Peppers are a great summer crop. They might even be second on the list, following tomatoes. They come in different colors, tastes, and sizes. Growing them in central Texas can be tricky for beginners. As a home gardener and a roasted pepper lover, I have been dreaming of a bountiful harvest for years. After eight years worth of trials, I am confident to share the tips and tricks I learned along the way. The last two years were very successful and I was able to eat, freeze, and pickle plenty of peppers.
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Choosing the right pepper variety
The biggest problem of a summer garden in central Texas is the heat. Most vegetables stop setting fruit once temperatures reach the high 90s. When making the selection of peppers to grow, consider the heat they will endure. First, look into heat-tolerant varieties. They will do better in the hot weather without extra effort from you. Second, find varieties with a shorter maturity time to be able to harvest before the brutal heat settles in.
Some varieties to consider:
- Banana pepper. ( hot or sweet)
- Shishito peppers. (mild)
- Jimmy Nardello. (sweet)
- Big Bertha. (swee)
- Turkish saber pepper. (sweet)
- Jalapeno. (hot)
- Ajvarski. (sweet)
- Chocolate peppers. (sweet)
Growing peppers from seed
There is nothing special about growing peppers from seeds, except they take a while to germinate. About 20 days. This is very important to take into account when calculating the time to start the seeds.
When to start pepper seeds?
Start pepper seeds eight to ten weeks before planting time, which is three weeks before the last frost. However, since they take a long time to germinate, it is safer to start them ten weeks before the last frost.
The average frost date for central Texas is February 21st, ten weeks before means the second half of December. This way, the plant will have enough time to get strong and be ready for outdoor planting.
The frost dates given on the calendars are an estimate. You may have already noticed the weather changes from year to year. One year, we get a mild winter and our last frost date can be in February. Another year, we may get a freeze as late as April.
For a thorough step-by-step explanation, follow this link to my detailed post on how to start seeds.
- Fill up seed-starting cells wihth premoistened seed starting mix.
- Make two to three hole, using a tip of a pencil. each hole should be twice the size of the seed in depth.
- Palce a seed in each hole and cover with soil.
- Water thoroughly with a gentle stream to prevent the seeds from washing away.
- Place the cells under a growlight.
- You may place heat pad underneath it to speed up germination.
- Germination can take from 12 days to 20 days.
- Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.
- Start feeding with low concentration seaweed solution, once the first set of true leaves appears.
- Pot the seedlings up when the roots peek out from the drainage holes.
When to plant pepper plants outside?
Planting pepper plants depends on the frost date. As I mentioned previously, central Texas’ average frost date is February 21st. To be on the safe side, plant peppers after all danger of frost is gone. Keep frost cloth handy to protect them from any sudden frost.
What soil peppers prefer?
Pepper plants prefer well-draining soil with a lot of organic matter. Central Texas soil differs from an area to another. It is best to use raised garden beds filled with good quality soil to skip dealing with native soil.
How to plant peppers?
Pepper plants’ root systems are sensitive to excessive handling.
- Prepare the planting hole before removing the plant from its pot. It should be slightly bigger than the root ball.
- You may add some slow-release dry fertilizer to the hole.
- Place the plant and backfill with soil, making sure to cover the roots well.
- Press the soil around the plant to remove any air pockets.
- Water deeply.
Be prepared to stake the plants as soon as they start flowering. The branches tend to break when loaded with fruits. I use tree branches for support and fabric strips as ties.
Spacing pepper plants
For a home garden, following the square foot gardening chart by Mel Bartholomew works great. This technique implements efficient spacing for higher production.
I apply a slightly different spacing method. I divide a 4 by 4 raised bed into 9 equal sections. Each section roughly measures 16 sqft. I plant one plant in the center of each square, then I add another one in the intersections. In all, I have 13 plants in the 16 sqft bed instead of 16, following the square foot chart. It is fewer plants, but they were much healthier and had fewer insect problems.
Topping pepper plants for stronger stem growth
Topping is the process of cutting off the top part of the pepper plant, to promote side shoots and enhance main stem growth. Many gardeners swear by topping their pepper plants, especially in the North.
In central Texas, summer comes in overnight. Once the heat takes over, many plants stop setting fruit. Topping peppers triggers the plant to focus its energy on new growth instead of flowering. As a result, production is also delayed.
On the other hand, I find topping pepper plants comes in handy when they start flowering prematurely. It is also useful when the cold temperatures linger and delay planting outdoors.
How much sun do peppers need?
Most flowering plants need a full day of sun to blossom, including peppers. However, during the summer, the sun can be brutal on plants, and some afternoon shade is much appreciated. It gives the plants time to rest and slow down transpiration. Shade can be provided by a tree nearby or by using shade cloth.
Fertilize pepper plants
Pepper plants are heavy feeders, applying a low concentration of liquid seaweed at the seedling stage promotes healthy growth.
At planting, apply a dry slow-release fertilizer in the planting hole. It will provide a good reserve of nutrients to the young plant and give it a kick start.
During the growing season, regular feeding is beneficial. There are three ways of feeding.
- Watering: Add water-soluble fertilzer to the watering can accoding to the label. Fertilze plants every two weeks.
- Side dressing: Sprinkle a dry slow-release fertilzer around the plant base. It will dissolve gradually every time you water.
- Foliar feed: Fill a spray bottle with a water-soluble fertilizer following instructions on the label. Spray the plant leaves and stems thoroughly. You should know, however, that foliage is not designed to absorb nutrients. It rather produces energy for the plant to use. So don’t rely on this method to feed your plants.
When to harvest peppers?
Pepper plants, contrary to tomatoes, take a slightly longer time to produce. Hot peppers and small size peppers produce sooner than the bigger varieties, such as bell peppers.
The good news is that peppers are ready for harvest whenever they reach the gardener’s preferred size and color. All peppers are green, at first. However, they do take some time before they turn color.
Problems when growing peppers
Since I started growing peppers, I only experienced a few minor problems.
- Wrinkling leaves: This is common at the beginning of the season. It is caused by the drastic difference between night and day temperatures. Luckily, it resolves itself once the temperature stabilizes.
- Aphids: Little insects that congregate on the new growth. They are annoying and can develop into an infestation if not controlled. The best way to eliminate them is by washing them off with a strong jet of water. This must be done regularly to keep them at bay. Planting French marigold around pepper plants can also help deter aphids.
- Pepper wilt: This is a fungal disease caused by humid and warm conditions. It can occur overnight, which makes it impossible to treat. Good cultivation practices are the best prevention.
- Scalding: It is the burning of part of the fruit that exposed directly to the sun. Providing afternoon shade is the way to prevent it.
Growing peppers in containers
Pot gardening in Central Texas is a tough one. Pots dry out faster than the ground, and keeping the plants well-watered is a challenging task in the heat of the summer.
Nevertheless, peppers do well in pots since they grow only to reach four feet tall. A three-gallon pot is a good choice for growing peppers. Use good quality potting soil that drains well but holds some moisture too.
Growing peppers through winter or overwintering
Peppers continue flowering and producing until killed by frost. After a long productive season, some gardeners find it hard to get rid of their pepper plants when winter arrives. In this case, they might think to keep them alive through the cold season.
This is not impossible, but it does require some extra work and attention. It is easier to overwinter plants growing in pots than in the ground. Simply transfer the plants indoors to protect them from harsh winter conditions.
It is also important to cut the plant back by a third. Water regularly and stop feeding. During this time, the peppers will stay dormant until the coming spring.
In the regions with mild winters, keep inground-peppers in place. Cut them back and cover them with soil to protect them from elements. When spring arrives, pull back the extra soil and start feeding to wake up the plants.
In the Kitchen
Peppers are present in many cuisines around the world. People love them spicy hot as well as mild and sweet. In my kitchen, my kids prefer them sweet and raw. They make a great crunchy snack with hummus or a ranch dip. Otherwise, we do have some favorite pepper dishes.