Pepper Cultivars for Hobby Gardeners
It is no surprise that peppers (Capsicum spp.) are one of the most popular vegetable plants in American gardens. Peppers are, after all, easy to grow, add zest to any recipe and each year horticulturalists introduce exciting new varieties. Some are spicy, others are sweet. Some have a tall growth habit, others are compact. Since their fruits may ripen into a rainbow of colors, it not uncommon for some to be used mainly for their ornamental value. Because of their versatility, peppers can be grown just about anywhere: from fields to backyard gardens to containers.
As any seasoned grower can tell you, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of pepper cultivars available to the hobby gardeners. With so many enticing varieties to choose from, we thought it might be helpful to share some of our favorite pepper cultivars!
Sweet Pepper Cultivars
Pepper varieties are frequently divided into two broad categories: sweet and hot. When most people think of sweet peppers, an image of blocky, green or red bell peppers probably comes to mind. In fact, sweet peppers are available in many shapes and colors. Most bell peppers start out green and ripen to red, but some cultivars will ripen to purple, orange, yellow or even brown. Moreover, not all sweet peppers are bell peppers: some produce cone-like fruits.
The following are some of our preferred sweet pepper varieties:
- Carmen Hybrid Pepper: Our favorite sweet pepper belongs to the category known as “bull horn” or Italian frying peppers. Carmen hybrid peppers produce impressive 6 – 8 inch fruits which can be harvested green about 65 days after transplant, although they attain their full flavor and sweetness after they ripen to a deep red color (about 80 days post-transplant). We recommend roasting them over a grill for a real summer treat!
- Orange Blaze Hybrid Pepper: Orange peppers can effortlessly add color to any dish while imparting a tangy flavor. While there are many varieties of orange bell peppers, the Orange Blaze cultivar provides a perfect combination of good yields, early maturity and resistance to plant diseases.
- Sweet Pickle Pepper: A compact plant that can double as an ornamental, sweet pickle peppers produce 2 inch fruits held above the foliage that ripen from ivory-yellow to red. These peppers are ideal for bite-sized snack or, as their name implies, pickling. The plant has a bushy yet neat growth habit. Because it stays under 2 foot tall, it is a great container plant.
Hot Pepper Cultivars
Hot peppers are even more diverse than sweet peppers thanks to varying levels of capsaicin—the compound responsible for their pungent or “hot” flavor. Their intensity, which is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), can range from the mild “kick” of jalapeños to sweat-inducing heat of habaneros.
The following are some of our preferred hot pepper varieties:
- Mucho Nacho Jalapeño: A cultivar with a vigorous growth habit, Mucho Nacho Jalapeños produce an abundance of 3 – 4 inch fruits with just the right amount of heat.
- Large Red Thick Cayenne: Cayenne chili peppers will add sizzle to any salsa or sauce recipe
- Orange Habanero: It only requires a few lantern-shaped fruits of the classic Orange Habanero pepper to make a big impact in a recipe. This cultivar has a compact, bushy growth habit that makes it a perfect fit for containers.
- Fatalii Hot Pepper: If the unique appearance of a wrinkled, golden Fatalii pepper does not etch itself into your memory, the taste of this super-hot pepper surely will. Growers beware!
- Lemon Drop Hot Pepper: A robust heirloom, lemon drop hot pepper plants produce an abundance of bullet-shaped fruits. This pepper has a very tolerable level of heat that can add a unique flavor to almost any dish.
Ornamental Pepper Cultivars
With their glossy, brilliant fruits, some pepper cultivars make spectacular ornamentals with displays that can rival any flower. The following two ornamental pepper cultivars are compact plants that grow less than 18 inches tall, enabling them to fit into most containers.
- Medusa Ornamental Pepper: Although named after the monster from Greek mythology, the snake-like fruits that jut and twist above the foliage of Medusa Peppers are striking, not scary. In addition to their interesting form, the peppers provide several colors on the same plant at once as they start out yellow and then ripen to orange and finally red.
- NuMex Easter Ornamental Pepper: A recent cultivar developed by the Chili Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University, the fruits of the NuMex Easter Pepper start out purple and the transition to a reddish-orange as they ripen.
When selecting peppers to grow, it is important to choose a variety suitable to your area. For example, if you live in an area with cool summers, you will want to select a cultivar that performs well in a cooler climate and boasts an earlier maturity.
Peppers grow best in full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day) in fertile, well-drained soil. They do need a steady supply of water (about 1 – 2 inches of water or rain per week, depending on conditions). Their overall performance and yield can be improved with an initial foliar application of Culbac® Plant Solution at the rate of 4 fluid ounces per acre (0.3 ml per 100 ft2) at two weeks post-transplant. This should be followed by a second foliar application of Culbac® Plant Solution at the rate of 8 fluid ounces per acre (0.6 ml per 100 ft2) at early bloom.
By following these tips, we hope that you will find growing your own peppers to be an exciting and productive summer hobby!
Carmen Hybrid Peppers
These Carmen hybrid peppers resemble brilliant icicles as they’re waiting to be picked.
Orange Blaze Hybrid Bell Pepper
Even when the foliage is dense, a ripe Orange Blaze Hybrid Bell Pepper is impossible to miss.
Sweet Pickle Peppers
These sweet pickle peppers are almost too beautiful to eat!
Jalapeño peppers are fantastic table fare regardless of whether they are picked green or red.
These ripening cayenne peppers have us dreaming about Buffalo wings!
Fatalii Hot Peppers
Fatalii hot peppers are aptly-named since they seem capable of delivering a deadly dose of heat.
Lemon Drop Hot Peppers
These lemon drop hot peppers may be small but they pack lots of flavor and just the right amount of spice.
Medusa Ornamental Pepper
A Medusa Ornamental Pepper needs only a small container and a sunny spot to bring endless enjoyment throughout the summer.
NuMex Easter Ornamental Peppers
Few plants can rival the magnificence of these NuMex Easter Ornamental Peppers.