Big bells of red, yellow, purple and orange, long skinny cayennes, little red-hot bullets, oval jalapeños and stubby ramshorns—few other vegetables display such an array of shapes, sizes and colours. What all peppers have in common, though, is a love of heat and sun. Add to that an ability to fruit abundantly in large pots, and you have one of the very best vegetables for container growing.
Native to the warmer parts of South America, peppers thrive in Texas, Mexico and the West Indies, where the plants may reach small shrub size. But beyond the “banana belt” of southern Ontario and B.C.’s Okanagan Valley, these heat lovers can be a stretch across much of Canada. It’s all a matter of degrees. In windswept gardens, where soil is cool and heavy, peppers may sit and shiver for weeks. But set a young plant in a big pot of light, nourishing soil, in the warmest, sunniest spot you can find— a deck or balcony sheltered by a south- facing wall, or even a greenhouse bench—and watch it grow. A location change of even a few metres can make the difference between a meagre harvest and a bumper crop.
When to start your peppers
Any gardener who has grown tomatoes successfully from seed can manage peppers, keeping in mind that pepper seeds and plants move a whole lot slower. Late winter, i.e., mid to late March, is the time to start. Push three or four seeds a half-centimetre deep into loose moist soil—all-purpose starting mix is fine—in 8- to 10-centimetre pots. Loosely drape a sheet of clear plastic over the pots and put them someplace quite warm; small sprouts should push through in about 10 days. Once seedlings show true leaves (the second set of leaves to emerge), pinch out all but one sturdy seedling. This rough-and-ready “thinning” eliminates the job of transplanting, a step that may set seedlings back.