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Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

Pick a Peck of Purple Peppers

Rosie Lerner, Purdue Consumer Horticulture Specialist

Released 06 May 1999

Ever wonder why those colorful red, yellow and purple peppers fetch such a high price at the produce market? Why are green peppers so much less expensive? The reason is that it takes a longer time to grow colored peppers and doing so also results in less yield per plant.

To understand why, think back to your basic plant botany lessons. The function of a fruit (such as a pepper) is to provide a "home" for seeds to develop and mature to the point where they can reproduce a new plant. The young, immature pepper of any cultivar is usually green; the mature fruit ripens to red, yellow, orange or purple, depending on the particular cultivar.

If you pick the peppers while they are still green, the seed will not yet have a chance to mature, and so the plant responds by producing more fruit. Allowing the peppers to remain on the plant long enough to ripen to a bright color signals the plant that its job of reproducing through seed has been accomplished, eliminating the need to produce additional fruit. In addition, it can take three to four additional weeks for the peppers to fully color.

If you want to raise your own palette of colorful peppers, there are a couple of tips that can help productivity. Look for early-maturing cultivars; those that take fewer days from seed to harvest.

Use transplants rather than seed, when possible, to get a head start on the growing season. If you want some green peppers and some ripe peppers, consider planting as if they are two different crops. That is, plants some that you will pick often for green peppers, and plant some that you will allow to fully ripen.

There are a few cultivars that have colorful skin during their immature stage and ripen to another color. A good example is Islander, which is a pale lavender while immature and ripens to red. But just the outer skin is purple at this young stage; the inner flesh is green. Color can be lost in cooking.

New cultivars arrive on the gardening scene each year, so it is difficult to recommend specific cultivars for planting in our area. But here's a sampling of colorful sweet peppers that can be found in this year's mail-order catalogs:

Red Peppers: Burpee's Early Crisp, Park's Early Thick Set, Vidi, Ace, Lantern, King Arthur, Lipstick, Northstar.

Yellow Peppers: Golden Summer, Jackpot, Sweet Ivory, Diego, Yankee Bell, Yellow Flame, Golden Calwonder.

Orange Peppers: Orange Belle, Valencia, Corona.

Purple Peppers: Sweet Chocolate, Lilac, Chocolate Beauty, Purple Beauty, Islander (lavender when immature, red when ripe), Secret (purple when immature, red when mature).

Mixed Colors: Carnival, Jingle Bells, Sweet Rainbow Mix.

Last updated: 10 April 2006
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