July 28, 2007

Plant of the Week

David Rodriguez

Chile VerdesThe medicinal value of peppers has been recognized for hundreds of years. Recent tests confirm the validity of many of their uses that were described as medicinal in pre-Hispanic and colonial times. Much of this folklore has been documented in a recently published book, Capsicum Cultura–La Historia Del Chilli, by Janet Long-Solis.

Most people mistakenly think that the pepper’s heat comes from the seeds. The tongue-twisting heat compound, capsaicin, is located primarily in the cross-wall portion of the fruit. Seeds that are “hot” were contaminated with capsaicin during processing. Processed peppers contain much higher capsaicin levels than do raw peppers. This may be attributed to the thermal processing which allows capsaicin to spread freely throughout the fruit. It is also believed that the processing oil (sesame, soybean, etc.) withdraws or releases capsaicin from the fruit into the pickled or “escabeche” juice. Most gardeners who have pickled home-grown jalapenos know that the finished product is hot enough that one pepper makes a pot of beans so hot they are inedible.

Maintain adequate soil moisture for optimum growth, since shedding of flowers and young fruit occurs during soil moisture-stress. Peppers recover slowly from anything that slows plant growth. Drip irrigation insures optimum yields because of the constant supply of moisture.

Normally, peppers are harvested when they are full size and before they turn red or yellow. Quality peppers are firm, have thick walls and a dark green color.

Although pepper culture is similar to tomato production, there are some very important differences. First, peppers do not transplant as easily as tomatoes do. Transplanted plants may survive, but if transplant shock occurs, plants may remain stunted and nonproductive for a long period. Because younger transplants are probably less root-bound, these smaller plants experience less transplant shock. Starter solutions high in phosphorus are a necessity.

Peppers are much more sensitive to cold soils than are tomatoes. Unless black plastic mulch is used to warm soils early in the season, and wind protection is available, peppers should be planted several weeks after tomatoes.

Never cover pepper stalks with soil because they will not form roots as do tomato stalks. For pepper transplants, cover only the root system and peat pot with soil. Instead of forming roots, pepper stalks covered with soil may instead rot because of soil fungus.

To learn more about growing peppers, visit:

And do not forget the pepper festival on July 28-29 in Fredericksburg. For information on the festival, visit

Remember, Learn and Have Fun!

David Rodriguez is County Extension Agent-Horticulture, Bexar County. For more information, call the Master Gardener ‘Hotline’ at (210) 467-6575 or visit our County Extension website at, click under Horticulture and Gardening.

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