Summer Christmas trees for the garden
Story by Bob Westerfield
I sometimes think of banana peppers as summer Christmas trees for the garden. These dark green plants adorn themselves with abundantly spaced, light-colored, ornament-like peppers. As a member of the chile pepper family, banana peppers get their name simply because of their shape and color. Although this easy-to-grow pepper is most often seen with a yellow hue, it can also be found in various shades of red, orange, and purple. Similar to cherry tomatoes, banana peppers can produce a lot of fruit and each family only needs one or two plants to supply them for the summer. I would have to rate banana peppers as one of the most reliable producers in the summer garden. With a mild to moderately hot flavor, banana peppers can be served raw, pickled, or used in an assortment of recipes.
Like all garden vegetables, banana peppers require full sun and good garden soil for optimal growth. You can purchase transplants or grow your own from seed, five to six weeks before time to plant.
Peppers are in the same family as tomatoes and require the same cultural practices. Slightly acidic soil and moderate fertility will keep these plants thriving up until the first frost. Space plants 18-24 inches apart in the rows with 2-3 feet between the rows. Be sure to provide adequate moisture during dry periods. Banana peppers will thrive on 1-2 inches of supplemental irrigation per week.
Banana peppers do not have many problems as far as pests but can occasionally be attacked by whiteflies or stinkbugs. They are very resistant to diseases. During the hottest part of summer, when temperatures are consistently above 90 F, peppers will sometimes abort their blooms to conserve energy. Keeping the plants evenly watered during these periods will help keep the crop cool and continue producing. A layer of mulch around the pants will also keep them cooler, conserve moisture, and act as a weed barrier.
Harvest banana peppers as soon as they have filled out and are pale green. You can also leave some on the plant and they’ll develop more of a deep reddish color. Take care when harvesting peppers and use sharp clippers to snip the fruit from the plant. If you pull the fruit by hand, you’ll often break the entire branch, harming the plant. Leave a small part of the stem on the fruit to increase storage time. Harvested peppers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
While we often think of banana peppers as being sweet, you can also find some varieties that are quite “spirited” in flavor. One of my favorite varieties is ‘Inferno Hot Banana’, which has a medium hot flavor. It matures from yellow to red. There are many good places that offer a variety of seeds, such as Parks, Johnny’s, Jung, Totally Tomatoes, and Harris, just to name a few. You can also find transplants at your local garden center.