Ornamental peppers add color to fall landscapes

Richard C. Bogren, Owings, Allen D.

Purple Flash ornamental pepper in the All-America Selections garden at the Botanical Gardens at Burden in Baton Rouge. (Photo by Allen Owings)

News Release Distributed 09/06/13

By Allen Owings

LSU AgCenter horticulturist

HAMMOND, La. – Ornamental peppers are a unique, specialty plant for home landscapes. Appealing characteristics include colorful berries and foliage. Ornamental peppers have traditionally been thought of to some degree as a holiday potted plant, but they are enjoying increased use among home gardeners as an alternative color addition to annual and herbaceous perennial beds.

Ornamental peppers produce colorful fruit – which are actual peppers – in a wide range of sizes, forms and colors. Purple, orange, yellow, red, brown, blue and white are common. Multiple colors can appear on the same plant.

Flowering on ornamental peppers is not obvious – the fruits are the desirable feature. Plants can reach heights of 8 inches to 3 feet, depending on the variety. Green foliage is common; however, plants with variegated foliage or purplish-black leaves are also available.

You can plant ornamental peppers at several times during the year. Some people plant in midspring and enjoy the colorful foliage and fruit all the way through fall until first killing frost. It is more popular now, though, for retail garden centers to offer and home gardeners to purchase and plant ornamental peppers in late summer through early fall for a nice color addition to the fall landscape.

When it comes to planting ornamental peppers, you should be aware of several factors. Soil pH is not critical, but slightly acid conditions in the range 5.5-6.0 are best. Plant in full sun and space plants according to the mature size of the variety chosen. When planting in spring, fertilize at planting and again at a half rate in early to midsummer. When planting in mid- or late summer, fertilization at planting will normally last through fall. Irrigation is necessary during dry spells.

You can find many varieties of ornamental peppers, including Chilly Chili (an All-America Selection in 2002), Medusa and Red Missile. Chilly Chili has non-pungent fruit and reaches about a foot tall with a spread of 8 to 10 inches. Fruit color of Chilly Chili ornamental peppers changes from yellow to orange and matures at red.

The popular Explosive series includes Ember, Ignite and Blast. Ember has dark purple foliage on a 12- to 14-inch-tall plant with purplish-red fruit. Ignite is best suited for containers and baskets and only reaches 6 to 8 inches tall with fruit that changes from ivory white to greenish yellow to orangish red. Blast reaches 8 to 10 inches tall and has yellow-green fruit that changes to scarlet red. The fruits of these three are edible and medium-hot in flavor.

Other top-performing ornamental peppers in LSU AgCenter landscape evaluations the past few years include Black Pearl, Little Elf and Calico. Some people feel one of the best new ornamental peppers is Purple Flash – a purple-foliaged variety.

All ornamental peppers are heat tolerant and will make a great addition to the late-summer and fall landscape in Louisiana. They work well with autumn, Halloween and Thanksgiving landscape themes.

You can see more about work being done in landscape horticulture by visiting the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station website. Also, like us on Facebook. You can find an abundance of landscape information for both home gardeners and industry professionals at both sites.

Rick Bogren
9/6/2013 7:26:03 PM
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