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University of Illinois Extension

Pepper-growing Questions Answered

May 23, 2013

URBANA – During the growing season, home gardeners often have questions about the popular pepper plant, said University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Ron Wolford.

Wolford described and provided research-based answers to some of the frequently asked questions about growing peppers, resulting from situations and problems encountered by growers.

What are some tips for a new gardener wanting to grow peppers?

"Peppers can vary from very sweet to extremely hot," Wolford said. "Some of the newer bell peppers come in a kaleidoscope of colors from orange, to bright red and white, to purple and almost black. Peppers must have full sun for 6 to 8 hours. Plant when both the temperature and soil are warm. Space the plants 18 to 24 inches apart. They will need the equivalent of 1 inch of moisture per week."

"Use a starter fertilizer at transplanting, and fertilize again with a complete fertilizer when peppers start to form," Wolford added. "Most peppers can be harvested during any stage of development, except for green peppers, which are most often picked when they are fully mature. Cut fruits from the plant when harvesting. Most hot peppers are harvested when they turn red. Be careful when touching hot peppers as skin and eyes can become irritated. Using plastic gloves when picking or handling hot peppers is recommended."

What are some recommended new varieties of peppers to grow?

"You can't grow wrong growing some of the newer varieties of peppers evaluated by All-America Selections," Wolford said.

These varieties include:

-Pepper 'Cayennetta': This pepper is an easy-to-grow pepper for new gardeners. 'Cayennetta' yields 3- to 4- inch chili peppers. It does not need staking, making it a great container plant. It has dense foliage that protects it from sun scald. Pepper 'Cayennetta' is also tolerant of cool weather.

-Pepper 'Orange Blaze': This pepper matures to a bright orange color in about 70 days from transplanting. It has a sweet flavor with good disease resistance. The peppers are 3 to 4 inches long.

-Pepper 'Cajun Belle': This variety looks like small bell peppers. They have just a bit of hotness. 'Cajun Belle' goes from green to scarlet to a deep red. It is good for containers and small gardens. It will yield 50 peppers per plant and will stay fresh for several weeks without refrigeration.

-Pepper 'Carmen': This is a sweet pepper with a "bull's horn" shape. The elongated peppers will grow about 6 inches long. These peppers are sweet at almost any stage of growth. They are noted for their earliness to turn red at about 75 days after transplanting. The plants will grow to 30 inches tall so they will do well in large containers.

For more information on other pepper varieties, visit the All-America Selections website at http://www.all-americaselections.org.

What is the problem if flowers are falling off the plant but there are no peppers?

"Flower drop early in the growing season is normal," Wolford said. "Plants will often produce more flowers than they need. Peppers will also drop flowers because of overwatering, over-fertilization with nitrogen, or when temperatures are above 85 degrees or too cool. If temperatures are too high, the plants will set fruit once the temperatures cool."

What causes brown—almost rotten—spots, and whitish areas on peppers?

"The brownish areas are most likely blossom end-rot, which is caused by fluctuations in soil moisture," Wolford explained. "Giving your garden an inch of moisture on a weekly basis will help to prevent the rot. Using mulches also helps. The whitish areas are probably a result of sun scald. Plants that have lost leaves due to an insect or disease problem may exhibit this condition. Keeping your plants healthy will alleviate this problem. Also, growing a pepper with dense foliage like Pepper 'Cayennetta' can help to reduce sun scald."

For more information on growing peppers and other vegetables, visit the University of Illinois Extension's website, Watch Your Garden Grow, at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/.

Source: Ron Wolford, Extension Educator, Horticulture, rwolford@illinois.edu

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