So the weather is hot, the animals are hot, inside of your car is hot: it must be August.
Fair warning, this article is about peppers that are hot — and ornamental peppers fall into that category. Most all the ornamental and specialty peppers are edible and incredibly tasty – so they serve a useful second life in salads, salsa and more. And as one of the most incredibly drought-tolerant and longest lasting annuals that we can plant- so why not plant some this month.
If you do not want to plant them in the ground, perhaps containers to match their color would be an excellent addition to the garden. And if your flower border is looking rather tired and needs to be rejuvenated, add them using a combination of reds, oranges, and yellows. Ornamental peppers and colored foliage plants are the most neglected and underused plants by Texas gardeners, yet they are some of the most useful and easy-to-grow. Nurseries should have a good supply along with their fall plants, and ornamental peppers should be among them.
In 2013 Neil Sperry wrote an article about the Dallas Arboretum planting peppers in their trial gardens. If you visit the Dallas Arboretum website you can read about their plantings. Listed below is just some of the information about the various plants that were used in their gardens.
The trend started several years ago with the pepper, "Black Pearl," whose leaves are inky enough to be called black and whose round, deep purple, shiny fruits mature to holiday red. An All-American Selections Winner, it’s a wonderful cut flower growing up to 18 inches tall by 18 inches wide. It likes full sun but will tolerate light shade.
‘Explosive Embers’ is one of the best of the ornamental peppers with purple foliage and multi-colored fruit. It continues to grow tall as it puts on the fruit. It did so well at the Dallas Arboretum that it made the North Texas Winner’s Circle. Grown in the sun it reaches a height of 10 to 14 inches.
"Garda Tricolor" ornamental peppers resemble tiny Christmas lights. Touted as a rising star at the Arboretum, it’s a beautiful annual that has all of the following qualities: flourishes in 100 percent full, burning, infernal Texas summer sun, is drought-tolerant enough to earn Water Wise designation, is deer and rabbit proof, 100-degree weather makes it more colorful, is beautiful from late spring until the first frost, is even edible, works equally well in containers or planted in mass, and is easy to grow from seed or 4-inch pots. Mature size is 24-inch-by-24-inch. Mix it with "Profusion" zinnias or purple fountain grass.
"Chilly Chill," only 12-inch-by-12-inch, is a smaller ornamental pepper. Grow in full sun. Its peppers are sweet!
The Dallas Arboretum has had great success with these ornamental peppers in their trial gardens and used them in the garden’s displays. They could even be placed in hanging baskets. They should look great grown in borders. Try mixing them with crotons or sweet potato vines. Another combination you might try is "Black Seeded Simpson" lettuce growing around the ornamental peppers and use them in salads.
When pumpkins become available in autumn, the Arboretum Director suggested yet another decorative use. “Set a large pumpkin in a container and plant peppers around it. The pumpkin costs less than a chrysanthemum plant and usually lasts longer. Marigolds are a good choice for fall flowers: cheap, easy to grow, and bloom until the first frost.” "Zenith" and "Sunburst" are his bullet-proof marigold choices to complement the ornamental peppers.
If you have not tried this Texas native, “Chile Pequin” it will not disappoint your need for "hot."
"Chile Pequin" is a Central Texas native whose red peppers are very hot. The plant reseeds and often is a perennial in mild winters, and birds love the fruit. It grows to 24-inch-by-24-inch in the sun or part shade.
Gardens are not always about flowers. Join the new trend — use ornamental peppers with their colorful foliage. Add some ”HEAT” to your yard, and possibly your salad.