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Ornamental peppers bring vibrant color to the fall garden

By for CAES News

If you would like to give your garden a festive fall atmosphere, then give ornamental peppers a prominent place. They may not have noteworthy blooms, but varieties like 'Sweet Pickle' and 'Garda Tricolore' have fruit that will show out like Christmas tree lights.

Ornamental peppers are among those plants that leap off the shelves this time of the year. If you love them now, jump on the bandwagon and plant them next spring too.

'Sweet Pickle' is one variety that has kept me mesmerized. Don’t get me wrong, there are several I like, but this pepper is different. It has fruit that are about 2 inches long, reminding me of the old-fashioned Christmas tree lights that were big and bold before we went to these miniature versions.

A lot of ornamental peppers are flaming hot. 'Sweet Pickle' is not; it is sweet and loads up a bounty of red, orange, yellow and purple fruit at one time on compact plants that are perfect for the landscape or vegetable garden. These large, 2-inch fruit can be seen from a great distance, making them a landscape asset.

Another variety I find exceptional is 'Garda Tricolore.' This hot one originates from a Holland source. It also resembles Christmas lights, but on a much smaller scale. Don’t let the word “smaller” deter you. What it may lack in size, it makes up in quantity.

'Garda Tricolore' produces scores of peppers that start purple, then change to cream-orange and then red. These peppers are almost as long as sweet pickle peppers, but aren’t as wide.

While I’ve been touting two really colorful selections that you’ll probably have to search out, don’t miss out on the opportunity to grow 'Black Pearl,' 'Calico' and the one with showy, iridescent purple leaves, 'Purple Flash.' These should be readily available at garden centers.

Peppers like these make perfect companions for asters, mums and late-season marigolds, sunflowers and zinnias.

For a dazzling fall display, 'Salsa Deep Orange' is a must-plant. This is one of several great ornamental peppers that can add spice to your landscape, mixed containers or fall decorations, whether they are streetside or on the dining room table.

'Salsa Deep Orange' is one of four single colors in the salsa series, along with two additional mixes. The series also includes 'Salsa Orange,' 'Salsa Red' and 'Salsa Yellow.' These are small, compact plants that reach 6 to 10 inches and load up more colorful peppers than you would ever imagine for that size of plant. They spread to about 12 inches, so they make great border plants. At the University of Georgia’s Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah, we use these in mixed containers in our Mediterranean Garden.

Whether you plant now or in the spring, ornamental peppers are grown in a similar fashion as the bell pepper. Before removing the pepper plant from its container, dig the hole in the garden soil. Gardeners know they can plant a tomato deeper than it grew in the container, but you must plant the pepper at the same depth it is presently growing. Keep your plants mulched, watered and fed through the growing season and they will give you an unfailing performance.

Fall is a most wonderful time to garden. I’ll put it right with spring. The temperatures start to moderate, football is in the air and digging in the garden is a joy. I hope you will give ornamental peppers a try.

For more information about the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah, go to www.coastalgeorgiabg.org/.

Norman Winter is the director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georgia.
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