How to Grow Ornamental Peppers

Splashy, colorful ornamental peppers add dazzling bursts of red, purple, yellow, orange, black, or white to the garden. And many cultivars display upright fruits that change color as they mature.

A vertical close up of an ornamental pepper plant growing in a pot. The upright fruits are red and purple with green foliage around them. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white text.

While the species Capsicum annuum includes numerous pepper types that are commonly used in the kitchen, such as C. annuum ‘Jalapeño,’ this article will focus on the varieties and cultivars that are grown mainly as ornamentals – bushy, leafy plants that produce eye-catching clumps of vivid fruits.

Ornamental peppers are technically edible, but are not considered particularly tasty. Many are also quite high on the Scoville scale, meaning they can be eye-wateringly spicy. See our full guide to growing hot peppers for more information.

Despite having “annum” – Latin for “annual” – in their name, these plants are not true annuals. They are frost-intolerant perennials, and native to southern North America and northern South America.

A close up of a large ornamental pepper plant with vivid purple and red upright fruits, contrasting with the bright green foliage. The background fades to soft focus.

In the United States, they are hardy only in Zones 9b through 11. In most of the country, these plants are grown outdoors as annuals, or grown in containers and brought indoors to overwinter.

These plants produce small flowers – with color that varies by type – beginning in May, followed by peppers that remain on the plant until the first frost.

Let’s learn more!

Propagation

Some gardeners have had luck propagating ornamental peppers from cuttings, but this can be tricky.

A collection of dark orange pots each containing a decorative pepper plant. Some of the plants have red fruits others are yellow. The background is a dark rustic surface.

Starting from seed or, better still, purchasing potted plants or seedlings from a nursery, are the best – and quickest – ways to get started.

From Seed

You’ll want to start seeds indoors in a rich potting soil 10-12 weeks before your expected last frost date. Plant seeds 1/8 inch deep and keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.

A decorative pepper plant with bright red fruits and green leaves is growing in a terra cotta pot on a wooden surface. To the left of the pot are two pomegranate fruits and a further plant in a pot in soft focus behind them.

Place the seed trays or pots in a warm place or on a warming mat set at 75°F. They need temps of 75-80°F to germinate, which typically takes about two weeks.

Being tropical plants, chilis like a lot of light.

A sunny windowsill can be sufficient, but if there are trees or fences obstructing the light, you might want to consider using grow lights to get them off to a good start.

Position your lights above the tiny plants once the seeds have germinated.

A close up of the upright red fruits of an ornamental pepper plant amongst light green foliage. To the bottom of the frame is a small immature green fruit.

After about eight weeks of growth, they are ready to be transplanted outdoors – provided all risk of frost has passed – or to a larger pot.

From Cuttings

If you want to try your hand at propagating ornamental peppers from cuttings, choose a healthy plant and trim off any dead or dying foliage.

Use a clean garden knife or sharp pruners to cut a 5-inch-long stem, making sure that it has at least two leaf nodes. These are small swellings on the stem that will eventually sprout new leaves.

Cut on a diagonal to maximize the surface area to allow for greater water absorption, the way you would when trimming flowers in a cut arrangement.

Strip the leaves from the bottom 2-3 inches of the cutting, and dip it in a powdered rooting medium.

A vertical picture of a close up of orange upright ornamental pepper fruits, contrasting with dark green leaves, fading to soft focus in the background.

Insert a pencil into a small pot containing well-draining potting soil with drainage holes, and remove it to create a hole for planting. Place the cutting into the hole you created.

Water, and place the cutting in a warm location. Do not allow the potting medium to dry out – keep it well watered and moist.

Transplant when your cutting has put on a few inches of growth, after about eight weeks.

How to Grow

Once your cuttings or seedlings are a few inches tall, they’ll be ready for transplanting either into containers or into your garden.

But first, remember they’ve been growing in an indoor environment and will need to adapt gradually to life outdoors.

Two white ceramic pots containing pepper plants with vivid upright fruits in red and purple. The background fades to soft focus.

This process is known as “hardening off” and involves putting your young chilis outside for a few hours a day, gradually increasing the time that they spend outdoors.

To begin with, place them in a sheltered spot where they won’t be buffeted by the wind.

After a week or two of keeping them indoors at night (and during inclement weather) and outdoors during the day, they should be acclimated to life in the garden.

Ornamental peppers like full sun, but in particularly hot parts of the country, they will tolerate partial shade, too.

If you’re overwintering your plant indoors, be sure to place it near a sunny window.

A close up of different ornamental plants growing together. To the left of the frame are long thin dark red fruits, yellow and red ones in the center and to the left of the frame.

These plants prefer a temperature range of 55-65°F at night and 70-80°F during the day.

They like well-draining soil that’s fairly rich in organic matter. If you’re transplanting into containers, place some drainage material such as gravel in the bottom of the pot.

The size of the container will depend on whether it’ll be one component in a grouping of other ornamentals, or planted on its own.

A close up of purple, orange, and yellow ornamental peppers, their vivid colors contrasting with the dark green foliage.

When you’re transplanting or repotting, make sure to keep the root ball intact to prevent damaging it, and water in well. In the garden, they’ll need one to two inches of water per week.

Water container-grown plants when the top 1/2-1 inch of soil has completely dried out, and add enough water so that it drains out of the holes in the bottom of the pot.

Fertilize pepper plants with a balanced fertilizer once or twice during the summer.

Growing Tips

  • Peppers appreciate fertile, well-draining soil.
  • If it’s really hot out, you might need to water plants more often, but don’t allow them to become waterlogged.
  • Add mulch within the growing area to retain water and discourage weeds.

Pruning and Maintenance

You can prune these plants if you want to encourage a more compact form, but pruning isn’t necessary. You can pinch the growth tips if you want to promote a more bushy plant.

A close up of an ornamental pepper plant with very deep green leaves and dark purple upright fruits on a soft focus green background.

To keep them looking their decorative best, be sure to remove any dead or dying foliage.

You can trim off about a half an inch of new growth from the main stem and side stems when they are about 4-6 inches long. Don’t trim any stems that have started flowering.

If you’re growing them in a container, you’ll likely need to repot every couple of years as the plant grows.

Snip off chilis when they start to dry out.

Cultivars to Select

From bright, vivid colors to moody dark hues, there are numerous varieties to choose from. Liven up your patio containers with cheerful reds and purples, or add a black-leafed variety for contrast. Here are a few of my favorite ornamental pepper cultivars:

Black Pearl

This unusual plant produces black leaves when it is grown in direct sun.

A close up of the 'Black Pearl' cultivar with black leaves and small dark fruits, in a terra cotta pot with a brick wall in the background. To the bottom right of the frame is a white circular logo and text.

‘Black Pearl’

In young plants and those grown in shady spots, the leaves remain dark green. Growing to around 18 inches tall, it produces small peppers that start out black and then turn bright red when mature.

Find packets of 100 ‘Black Pearl’ seeds at True Leaf Market.

Bolivian Rainbow

This heirloom variety grows up to 3 feet tall and produces large yields of 3/4-inch-long peppers that are quite spicy.

‘Bolivian Rainbow’

The fruits morph from purple to light yellow to orange, and then to red, as they mature. The stems and leaves have a purple tint and the flowers are purple.

Grow your own ‘Bolivian Rainbow’ plants with these packets of 50 seeds, available via Amazon.

Chilly Chili

This type produces 2- to 2.5-inch blunt-nosed peppers that cycle through greenish yellow to orange and then to dark red.

A close up of the 'Chilly Chili' variety with clusters of yellow and red peppers contrasting with dark green foliage. To the bottom right of the frame is a white circular logo and text.

‘Chilly Chili’

The compact plants grow to 9 to 10 inches tall and spread to about 14 inches. Unlike many ornamentals, ‘Chilly Chili’ is not spicy.

Get a packet of 100 ‘Chilly Chili’ seeds at True Leaf Market.

Filius Blue

This attractive variety is an heirloom type from Mexico. It produces 3/4-inch spicy, roundish fruit that matures from green to purple-blue to peach to bright red.

‘Filius Blue’

The young fruit is very spicy, but as it matures, the flavor becomes milder. The green leaves are purple-tinged at the edges.

The plant grows from 12 to 18 inches tall and six to 10 inches wide.

Find packets containing 1,000 or 2,000 seeds for ‘Filius Blue’ from Outsidepride via Amazon.

Medusa

The upright, twisty appearance of this plant’s narrow, 2- to 2.5-inch fruits is reminiscent of the infamous monster in Greek mythology whose crown sported venomous snakes in place of hair.

‘Medusa’

These peppers are more sweet than spicy, and are borne on compact plants that grow 6 to 10 inches tall and about as wide. The fruits mature from ivory white to shades of yellow and orange before turning bright red.

‘Medusa’ seeds are available from Amazon.

NuMex Easter

This 8 to 10-inch tall plant produces pastel-colored peppers in lavender, cream, pale yellow, and pale orange against a background of dark green leaves.

‘NuMex Easter’

‘NuMex Easter’ was an All-America Selections Bedding Plant Winner in 2014, and as such, is particularly useful as a bedding plant.

You can order a packet of 10 seeds from Park Seeds via Amazon.

Orange Wonder

This bright green plant grows to about a foot tall and produces conical orange peppers in summer and fall, amongst bushy foliage.

A close up of the 'Orange Wonder' cultivar showing bright yellow upright peppers amongst green foliage.

‘Orange Wonder’

Find a packet of seeds for ‘Orange Wonder’ at Eden Brothers.

Sangria

You’ll get lots of fruits on this plant, which grows to be about 12 inches tall and as wide as 18 inches.

‘Sangria’

The 2- to 3-inch fruits start out purple, then change to orange and finally to red.

The chilies produced by ‘Sangria’ are not spicy, so this plant may be a good choice for households with curious young children who might be tempted to take a bite.

Get packets of 25 seeds from Seedsown, available via Amazon.

Managing Pests and Disease

Ornamental peppers may fall prey to a few insect pests, as well as a couple of diseases.

Insects

A few common bugs can pester these plants, and insect damage can be unsightly when you’re growing them for decorative purposes.

A close up of a small ornamental pepper plant with yellow and red upright fruits growing in the garden. Around and behind the leafy plant is dark rich soil mulched with bark.

This is usually not much of an issue indoors, but keep an eye out if your pots are on patios, or in planters by the front door.

Aphids

Soft-bodied aphids enjoy sucking fluids from a wide variety of plants, and ornamental peppers are no exception. These small, pear-shaped insects cause plants to become stunted and deformed.

A close up of light green aphid pests on a pepper plant stem. The background is of a leaf fading to soft focus.

Blast them off with water, or use an insecticidal soap to kill them.

Cutworms

“Cutworm” is a generic name applied to the larvae of a number of moth species.

They are usually brown or gray and often mottled. They do their damage by cutting into the base of plant stems. They also like to gnaw on roots.

Get rid of these pests by sprinkling diatomaceous earth around your plants.

Pepper Maggots

These small, white pests are the larvae of a fly that lays its eggs under the skin of peppers.

The larvae snack on the inside of the peppers, damaging them by stunting their growth. You can usually detect the presence of pepper maggots by the tiny “stings” they leave in the skins of the fruit.

Use sticky traps to catch the adults before they have a chance to lay their eggs.

Whiteflies

These pests are small white flies that suck out plant juices, causing deformed plants. Control these pests with insecticidal soap or sticky traps.

Disease

A couple of diseases can plague ornamental pepper plants.

One of the hazards of growing them ornamentally is that you may be inclined to group them closer together than you would your crop plants, inhibiting airflow. Keep your plants looking fresh by removing any damaged or dying fruits and foliage.

Mosaic Virus

Plants infected by mosaic virus will exhibit white, green, or yellow spots, stripes, or streaks on their foliage. You may also see curled or wrinkled leaves, and the plant’s growth may be stunted.

This virus can be spread by aphids, so prevent it by keeping those pests in check.

Affected plants cannot be cured and must be pulled up and destroyed. Prevent viruses by practicing clean gardening practices such as keeping the growing area free of weeds and debris, using clean tools, and keeping pests at bay.

Verticillium Wilt

This disease is caused by any of six species of fungi that live in the soil and enter a plant via the roots. The disease manifests in wilted plants, and discolored and curled leaves.

Affected plants must be pulled up and destroyed. Contaminated soil may be cured via solarization, a process of heating up the soil to kill the fungus.

To do this, clear the soil of plants and debris, then till or dig up the soil. In the hottest part of the summer, wet the soil thoroughly, and cover the area with a clear plastic tarp.

Bury the edges of the tarp to trap the heat. Leave the plastic in place for 4 to 6 weeks, and then remove it.

Best Uses

Many gardeners enjoy growing ornamental peppers in containers for their decorative value, both outdoors and indoors.

A close up of clusters of orange, yellow, and red chili peppers growing upwards amongst dark green lush foliage.

These colorful plants make attractive specimens in the landscape, and also look spectacular in mass plantings.

A raised garden border with a selection of different herbs and vegetables, from leafy greens to decorative fruiting peppers and yellow flowers.

Shorter varieties make a beautiful addition to borders.

Incidentally, small pots of ornamental peppers, wrapped in colorful cellophane and tied with a bow, are often given as gifts at Christmastime.

A vertical image showing shelves containing potted decorative pepper plants wrapped in dark red cellophane. The plants are fruiting with red, upright chilis that contrast with the dark green leaves.

Some folks might know them as “Christmas peppers” because of this tradition.

If Not Delicious, Certainly Beautiful

Colorfully attractive and sometimes – but not always – tasty, ornamental peppers add spectacular interest to the landscape, or a pop of brilliance to a sunny spot indoors.

A long rectangular planter on a metal railing containing decorative plants with upright red and yellow fruits contrasting with dark green foliage fading to soft focus in the background.

And all that beauty comes with relatively little effort. They do appreciate compost-rich soil and a good amount of water, but aside from those requirements, you won’t spend a lot of time worrying over these beauties.

Keep an eye out for a few pests, and that’s about it! You’ll enjoy a brilliant show of colorful fruit for weeks on end.

Have you grown ornamental peppers? Do you grow them in the landscape, or in containers? Share your tips in the comments section below.

What else will you add to your garden? Check out these helpful growing guides next:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Amazon, Eden Brothers, Outsidepride, Park Seeds, Seedsown, and True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Clare Groom and Allison Sidhu.

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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