The outdoor gardens were put to bed weeks ago and we are now housebound for the winter; whatever gardening activities we perform now will have to be of the indoor variety.
One of the things that many people do during the winter is look for unusual plants that they can grow indoors to add beauty and colour to their indoor environments while at the same time giving them some plants to look after.
One rather unusual potted plant that I see more and more often is the ornamental pepper. Pots of these colourful plants begin to show up on retail shelves and in garden centres during October as their colours certainly tie into the autumn colour scheme.
More of these ornamental potted peppers — probably almost exclusively pots of red ones — will appear for sale for the Christmas season. They make great hostess gifts or table decorations during the Christmas season — in fact, another common name for these plants is the Christmas pepper.
Most of the decorative peppers available for sale as potted plants are some form of hot chili peppers, so caution is advised when handling the fruit or if small children are about. Some of the peppers can be very hot and cause discomfort if handled.
Usually the plants are 15 to 20 centimetres tall and quite bushy. The greenhouses that produce these potted plants pinch the plants as they develop, causing them to become bushy.
The tiny peppers form after white, star-shaped flowers appear in the leaf axils of the plants. There are usually no flowers, just fruits, on the plants offered for sale in retail establishments.
When the plants arrive in the shops and garden centres, they will already be sporting the colourful fruits for which they are admired. The small peppers can be either round or cone-shaped.
Although you might think that the various colours of fruits indicate a range of varieties, in fact, it simply indicates that the plants are at different stages of development. Like most peppers, even those we grow in our outdoor gardens, the fruits start off being green in colour.
The small peppers gradually turn from green to yellow, then to orange and finally turn red. Most of the potted peppers marketed at Christmas time have been allowed to develop to the red stage before being marketed while those brought to market in the Thanksgiving/Halloween season will have yellow and orange as well as red peppers on them.
Anyone who grows peppers outdoors knows that they like sun and heat; when you purchase a potted ornamental pepper, give it a spot in front of a south-facing window where it will get at least half a day of direct sun. Check periodically for aphids, as ornamental peppers are susceptible to aphid attacks.
Make sure your ornamental pepper is located in a warm location — preferably above 20 degrees C during the day. Slightly cooler overnight temperatures will not harm the plants.
Keep the planting medium moist but not sodden. Water the pot over the sink where excess water can drain away; keeping the soil too wet will cause the foliage to yellow and may cause the fruit to drop.
Letting the planting medium dry out may also cause the fruit to fall off the plant.
You do not need to fertilize the plant, as the planting medium will have enough nutrients in it from the greenhouse’s fertilizing program where it was grown.
During the autumn season, your ornamental pepper is best displayed in a jardinière with an autumn design or colour; if the plant still looks good as the Christmas season approaches, the plant can be slipped into a jardinière more suited to that season.
Ornamental peppers are treated as disposable plants; when the plants become unattractive, which generally occurs when the fruits wither and fall off, they are discarded. If the plant had mostly yellow fruits on it when you purchased it, it may last a little longer than a more mature specimen and last into the Christmas season.
Luckily, these unique, colourful plants are not expensive. The great amount of enjoyment we get from the colour and interest they add to our indoor spaces during the early winter makes them a bargain.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.