Pick Some Peppers!

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Peppers and chiles, a highlight in any garden, are among the easiest plants to grow. Bringing a rainbow of colors, a plethora of shapes and different degrees of heat to your table, peppers are an attractive addition to any garden or patio container.


It’s easy to value these plants for looks and flavor alone, but the pepper is a nutritional powerhouse as well. A serving of the most popular type in the USA – the sweet bell – contains more vitamin C than the average orange, a generous amount of vitamin E and many antioxidants, all in just 29 calories.


Peppers and chiles are actually a fruit (because they come from a flowering plant and contain seeds), but are treated and spoken of as a vegetable. Worldwide, each culture has its own preferred shapes, textures, colors, flavors and recipes.


A few examples of types are bells, bull’s horn, snacking mini-peppers, half-longs, bananas, jalapeños and habaneros.

“Bell” is a term used in the U.S.A. that refers to sweet peppers with three or four lobes. Bell might either refer roughly to the fruit shape or to the pendulous way the fruit hang from the plant. In the U.S. agriculture industry, the three- or four-lobed fruit that are nearly as wide as they are tall are referred to as “blocky” bells, while the elongated bell peppers (which are not as common in North America) are called “half-long” bells (half as wide as they are long). Bells can be found in many colors including red, yellow, orange, purple, chocolate and ivory.

“Bull’s horn” peppers are sweet and wide at the shoulder, tapering to a point. They often have thicker walls than the blocky bells and commonly mature to red. They are thought to have been brought to the U.S. from Italy and are also called corno di toro, which translates to “horn of the bull.”

Mini-snacking peppers have been popular with home gardeners for many years and have gained popularity in U.S. grocery stores in the past decade or so. They are blocky, pointed, thin-walled, sweet and come in bright colors including yellow and orange. The best snacking peppers are crunchy and have just a few seeds or no seeds at all.

Some pepper/chile varieties can be either sweet or hot. Bananas are long and thin and usually mature from a light green or yellow to red. They are used fresh and pickled as rings. Because there are both sweet and hot banana peppers available, be sure and order the seed or buy the plant you prefer.


Jalapeños and habaneros are also available in both hot-hot or sweet-hot varieties and used in many recipes to bring the heat. Here in Houston, nurseries also sell pasilla, Scotch bonnet, poblano and pequin peppers. Some of them are almost too hot to eat (except by the most fearless), but are eye-catching additions to the garden.


Peppers like a sunny spot. They grow best in a location where plants from the same family have not recently grown. Crop rotation within the garden is important for peppers, as well as for tomatoes and eggplants.


Pepper and chile plants prefer full sun, but here in Houston you should look for varieties that have “good coverage” of fruit. A full leaf canopy will prevent fruit from sun-scald. Scalded fruit, though less attractive, are still edible and taste the same.

Plants will continue to bloom and set fruit until the first frost, though they may slow down during the very hottest months of the summer. Keep the plants watered and wait out the weather – they often will rebound if conditions improve.


Peppers can be harvested at any stage of maturity. Less mature green peppers will generally be green or pale yellow, smaller, crunchy and have thin walls and a slightly tart flavor. A benefit of harvesting early is that it triggers the plants to produce more fruit. Mature peppers will often change color and have thicker walls.