Herbaceous Ornamental of the Month - Ornamental Peppers (Capsicum annuum)
Posted: September 11, 2012
Peppers are warm season vegetables that are easy to grow when given full sun and warm, well-drained soil. This year’s high temperatures and the dry conditions were perfect for growing peppers, and with the proper fertility they produced an abundance of colorful fruit. Plants require minimal maintenance and are relatively free from insect and disease problems.
Native to tropical America, chili peppers have been grown for more than 6000 years and were one of the first cultivated crops in Central and South America. Ornamental peppers are edible; however, the fruits of some varieties are extremely hot and are not recommended for eating. The heat is produced by a chemical called capsaicin; the seeds and interior white membrane are actually hotter than the flesh of the fruit.
Do Deer Eat Ornamental Peppers?
Never say never when it comes to deer—there was minimal browsing on the foliage of several of the plants, but the fruit was untouched. Since capsaicin is one of the active ingredients in many commercially available deer repellents, it makes sense that deer ignore the fruit.
Eye Catching Favorites
At the North Park Demonstration garden, everyone’s favorite choice was Capsicum annuum ‘Sangria’. The well-branched plants have a mounded habit ideal for containers, as well as for bedding. Plants produce an abundance of fruit and will always have both purple and red fruit for a continuous showy display.
Another eye-catching chili pepper is Capsicum annuum 'Calico', a 12 to 18-inch plant with green, cream and purple variegated foliage. The striking foliage often masks the red and purple glossy fruits which are pungent and not recommended for eating.
Capsicum annuum 'Purple Flash' has almost black leaves with flashes of bright electric purple. The exotic-looking 15-inch tall plants are topped with small, round, glossy black fruits. The fruit is extremely hot and not recommended for eating.
One non-pungent pepper is Capsicum annuum 'Medusa' with its colorful 2" twisted fruits that change from ivory to yellow/orange and finally to red. The 6-inch compact plants are ideal for garden beds and containers.
A 2006 All American Selections Award Winner, Capsicum annuum 'Black Pearl' is 18-inches tall and has dark black foliage and two-inch fruit that turn from purple to red. The glossy fruits are extremely hot and not recommended for eating.
Chili peppers are easily incorporated into a garden border or container for a spectacular display, and many have the added benefit of being harvested for use in specialty recipes. They are both a visual and gastronomic pleasure!
- State Master Gardener Coordinator