9 Peppers to Grow in Your Veggie Garden

Bring the heat from your veggie garden into the kitchen with these top pepper picks.

Peppers add a tantalizing jolt of flavor to your cooking. While it’s getting easier to find a variety of fresh and dried peppers at the grocery store, it’s much more fun and economical to grow your own. Start seeds indoors at least eight to 10 weeks before transplanting them into your garden, or look for starter plants at your garden center. By mid- to late summer, you’ll have ripe peppers ready to pick. And then the real fun begins… eating them!

National Garden Bureau

Habanero

If you’re looking to fire up your food, throw in some habaneros. These small, wrinkled orange peppers are intensely hot with a slightly sweet flavor that is strongest when the pepper is used fresh in salsas or salads. Cooking will mellow out the heat somewhat. Habaneros require a warm environment to encourage the seeds to sprout, and the growing season is long. But patience pays off with these glowing nuggets.

Why we love it: It seems that exciting new varieties of habaneros are being developed all the time… and they’ve even hotter. I’ve especially enjoyed growing and eating the beautiful chocolate habanero.

Where to buy it: Baker Creek (chocolate habanero peppers)

Spencer Shearer/Wayland Chiles

Anaheim

Even if this annual didn’t grow to a height of 20 inches, it would still be a showstopper, thanks to its brilliant scarlet fruit. It thrives in containers or beds and is a fantastic performer through summer and fall.

Why we love it: Anaheim peppers are often used fresh to make salsa verde. The large size also makes them perfect for chiles relleno, the popular stuffed, battered and fried Mexican specialty.

Where to buy it: Wayland Chiles

Laura Stilson/Baker Creek Photographer

Thai

If you crave spicy noodle dishes from your favorite Asian restaurant, this is the pepper for you. As the name suggests, these peppers originated in Thailand, and they are hot, hot, hot. The slender, 1/2- to 1-inch peppers ripen from green to bright red.

Why we love it: The plant stays small, so it’s a wise choice for ornamental use on your patio. But don’t be afraid to slice up a few Thai peppers and toss them into your stir-fry or curry. They also keep well when preserved in oil or vinegar.

Where to buy it: Baker Creek

Alex De Wit/Courtesy of Chili Factory

Scotch bonnet

These fruity fireballs look similar to habaneros, but they are shorter and stouter, shaped like a little hat or bonnet. The plants are very slow-growing. If you want to have mature red peppers before frost in a northern zone, start the seeds indoors very early. I’ve grown Scotch bonnet plants in containers so I could bring them inside on chilly Wisconsin autumn nights.

Why we love it: I love spicy Caribbean cuisine, particularly jerk chicken. Along with allspice, these slightly sweet but blazing hot peppers are a key ingredient in every standout jerk recipe.

Where to buy it: The Chili Factory

W. Atlee Burpee Company

Jalapeño

Make space for several of these simple-to-grow plants in your garden. Jalapeños mature in 75 days, quicker than many other hot pepper varieties, so they’re a good choice for northern gardeners. If you don’t pick them right away, they’ll turn red, but they taste fabulous either way! Dry and smoke jalapeños to make chipotle peppers.

Why we love it: The dark green pepper is perfect for stuffing, grilling, wrapping in bacon, pickling or just eating raw on burgers and tacos.

Where to buy it: W. Atlee Burpee Company

Laura Stilson/Baker Creek Photographer

Tabasco

The iconic smoky, vinegary hot sauce is made with Tabasco peppers grown on tiny Avery Island in southern Louisiana, about 140 miles west of New Orleans. Tabasco peppers require 80 to 100 days to reach maturity; they grow best in hot, humid weather. The prolific plants will be covered in small, shiny red peppers. If your growing season isn’t long enough, try growing Tabasco peppers in a container in a sunny spot.

Why we love it: You might not be able to crack the famously secret Tabasco hot sauce recipe, but why not have fun trying?

Where to buy it: Baker Creek

W. Atlee Burpee Company

Pepperoncini

Want to pickle peppers or make giardiniera? Then leave room for these Italian favorites in your garden. Plants produce plenty of 5- to 6-inch light green peppers. Their pale color will change to bright red if you wait to pick them, but their flavor stays sweet and slightly spicy.

Why we love it: Pepperoncini are ideal for chopping up and throwing into a salad or piling onto a hot Italian beef sandwich.

Where to buy it: W. Atlee Burpee Company

Park Seed

Cayenne

Even if you’ve never seen these long, skinny, curled peppers growing, you probably have some dried cayenne in your spice rack. These peppers start out green but aren’t ready to harvest until they turn bright red. Because of their thin walls, they can be dried easily to cook with year-round or used as decoration.

Why we love it: A healthy dash of cayenne pepper spices up chili, stew or barbecue.

Where to buy it: Park Seed

Spencer Shearer/Wayland Chiles

Poblano

These large, dark green, slightly sweet peppers are known by two names in Mexico: poblano when fresh and ancho when dried. They ripen to a deep, almost black color. Their heat is mild, and the bushy, easy-to-grow plants are heavy producers.

Why we love it: This pepper tastes wonderful when roasted and is the classic choice for chiles relleno. Ancho peppers are the main ingredient in Mexican mole sauces.

Where to buy it: Wayland Chiles

Jonathan Niederhoffer (public domain)

Bonus Tips for Productive Peppers!

  • Start seeds indoors at least eight to 10 weeks before your last spring frost date.
  • Pepper seeds need heat to sprout; around 80 degrees is optimal. If you don’t have a heat mat, try placing them above your refrigerator.
  • Some of the hottest peppers can take up to a month to germinate. Once they do sprout, place them under grow lights for about 16 hours per day.
  • Peppers thrive in warm temperatures. Once plants have at least two true sets of leaves and the danger of frost has passed, begin to harden off by taking them outside for an hour or two in a sheltered location. Exposing them to too much sun will scald the leaves, but cold air can slow growth, so be cautious.