A GUIDE TO GROWING ORNAMENTAL PEPPERSAdd these colorful plants to containers, beds, and borders
Ornamental pepper plants are prized for their colorful fruit in shades of red, orange, yellow, purple, black, and white. There may be multiple colors present on one plant at the same time, as they change colors as they mature and ripen.
Can you eat ornamental peppers? Although normally grown for their brightly colored fruits, the fruits of ornamental peppers are edible. But beware, most are too hot to really enjoy their flavor. The leaves, however, are toxic to humans and pets.
Perennial in Zones 9b-11, grown as an annual elsewhere.
6 to 36 inches tall
Full sun (6-8 hours per day)
Rich, loamy, well-draining soil for in-ground plants; good all-purpose potting soil for containers.
Flowers appear in mid-to-late spring, and the resulting peppers can remain on the plant until the first frost.
When to plant:
Plant outdoors only after all chance of frost has passed. Minimal nighttime temperatures should be no lower than 60 degrees, and a soil temperature of 70 degrees.
Where to plant:
Ornamental peppers can be grown in vegetable gardens, as well as flower beds and ornamental borders. Their small stature and showy colors also make them perfect for containers. They can also be grown inside, but may require supplemental lighting.
How to plant:
Work some organic matter into the soil. Dig holes deep enough so that plants are at the same level as in their pots. Water thoroughly after planting. Add a layer of mulch around the plants to help retain moisture and control weeds.
ORNAMENTAL PEPPER PLANT CARE
Pruning ornamental peppers:
Pruning isn’t necessary, but growth tips can be pinched to encourage more branching and a fuller plant.
Keep soil moist, but not waterlogged.
Pests and diseases:
Similar to garden peppers, ornamental peppers can be bothered by aphids and spider mites which can be treated with an insecticidal soap. The most common disease are fungal, including Botrytis and Pythium root rot, and are more prevalent with wet conditions and poor air flow.
For more: A Guide to Growing Peppers
ORNAMENTAL PEPPER VARIETIES
Fruit size: 3/8 inch diameter
Plant height: 18 to 24 inches
Days to maturity: 90
This prize-winning variety stands out not only for its deep purple, nearly black foliage but also for its showy purple flowers and pearl-shaped fruits that start out black and turn a glossy crimson red as they mature. Exceptionally heat-tolerant and requires minimal watering. As with most ornamental peppers, the fruit is edible, but incredibly hot!
Fruit size: 2 inches long, 3/8 inch across
Plant height: 8 to 12 inches
Days to maturity: 90
‘Chilli Chili’ is the perfect name for these colorful little peppers, which have been bred to be heat-free so they are safe for households with children. The fruit, which is held upright above the foliage, changes color from yellow-green to orange to red as it matures, with all colors on exhibit simultaneously. The plants barely reach a foot tall, making them an eye-catching addition to containers and the front of the border.
Fruit size: 2 to 2-1/2 inches long, 3/8 inch across
Plant height: 6 to 12 inches
Days to maturity: 65
Long, twisted peppers that look like Medusa’s snaky locks grow in coiled clusters atop this small, container-friendly plant. The peppers start out ivory white and gradually mature to bright red, displaying hues of yellow and orange along the way. A single plant can produce 40 to 50 fruits encompassing the full color spectrum.
Fruit size: 2 to 3 inches long, 3/4 inch across
Plant height: 10 to 12 inches
Days to maturity: 85 days to purple, 120 days to red
Very similar to ‘Chilli Chili’ but with a different color palette, bearing an abundance of peppers in vivid shades of purple, orange, and red from midsummer to early fall. As with ‘Chilli Chili’, the fruit is mildly flavored and child-safe.
Thai hot ornamental pepper
Fruit size: 1/2 to 1 inch long, 3/4 inch across
Plant height: 12 to 15 inches
Days to maturity: 80
The Thai hot pepper is often classified as an ornamental plant, even though its fiery hot fruits are a mainstay of Asian cuisine. The tiny 1-inch-long peppers, which mature from dark green to bright red, rise above the green leaves with their tips pointing up and outward, like miniature Christmas lights. Although the plants are small, they produce an ample harvest, giving you enough for consuming (if you dare) and admiring.