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Rhonda J. Ferree

Rhonda J. Ferree
Former Extension Educator, Horticulture

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Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
Purple Flash ornamental pepper
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Ornamental Peppers Add Color to Garden

I have been using ornamental peppers in my herb garden for several years. They add color to my mostly green salad corner. Last year I planted the variety 'Shu' and was so overwhelmed by their beauty that I planted five different ones this year.

My dad started the 'Shu' pepper from seed. It is a dwarf plant with white splashed foliage, which is pretty all by itself. Add the multi-colored peppers in yellow, orange, cream, and red and they become show stoppers.

I really like to incorporate vegetables into the landscape, using them like annual flowers. All the ornamental peppers have similar characteristics that make them work well for this use.

All are considered dwarf plants, growing only 6-12 inches tall with a very compact habit. Space them 12-15 inches apart and use at least three plants for the best display. My 'Calico' peppers will grow 8-12" and round out nicely with a spread of 14-16 inches. The leaves are their best feature with variegation of purple, cream, and green. Fruit is a glossy black.

Some of these peppers are planted mostly for their foliage color. My dad started some 'Purple Flash' for me this year. It's smoky-black and violet leaves are streaked with white. The black, marble-sized fruit are showy on top the lighter purple leaves. They are particularly stunning when shining under a full sun.

Part of the reason why the ornamental pepper fruit stands out so well is because they hold their fruit upright above their leaves. This contrasts to the usual bell and banana peppers than hang down within the foliage. Some, in fact, look like fireworks when they ripen. Colors are most prominent in the fall after they have ripened into their various colors. I look forward to watching 'Masquerade's' firework display of purple, orange, and red. It lives up to its name!

Yes, ornamental peppers are edible, but beware! Most plant labels warn against eating the ornamental peppers because most are very hot. Pepper are rated using the scoville scale that starts at zero with no heat (bell pepper) and increases in intensity up the scale (habaneros are 850,000). 'Masquerade' is considered hot (5,000 to 30,000) while 'Calico' is extremely hot (above 30,000). Chilly Chili on the other hand gets its name from being cool and mild at only 1,000. My son Tyler learned a valuable lesson in heat when he bit into a 30,000 unit 'Purple Flash'!

Ornamental peppers are very easy to grow. They have very few insect and disease problems and are quite low maintenance. They are also drought tolerant and do well in various soil types. Peppers last well into the first fall frost and are sometime found for fall planting. Try some in your garden.

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