Southwestern Deserts

June, 2011
Regional Report

Plant a Pepper

Mid and high elevation gardeners can still transplant pepper plants, but the sooner the better. In the low desert, peppers are best planted in spring, although according to University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, gardeners can transplant a second crop from July 1 to 15. However, cover them with shade cloth to protect from intense sun. Set plants about 12 to 16 inches apart. You want them to receive plenty of sunlight and air circulation.

Maintain Peppers

Apply 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch or straw around plants to reduce soil temperature and maintain soil moisture. Each irrigation should soak to a depth of 10 to 12 inches to leach salts beyond the root zone. Feed plants monthly with one tablespoon of 5-10-10 fertilizer or its equivalent. Don't over apply nitrogen, which promotes foliage growth at the expense of flowering and fruiting.

Protect Peppers

In the low desert, you may want to also cover spring-planted plants that you're holding through to fall with shade cloth. Wherever you garden, realize that when temperatures rise over 90 degrees F, the pollen is not viable and flowers may drop, but the plant will rebound when temperatures cool. Windy locations are also tough on pepper plants. Erect a temporary windbreak and pay attention to soil moisture.

Pick a Pepper

When the fruits reach a useable size, harvest some, but allow others to ripen further on the plant. Vitamin C content increases when peppers turn red. Harvest peppers regularly and the plant will flower and develop fruit through a long season if temperatures aren't too hot.

Freeze Peppers for Later Use

Wash peppers thoroughly and let them dry completely. Remove stem, membrane, and seeds. Cut into preferred cooking shapes (halves, strips, rings, or chunks). Pack tightly into freezer containers, leaving no open air space.

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