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People who live in apartments and townhouses without gardens can grow peppers and other plants on their balconies, patios, or even in a closet under lights. The peppers can be moved around easily, transforming the peppers from patio plants to ornamental houseplants.

They can be rescued from heavy downpours or hail, or moved to areas of varying light levels. In pots, peppers are easier to isolate for plant breeding or to produce pure seed. Treasured varieties can be wintered over in a greenhouse or sunroom and returned to the garden the following year.

What to grow peppers in

Virtually any container can be used to grow peppers. If the reason for using containers is to expand the size of the garden rather than eventually to bring the plants indoors, then size and appearance is not a problem and the gardener can use fairly large containers such as plastic trash cans, wooden boxes or barrels, styrofoam picnic coolers, and the large plastic, fiber, or metal pots used by greenhouses for shrubs and trees. The ideal size for peppers is five gallons or larger for outdoor growing.

If, however, the purpose of growing peppers in containers is to winter them over, to turn them into perennials, or for breeding, then smaller, more attractive containers should be used. We have had peppers in containers ranging in size from a plastic pot with a 4-inch diameter to a barrel with a 22-inch diameter. With a few exceptions, the larger the container, the larger the pepper plant will grow. Smaller containers restrict root growth, which limits foliage and flower production but they are recommended for gardeners wishing to grow bonzai peppers. Remember that smaller containers will require more frequent watering, and that lighter-colored pots will reflect more solar energy and keep the roots of the plant cooler.

We believe that the smaller-podded varieties adapt best to container growing--especially to the smaller pots. . Good drainage is essential regardless of the type of containers chosen for growing peppers. The containers should have large drain holes. To prevent soil from washing out of the holes, plug them with irregularly shaped stones.

Some early sources suggest placing a 3-inch layer of gravel to aid in drainage, but this practice is discredited today. Do not place the container in a jardinere or in a saucer because of the risk of the roots sitting in water. Indoors, of course, saucers are a necessity, so just make sure the pot doesn't sit in water.

One of the biggest problems with container gardening is the tendency for the plants to dry out and wilt between regular waterings. The major cause of the quick drying is plant transpiration, which is greater than one might expect when the plant has a well developed root system. Another cause of drying is evaporation from the top of the soil, which can be controlled with a mulch of grass clippings--but then it's hard to see how wet the soil is. The third cause is the type of soil chosen for the container.

It is commonly believed that commercial potting soil is the best choice for containers because many garden soils contain too much clay for use in pot. However, commercial potting soils often contain so much sand, perlite, and milled sphagnum moss that they drain too fast and dry out too quickly.

Some gardeners have had success with simply digging soil out of the garden and putting it in a pot. Most pepper gardeners add some garden soil to a mix that includes commercial potting soil and other soil expanders. We have had good luck with the following formula: 1 part perlite, 1 part sand, 1 part vermiculite, 3 parts commercial potting soil.


Outdoors, peppers in containers seem to do best in partial shade or in locations receiving full sun only in the morning. There is a tendency for pots in full sun to absorb solar radiation and heat up the roots too much. However, if the pots are quite large, painted white or aluminum to reflect solar energy, and are well-mulched, many varieties will thrive in full sun. Indoors, the plants will be partially shaded by the movement of the sun, so place them in the sunniest window. In the summer, it's usually an east or west window; in the winter, a south window is best.


Peppers in pots generally need a little more feeding than those outdoors growing in aged manure. About once a week early in the growing season, use a balanced liquid fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, diluted even more than the instructions suggest. Fish emulsion seems to work well for organic gardeners. A good slow-release fertilizer is Osmocote, which does not burn the plants and provides a steady supply of nutrients. If the growth of the potted pepper seems more vigorous than that of the same variety in the garden, or if blossoms are dropping, stop using the fertilizer. If blossom drop continues, too much nitrogen has been applied, and the pot should be flushed by running a lot of water through it.


One of the biggest problems with growing peppers indoors is pets. The plants are chewed by cats, dogs, and birds. Some gardeners put netting over their peppers to keep the cats off, but then they have hidden their favorite plants. Another problem with growing peppers indoors or in greenhouses is that they are more susceptible to the usual houseplant attackers: spider mites, whitefly, and aphids. The best control is to wash the plants at least once a week with soapy water, then rinse them. You can even put them under the shower to spray them off. Be sure to wash the underside of the leaves.

Seed and Plant Sources

By far, the best selection of chile seeds is Seed Saverís Exchange, where gardeners exchange their seeds with other hobbyists. You have to be a member to participate. Reach them at www.seedsavers.org or 563-382-5990. Another good source is the Chile Seed and Plant Ring at http://ushotstuff.com/HotSeeds.htm, which is a group of 25 linked sites all selling seeds or plants. To find even more seed supplies, visit www.google.com and do an advanced search for the phrases "chile seeds" and "pepper seeds."

There are at least two companies selling a wide variety of chile bedding plants: Cross Country Nurseries, at www.chileplants.com and The Chile Woman at www.thechilewoman.com. We have ordered from both of these companies and the plants arrived in very good condition and all survived. In Europe, seeds for many varieties are available online at the Pepperworld Hot Shop in Germany (site is in German language).

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa with Serranos

In Mexico, all sauces are salsas, regardless of whether or not they are cooked. But in the U.S., a salsa usually refers to an uncooked sauce. This is one of the simplest--yet tastiest--uses of serrano chiles. Serve this as a dip for chips or as a marinade and basting sauce for grilled poultry and meat.

  • 1 pound fresh green tomatillos
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped red onions
  • 2 serrano chiles, seeds and stems removed, minced
  • 1 small bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
  • Sugar to taste (optional)

Husk the tomatillos and wash them thoroughly under very hot water. Cool under running water, and coarsely puree in food processor or blender. Add the onions, serrano chiles, cilantro, and lime juice and pulse until coarsely chopped.

Remove the bowl and add olive oil if you wish to adjust the consistency. Add some sugar if the tomatillos are too sour.

Yield: About 2 cups

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