2016 is Year of the Pepper

Rob Zimmer Special Contributor
Now Media Group

The world of the colorful, flavorful pepper takes center stage this year as the International Herb Association has designated these amazing plants as 2016 Herb of the Year.

If you've never tried growing your own peppers at home, now is the time to explore the many varieties, creative uses and fun flavors, sweet and fiery, that make peppers a standout garden herb.

Despite what you may have heard, peppers, especially hot varieties, are quite easy to grow. In fact, many peppers do quite well in average to poor soil, thriving upon heat for much of the season, though a period of cool is welcome.

Peppers range from the large, popular bell peppers used in salads and stir fries, as well as stuffed pepper recipes, to the tiny, fiery hot peppers that have a wide range of uses.

Peppers also come in all colors, including black, purple, pink, green, yellow, orange, red and many with fun and unusual streaking and mottling.

Among the most common mistakes made by beginner pepper growers are starting the seeds too early indoors, as well as planting out too early in the season.

Here are some great tips for growing your best peppers in 2016.

Patience is a virtue —The waiting is the hardest part. But it's important when it comes to growing healthy and prolific peppers.

Plant seedlings and starters in the garden at least a week after the last expected frost date in your area.

Peppers and Epsom salts —Most peppers grow exceptionally well in magnesium-rich soil. You can give your peppers a great boost by mixing a tablespoon of Epsom salt in one gallon of water and spraying your plants as they bloom.

Overwatering — Be careful not to overwater your pepper plants. Soil should be consistently moist, but not wet or soggy. Water at ground level to keep moisture off fruit and foliage.

Mulch —Peppers benefit from mulching. Whether with black plastic or a good layer of 6 to 8 inches of organic mulch, apply when the soil is warm.

Seed starters —Harden off seedlings beginning about 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost expected date. In many areas of the state, that means now. To harden them off, gradually get them used to sunshine and cooler temperatures by setting them outdoors for increasing lengths of time for about a week or two.

Don't over-fertilize —These days, everyone wants to fertilize without even checking their soil to determine if this is even necessary. Have a soil test done to determine whether it not you need to fertilize and use organic amendments. Compost tea and fish emulsion are excellent choices, applied about a week after planting. Peppers that are over-fertilized, especially with too much nitrogen, will look lush and green but set fewer fruits.

Heirloom treasures —If you want to save seed, choose heirloom and open-pollinated pepper varieties. These will come true type from seed the following year. Saving seeds is quite simple. Select a healthy plant and allow a few fruits to remain throughout the season. At the end of the season, cut the fruit in half, scoop out the seeds, dry completely and store overwinter.

Find Rob Zimmer online at www.robzimmeroutdoors.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/robzimmeroutdoors.