Boost the flavor and nutrition of your favorite recipes by growing your own sweet and hot peppers. You’ll not only save money, but you just might find that your family will enjoy the planting, tending, cooking and eating of something they helped grow in the garden.
You can grow peppers in a pot, add them to your flower gardens or dedicate a portion of your vegetable garden to growing your favorite varieties.
Look to your family’s favorite recipes when selecting peppers to add to your garden. Include a few Anaheim hot peppers for your chiles rellenos, soups and stews. Add a jalapeno or serrano for your favorite Pico de Gallo and salsa recipes. Or try something new like Cajun Belle Pepper, an All-America Selections winner. Selected for its unique flavor and suitability for the home garden, it combines the sweetness of bell peppers with a mild, but spicy heat of a hot pepper.
Whether this is your first or fortieth garden consider implementing some unique garden design ideas. Bonnie Plants’ Spanish mobile site (m.bonnieplants.com/es) offers several garden designs, including a 4 x 4 foot salsa, sweet and spicy and kids’ garden. The plans include a few extra vegetables like onions, cilantro and tomatillos to help complete your favorite recipes.
Once you have your list of plants, select a sunny location with well-drained soil. Dig several inches of compost, peat moss or coir into the top eight to twelve inches of soil. This improves drainage in clay soils and increases the water holding ability in sandy soils. Add a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer at planting to provide most of your plants’ fertilizer needs for the season. Or feed regularly with a liquid plant food according to label directions.
Plant peppers 18 inches apart in the garden. Water thoroughly. Then spread a thin layer of straw, shredded leaves or evergreen needles over the soil surface to help suppress weeds, conserve moisture and keep the roots cool during the hot days of summer.
Or grow a pepper and a bit of cilantro or a few flowers in a large container with drainage holes. Fill with a well-drained potting mix and add a slow release fertilizer if the potting mix does not include one, and use a liquid plant food to supplement later in the season. Water thoroughly until the water runs out the bottom. Check containers daily and twice a day in hot weather. Water when the top few inches of soil start to dry.
Check the soil moisture in the garden every few days. Water often enough to keep the soil moist around new plantings. After a few weeks, start watering less often until you are watering thoroughly whenever the top few inches of soil is crumbly but slightly moist. That’s about once a week for those gardening in clay soil and twice a week for those with sandy soil. You’ll need to water more often in hotter weather.
And once the fruit reach full size and are fully colored, you’ll be harvesting and enjoying your own homegrown peppers in your favorite recipes.
Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Can’t Miss Small Space Gardening. She hosts the nationally syndicated “Melinda’s Garden Moments” which airs on over 130 TV and radio stations throughout the U.S.