Peppers, Chile peppers
Annuals, Edible fruit, Perennials, Vegetables
Vegetable native to tropical South America. All peppers grow on attractive bushy plants ranging from less than a foot high to 4 ft. tall.
Peppers are classified as sweet or hot, but breeders have blurred the distinction by developing hot bell peppers and sweet jalapenos.
Sweet peppers remain mild even after they ripen and change color. This group includes the big stuffing and salad peppers commonly called bell peppers. The best known is 'California Wonder', which starts green and ripens red.
Others start green or purple, then ripen yellow, orange, or even brown. Hybrids have been bred for early ripening, high yield, and/or disease resistance. Other sweet types include sweet cherry peppers, used for pickling; long, slender Italian frying peppers and Hungarian sweet yellow peppers, both used for cooking; and thick-walled, very sweet pimientos (sometimes called pimentos), used in salads, cooking, and canning.
(Allspice, also called pimento, is not a pepper but a spicy seasoning made from the fruits of a tree native to Jamaica.)
Hot peppers (chiles) vary from pea-size types to narrow, 6- to 7-in. long forms, but all are pungent, ranging from mildly hot Italian peperoncini to nearly incandescent habanero strains like 'Red Savina'.
Among the most popular hot peppers are jalapeños, used fresh, dried, or pickled. Others include 'Anaheim', a mildly spicy pepper from New Mexico used for making canned green chiles and the attractively strung bunches called ristras; 'Cayenne', usually dried, powdered, and used as a spice; and 'Hungarian Yellow Wax (Hot)'; and 'Fresno Chile Grande', mostly used for pickling and cooking. Mexican cooking calls for a wide variety of hot peppers, among them 'Ancho', 'Mulato', and 'Pasilla'.
Peppers need a long, warm growing season, so in most areas they must be planted outdoors as seedlings in order to produce fruit. In regions with cool or short summers, extend the season by using floating row covers and clear plastic mulches. Sow seed indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the average last-frost date.
When the soil is thoroughly warm and night temperatures remain consistently above 55°F/13°C, set seedlings outdoors, spacing them 1 1/2 to 2 ft. apart. After plants are established (but before blossoms set), give them one or two applications of a balanced liquid fertilizer.
Possible pests include aphids, whiteflies, and cutworms. To control pepper weevils (both the larvae and adults attack fruit), destroy infested plants after harvest. Allow 60 to 95 days from planting to harvest.
Most peppers can be picked green or purple after they have reached good size, but flavor typically becomes fuller and sweeter as fruit ripens into its mature color. Pick pimientos only when red-ripe. To harvest any kind of pepper, snip the stem with hand pruners or scissors.
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