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Growing Peppers In Containers – South Florida Zone 10

Yes it is possible. Growing peppers in container in the blisteringly hot days of summer down here in zone 10 South Florida offers a few challenges. The August heat alone makes it unbearable for humans but plants have it much worse as they have to contend with disease, humidity and bugs too. Oh and the bugs, they are not phased by the heat, they seem to thrive in it.

Growing Peppers Disclaimer – Just So You Know…

I failed to produce even one pepper this Summer. I had to wait until almost October in Fall to see peppers on what remained of my plants. I’m hoping that you can learn from my mistakes.

Growing peppers in South Florida

A Time To Sow

For South Florida Zone 10 it is recommended that you start growing peppers in August and September. I started in June 2015 by planting seeds indoors in small cups. I had no problems getting the seeds to germinate and the plants actually did well considering the soil I sprouted them in was just plain topsoil. More on soil later.

Some Like It Hot

So exactly what type of pepper are you going to grow? Some People… maybe even you, want to plant the hottest peppers available. Before you buy pepper plants or seeds be realistic about what you are going to be able to eat. Investing a lot of time and money into peppers that you don’t dare to eat in fear that your face might fall off, is kind of pointless.

Pick your peppers, or your poison wisely

Here are some South Florida friendly heirloom varieties along with links where you can find out more about them and also order them.

Sweet Peppers:

Yolo Wonder, Cubanelle, Sweet Banana, Calwonder, Keystone Resistant Giant, Purple Beauty, Sweet Red Pimento

Hot Peppers:

Caribbean Red, Chili Jalapeno, Habenero,  Hungarian Wax, Cayenne, Tampiqueno, Scotch Bonnet.

Why no Hybrid seeds? <-click +

I usually don't use or recommend hybrid seeds unless I can't avoid it. Reason being is I like to collect seeds from my plants for future seasons. Hybrid plants produce seeds that are not the same as the plant that procured them. A hybrid is made up of two or more plants so you don't know what you are going to get if you plant seeds collected from a hybrid plant.

Side Note 

Don't mistake hybrid plants for GMO plants. Hybrids are produced by breeding similar plants to enhance traits, GMOs are produced by combining DNA from plants, animals and even viruses. GMO - Genetically Modified Organism (I think) can't even be labeled as plants because they have animal DNA intertwined in them. We currently have a GMO mosquito in South Florida that has Cabbage, Coral and Herpes DNA in it.

Weird shit right? Herpes Mosquitoes... I bet that if you live in South Florida you are reaching for the mosquito repellent right about... now. 

Growing peppers

Good Soil For Growing Peppers

Pepper plants, like most plants prefer well drained loose soil with a Ph of about 6 to 6.5

If your garden soil is anything like mine, dust with construction debris, your best bet is going to be to use containers to plant your peppers in.

For container soil don’t make the same mistake I made and buy the cheapest bag of soil like top soil or garden soil. You should also skip potting soil and raised bed soils. BTW raised beds are nothing like containers. That’s for a later blog post.

Here is what you are going to need. Click links for more info.

Peat Moss, Agricultural Vermiculite and Perlite.

Mix them as follows. 2 Parts peat moss, 1 Part vermiculite and Perlite mixed 50/50

Add the mix to the container leaving the top 4 inches free.

Now top the container off with compost. My recommendation is that you find a local nursery that sells mushroom compost. Sometimes Home Depot sells it, sometimes Lowes and WalMart have it in stock too.

Top off the container with the compost and work it into the top half of the container.

Read this out loud and remember it: The secret to growing vegetables in containers in South Florida Zone 10… Any time of the year including Summer: Use Perlite, Vermiculite, Peat Moss and Mushroom Compost. 

Why Mushroom Compost?

People have a lot to say about mushroom compost, good and bad. All you need to know is that mushroom compost has already been used by a professional grower to grow a commercial food crop of mushrooms. This mushroom grower trusted the compost with his livelihood, so you know the quality is good. Mushrooms don’t feed the same way plants do so what’s left after the grower used the compost is still plenty good for plants. When you think about it, the mushroom compost has had more time to be broken down by bacteria making it’s nutrients available to the plants a lot sooner.

Read more About Mushroom Compost 

What about other composts?

There are other composts for sale in bags too. Some are even “Organic”

I have made the mistake of using some of them. The ones I used were mostly made up from composted cardboard and paper. If you ever tasted cardboard (why would you?) or paper you will know it tastes bland. Paper and cardboard are mineral and nutrient deficient. You don’t want to feed your plants foods that have no nutritional diversity because it will affect the taste of the vegetable or fruit the plants produce.

A lot of commercial composts and even garden and potting soils are made up of recycled city waste and tree cuttings. I have opened well known brand’s bags and found shredded plastic, wood chips, bones and even parts of electronics in the bag.

Also consider this. The bag of compost you buy could have been made up of lawn clippings that had been sprayed or treated with pesticides and herbicides that should not be used on food crops. Those chemicals can still be in the compost.

Unless you have a source for good compost that you know was made with good quality browns and greens I would recommend you search out mushroom compost. It was intended for food crop, it generally costs less and you need less of it so it’s a win win win as they say.

Why Perlite and Vermiculite

Both Perlite and Vermiculite help aerate the soil and prevent compaction. Both hold nutrients and both improve drainage. I’m not really sure why but they work better together than on their own.

In August and September it rains almost everyday in South Florida. Pepper plants don’t like their roots to be too wet so you need to find a way to allow the rainwater to drain out the container without it washing out all your soil’s nutrients and fertilizers.

This is where Perlite shines because it has hold. A better way would be to say that is that it offers the soil traction because it is chalky and coarse.

Vermiculite is smoother but light and retains moisture and nutrients. Perlite lets the water drain but Vermiculite also absorbs some of it along with potassium, calcium and magnesium. Each tiny bit if Vermiculite becomes a moisture and food back for the plant’s roots. It has been proven over and over again that Vermiculite in a potting mix improves root growth and as result plant health and anchorage. Combining Vermiculite and Perlite gives you the best of both. Like I said they work well together.

Why Peat Moss

Right so… This is controversial. Peat Moss is mined in Canada. Some people are in an uproar over the mining. Others say they can sustain it so no harm done. This argument spills over to gardeners. Some say it is bad to use it others say it is good. Controversial… but we want to get to growing peppers.

What you need to know about Peat Moss is that it is plant based fiber, has hardly any nutritional value for plants but it has a low Ph. (It is acidic) Don’t let that scare you. Plants prefer slightly acidic soil.

Using Peat Moss is the fastest way I know to get acid loving plants into an acidic medium end of story.

Peat Moss holds water, holds nutrients but also improves drainage.

Note: this is important. You need to hydrate Peat Moss manually before you use it or it will repel water.

Say what?!? You need to put Peat Moss in a bucket or container with no holes in the bottom and poor water on it and then rub it to hydrate it. If you don’t do this Peat Moss will keep repelling water and do nothing for the plants. Seriously you would think it was Scotchgarded or something the way it repels water, until you “fix” it that is.

Bonus info. Rather than hydrate Peat Moss with water, mix up some fish emulsion fertilizer and hydrate it with that. Gives your plants a instant food storage that won’t wash out with the rain.

Once you have Peat Moss hydrated it will hold 7 times it’s own weight in water. Does not hurt to know that Peat Moss lasts a long time. It is hundreds of years old after all. Peat Moss is also void of weeds and bugs.

That is the perfect mix for growing peppers and just about anything else.

Look at what we have here. Vermiculite and Perlite are sterile with no germs and no bugs. Same with Peat Moss. Mushroom compost was “cooked” at high temperatures so it is pasteurized. Vermiculite, Perlite and Peat Moss all hold water and nutrients while improving aeration and drainage. With all the rain we get, the bugs, the disease causing humidity this is exactly what we need and exactly why I use this mix. This stuff works.

In this video I show you how to hydrate Peat Moss and mix it with Perlite and Vermiculite.

Growing Peppers?-  Where to plant?

Plants need sunlight to grow. You want to be growing peppers in a location that offers about 8 hours of sunlight. Problem with that is that in the summer the sun can kill young or weak plants. Heat causes slight wilting and wilting attracts bad bugs. Your location is going to need a bit of prep work.

Sunflower Shade

While you germinate your pepper seeds indoors, plant sunflowers just to the East of where you plan to plant your peppers. The plan is for the sunflowers to grow up and cast a noonday shadow on your pepper plants. The sunflowers can take the heat of the sun for the peppers. The sunflowers will also attract bees that will later help you pollinate your peppers. Don’t plant a sunflower forest One nice large sunflower will cover two pepper plants.

Growing peppers in zone 10

 

Mulch 

Once you have your plants transplanted use mulch to keep the soil cool. In other parts of the country they use mulch to prevent evaporation of water but here in zone 10 we also use it as sunblock for the soil. Your container soil can get so hot that it cooks your plant’s roots.

Best mulch to use for growing peppers, or anything really, is Pine Bark Nuggets. For starters it does not attract termites or other bugs.  Another great thing about Pine Bark is that it breaks down and adds nutrition to the soil. Wood chip steals Nitrogen from the soil. Pine bark also adds acids (that plants love) when it breaks down. Pine Bark Mulch looks good, it’s light and it floats easily so rain does not push it under the soil. It’s great stuff so just use it.

Airflow 

In the heat of South Florida Summer humidity is a pepper plant killer. Make sure you have plenty of air moving around. A light breeze can save a plant from diseases and overheating.

Beneficial Bugs

I screwed the pooch on this one. I grew my pepper plants where there were no flowers and no beneficial bugs. You think I’m talking about bees and butterflies, the pollinators, but I’m talking about predators and parasites too.

There are bugs that want to eat your plants and then there are bugs who want to eat the bugs who are eating your plants. Without predators and parasites the bad bugs run rampant. I started with ten pepper plants and by the end of summer I only had three scrawny sickly plants. The bugs ate the other plants.

This is a good source if you want to find out more about beneficial bugs in Florida.

Basically you need an area where you can put plants that attract beneficial insects.

I know you are thinking Insecticides will save the day. You are right to a point but one of the main reasons for growing my own food, other than the fact that I will always have what I like to eat right in my backyard, is that it is healthier. Why go to all this trouble to grow food that has poisons on it?

There are organic pesticides that are okay to use and I’ll get into that in a bit. For now grow a few plants that attract predatory insects and parasitic insects so that they will keep the bad bugs in check.

Here is a list of a few plants with links where you can learn more and order seeds.

They all happen to be culinary herb plants so you can eat them too but you need to let them flower for the bugs.

Basil – My recommendation is that you buy one plant from a nursery, nurse it and take cuttings to clone new plants.

Dill – Plant Dill in the garden or in containers.

Borage – Start in a Peat Pot and transplant to garden or container. I have personally been having a hard time growing this plant in my garden soil.

Catnip – Yes even if you don’t have a cat. Makes really good tea and the bugs love it too. Plus if you do attract some cats they will keep the rodents at bay.

Chervil – Plant in the garden but you can plant it in containers 12″ deep. Chervil has a pen root so it needs a bit of depth.

Seed Geeks (On eBay) have a seed packet they call Beneficial Bug Blooms Mix This has flowers and herbs all mixed together. Prep a small area in your garden and plant the seeds to create a insect friendly area.

When the good bugs need help.

I would love to tell you that you only need to plant some flowers to spare your garden from the bad bugs. Unfortunately I can’t. At some point you are going to need to use some pesticides. There are a few options available.

Growing peppers in South Florida zone 10

My three survivors

Growing Organic Peppers? – Organic Pesticides

If you look at the picture above you will see my three surviving pepper plants. The bugs ate 7 plants but these three plant were sprayed with a homemade Canola oil pesticide and that was enough to save these plants until I could get my hands on a better product.

The Canola oil Mix:

I Tablespoon (Tbsp) Canola cooking oil

1 Teaspoon (Tsp) Ivory Dish Soap

1 Teaspoon Baking Soda

1 Gal. Water

Stir well and apply with a pump sprayer You can get the sprayer at Home Depot Spray mornings or afternoons so you don’t cause the plants to get burned by the sun. Spray under the leaves because that is where most bugs hang out to eat the leaves.

Neem Oil

Neem oil is made from the Neem tree nut. It has been used for as a pesticide for thousands of years in India. Neem oil affects the eating and breeding habits of leaf eating bugs. The bugs can’t digest Neem so they die of starvation and the oil also damages the bug’s eggs.

Do not buy just any Neem oil. You need cold pressed Neem if the one I linked to is not available search on ebay for a reliable seller that sells cold pressed Neem. Most store bought Neem products are made from Hydrolysed Neem. Basically they mix Neem with water.

Bt – Garden Dust

Bt is Bacillus Thuringiensis a bacteria that is deadly to leaf eating bugs but harmless to humans and pets. It is also harmless to beneficial bugs.  You can buy this at Home Depot 8 oz. Garden Dust. My experience with Home Depot is that the employees on the floor generally only know about products that are on the shelves and they almost always recommend non organic products over organic products. Point is, buy it online and have it shipped to store. If you go there and ask they will give you the runaround.

Non Organic Pesticide for Growing Peppers

If all else fails…

Spectracide Malathion Insect Spray Concentrate

The Thrips are the worst. This is what my plants looked like when the thrips attacked them.

Growing peppers

They caused the leaves to drop, the plats aborted the flowers, even new growth (twigs) dropped off and as a result 7 of my 10 pepper plants died. Before you get to this point use a non organic pesticide like Malathion. Just be safe with pesticides because they can affect humans and pets.

Pepper Plant Maintenance

Watering

One of the biggest mistakes I made this year was to over water my plants. A simple moisture meter for Home Depot or Wal Mart will help you figure out the right watering schedule Here is a Link to The Greenscape Digital Moisture Meter at Walmart.

Growing Peppers in the heat of summer here in Florida, you might be tempted to water your plants more. I know because that was what I did.  The humidity however keeps the soil wet so more water is just going to cause problems like root rot. Learn to keep your pepper plants moist not wet. Using the moisture meter you can check your plants before you water. After a while you will have an idea of just how often your plants actually need water.

Feeding Your Peppers.

When I started growing peppers I somehow had the idea in my head that all I need is good soil and then water the plants a lot. Big mistake.

Peppers are heavy feeders.

When you transplant your pepper plants you should water the plants after with fish and Kelp Plant Food. You can get these from Home Depot

Fish Emulsion Fertilizer

Kelp Plant Food

I mix a tablespoon of each into a gallon of water. The fish and kelp provide the plants food that is immediately available to them. It’s like giving them a energy drink. when the plant makes flowers feed them this mix once every two weeks.

Once a month drench the plant top to bottom with Kelp mix of 1 Tablespoon in a gallon of water. This will keep the leaves nice and strong.

For the first month you will want to use a standard fertilizer like the 2 lb. All-Purpose Plant Food this has a good amount of Nitrogen to get the plant going. Still keep the Fish and Kelp going too.

When you see the first flowers pop out switch to a fertilizer that is low in Nitrogen high in Calcium.

Nitrogen is great for the plant but does nothing for blooms and fruit. We want peppers not leaves so switch to a tomato plant food that has calcium. YES tomato plant food.

Organic Heirloom Tomato and Vegetable Plant Food

Bathing Beauties 

About once a month mix up some epsom salts in a sprayer and spray down the pepper plants top to bottom.  You will see the difference in the the plant’s health the next day. Every leaf will look shiny and perky. Happy plants make a lot of peppers so bath your beauties and keep them happy.

Ending

I’m trying to think if I missed something. If I need to go any deeper into something or add to the article please feel free to let me know in the comments.

 

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