Peppers are heat-loving annuals that are very popular in the vegetable garden. There are many varieties available that range from sweet to hot to very hot, and come in a wide variety of flavors and colors.
The heat of a hot pepper comes from an alkaloid compound called “capsaicin.” Pepper pungency is measured in Scoville Heat Units ranging from 0 to 2,480,000, the highest number being the hottest. Peppers tend to be hotter when grown under stress such as high temperatures or dry soil.
Peppers prefer fertile, well-drained soil. In the garden, wait to plant until the soil has warmed up, till 6-12 inches deep, and incorporate compost. Use a quality potting mix in containers.
Require at least 6 hours of sun per day.
Peppers prefer high heat and are very sensitive to cold. Wait to plant until there is no danger of frost. Typically it’s safe to plant around Memorial Day, but even later if the soil hasn’t yet warmed up. If there is a chance of frost, cover peppers with something like a floating row cover, Gardman Fleece Grow Tunnel, upside down plant pot, bucket, or trimmed milk jug, etc.
Mulch soil around plants to conserve water and suppress weeds. Apply a layer 2-3 inches thick of light organic mulch such as straw, marsh hay, or leaves, and leave a space free of mulch 2-3 inches around the stem to allow air flow.
Plant deep enough so some of the stem is under the soil line, up to the first set of leaves at most, to help it become strong and sturdy. Spacing depends on the variety (check the tag), but try to give enough space for proper air circulation to help prevent disease. Most peppers grow to about 2 ft in diameter. Water thoroughly after planting.
Water well while plants become established. Once established, they generally need moderate moisture, about 1” of water per week, depending on the weather, but avoid overwatering as peppers do not tolerate soggy soil. To prevent disease, keep moisture off the leaves by watering the soil, and if possible, water in the morning.
Pepper plants in containers will need more water than in the garden and should be checked daily. Water until draining out the bottom of the pot.
Peppers are light feeders and don’t produce fruit well if over-fertilized. Fertilize at time of planting by incorporating Espoma Plant-tone, or Espoma Garden-tone into the soil before planting. These Espoma products are organic, natural, and slow-release. Peppers can also benefit from Epsom salt in the soil for magnesium.
Peppers mature through different stages of color and flavor, usually beginning green and turning orange, yellow, or red. Allowing fruits to ripen on the stem enhances flavor, but reduces yield. Most often fruits are harvested before ripening so it ripens sooner. Remove fruit from stem with a sharp knife or pruners so as not to damage or uproot the plant.
Days to Maturity
Color When Mature
|Anaheim||Popular in dishes that call for a mild chili flavor. Can also be stuffed like a poblano.||Mild Hot (500 - 2,500 SHU)||85||Bright Red|
|Ancho/Poblano||Known as poblano when green & ancho when dried. Produces a heart-shaped, 4" long fruit, which is one of the most popular chilis in Mexico. The classic pepper for chili rellenos, when green, roasted and peeled.||Mild Hot (2,000 SHU)||90||Green-Black|
|Beaver Dam||A Hungarian heirloom brought to Beaver Dam, WI in 1912 by the Joe Hussli family. Florence Hussli recommends adding crisp sliced rings to a cheese and bologna sandwich, or using for stuffed peppers.||Mild Hot||80||Red|
|Cayenne, Long Slim||Very long, slender, bright red pepper. Good for homemade hot sauce and also dries well for ristras or dried hot pepper flakes.||Hot (30,000 - 50,000 SHU)||75||Red|
|Fooled You||Tastes like a jalapeno without the heat. The 24-28" plants yield a profuse crop of thick-walled, deep green, 3-1/2" fruits that mature from green to red.||Mild||65||Green to Red|
|Garden Salsa||Perfect heat for Mexican sauces and fresh salsa. Pepper grows to 8-9", with glossy green skin that will turn red if left on the plant, but is best picked green for salsa.||Mid Hot (3,000 SHU)||73||Red|
|Ghost||The Ghost pepper, aka Bhut Jolokia, is recognized as one of the world's hottest peppers by the Buinness Book of World Records. At over one million Scoville heat units, it is nearly twice as hot as the famous Red Savina. It's suggested to proceed with caution and wear gloves while handling.||Very Hot (855,000 - 1,041,427 SHU)||85-90||Red|
|Habanero||Extremely hot and popular pepper from the Caribbean. Short, wrinkled green fruits, about 1-1/2" x 1", that turn orange. Has a uniquely pungent and smoky quality unlike other peppers, making it a highly sought after ingredient for sauces and salsas.||Hot (150,000 - 325,000 SHU)||95||Orange|
|Hungarian Hot Wax||A banana shaped pepper matures from light yellow to orange-red, also known as Hot Banana. Considered medium hot with less heat than a Jalapeno. A popular hot pepper variety which is especially good for pickling.||Mid Hot (5,000 - 10,000 SHU)||70||Orange-Red|
|Jalapeño||Produces 3", thick-walled, moderately hot fruits with a deep green color that matures to a bright red. The dried jalapeno is known as Chipotle. Usually used when green to make salsa or pickled.||Mid Hot (5,000 SHU)||72||Red|
|Jalapeño, El Jefe||Best combination of earliness and high yield in a jalapeno.||Mid Hot (4000 - 6000 SHU)||75||Green to Red|
|Pepperoncini||Narrow 5" long fruits, perfect for pickling. Also good fresh or cooked.||Mild Hot||75||Light Green to Red|
|Poblano||Known as poblano when green & ancho when dried. A heart-shaped, 4" long fruit, which is one of the most popular chilis in Mexico. Used green, after roasting and peeling, it is the classic pepper for chili rellenos.||Mild Hot||90||Green-Black|
|Scorpion - Trinidad||Second hottest chili that exists! Wrinkled, lantern-shaped fruits ripen to red-orange. It's recommended to proceed with caution and wear gloves while handling.||Very Hot (500,000 - 1,463,700 SHU)||90||Red|
|Serrano||The hot, pungent fruits grow 2½-4" long. Slim, club-shaped green peppers with medium thin walls mature to a bright red color.||Hot (10,000 - 25,000 SHU)||85||Red|
|Sriracha Chili||Large, 5" x 1-1/4" dark green, chili-type fruits are firm and uniform with shiny, smooth skin and thick walls. Flavor is mildly hot, but not overpowering. Perfect for slicing, roasting and pickling. Peppers have a long shelf life.||Mild Hot||65-70||Red|
|Super Chili||Plant produces high yields of 1-1/2" x 1/2" hot peppers upright in clusters, which are very hot, and turn from light green to red. Plant produces 3 times as many peppers than regular chili peppers. Excellent when used in Thai, Szechwan, and Asian dishes.||Hot (40,000 - 50,000 SHU)||85||Red|
|Sweet Banana||Even after more than 70 years, this is still extremely popular pepper. Large, pointed fruits measure 6-7" long and 1 1/2" across. The mild yellow peppers ultimately turn brilliant red. A favorite for pickling.||Mild Hot||72||Yellow to Red|
|Thai Yellow Chili||Plant produces good yields of 3" long by 1/2" wide hot, flavorful peppers.||Hot||60||Green to Yellow|
Days to Maturity
Color When Mature
|Baron||Produces high yields of bright red, blocky, 4" fruits. The thick-walled fruits are excellent for eating fresh, roasting and stuffing.||Sweet||70||Red|
|Better Belle||Vigorous, fast growing peppers, perfect for patio pots. Ready to harvest earlier than other varieties, producing tasty, thick-walled fruit as big as 5" across.||Sweet||65||Green -Deep Orange|
|Big Bertha||Plant produces good yields of 7" long by 4" wide sweet peppers. One of the biggest bell peppers!||Sweet||70||Red|
|California Wonder||Large fruit. The standard bell pepper for many decades. Blocky 4" x 3 1/2", thick-walled, tender and flavorful, perfect for stuffing.||Sweet||75||Green to Red|
|Chocolate Beauty||A flavorful, medium-large, very smooth, 3 and 4-lobed bell pepper. Matures from green to a very attractive chocolate color.||Sweet||85||Chocolate Brown|
|Golden California Wonder||Very sweet and mild pepper with beautiful golden color. Great for eating fresh or stuffing.||Sweet||75||Yellow|
|Gypsy||Fruits are 5" x 3", wedged shaped. Good for frying or salads.||Sweet||60-65||Gold-Red|
|Kalman's Hungarian Tomato Pepper||A sweet red pepper that looks like a tomato.||Sweet||Red|
|Lady Bell||Plant produces good yields of sweet bell peppers. Excellent for salads or stuffing. Very dependable producer, even in cooler weather.||Sweet||71||Red|
|Margaret's Pepper||Large, sweet fruits (about 6" long) with thick walls.||Sweet||70||Red|
|North Star||Early, blocky bell fruit produced, even under adverse conditions.||Sweet||60||Green to Red|
|Orange Bell||Thick flesh, 4-5" long, excellent flavor and quality.||Sweet||75||Orange|
|Orange Blaze F1||A winner for great flavor, early maturity, easy-growing personality and great disease resistance. Fruits are 2-3 lobed, 4” long and 1-1/2” wide.||Sweet||65-70||Orange|
|Purple Beauty||Blocky, thick-walled, beautifully colored fruit with a crisp texture and mild, sweet flavor.||Sweet||70||Green-Dark Purple|
|Wisconsin Lakes||A classic sweet bell pepper great for northern growers. Medium sized (4-5” long) all-purpose bell pepper with very sweet and crunchy walls. Productive and early maturing. Fruit can be picked green or red. A Midwest variety out of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, bred by O.B. Combs in 1954 before our public universities switched exclusively to hybrid pepper breeding.||Sweet||75-85||Red|