The Q&A Archives: chili pepper plants

Question: I read that chili pepper plants are really beautiful in a yard. How hard are they to maintain and what kind of light do they need? I'm also having trouble finding these plants, where should I look?

Answer: You should be able to find chili pepper seedlings at the garden center of your local Home Depot. If not, you can start your plants from seeds, but they take 8-10 weeks to germinate and grow large enough to plant out in the garden. So, if you can't find plants this spring, you might try growing them from seeds next winter so you can set them outdoors in April.

Peppers need full sun, rich soil (amended with compost, well-rotted manure, or leaf mold) and good drainage. Allow two feet between plants. If the peppers are starting to produce flower buds, pinch them off and continue to do this for 1 to 2 weeks; this forces the plants to put their energy into growing leaves and roots. Mulch with 2 to 3 inches of organic matter. Mulch keeps weed growth down and maintains soil moisture. Stake varieties that grow taller than 2 feet. To avoid problems with cutworms (they can chew young seedlings off at the soil line) place two-inch-tall cardboard or aluminum foil collars around the new plants?with 1-inch below soil level and 1-inch above.

Keep the plants lightly moist, but not soggy. Pull any weeds if they appear. Feed the plants with an all-purpose water-soluble fertilizer about six weeks after transplanting and again if the plants start to look pale or the leaves are small.

Chile peppers are generally quite healthy. Pests are an occasional problem. Tiny green aphids sometimes cluster on the tips of branches. In large numbers, they suck plant juices, which deform the leaves and steal energy from the plant. Aphids can also spread deadly viruses. A strong spray of water from the garden hose can knock aphids off the plants. Caterpillars, including corn earworms and corn borers, destroy the fruits; hornworms eat both fruits and leaves. For information on controlling any pest infestation, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service or ask for advice at a local nursery.

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