The Long Wait For Ripe Peppers

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Ripe peppers

Most gardeners in warm summer areas grow peppers (Capsicum annuum), which come in an endless array of shapes, sizes, colours and flavours. All peppers originated in Mexico, and they retain enough of their tropical ancestry to make them a bit challenging to grow in home gardens. Ideal growing temperatures for peppers range between 68°F (20°C) at night and 86°F (30°C) during the day. Cooler temperatures slow the plants’ growth, while very hot temperatures often cause the blossoms to fall off rather than setting fruit.

What’s a pepper-loving gardener to do? To get more peppers over a longer season, try these three tried-and-true strategies. 

Use Small-Fruited Varieties

How many peppers will a plant produce? The answer depends in large part on fruit size. Varieties that bear big, thick-walled fruits do well to produce 5 or 6 fruits, while a small-fruited variety may produce 30, 50, or even 70 peppers. No wonder so many gardeners are trying baby bell peppers and little sweet pimentos like 'Lipstick'. In the medium-size category, Cubanelle types like 'Gypsy' (an All-America Selections winner from 1981) are dependable and long-bearing, and you can get the sweet flavor of Italian roasting peppers in a scaled-down package with 'Carmen' (AAS winner in 2006).  If your top priority is dependability, you will not be disappointed by 'Sweet Banana', a garden favourite for more than 50 years.


Give Blossoms a Buzz

Starry pepper blossoms are self-fertile, meaning they will set fruit without being visited by pollinating insects. But fruit set doubles when the blossoms are buzzed by bees – a form of pollination that’s basically a violent shaking of the flowers. You can simulate buzz-pollination (called sonication) by giving blossom-bearing branches a sound shake. Don’t worry if you see ants or other small insects crawling around on pepper blossoms, because they aid in the pollination process, too. And, though you might expect insects to avoid hot peppers, a team of Brazilian researchers directed by worldwide bee expert Tony Raw discovered that females of certain tiny native bees were super-efficient pollinators of hot pepper blossoms.

Ripening peppers

Wait for Breakers

With the exceptions of peppers that start out pale yellow ('Bianca') or lavender ('Purple Beauty'), immature peppers wear some shade of green. As the seeds inside the peppers mature, the flesh color changes to red, orange, or yellow. Peppers are edible when they are "mature green," which means the seeds inside are mature, but the peppers have not yet started changing colors. Peppers become much more nutritious and delicious when they change colors and become fully ripe, but there’s a catch: the longer you leave ripening peppers on the plants, the less interest the plants show in putting on more buds and blossoms.

My solution to this dilemma is to gather the first peppers of the season when I see the first faint stripes of mature colour, which is called the ‘breaker' stage. But instead of putting the peppers in the fridge, I leave the glossy darlings out in my warm kitchen. Most will continue to colour up for a few days, giving me more time to savour their long-awaited flavors. And out in the garden, plants that have been relieved of their burden of ripening fruits can get on with the business of growing more of them. By the time the cold weather ends the pepper season in the fall, I’ll have plenty of fully ripened peppers to eat fresh, freeze and dry.

- Barbara Pleasant

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Show Comments


"Hello, Good article but I was hoping for some details on cultivation tips... as type of soil, ideal feed, if grown in pots, how litres of coompost is needed?? Ideal situation (good tip on temperature)? Thanks Alex"
Alex on Friday 19 June 2009
"My goodness, this has to be one of the best articles I have read. I especially liked the way each paragraph is set up with a coloured heading and very, very good information in each one. I have moved to a condo and can only grow in containers, so it is quite different that planting directly in the soil. It does take some doing at times too. I look forward to reading over and over. Thank you, Adeline"
Adeline Flengeris on Friday 19 June 2009
"I have wonderful luck growing peppers in containers, which is especially beneficial in cool climates because the roots stay nice and warm. In gardens it's easy to overfeed peppers. They tend to look sad early in the season, but warmth works better than fertilizer to perk them up. Containers are another matter because nutrients are lost with routine watering. With potted peppers, feeding every other week is not too often. Good luck to all!"
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 20 June 2009
"Thanks for the ripening tip. I was never sure when to pick so i just went by size. I tried many different varieties this year; salsa, pimento, habanero(?), fajita bell as well as the regulars; bell, jalapeno, banana. I'm not sure about how hot they are and how to use them in the best way. Hope you'll be doing an article soon on this subject."
Patricia on Monday 22 June 2009
"Do you plant a new Bell pepper every year or do your plant give you fruit year after year? My bell peppers from last year seem to be not good this year so far. The branches look like they are not healthy? what do you suggest?"
Maryam on Monday 19 April 2010
"Maryam, I am probably gardening in a very different climate to you but I always grow new peppers from seed each year. Peppers are perennials in warmer climates but I have no experience of that I'm afraid. Perhaps you could try both and let us know whether the peppers from last year recovered to give a good crop?"
Jeremy Dore on Monday 19 April 2010
"Maryam, I'm also curious as to what your healthiest year-old plant will do, but I wouldn't stake my crop on it. In my experience, elderly plants are easy prey to disease, especially various root rots. So, I would definitely set out new plants each year. There are a few eggplant varieties that can be handled as short-lived perennials in warm climates. They typically melt down in their second year -- after producing a second crop -- so I would expect the same of large-fruited peppers."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 19 April 2010
"Hi, I saw a picture in a magazine showing an indeterminant tomato plant, staked, growing out of a wall o'water filled inside with soil. It looked like a great idea and the tomato plant seemed to love it as it had loads of fruit on it. I am in a zone 6 (mountains of NC) and can't get peppers to grow well due to lack of heat. Would the wall o'water idea work for the peppers also?"
Lauren Mejia on Wednesday 20 April 2011
"Lauren, it's worth a try and wall o'water do recommend their product for peppers as well as tomatoes although I've no experience of this myself. For me, living in a relatively short growing season area the best way to grow peppers is using grow-lights for the first 4-6 weeks indoors and then having them in pots in a greenhouse after that, bringing them in at night if the temperatures drop."
Jeremy Dore on Wednesday 20 April 2011
"Lauren, you should be able to grow good peppers in your climate by using fast hybrids that produce modest-size fruits. When lack of heat is the problem, growing peppers in large containers can help because the roots warm up more in the daytime."
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 20 April 2011
"My friend is not having any luck growing her peppers in boxes with 12" deep soil. Each one gets a black circle on the top of the pepper and then wrinkles up from there and the rest will rot. "I'd say they are in about 12" at least and in a pot on the deck, lots of sun and lots of water. Actually the leaves, even though I water daily, are sort of curled up which is what I would expect from too little water? But they definitely get enough water and love!" Any words of wisdom on what she can do differently?"
Katie on Monday 25 July 2011
"Katie, just a thought but are there good drainage holes in the bottom of the container? I wonder if they are being over-watered and the roots are waterlogged at the bottom which will cause them to rot?"
Jeremy Dore on Tuesday 26 July 2011
"Thank you, Jeremy. I will pass it along to her. "
Katie on Tuesday 26 July 2011
"Was given 4 pepper plants by a friend no idea what they are two have flowered and produced long green chilli pepper like fruit, the other two are just flowering. How do I know when the time is right to harvest the peppers. "
liz on Wednesday 27 July 2011
"As long as the peppers are glossy and dark green, they are immature and will have a "green" flavor. Wait until the fruits begin to change color (most change to red). Here in Virginia, I'm just beginning to get a few early peppers, but chilis tend to run late and mine are far from ripe. Good luck. "
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 27 July 2011
"Hi... I learned on Food Network tv that the smaller the pepper the hotter it is. I would love to have a list of all peppers from smallest to largest or largest to smallest. It would be very helpful when adding peppers to the pots. Thanks!"
Andrea "Andy" Chenoweth on Wednesday 29 February 2012
"Andy, the Food Network folks over-simplified. There are large peppers that are very hot, and more and more small peppers with little or no heat. When cooking with hot peppers, the cook must boldly taste the peppers to decide how many to use. "
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 29 February 2012
"Just wondering if you can use the seeds from bell peppers this season to grow bell peppers next season. If you can use the seeds, how do you use them? Thanks."
Darlene on Tuesday 27 March 2012
"Darlene, you can replant seeds from open-pollinated varieties, but not from hybrids. Most peppers sold in stores and at farmers markets are hybrids, which are more productive and easier to grow, but not good for seed-saving purposes. Pepper seeds do enrich your compost with good nitrogen, though!"
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 28 March 2012
" My husband saved seeds from red, yellow, and green peppers. I recalled Mother leaving the green peppers on the vine and having them turn red. So, we have had green peppers and left some until they are now red....will we have any yellow (or orange) peppers. Thank you for the information here....just wondering about yellow--- "
Linda on Sunday 11 September 2016
"Linda, the color to which peppers mature is determined by genetics, and only a few varieties mature to yellow or orange. You will need to grow Golden Calwonder or another variety that matures to yellow to get yellow sweet peppers. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 12 September 2016
"Thank you for your husband in his retirement is the gardener and I found your article and feedback very helpful...Again,Thank you...linda"
Linda on Tuesday 13 September 2016
"I have had success picking my sweet roasting peppers at breaking then laying them on a cloth on my living room floor and covering with another piece of fabric. They turn red remarkably quickly, usually never more than a week. I peek every day or so, rotate them and take out the ones that are ready to eat. A few become a bit shriveled but, most are in great condition."
Cathy Dorner on Saturday 29 September 2018
"Great tip, Cathy! I think the cloth may help retain just the right amount of ethylene gas to promote even ripening."
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 29 September 2018
"Hi, I am trying peppers for the first time, I wonder should I prune the peppers at all, as with tomatoes?"
Phill on Tuesday 11 June 2019

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