Caring for Your Ornamental Pepper
I’ve had a few questions on my Facebook page and through my website about the ornamental pepper plant (Capiscum annuum). This indoor/outdoor plant provides a flurry of colour during the drab winter days but in order to keep them healthy, attention to soil moisture and sunlight is the key to success.
Buying Your Plant
Ornamental peppers are readily available at garden centres, grocery stores, and just about any other store that sells novelty plants. Like any other indoor plant though, you have to inspect it before you take it home. Look for bacterial growth under leaves and in other areas where air circulation is poor. This is a sign that the plant is not well taken care of. During your inspection, look for certain houseplant pests, namely the mealybug. Mealybugs thrive on juicy plants that provide lots of little nooks and crannies. They are small, greyish, and leave patches of white fuzz (their protection) on the plant. Look in the crotches between the stems and leaves and any places where peppers have fallen off. Check the main stems close to the soil.
Bringing Your Plant Home
When you get your plant home, do your other plants a favour and keep them separated. Quarantining your new guest may seem a little harsh but in the long run you’ll be happier that you did. Choose your plant’s ideal location and keep it there, away from any other plants, for at least four weeks. Inspect it weekly. If you notice insect pests or mildews, you have two options: fix the problem or get rid of the plant altogether. Mildews and moulds are the result of overwatering but some plants are just prone to these problems. Water less frequently and start your four week quarantine over again. For the insect pests, consider a safe, natural product. Know that mealybugs are very persistent.
The ornamental pepper is like any other pepper: it loves the sun. A minimum of 2-3 hours of bright light is ideal so choose an east or west facing window. The plant enjoys water but never let it sit in any excess. Water thoroughly but infrequently to keep soil moist (i.e. don’t water every day). An ornamental pepper can survive for quite a while and in the summer you can put it outside to flower and fruit for the next winter. Fertilize it with a mild mixture every two weeks while in bloom and while fruit is present. Bring back indoors before frost.
Finally, you can eat the peppers. I can’t say that I’ve tried it but I’ve heard that they put out a very hot spice with no other real flavours.