A Guide to Growing Chiles and Sweet Peppers
Peppers and chiles are closely related, but it is important to choose your varieties carefully because they have very different tastes. Sweet peppers have a mild flavor and often a succulent texture, while chile peppers are their fiery siblings with a spicy kick.
How to Grow
Pepper and chiles are best grown in containers under cover in a greenhouse or sunroom or outside in a hot, sunny, sheltered spot. Buy pot-grown seedlings in spring, or sow seed under cover, kept at 70–75 degrees F. Pot into individual pots when seedlings are large enough to handle. Repot when the roots fill the pot, and either grow under cover, or harden off to plant outside. Grow them in containers or in sunny beds, spacing them 12 inches apart, with 2 feet between rows. Water regularly as the weather warms, and feed once a week with a high-potash tomato fertilizer. Pinch off and support tall plants with canes if necessary. Peppers change color and flavor as they ripen; harvest when green for a milder flavor, or when red or orange for a richer taste (hotter in the case of chiles). Although ripe crops have the best flavor, leaving them to fully ripen will result in a smaller harvest.
Types of Peppers and Chiles
Consider these varieties of chiles and pepper plants, depending on your taste preference:
- Sweet peppers: A mild-tasting pepper that produces large fleshy fruits that ripen from green to red. They can be grown inside or out.
- Scotch bonnets: These plants are notoriously hot and are widely used in Jamaican cooking. They need a long hot summer under cover to grow well.
- Jalapeño chiles: These chiles are plump with thick flesh, and vary in spiciness according to variety. They crop best under cover but will grow outside.
- Cayenne chiles: A long, slender, thin-skinned plant that is packed with seeds. They can be very fiery and are good for drying.
Varieties to Try
Sweet peppers differ mainly in color and shape, while there is a far greater variety of chiles to choose from. Rating varieties by heat is unreliable because all chiles are hot, and it depends on personal taste. Consider these plants for your garden:
- Sweet peppers: Try ‘Bell Boy’, ‘Big Banana’, ‘Gourmet’ ‘Gypsy’, ‘Purple Beauty’ and ‘Redskin’
- Chile peppers: Mild varieties include ‘Ancho’ and ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’; Medium chiles are ‘Apache’, ‘Padron’ and ‘Inferno’; And hot varieties include ‘Cherry Bomb’, ‘Etna’, ‘Long Thin Cayenne’ and ‘Summer Heat’
Protecting Plants From Pests
Aphids will feed on pepper plants and chiles throughout the growing season, sucking sap and reducing the crop. Wipe off small colonies, spray with insecticide, or use biological control. Be careful to also watch for red spider mites which commonly attack plants under cover, sucking sap and quickly weakening them. These insects can be hard to control; try raising humidity levels or using an insecticide or biological control to diminish the problem.