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Ornamental peppers are hot in garden, on tables

By Gary R. Bachman
MSU Extension Service

With the start of both meteorological and astronomical summer over the last couple of weeks, I’m focused on the hot, humid weather that’s coming and the impact it will have on our gardens and landscapes.

Among the best performing plants for this weather are peppers.

Ornamental peppers begin setting fruit as the temperature start to rise, and they keep producing through the fall. It seems like ornamental peppers are continually in flower, which means it’s very common to have multitudes of peppers in various stages of coloration on the same plant.

This week, I want to discuss the NuMex peppers that produce colorful ornamental — and by the way, edible — fruit. These peppers were bred by my friends at the Chile Pepper Institute located at New Mexico State University.

NuMex April Fools’ Day displays fruit pointing upwards in a tangle of long pods that resemble a joker’s hat. The colors start purple and mature to a bright orangey-red.

NuMex Chinese New Year produces numerous clusters of colorful green, orange and red chile peppers on a compact and rounded growth. The fruit grow upright and are tapered, reaching up to 2 inches long.

NuMex Easter was a 2014 All-America Selections winner. This compact selection displays small clusters of grouped fruit on top of the plant. Colors range from lavender to light yellow, and when fully mature, they turn a light orange. These colors resemble the pastels of Easter eggs.

An older selection that I’ve been growing since the mid-1990s is the stunning NuMex Twilight. The 3-foot-tall plants become covered with literally hundreds of 1-inch peppers. As they mature, their colors range from purple to orange, yellow and red. It’s like having a rainbow of fire in the landscape.

One thing to remember when growing ornamental peppers is that, while these peppers are hot visually, they are also suitable for being used as a fiery ingredient in recipes.

Ornamental peppers prefer to grow in consistently moist soil, but don’t be overly generous with the water. The plants don’t 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 with water-soluble fertilizer through the fall to maintain the soil nutrition at optimum levels.

For the adventurous gardener, I don’t think it’s too late to start these plants from seed for a later fall display. For everyone else, I’ve still seen transplants at the local garden centers.

Regardless of the variety of ornamental peppers you select, you won’t be disappointed growing ornamental peppers in your garden and landscape.