How to Grow and Care for Ornamental Peppers
Updated: 31 Oct, 2023
Ornamental peppers seamlessly blend beauty with edibility, showcasing a vibrant array of fruits and foliage in a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. Thriving under ample sunlight and warmth, they boast rapid growth and minimal upkeep.
While they thrive as perennials in balmy, frost-free climates, many gardeners cultivate them as annuals. Spring planting is ideal, with soil temperatures reaching a minimum of 70 degrees F. It’s worth noting that the leaves of ornamental pepper plants harbor toxicity for both humans and animals, warranting cautious handling.
Read also: How to Grow and Care for an Easter Cactus.
|Ornamental pepper, Christmas pepper plant
|6-18 in. tall and wide
|Pink, purple, white
|Cultivar, no native range
|Leaves are toxic to humans and pets
How to Plant Ornamental Peppers
Avoid a common pitfall when growing ornamental peppers by refraining from outdoor planting too early. Garden centers often stock these plants before the weather is conducive for planting. A good rule of thumb is to equate the timing with when outdoor swimming becomes pleasant – that’s when it’s ideal to transplant ornamental peppers.
Ensure that not only has the threat of frost completely passed, but nights should also be comfortably warm, with temperatures no less than 60 degrees F, preferably higher. Soil temperature should reach a minimum of 70 degrees before sowing seeds outdoors or placing nursery transplants. For those germinating peppers from seeds, starting them indoors is generally recommended. Direct sowing in the garden can be finicky, especially in cooler climates with shorter growing seasons.
Choosing the Planting Location
Ornamental peppers thrive on 6 to 8 hours of daily sunlight. Ensure the soil provides good drainage. Given their aesthetic appeal and modest stature, position them where you can relish the sight – at the front of a border, around a patio, and similar spots.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Transplant ornamental pepper seedlings with three to four true leaves (not the cotyledons) at intervals of 12 to 24 inches in the garden, settling them into holes about 3 to 4 inches deep. These plants typically grow upwards. While most varieties have been bred not to require staking or caging, if a plant becomes particularly laden with fruit, providing additional support may be prudent.
Ornament Pepper Care
Ornamental peppers thrive in full sun, which provides the necessary energy for vibrant flowers and colorful fruit production. When cultivating these plants indoors, supplement with artificial lighting to ensure robust growth and fruitful yields.
Optimal Soil Conditions
Plant ornamental peppers in nutrient-rich, slightly acidic loamy soil, maintaining a pH level between 6.0 to 6.8. Enhance soil quality with generous additions of compost and well-rotted manure, improving texture and infusing essential trace nutrients for healthier plants. If faced with heavy clay soil, opt for raised beds or containers to ensure proper drainage.
For potted ornamental peppers, any standard all-purpose potting mix suffices.
While ornamental peppers dislike drought conditions, they also don’t thrive in waterlogged soil. Water deeply when the soil’s surface feels dry, aiming for a moisture level akin to a wrung-out sponge. A weekly inch of water is recommended. Regularly monitor container-grown plants, as they tend to dry out faster compared to those in the ground.
Temperature and Humidity Considerations
Similar to tomatoes, ornamental peppers belong to the Solanaceae family and thrive in full sun and warm climates. Temperatures of 75 degrees F and higher spur rapid growth. Planting peppers in cold soil may result in stunted growth throughout the season. While humidity is less crucial, it’s vital to ensure the roots remain adequately moist. Extremely high temperatures exceeding 90 degrees may lead to blossom drop, but the plants will recover once temperatures cool.
Ornamental peppers have a moderate appetite for nutrients, necessitating a consistent supply to support blooming and fruiting. Opt for a 5-10-10 fertilizer with higher phosphorus and potassium levels than nitrogen to promote robust fruit and flower production without excessive leafiness. Apply the fertilizer as a side dressing when the fruit initially begins to form, followed by a second application about six weeks later.
Similar to all peppers, ornamental peppers possess perfect flowers, containing both male and female reproductive organs. These plants self-pollinate without relying on pollinating insects.
Types of Ornamental Peppers
When it comes to ornamental peppers, the spectrum of options spans from bright and cheerful to dark and moody. Here are some popular varieties:
- ‘Chilly Chili’: Boasts elongated yellow and red peppers that shoot skyward like fingers.
- ‘Black Pearl’: Features striking black foliage and clusters of shiny, pearl-like black peppers. It’s highly heat-tolerant and naturally forms an elegant pyramid shape without the need for pinching or grooming.
- ‘Prairie Fire‘: A compact ornamental pepper, standing at just 6 to 12 inches tall. Its chilies grow upright, transitioning in colors from yellow to orange, then red, and finally purple as they reach maturity.
- ‘Aurora’: Offers a stunning display of peppers that progress from green to purple, then to orange and red, creating a vibrant rainbow of colors on a single plant.
- ‘Medusa’: Yields mild chilies with a Scoville heat rating of 1 to 1,000, making it a safe choice for families. Its narrow, twisted peppers in ivory, yellow, and bright orange resemble the snake hair of the Greek mythological figure, Medusa.
- ‘Joker’: A petite ornamental pepper suitable for both indoor and outdoor cultivation. It reaches a compact size of 5 to 12 inches in height and width, showcasing showy, upright-growing peppers in red, yellow, and ivory.
- ‘Bolivian Rainbow’: Produces fiery peppers that resemble colorful miniature Christmas light bulbs.
- ‘Sangria’: Adopts a trailing growth habit, making it an appealing choice for hanging baskets.
- ‘NuMex Easter’: Offers a delightful array of pastel peppers alongside dark green foliage.
These diverse ornamental pepper varieties provide an array of colors, shapes, and growth habits, allowing for a captivating display in any garden or indoor space.
Ornamental Peppers vs. Vegetable Garden Peppers
Both ornamental and edible peppers share a genus, but they have notable distinctions. Ornamental peppers typically exhibit a dwarfed growth pattern compared to their hot and mild edible counterparts. Peppers cultivated for culinary use offer a rich tapestry of distinct flavors, whereas biting into an ornamental pepper yields a predominantly sharp, occasionally bitter heat without the smoky or sweet undertones found in some varieties. Additionally, ornamental peppers bear their fruits prominently at the apex of the plant, ensuring visibility, while edible peppers often conceal their fruits within the foliage.
Harvesting Ornamental Peppers
Given their limited palatability, ornamental peppers find their niche in cut or dried arrangements. Taller varieties are preferred due to their elongated stems. When preparing for dried displays, it’s advisable to harvest them once at least 90 percent of the peppers on the stem have attained their full color (note that they may continue to ripen after cutting). Whether for fresh or dried arrangements, remove the leaves from the stems. For the drying process, suspend them upside down in a dry, well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight.
Growing Ornamental Peppers in Pots
Ornamental peppers, regardless of their variety, excel as container plants. Their root system is compact and shallow, making a 6-inch container sufficient for a single pepper plant. However, it’s worth noting that smaller containers tend to dry out more swiftly. For outdoor settings, opting for a larger container capable of accommodating multiple plants or even a mixed planting is likely to yield better results. On the other hand, indoor pepper plants can tolerate smaller containers with ease.
While not obligatory, pruning ornamental peppers can be beneficial in maintaining a more compact appearance. Pinching off the growing tips promotes bushier growth. Once the stems reach a length of approximately 4 to 6 inches, a trim of half an inch can encourage more robust and less leggy growth. It’s important to note, however, that flowering stems should not be trimmed. This ensures the plant can continue its natural reproductive process and produce its characteristic vibrant fruits.
Propagating Ornamental Peppers
Propagating ornamental pepper plants can be challenging, which is why many gardeners opt to start from seeds. However, if you’re in a region with mild winters or planning to grow it indoors, stem cuttings can be an option. Here’s how to propagate from cuttings:
- Select a healthy stem and use a clean, sharp cutting tool to make a diagonal cut, taking a 5-inch portion with at least two leaf nodes.
- Remove the bottom 2 to 3 inches of leaves and dip that end in rooting hormone.
- Prepare a small seedling pot with drainage holes and fill it with well-draining, moistened potting soil.
- Use a pencil to create a hole in the soil and place the cutting about 1 inch deep. Gently pack the soil around the cutting.
- Position the pot in a warm spot and ensure the soil stays consistently moist but not soggy.
After approximately eight weeks, when the cutting has grown a few inches, transplant it into a more permanent 6- or 8-inch pot, or directly into the ground. This step is crucial for the continued growth and development of the plant.
How to Grow Ornamental Peppers From Seeds
Establishing a border of ornamental peppers, beginning from seed offers an affordable means to acquire numerous plants. However, since all ornamental peppers are cultivars, using seeds from your own plants won’t yield offspring identical to the parent. Hence, it’s advisable to commence with seeds from a reputable seed company.
Initiate the seed-starting process indoors a solid two months prior to the final spring frost. The duration from seed germination to the attainment of mature fruit can span from 12 to 22 weeks, contingent upon the specific variety. Additionally, it takes roughly six to eight weeks for seedlings to reach an optimal size for transplantation.
- Fill containers with seed-starter mix approximately eight weeks prior to the last frost. Cover the seeds with about 1/4 inch of soil.
- If necessary, utilize heat mats or soil warming cables to reach a soil temperature of 80 degrees F. Ensure regular watering and prevent the starting mix from drying out. Germination may take up to 20 days.
- Once germinated, provide the seedlings with a minimum of 12 to 16 hours of bright light each day.
- When the plant develops two sets of true leaves, transplant the seedlings into larger containers filled with potting soil.
- Prior to planting in the garden, acclimate the plants to outdoor conditions over a two-week period. This process, known as “hardening off,” should occur once the soil has warmed to at least 70 degrees F. This ensures a smooth transition for the plants from indoor to outdoor environments.
Potting and Repotting Ornamental Peppers
Ornamental peppers grown as annuals typically don’t require repotting, as their life cycle concludes in the autumn. However, for those cultivating them as potted perennials, houseplants, or in outdoor settings, repotting every two years is generally necessary to address root-binding. Another sign it’s time to repot is when plants demand watering more than once a day, as excess water may drain out through the pot’s holes due to insufficient soil absorption.
When repotting, select a container one size larger, made of any suitable material, with ample drainage. While transferring the plant, keep the root ball intact to minimize stress. If the roots are tightly bound, gently loosen them by hand and trim any withered or unhealthy ones. Water potted plants when the top inch of soil is dry, ensuring enough water is applied to allow excess to drain from the container’s base.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Just like standard garden peppers, ornamental peppers can face various insect pests, notably aphids, spider mites, hornworms, and thrips. For aphids and spider mites, an insecticidal soap or citrus oil can effectively eliminate them. Thrips may necessitate a chemical spray, which is acceptable for ornamental peppers since the fruit isn’t intended for consumption.
The primary diseases affecting ornamental peppers are fungal, including botrytis (gray mold) and pythium root rot. These are more likely to occur in damp conditions with limited airflow and waterlogged soil. To combat them, fungicidal sprays or powders can be employed, along with adjusting cultural practices.
When Should I Plant Ornamental Peppers?
Plant ornamental peppers in the spring, once the soil temperature has warmed to at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Do Ornamental Peppers Need Full Sun?
Yes, ornamental peppers thrive in full sun, requiring at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day for optimal growth.
How Should I Water Ornamental Peppers?
Water deeply when the soil’s surface feels dry, aiming for a moisture level similar to a wrung-out sponge. Avoid overwatering, as ornamental peppers prefer well-draining soil.
Can I Propagate Ornamental Peppers from Cuttings?
Yes, but it’s recommended to start from seeds for most gardeners. Propagating from stem cuttings is more practical for those in mild winter climates or for indoor cultivation.
Should I Prune Ornamental Peppers?
While not necessary, pruning can help maintain a more compact form. Pinching off growing tips encourages bushier growth. Avoid trimming flowering stems.
How Do I Repot Ornamental Peppers?
Report ornamental peppers every two years if they’re grown as potted perennials, houseplants, or outdoors. Choose a pot one size larger with good drainage. Keep the root ball intact during repotting.
What Pests and Diseases Should I Watch Out For?
Common pests include aphids, spider mites, hornworms, and thrips. Insecticidal soap or citrus oil can help control aphids and spider mites. Thrips may require a chemical spray. Common diseases include botrytis (gray mold) and pythium root rot, which can be managed with fungicidal treatments and improved cultural practices.
Growing and caring for ornamental peppers can be a rewarding and visually striking addition to any garden or indoor space. These plants offer a dazzling array of colors and shapes, blurring the line between beauty and utility. By providing adequate sunlight, well-drained soil, and proper watering, you can ensure healthy growth.
Remember, ornamental peppers can be propagated from seeds or stem cuttings, with each method having its own advantages. Pruning and repotting may be necessary to maintain the desired form and prevent root-binding. Keep an eye out for potential pests and diseases, and address them promptly with appropriate treatments.