Peppers are members of the nightshade (Solanaceae) family along with tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes. They require a long season of warm-hot weather before maturing in 2-3 months. A wide spectrum of sizes, shapes, colors, and flavors characterize this Capsicum species that falls into two groups depending on sweetness or spiciness of each variety.
Mild Sweet Peppers
- Bell peppers are blocky with 3-4 lobes on the bottom and have no spiciness or heat. Green bell peppers have a stronger taste that becomes milder in maturity after they turn color, although not all varieties follow this pattern. Named varieties turn yellow, orange, red, brown, or purple.
- Other mild, sweet peppers have long, tapering or round shapes with little or no heat, have thinner walls with 1-3 lobes at the bottom. They include banana, pimentos, sweet Italian and others that ripen yellow, orange, or red with flavors ideal for eating cooked or raw, pickling or canning.
- Hot peppers, familiarly referred to as chilis, are generally smaller, thinner, and more tapered, including cayenne, jalapeno, serrano, and many more. Nearly all change color as they ripen, some yellow and orange but most ripen red. Some, such as ‘Serrano’ and ‘Jalapeño,’ are used primarily at the green stage.
- Heat intensity is rated on the Scoville scale. Choose peppers based on your heat tolerance and taste preference.
- Mild bell peppers are rated 0 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) while ‘Italian Pepperoncini’ is 500 SHU, ‘Banana’ is 900 SHU, ‘Poblano’ (‘Ancho’) is 2,000 SHU, ‘Anaheim’ is 2,500 SHU, ‘Chipotle’ is 8,000 SHU, ‘Hungarian Wax’ and ‘Jalapeño’ are 10,000 SHU, ‘Serrano’ is 23,000 SHU, ‘Tabasco’ and ‘Cayenne’ are 50,000 SHU and ‘Habanero’ is 350,000 SHU. Others are hotter still.
- When using the Scoville scale, be aware that there are many hybrids with similar names but a wide variance in heat.
- Provide floating row covers or other protection when growing peppers near the coast. They require considerable heat to set fruit and mature.
- Rotate crops in the nightshade family regularly to avoid build-up of soil-borne diseases.
- Protect peppers from tobacco mosaic virus by planting resistant varieties.
- Do not plant hot peppers with mild peppers to avoid cross pollination that unpredictably alters composition of fruits.
- Avoid blossom end rot by watering evenly and maintaining calcium in the soil.
- Cut rather than pull fruit stems to harvest all peppers.
- Expect that 1 in 10 of mild, popular ‘Padron’ peppers will have some heat at the 1-1½ in. stage of development and that all will be spicy when they elongate in maturity.
- Store any pepper in the refrigerator 4-6 weeks or hang ripe chilies by their stems to dry.
- Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the average last frost, preferably on a heat mat that maintains a 65-75 degree temperature. Peppers seeded directly in the ground after June may not mature without 60-80 days of necessary summer heat.
- Transplant when nighttime temperature is maintained at 60 degrees or above. Stunted growth and blossom loss can occur at lower temperatures. Optimal growing occurs when daytime air temperature is 65-90 degrees.
- Choose a spot in full sun with well-drained, rich soil. Add a balanced fertilizer or compost prior to planting. Keep the soil moist, allowing only the surface to be nearly dry between waterings.
- Spread a layer of organic mulch to prevent evaporation and control weeds.
- Opt to purchase several young individual plants for a mixed group of peppers rather than a 6- pack of the same variety. Choose seedlings with buds but no flowers or fruit.
- Provide a balanced fertilizer at planting time but avoid excess nitrogen that results in a bushy, leafy plant with few fruits. Too little nitrogen, however, will give you a plant with lots of fruit but few leaves for shade. Strong sun will scald and burn unprotected fruit.
- Add a side dressing of compost or a balanced liquid fertilizer such as 5-10-10 at blossom time and again one or two times during the growing season to promote fruit production.
- Sonoma County Master Gardener Vegetable Planting Summary https://sonomamg.ucanr.edu/Food_Gardening_with_Less_Water/