Growing Peppers In Containers
by Gina Thomas,

It's not easy growing peppers in Chicago.  Peppers prefer a lot of heat and dryer soil, and although it can get pretty hot in the Midwest, it never stays that way as long as the peppers would like it to.  In this region, we start our pepper seeds early on heat pads indoors, fuss over them all summer, then celebrate every single one we harvest.  But they're so worth the trouble.  There are so many amazing varieties out there and peppers ain't cheap!  

Earlier this spring I had the pleasure of making a quick road trip with friends up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for a gardening presentation by Gayla Trail, author of You Grow Girl and Grow Great Grub.  I loved hearing her talk about her experiences with urban gardening, but the peppers!  I was so inspired by the peppers!  

I grow peppers every year, but after hearing Gayla talk about the kind of climate they prefer, how they are a perfect edible for container gardens, it occurred to me that I normally plant them in the same raised bed with tomatoes and because the tomatoes need so much water, I have probably been overwatering my peppers year after year.  No wonder they've been such crappy performers!   Not only that, I am quite the neglectful gardener and often forget to water the containers on my patio for days at a time, even during extremely hot periods.  This idea of Gayla's, planting peppers in pots then under planting them with herbs that enjoying drier soil seemed the perfect marriage of plant and gardening style.

This year, instead of trying to craft gorgeous container garden arrangements I decided to grow edibles in all of the pots on my patio.  I planted several different varieties including sheepnose pimento, habanero, jalapeño and pepperocini in different sized pots, ranging from 10-15 inches wide.  I then planted thyme or rosemary beneath them since I knew these herbs would appreciate the hot dry soil, too.  Using a tip I found in an article from Urban Farm magazine on growing peppers, I planted a fanned out book of matches several inches below each pepper plant.  According to their article, the matches cause the soil to be slightly acidic, which peppers really like. And it worked great.  I had more peppers this year than I've ever had before.

Next year as you plan your container gardens, consider planting peppers in pots.  Not only will they tolerate the drier conditions plants in containers are subject to, the mature peppers create a welcomed and appetizing change to the backdrop of your al fresco dining.