Growing your own banana peppers in Oklahoma

Story by Maureen Heffernan

If you have full sun in a location, you can grow peppers – sweet or hot. While sweet bell peppers are the most popular pepper, there are so many others to try – like banana peppers. Banana peppers are very easy to grow and there are both sweet and hot varieties. 

Banana pepper plants produce abundant yields, 20+ per plant if picked frequently. They are high in vitamins A, B6, C, and beta-carotene and delicious eaten raw, stir-fried, in sandwiches, and in relishes, salsas, salads, and even pepper jellies. 

Peppers need well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. At least a few weeks before planting out transplants, work the soil to a depth of at least 10 inches to break up soil clods and add several inches of compost or other organic matter, such as peat moss, to loosen and enrich the soil. Peppers prefer a soil ph of 6.0-6.5. Get your soil tested two or three months before planting and adjust soil ph as needed. Getting the ph within this range helps plants grow healthier and stronger and prevent many disease issues. 

The most common way people eat banana peppers is on salads and sandwiches – simply wash, slice, and enjoy! Photo by Jennifer Williams.

Peppers are a warm-weather crop, so they grow best in warmer soils. Wait until late May or early June to put out your plants; peppers can also easily be grown from seed. 

You can start seeds indoors approximately six to eight weeks before planting outdoors. Plant seeds about ¼ inch deep and keep the soil moist. Seeds should germinate in 10-14 days. Once seedlings are a few inches tall, feed with half-strength liquid fertilizer once every 10 days or so. 

In the garden, space plants 12-18 inches apart within a row and space rows at least 24 inches apart. Create planting holes around 4 inches deep and water the soil planting areas to fully moisten soil. Gently put the seedling roots in the hole and loosely pack soil around the base. Leave a slightly sunken area around the stem to retain water. Even if the soil was watered before planting, water again so make sure the roots have a good amount. Peppers are a fairly thirsty crop, so provide a good long soak of about 1 inch of water per week; more when it’s extremely hot and/or if you see plants wilting. Apply a layer of mulch to help the soil retain moisture. 

Work some balanced fertilizer, such as 5-10-10, into the planting area before planting and then another application when flowers appear. Don’t overfertilize, which can leave plants susceptible to disease and produce lower yields. Banana pepper plants reach 1-2 feet tall and can benefit from staking as they grow so that plants abundant with growing peppers will not bend or end up with damaged stems. Use wooden or metal stakes, loosely tying the plants to the stake for support.

Keep weeds pulled around the plants, being careful not to disturb the plants or roots. Peppers should be ready to harvest in 70-75 days or so after transplanting for the sweet varieties and a bit longer for the hot types. 

Peppers are susceptible to diseases – including anthracnose, bacterial spot, and blossom-end rot. To minimize disease issues, select disease-resistant varieties. Proper cultural methods, such as crop rotation and removing all plant debris at the end of the growing season will minimize disease outbreaks over time. If you grow pepper plants in the same location every year, pest and disease issues can build up in the soil. 

Like all members of the pepper family, the fruit changes colors as they mature. Don’t panic if you don’t have perfectly yellow fruit, it will still taste amazing with a hint of orange or red! Photo by Jennifer Williams.

Use a drip irrigation system to deliver water at soil level and keep it off the foliage to minimize disease problems such as bacterial leaf rot, as well as reducing water usage. It’s also important to not place plants too close together, which prevents good air circulation around plants. 

Frequently inspect your plants, including leaf undersides, for any signs of disease and remove infected foliage. If plants are discolored or wilted, remove and destroy them so problems won’t spread. Aphids can be knocked off plants with a strong spray from a garden hose or with soapy water. Beetles can be removed by hand and caterpillar pests can be controlled with Bt (Bacillus thuringensis). Use an organic pesticide on pepper plants for problems with maggots, weevils, leaf miners, or flea beetles. Always carefully follow label directions for pesticides. 

Depending on variety and growing conditions, peppers should be ready to harvest when they are 3-8 inches long with firm, bright yellow skin. While yellow is the most common color, some varieties mature to orange or red. Harvest often to encourage higher yields. To avoid damaging plants as you harvest, don’t pull at the pepper, instead use clean scissors or a sharp knife, leaving about ½ inch of the stem.

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