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Hot peppers plants are in a wonderfully varied group that brings a variety of colors, textures, and flavors to the garden. Their flowers can be white, yellow, or purple with a star- or bell-shape and give way to edible peppers in eye-catching shades of red, yellow, purple, orange, and brown in an entertaining array of shapes and sizes. The oval- or lance-shape foliage tends to be green but can, in some rare plants, be purple or have streaks or splashes of white.
Hot peppers are an excellent source of vitamin D, vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and beta-carotene. Recent studies show they reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and will help you to feel full while eating less and push the body to burn calories. There is even research showing that eating this fiery food may help you live longer.
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Growing Hot Peppers
Various hot pepper varieties have been grown in vegetable gardens for generations. They are now becoming popular for use as ornamentals, too. Ranging in size from dwarf to full-size shrubs, peppers are suitable for patio pots, hanging baskets, and ornamental beds and borders. While the flowers tend to be understated, the peppers are bright and colorful with playful shapes and textures.
If young children are a part of your life, consider using hanging baskets to avoid undesired experimentation with the brightly colored fruit.
Hot Peppers Care
Hot peppers grow best in summer heat. Although hot peppers are perennials in Mexico and parts of South and Central America where they originate, they are summer annuals in the United States. Hot peppers are sensitive to low temperatures, so if you live in an area with cold spring weather, start hot pepper seeds indoors about eight weeks before the last expected frost in your area and transfer outdoors when soil temperatures reach 65 degrees F.
Potted hot peppers can be overwintered inside if cut back and kept in a well-lit area. When working with hot peppers, always remember to wear gloves as the oil that gives the fruit its heat transfers easily to your hands.
Capsaicin gives peppers their heat. A scoring system called Scoville Heat Units (SHU) gives you a sense of how hot a pepper is when consumed. The lower the score, the more reasonable the level of heat. Scores above 500,000 are extremely hot. The most popular of these fiery peppers is the bhut jolokia (ghost pepper), a hybrid from India. It was the first pepper developed to score over a million SHU.
Breeders have since developed the Naga Viper at 1,349.000 SHU, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion at 2,009,231 SHU, and the Carolina Reaper coming in at 2,200,000 SHU. Pure capsaicin receives a score of 16 million SHU.