Many different types of peppers can be grown in Ohio vegetable gardens. The most popular peppers are the sweet bell and banana types, and the pungent Hungarian wax types. Peppers are normally harvested in the immature green stage for use in relishes, salads, for stuffing, and for flavor in many cooked dishes.
The garden pepper, often mistakenly called mango, is unrelated to the spice pepper plant that produces the ground black pepper commonly found on American tables. The mango is a tropical fruit unrelated to either type of pepper. Peppers grown in various parts of the world are used for making such products as paprika, hot sauces, pickles, and stuffed olives.
As peppers are of tropical origin, plants thrive best when temperatures are warm. Being sensitive to the cold, planting should be delayed until the danger of frost is past in the spring. Ideal temperatures are 70 to 80 degrees F during the day, and 60 to 70 degrees F at night.
Extremely high temperatures (90 degrees F or above) during flowering often results in blossom drop. Fruit that set when temperatures average above 80 degrees F may be small and poorly shaped due to heat injury to the blossoms. Temperatures below 60 degrees F at night will also result in blossom drop.
A shortage of water at bloom time can also result in blossom drop or failure to set fruit. Usually, the plants set satisfactory crops when temperatures are between 65 and 80 degrees F and the soil is well-supplied with moisture. Avoid a soggy, water-logged soil condition when growing peppers.
Pepper plants grow best in warm, well-drained soils of moderate fertility and good tilth. The plants are not particularly sensitive to soil acidity, but best results are obtained in the 6.0 to 6.8 pH range. Adjust soil fertility as indicated by soil test results. Arrangements for soil testing can be made through your local Cooperative Extension office. Fertilizers of a 1-2-2 ratio, such as 5-10-10 or 8-16-16 are often used for growing peppers.
The choice of variety is important and depends on the gardener's preference. In addition to the standard varieties, many excellent hybrids are available. Some suggested varieties for Ohio gardens are as follows:
Peppers are usually grown in Ohio home gardens by using transplants rather than by direct seeding. If you are buying transplants at a local garden center, select stocky, sturdy plants that have 3-5 sets of true leaves. Avoid plants that already have flowers and fruit.
Space plants 18 inches apart in rows 24 inches apart or more, depending on the type of cultivation used. Water plants thoroughly after transplanting. Avoid planting under conditions that will stunt the plants and lead to poor production, such as cold weather, lack of sufficient soil moisture, or lack of sufficient fertilizer.
After the plants are well established, apply a mulch to conserve soil moisture, prevent soil compaction and help suppress weed growth.
Once fruits have begun to set, an additional sidedressing of fertilizer will help promote greater plant productivity. Use a 12-12-12 analysis fertilizer or other high nitrogen fertilizer at the rate recommended on the package.
Control weeds by hand-pulling or shallow cultivation to avoid injury to the plant roots. The incidence of disease can be reduced by proper spacing and by watering early in the day so leaves dry quickly or by using soaker hoses.
Aphids should be controlled as they may carry viral diseases that can affect peppers. European Corn Borers may make small holes near the stem of the pepper and cause internal rot of the fruit. Contact your Cooperative Extension office for the latest control recommendations.
Bell peppers are usually picked green and immature but when they are full-sized and firm. However, if they are allowed to ripen on the plant they will be sweeter and higher in vitamin content. Other peppers are usually harvested at full maturity.
Care should be taken when breaking the peppers from the plants, as the branches are often brittle. Hand clippers or pruners can be used to cut peppers from the plant to avoid excessive stem breakage. The number of peppers per plant varies with the variety. Bell pepper plants may produce 6 to 8 or more fruit per plant.
In general, peppers have short storage life of only one to two weeks. Cool, moist conditions (45 to 50 degrees F) and 85 to 90 percent relative humidity are the ideal storage conditions for peppers.
The authors gratefully acknowledge J.D. Utzinger and W.M. Brooks for their 1984 fact sheet on which this is based.
All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.
Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.
TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181