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Today is December 11, 2017

Southern Gardening

Color fall gardens with ornamental peppers

Color fall gardens with ornamental peppers

If you’re worried about young children eating the colorful pods, try growing Chilly Chili, a colorful pod producer without the heat. Photo: MSU Extension/Gary Bachman

Late summer and early fall are among my favorite times of the year because the ornamental peppers are starting to really color up.

More and more fellow gardeners are jumping on the bandwagon and planting these beauties in their landscapes. These plants are hot —in landscape character and accent—and they carry the garden through the fall season and maybe beyond.

Most ornamental peppers begin setting fruit as the temperatures rise, so the best show is always saved for late summer and continues through the fall as they keep producing. This means you need to set these plants out in the late spring.

I find there is sometimes confusion when the word “ornamental” is used to describe a garden plant. Many folks automatically assume the fruit of an ornamental plant is not to be eaten, which is generally true. Ornamental peppers have been selectively bred for color, but they also could be used to spice up a dish. In fact, most are very, very hot.

If you’re worried about young children possibly eating the colorful pods but still want to grow these fine garden plants, I have the selection for you. Chilly Chili is a colorful pod producer but without the heat. It is about as hot as a bell pepper.

Every year, there are new introductions available in a dizzying array of options for the home garden and landscape. From big to small, with multicolored fruit, and with green, purple and variegated foliage, this is a fun way to add interest to your garden.

Check out the black, purple and red pods of Black Hawk. The plants themselves seem to be proud of their fruit, as many pods are held high above the foliage for our viewing enjoyment.

Purple Flash was chosen as a Mississippi Medallion winner for 2010. With its purple and white variegated leaves, it is one of the showiest peppers available on the market.

Ornamental peppers love our hot and humid summers, and this helps the plants produce loads of pretty fruit. When the pepper plants are producing, it is very common to have peppers in various stages of coloration. Once fruit has set, it is common for it to remain on the plant for a few months. Only when the peppers begin to dry will their color start to fade.

Ornamental peppers prefer growing in consistently moist soil, but don’t be overly generous, as the plants do not tolerate waterlogged soil. I like growing these landscape standouts in containers or raised beds.

Fertilize with a good, slow-release fertilizer early in the season. Some gardeners stop fertilizing once fruit starts to set, but I like to feed mine with a water-soluble fertilizer through the summer and fall to maintain nutrition at optimum levels.

I realize I’ve told you about a plant that it’s too late to grow this year. If you are interested in some of these varieties for next year, start preparing now. The seeds are available at many online seed houses.

Dr. Gary Bachman is an associate Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. He is also host of “Southern Gardening” radio and TV programs.

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