TIP #1 PEPPERS LOVE A LONG WARM GROWING SEASON
From fruity sweet peppers in rainbow shades of yellow, orange, or red to habaneros hot enough to bring tears to your eyes, all peppers share a preference for a long, warm growing season. Set out transplants a week or two after your last frost, when the weather is settled and warm. While cool weather reigns, keep your seedlings indoors at night, and move them to a protected sunny spot outdoors during the day.
TIP #2 PLANT AN ASSORTMENT OF PEPPER VARIETIES
Peppers may be sweet and mellow or fiery hot, depending on variety. By growing an assortment of varieties, you can have mild, meaty peppers for salads or stir-fries, slightly spicy peppers for fresh salsas, and hot peppers for bold jolts of flavour.
When choosing pepper varieties, include a range of both flavours and fruit sizes. Under hot summer conditions, varieties that bear huge fruits may shed their blossoms, but small, thin-walled peppers often keep going strong. Small-fruited peppers also ripen faster, which is important in cool climates where summers are short.
TIP #3 GROW PEPPERS IN GARDEN BEDS OR CONTAINERS
Peppers are easy to grow in any sunny spot, and they are good candidates for roomy containers, too. Peppers have a naturally upright growth habit, so they often benefit from staking, which keeps brittle branches from breaking when they become heavy with fruit.
Colourful peppers also make great additions to garden beds planted with flowers and other edible ornamentals, where they can easily serve as specimen plants. In beds or rows, space plants 45-60cm (18-24") apart.
TIP #4 GOOD SOIL MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Peppers grow best in well drained soil, and a near-neutral soil with a pH between 6.2 and 7.0, although they can tolerate slightly alkaline conditions near 7.5. Mix a 3- to 5-inch layer of compost into each planting hole. A generous amount of organic matter helps the soil retain moisture, and moist soil is crucial for good pepper production. After planting, mulch each plant to keep the soil cool and moist.
TIP #5 FERTILIZE AND MULCH YOUR PEPPER PLANTS
About 6 weeks after planting, soon after peppers begin flowering and setting fruit, it is often helpful to feed plants lightly with an organic or timed-release fertilizer to keep them going strong. Simply pull back the mulch, scatter fertilizer around the base of each plant, and replace the mulch before watering well.
Harvest and Storage
Use pruning shears or a sharp knife to cut peppers with a short stub of stem attached. Pulling peppers by hand usually causes entire branches to break off. Rinse peppers with water, pat dry, and then store them in your refrigerator. Fruits that are not eaten fresh can be dried, frozen, or pickled. Peppers harvested in cool fall weather that have just begun to change colors will often continue to ripen when kept in a warm room indoors for up to 3 days. Watch for signs of softening, and promptly refrigerate fruits that begin to shrivel.
Most pepper plants hold numerous green fruits when the first freeze kills the plants. Very immature peppers often taste bitter, so it is better to compost them than to serve them for dinner.