by Dr. Gary R. Bachman, MSU Extension Service
Ornamental peppers like this Black Hawk come in many colors, and the plants are prolific fruit bearers. (Photo by MSU Extension/Gary Bachman)
Last week, I told you about culinary peppers that I like to grow and ultimately consume. This week, I want to share another way to use peppers in our second summer garden and landscape.
Peppers are vegetables that also deserve a place as ornamental plants. They come in many colors, and the plants are so prolific that it makes sense for every landscape to have some ornamental peppers planted.
A group of ornamental peppers that are beautiful and unusual are the selections that have dark, almost black, foliage.
The black backdrop is perfect to set off the brightly colored fruit that are produced prolifically during the late summer and fall. Let’s take a look at some of my personal favorites, all of which have received regional and national acclaim.
Purple Flash, which was chosen as a Mississippi Medallion winner in 2010 for its overall versatility and impact, is one of the showiest peppers available on the market. This pepper displays the value of ornamental peppers with its purple-and-white, variegated leaves.
The fruit of Purple Flash start as dark marbles and mature to bright red. The showy fruit are displayed in all stages of color development.
Each of the other ornamental peppers I want to tell you about are All-America Selection winners.
Black Hawk produces adorable, little conical-shaped peppers that start off black and change to a beautiful, stunningly-bright red. They are showcased against dark-green, almost black foliage. Whether grown in a container or massed in landscape beds, this pepper is a top producer through the fall season.
As with the other ornamental peppers, Onyx Red is adorned with eye-catching dark foliage that provides a perfect backdrop for the round, shiny black and red fruit that are produced in great quantity. This is a compact and vigorous-growing ornamental pepper that is sure to be a stunning addition to any landscape.
Black Pearl is a good-looking, black-leaved landscape plant. It branches out and grows with a pyramidal form that will be wider than tall. Fruit are produced in clusters of shiny, marble-like peppers. By the beginning of second summer, the black peppers are turning red, and the contrast with the dark foliage is eye-catching.
An ornamental pepper that is sure to receive awards in the future is Midnight Fire.
This plant has unique and distinctive dark-black foliage. It is accented by abundant, smallish, dark-purple fruit that mature to bright red. The contrast between the foliage and the fruit is an striking combination for the garden.
Ornamental peppers prefer to grow in consistently moist soil, but don’t be overly generous with the water, as the plants don’t tolerate waterlogged soil. Fertilize with a good slow-release fertilizer early in the season. I like to use water-soluble fertilizer in the normal watering to add additional nutrition.
Whenever we use the word “ornamental” to describe any vegetable, many folks automatically assume the fruit is not to be eaten. This belief is generally true because the plants have been selectively bred for color. However, ornamental peppers can be used to spice up a dish. Just remember that they tend to be very, very hot and not in a good culinary way.