Questions on: Pepper

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service

Q: I purchased a small, ornamental pepper plant from our local nursery around September of this year. The nursery had yellow, orange, purple and red peppers. It was so cute. I repotted the pepper when I got home. Its leaves are drying up and the new leaves are very small. It actually looks almost dead. However, as sad as it looks, the plant is loaded with the red peppers and continues to produce them. What can I do for this plant? It was so cute and I was hoping to decorate the patio with it next summer. (e-mail reference)

A: You probably need to give it more light. These plants eat up all the bright light one can give them. If you canít place it in a window that gets direct sunlight most of the day (hard to do during winter months), get some artificial lights with automatic timers. The automatic timers will allow you to provide 13 to 15 hours of light per day. That usually will turn the plant around. You also will need a little patience on your part.

Q: The leaves on my pepper and basil plants have holes in them. Obviously, some insect is eating the plants. What can I do to prevent this, but still be able to use the basil in my cooking without toxicity problems? (e-mail reference)

A: That is a tough question. I'd suggest using Bt or an insecticidal soap. The Bt will take care of them (assuming they are caterpillars) when they come back to feed. The insecticidal soap is effective when the insect is present and contact can be made.

Q: Iíve got a pest problem. I have pepper plants that have lost leaves from the bottom up. I know we have rabbits (we have a dog that usually scares them away), but Iím surprised that such small nips have been taken and so low to the ground. I thought rabbits decimated plants. Up until today, the plants were being eaten from the bottom up, but I noticed that one of the top shoots on a plant had been eaten. I havenít noticed any other pests and my tomatoes havenít been touched. (e-mail reference)

A: The problem could be caused by cutworm activity or possibly slugs. The photo you sent of a plant prostrate on the ground is a good indication of cutworm feeding.

Q: I had a lady call and ask if she could use seed from a gypsy hybrid white pepper plant that she grew last year for this yearís seed. She said she saved some peppers and collected the seeds. She planted a few to see if they would germinate this winter and they all sprouted. Will they produce if she uses the seed from last yearís peppers? She said the seed is so expensive. She also questioned how companies produce hybrid seed. (e-mail reference)

A: Taking the seed from a hybrid fruit will show her what the parental makeup of that hybrid is. Whether the plants will produce fruit is anybody's guess, but they will not be the same as last yearís in any case. Hybrids are made by hand-crossing the pollen from one plant to the female (pistillate) part of another plant. This is delicate work with lots of unknowns as far as results go. The requirements are very exacting and there has to be flawless recordkeeping. Once the crosses result in something attractive, productive and nourishing, sufficient seed stock from the right crosses has to be built up to make it available to the public. That is why hybrid seed costs more.

Q: My partner and I have been growing peppers in a hoophouse. We're planning to grow peppers again this year in the same hoophouse. Should we fumigate the soil? We grew the peppers last year through black plastic and we still have the plastic down. We understand that fumigants such as Vapam (believe that's right) have a waiting period before you can plant again. What are your recommendations on lighting for starting plants such as peppers and cabbage? Do you recommend ordinary cool fluorescent lights or the enhanced cool lights? Is the light spectrum good enough with ordinary cool bulbs (blue red spectrum) versus the enhanced, which I believe are also more expensive? How many bulbs or watts do you recommend per square foot of tray? (Cando, N.D.)

A: I know little about soil fumigants except that they are not to be messed with by the average person, which I classify myself as. I would suggest importing fresh, pasteurized soil and building raised temporary beds over the present site that you have covered with plastic. This would give you a worry-free start each year without the need for such drastic soil treatment. I would suggest using 1-inch by 6-inch boards and importing media that has outstanding drainage characteristics and is pasteurized. Creating temporary beds costs about the same as fumigating. The blue end of the light spectrum will build stockier plants, but you can get away with using the blue/red fluorescent bulbs. Keep one of each in every fixture and keep them about 10 to12 inches above the plants. It would really stimulate the roots if you could put in underground heating. This is as much advice that I feel comfortable giving you. I hope it helps!

Q: We're growing some tomato and pepper transplants. Some of the tomatoes are showing strong purpling of the leaves with the veins remaining green. They are growing in small 1 1/4 inch size plug trays. Their about 6-7 inches tall. Would adding some Miracle-Gro help? Should we transplant them into something larger? How about the temperature? The temperature they are being kept at is around 60 degrees. (Cando, N.D.)

A: The temperature is too low, there is not enough soil mass, and they are suffering from lack of nutrients. Raise the temperature to about 70-72 F., repot into larger containers or packs and fertilize every two weeks with a complete fertilizer.

Q: What varieties of green bell peppers do you recommend this year? What short season Jupiter would good? Also, what about enterprise and whopper imp? Also, what color bell pepper would be most accepted in the market? Can I expect about a dozen peppers per plant? (Cando, N.D.)

A: Pepper plants are so fickle in their production. I thought we were going to lose every one of our plantings last year due to a flooding rain and standing water, but we got some pretty good production anyway. Production depends so much on the timing of planting and the maturity of the plants at that time. In other words, don't bet the farm on dependable pepper production. If they suffer watering lapses or cool temperatures (below 60 degrees F. ) while in the seedling stage, it can affect fruit production. It makes me sound like I'm not a fan of growing peppers, which is not true - I welcome the challenge by planting a wide variety of cultivars and usually get results that satisfy. In the past, I have had my best productive results with lady bell, but can no longer find it on the market. Last year Jupiter did well, as did our bell boy hybrid and the big early hybrid (huge fruits!). Iím sorry I donít have any data or information on enterprise or whopper imp. We had some of the big early hybrid fruits turn red for us, and the color contrast was outstanding. Red would get my vote any day! You are about on the mark with expected production if you have good conditions. Again, so much depends on the care of the seedlings and the timing of the transplanting. We generally do it at the same time we plant tomatoes, which isn't the best, as tomato plants are much tougher environmentally speaking than pepper plants ever can be.

Q: A local gardener asked me about her pepper plants that are turning yellow and the leaves are falling off. This happened suddenly (one or two days). Nothing else in the garden seems to be affected. She has several different types of peppers and they all are affected. I was trying to research possible diseases. I found information on Fusarium and Verticillium wilt. The symptoms seem similar. Could this be a possibility? If not, any ideas? Treatments? (Napoleon, N.D.)

A: Peppers are extremely sensitive to temperature changes and moisture fluctuations. If the plants were not "conditioned" (I cannot use the word hardened, as they never truly harden off!) and purchased from a greenhouse operation where the elements could be controlled somewhat, they would be even more vulnerable to this problem. There is a chance they may re-leaf, or she may just want to go ahead and replant. The best thing peppers could use now is some continuous heat -- not the yo-yo temperatures from the 80s to the 50s!

Q: I have about 30 beautiful bell pepper plants, but less than half of them are producing fruit. I have them about 18 inches apart, have a good layer of straw mulch around them, and water profusely. (Audubon, Minn.)

A: Pepper production is about as much an art as it is a science. They will produce poorly or not at all under the following conditions: fluctuations in temperature or water availability; too high soil fertility, especially nitrogen; transplanted too late or too old at planting; if they were too cold or too dry sometime before planting or too chilled after planting, or night temperatures below 60 F that cause blossom abortion.

Q: When should we start our tomato and pepper seeds? Can we just plant them directly outside in the spring? (e-mail)

A. Pepper and tomato seed should not be started yet! Figure about 28 to 30 days from the average last frost date in your area, and plant the seeds in a sterile media (like vermiculite) at that time. Be sure they get ample light from a flourescent lamp (about 6 to 9 inches above the seedbed), and bottom heat of about 72 F. As the seeds germinate, move the lamp up accordingly.

If we lived in a warmer climate, direct sowing might be possible. Simply put it out of your mind anywhere in the upper Midwest. Some may sprout, but the fruit bearing would be non-existent due to our short season.

Q: Do pepper plants need to be planted close enough to touch in order to pollinate? I am also wondering if you need to disturb the roots on bedding plants when transplanting to give them a chance to spread out? (Audubon, Minn.)

A: I have never heard that you need to put bell peppers close together in order to get them to pollinate! I prefer to plant them close to save room, but if yours are doing well, keep them where you have them!

You also don't need to disturb the roots on bedding plants to stimulate growth. You do, however, need to snip off the flowers in the case of annuals like petunias, impatiens, geraniums, snapdragons etc. when you plant them.

You may be thinking about transplanting trees and shrubs—then you must stimulate the roots by pulling them apart before putting them in the hole you dug.

Q: I am having trouble with my peppers getting a soft spot on one side. It looks kind of like blossom end rot that sometimes is seen on tomatoes. Is this possible and what should I do to stop this problem? (Hannaford, N.D.)

A: Peppers do indeed get a blossom-end-rot malady like tomatoes. Basically, the same treatment: mulching at time of planting, steady water supply, and cultivar selections that are not prone to the problem.

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