Family - Solanaceae
Although there is no one secret to growing peppers successfully
in the home garden, you can best increase you odds of consistently
abundant harvests by keeping the plants growing vigorously at all
stages of development. To do that you need an understanding of pepper
plants requirements from seed to harvest.
Peppers are a warm season crop that grows best with daytime temperatures
between 70-75°F. Since our daytime temperatures exceed that
range during the pepper season, plants are often heat stressed.
Since sweet peppers are less tolerant of high temperatures than
their spicy relatives, they produce best in our climate with partial
Even with our long growing season timing your pepper crop is very
important. Seeds should be started indoors under lights in early
March so the plants have six to ten weeks of growth before transplanting
out into garden beds. The chart below gives a general schedule for
starting, transplanting and harvesting peppers for Las Cruces. The
schedule works equally well for both hot and sweet varieties.
I find the most critical time for peppers is during germination
and early seedling development. Seeds are slow to germinate at temperatures
below 75°F, but will tolerate a temperature range between 65-95°F.
Optimum germination temperature is 85°F. After germination they
are susceptible to chilling, so water your seeds and seedlings with
lukewarm water to prevent chilling. Pepper seeds can be stored for
four years in a cool dry place, but loose germination vigor quickly
in if stored where they are warm. So, store them properly or purchase
new seeds at least every other year.
Seedling Tips -
Pepper seedlings require stronger light than tomatoes, so place
them closer to the light source or window. Keep nighttime temperatures
above 60°F for best growth and fruit production later.
Below The Surface
Peppers have a fairly shallow and fibrous root system that can
spread out three feet from the stem and penetrate to a depth of
24 inches (in ideal soils). Because of this root system they are
less drought tolerant than tomatoes - particularly true of the smaller
pepper varieties. Plant spacing can vary from 10-18 inches depending
on the size of the adult plants. I plant small types like Jimmy
Nardello's on 10" centers and the larger California Bells on
16" centers. You spacing will vary with varieties.
- Its important to set transplants deeply - up to the first set
of true leaves. Peppers grow adventitious roots like tomatoes and
the extra rooting helps keep fruit laden plants from toppling over.
Peppers grow best in rich organic soil with abundant organic material
(how often have you hear that?) If you are growing organic, amend
the soil with finished compost, rabbit and chicken manure in the
fall before planting - giving plenty of time for aging. If that's
not possible add finished compost, a phosphorous source such as
soft rock phosphate, bone meal, or composted bio-solids and a nitrogen
source such as cottonseed meal a couple of weeks before planting.
I side dress with additional cottonseed meal and bio-solids when
the plants begin setting blossoms. To produce abundant large thick
walled fruits, peppers require adequate phosphorous and potassium.
Our soils generally have adequate amounts of available potassium
(unless your soil test shows otherwise), but needs additional phosphorous.
Drip irrigation is the best option for garden peppers. You can
put the drip lines under black plastic if planting early in the
season, or you can bury soaker lines to reduce or eliminate clogging
from excessive mineralization. Mulching with an organic (cooling)
mulch is necessary here as soil temperatures above 85°F will
retard plant growth in peppers.
Irrigation Tip -
During blossom set and fruit development are critical times to avoid
Above The Surface
Like their roots, pepper flowers are also temperature
sensitive. You'll see blossom drop when daytime temperatures exceed
the low 90s°F, or nighttime temperatures remain above the low
80s°F (not a frequent occurrence here), or if nighttime temperatures
drop into the 50s°F (not here, during the pepper growing season).
Pollination is reduced by cold daytime temperatures (in the 50s°F)
which results in reduced seed development and resulting smaller
fruit size. The cause of small fruit size here is generally lack
Pepper fruits, like tomatoes are subject to both blossom-end rot
Blossom-end rot is caused by a deficiency of calcium in the developing
fruit brought on by either insufficient available soil calcium or
inadequate water for the uptake of calcium (generally the latter
is the real culprit).
Sunscald can be reduced in most varieties by encouraging abundant
foliage growth with adequate soil nitrogen and can be eliminated
entirely by using a "row cover" shade cloth over the plants
as the fruit matures. (a middle or heavy weight Agribon works best).
For those varieties that set fruit near the top of the bush some
kind of shading is necessary here. Hot peppers are less susceptible
to blossom-end rot and generally don't sunscald.
Peppers like tomatoes are effected by curly top virus, so use row
covers or skirts when plants are young and susceptible. Peppers
are also effected by several other diseases throughout their life
cycle. For references to other disease problems, I recommend reading
the NMSU Extension publication on Chile Pepper
Diseases for additional information. No one says it better
than Ms Goldberg.
Growing your own backyard peppers can be done easily and dependably
with basic knowledge about peppers through their life cycle followed
up with diligent gardening.
in New Mexico Gardens - NMSU Extension
Wilt in Chili Peppers - NMSU Extension
Chile Pepper Diseases
- NMSU Extension
Chile Pepper Disorders
Caused by Environmental Stress
Pepper Institute - Chile Information (most of what you need
Varieties Recommendations for New Mexico Backyard and Market Gardens
Good Gardening and Good Eating
Doña Ana Extension Master Gardener