the proper conditions. Though they do not like wet feet, so it is imperative to check that they do not completely dry out, especially during fruit set.

If the plant does not get adequate water during fruit development, blossom-end rot can form on the fruit.

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Gardening

A small purple bell pepper. Christopher Burtt/Provided

Fertilizing pepper plants should be done based on a soil test if planted in the ground. For peppers in containers, use fertilizers labeled for tomatoes, so read and follow the label.

Be careful not to add too much nitrogen as this causes lots of vegetative growth but may stop the plant from flowering.

There are a few disease issues that can be a concern, but these are mostly reduced through proper plant rotation. Do not plant the same family of plants year after year to lower the chance of a pest or disease from taking hold.

Also, remember to remove pepper plants after the first frost as they may regrow the following year but with the increased possibility of developing some disease issues.

Gardening

These cayenne peppers are almost ripe. Christopher Burtt/Provided

There are many types of peppers. These are usually categorized based on the amount of heat the fruits develop.

This heat is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). The higher the value, the hotter the fruit.

While standard jalapenos and others can have an SHU of around 5,000, some of the hottest peppers can range in the millions.

Gardening

The Carolina Reaper is considered by some to be one of the hottest peppers based on its Scoville rating, which is more than 1.5 million. Christopher Burtt/Provided

The Carolina Reaper, bred in South Carolina, is one of the hottest peppers, with a Scoville rating of more than 1.5 million units.

Bell peppers, which are generally the mildest peppers and produce an abundance of fruit, are favorites in many gardens.

The best time to harvest peppers is once they are close to their full size with firm skin. This is generally 75 to 85 days after transplanting. Harvesting peppers should be done with care as the stems can be fragile. It is best to use a sharp pair of pruners to cut rather than pull the fruit.

Christopher Burtt is the Urban Horticulture Extension Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. He can be reached by email at cburtt@clemson.edu.

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