Ornamental peppers. A fiery fiesta

Ornamental peppers are hot. Literally. These decorative cultivars of Capsicum annuum are increasingly popular in beds and pots, even as house plants. They please with their attractive leaves and cute little blooms and really wow with their glossy, little fruit that slowly change through a rainbow of colors as they mature. Compact (usually about 16 to 24 inches or 40 to 60 cm tall at maturity), they’re also easy to grow and aren’t prone to many pests or diseases. What’s not to love about such all-around attractiveness? Nothing. But, wait, there’s more. They’re also edible. And they often pack a real punch when it comes to taste. Yes, they’re flashy in looks but they’re in the same genus that brings us the sweetest of garden peppers as well as the hottest of chilies (chillies). There are an increasing number of cultivars being released. So go ahead and try a few. Hot or not.

A tender perennial, Capsicum is native to the New World, from Mexico to South America, and thrives in full sun and the long, hot days of summer. In colder areas they’re grown as warm-weather annuals or as pot plants to be brought in when the weather cools and the days shorten. Ideal for patios and other hot, sunny spots, ornamental peppers are increasingly popular and you can easily snag a range of attractive greenhouse-grown plants for yourself in the spring. They’re also not that hard to grow from seed. If you have the knack for sprouting other close pepper relatives, like tomatoes, you might as well give these treasures a try from seed. And save yourself some money, as well.

Depending on your last frost, start these peppers in a soilless mix in a warm bright spot in late winter to early spring. Keep the soil evenly moist. About 75˚ fahrenheit or 24˚ centigrade should do the trick. Your new plants will be ready to be set out in six to eight weeks. Remember that they thrive in hot weather so it might take until summer fully arrives for them to really take off. Repot or bed out new starts at the same soil level as their old pots and continue to keep them every moist. To encourage flowering and fruit production, give your little crop an occasional feeding with a fertilizer that’s rich in phosphorus. Little fruits will start appearing soon after the first of the flowers fade.

It’s the height of hot August right now. Ornamental peppers abound everywhere and I’m reminded of the colorful display that turned my head in Longwood Garden’s test beds last summer. It was a veritable dictionary of cultivars. The fruits were in an astonishing range of colors and shapes, from cream and whites, to brilliant yellows and orange and reds, and then off into pastel lavenders or dark purples and blacks. It was truly a fiery fiesta! Check out that celebration below.

Eventually, though, every celebration has to end and the long days of summer will shorten. And the heat slowly fade away. Ornamental peppers will slow down their growth but the fruit usually hangs on outside until a frost kills the plants. These are tender perennials, though, so bring them inside it you’re growing any in pots. Here, again, they’ll like a warm, sunny spot. Eventually the days get too short. The plants do slow down and the peppers will dry. Come the return of longer days in late winter and spring, trim the plants back for shape, repot if needed, and they’re ready to party for another season.


ornamental-peppers-8 ornamental-peppers-9
Above left and right, ‘Chinese Five Color’.

‘Chilly Chili’

ornamental-peppers-76 ornamental-peppers-14
Above left, ‘Chilly Chili’; above right, ‘Treasure Red’.

’Peppa Lila-Naranja’

ornamental-peppers-16 ornamental-peppers-24

ornamental-peppers-22 ornamental-peppers-18

ornamental-peppers-28 ornamental-peppers-64
Upper left, ‘Peppa Pepperoni’; upper right, ‘Peppa Orangina’‘; middle left, ‘Peppa Purple-Tangerine’;
middle right, ’Peppa Blanca-Rose’; lower left, ‘Goldfinger’; lower right ‘Garda Tricolor’.

‘Black Pearl’

ornamental-peppers-35 ornamental-peppers-45

ornamental-peppers-42 ornamental-peppers-38
Upper left, ‘Purple Flash’; lower right’, Masquerade’;
lower left ‘Calico’; lower right ‘Black Pearl’.


ornamental-peppers-49 ornamental-peppers-52
Above left, ‘Filius Blue’; above right, ’Starburst Yellow’.


ornamental-peppers-58 ornamental-peppers-72
Above left, ‘Garda Hocus Pocus’; above right ‘Pointsettia’.

‘Garda Fireworks’

ornamental-peppers-31 ornamental-peppers-67
Above left, Red Missile’; above right, ‘Numex Twilight’.