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Today is September 16, 2021

Southern Gardening

Dark leaves of ornamental peppers make garden splash

By Dr. Gary Bachman

Dark leaves of ornamental peppers make garden splash

The contrast between dark-black foliage and purple fruit that matures to bright red make the Midnight Fire ornamental pepper an eye-catching selection in any garden.

Some of my favorite late-summer annuals are the ornamental peppers. These tough plants have to survive the heat and humidity of our Mississippi summers before they become the stars of my summer landscape.

In the past, I’ve written about these great plants during their peak color in late summer. Their show lasts through the fall as the plants keep producing.

This has created some disappointment in faithful readers of this Southern Gardening column who want to go to the garden center and pick up a few of these plants. The problem is you should plant your ornamental peppers in late spring. When I brag about the show these peppers are putting on, there are no ornamental pepper plants available at the time, and I hear about it from these interested gardeners.

This year, I’m being proactive and encouraging home gardeners to start looking now for ornamental peppers. Then, when I show off photos of my peppers, you’ll be able to walk outside and enjoy your own. It only requires a little garden planning.

There are lots of different ornamental peppers available in the spring, offering fruit in all the colors of the rainbow. But some of my favorites — and I will admit I have a lot of favorite plants — are the ornamental peppers with dark leaves.

Here are just a few of my dark-leaved favorites that will brighten any landscape.

Purple Flash, which was chosen as a Mississippi Medallion winner for 2010, is an example of the versatility and value of ornamental peppers. This pepper has purple and white variegated leaves. When I look at these plants in the early morning light, I swear I’m seeing various shades of light blue.

Purple Flash is one of the showiest, or should I say flashiest, ornamental peppers on the market.

A new ornamental pepper variety released in 2018 is Midnight Fire. This plant has a compact, bushy growth habit and unique and distinctive dark-black foliage.

The plant is accented by abundant, smallish, dark-purple fruit, which mature to bright red. The contrast between the foliage and the fruit is an eye-catching combination in any garden.

Black Pearl is one of my favorites. It has clusters of shiny black, round fruit that mature to brilliant red and contrast with the black foliage as the season progresses.

This plant grows to about 20 inches tall by 12 inches wide. A great feature for our Mississippi gardens is Black Pearl’s heat and drought tolerance.

Ornamental peppers prefer to grow in consistently moist soil, but don’t be overly generous with the water, as the plants don’t tolerate waterlogged soil. Fertilize with a good slow-release fertilizer early in the season. Once fruit starts to set, there is no need to add additional nutrition.

If you’re unable to find ornamental peppers at your local garden center this spring, you’re not out of luck. Now is a great time to start seeds for ornamental peppers. There are many varieties, like the dark-leaved selections I’ve discussed, that are available online at many of the popular seed catalog companies.


Gary Bachman, Ph.D., Extension/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. He lives in Ocean Springs and is a Singing River Electric member.

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