Peppers are easy to grow. They only need warm weather, a sunny location, well-drained soil and an occasional application of fertilizer to yield a bountiful crop.
And with so many new varieties at your local garden center, there is a pepper to delight every gardener.
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Peppers can be grown in the vegetable garden with your other vegetables, in an earth box, or in another container.
Consider growing them near the kitchen, if possible, where they will be convenient to harvest for your favorite recipes. With their glossy foliage and colorful fruits, many peppers are attractive enough to mingle with flowers in the perennial border or in container gardens.
In fact, there is an entire category of ornamental peppers that were developed solely for their decorative qualities.
Sweet peppers are available in great variety, some sporting the familiar large, bell-type fruits that are perfect for stuffing, others more long and slender -- great for salads or roasting.
If you have the space, try Big Bertha, a robust variety that bears huge peppers up to 4 inches wide and 6 to 7 inches long. Harvest the peppers when they are green, or let them mature to a beautiful deep red.
For exceptionally sweet flavor, plant Carmen. This Italian-type pepper was an All America Selections Winner in 2006, and it is delicious both raw and cooked. Its horn-shaped fruits are especially attractive, and the adaptable plants work well in containers.
Flamingo is heavy-yielding plant that produces 3½-inch wide by 3½-inch long peppers that turn from light yellow to orange red when mature. They are excellent for salads or pickling.
Golden California Wonder boasts beautiful, bright gold peppers that change to orange red as they mature. Use these in salads and stir-fries.
If you have limited space, try Redskin. The compact, cascading plants are loaded with peppers and are a great choice for growing in containers. As their name implies, they turn red as they mature.
Hot peppers are becoming increasingly popular. Most varieties are versatile, and can be used fresh or dried. Keep in mind that not all hot peppers pack the same punch, though -- they range in heat from mildly pungent to scorching hot.
Holy Mole is a new, mildly hot Pasillo pepper, and the All America Selections Winner in 2007. Long, slender peppers start out green, then turn a rich, chocolate-brown at maturity.
As the name suggests, these nutty, tangy peppers are perfect for making mole sauce and can be used fresh, pickled, dried or ground. Plants are disease resistant and produce abundantly.
For slightly more heat, plant some Garden Salsa. This moderately hot pepper is long and slender, green to red. Use for making Mexican sauces and salsa.
Jalapeño is a hotter pepper. Its 3½-inch fruits are green to red and make great toppers for nachos.
An All-America Selections Winner in 1988, Super Chili is very hot. Peppers are 1½ inches long, and turn from light green to red. Use in Thai and Asian recipes.
One of the hottest peppers available is Thai Dragon. Plants produce up to 200 peppers.
Be very careful when handling the seeds or inner parts of this pepper. The oil can cause serious damage to the skin and eyes.
Ornamental peppers are an easy way to pep up garden borders and containers. Their attractive, glossy foliage stays neat and tidy, and the brilliant fruits add nonstop color. Most are edible, also, but very hot -- try at your own risk!
Explosive Embers is an extra early variety with long slender peppers that change color, resulting in a colorful display of purple, yellow, orange and red peppers all at the same time -- a bright addition to any sunny border or container.
Purple Flash sports dark purple foliage splashed with bright purple. Plants are topped with glossy black peppers.
The peppers of Masquerade start out purple, turn yellow, then orange, and finally bright red. Use this uniquely colored plant in the landscape or in late summer and fall container gardens.
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette, 28W571 Roosevelt Road, Winfield. Call (630) 293-1040 or visit planterspalette.com.