When it comes to new varieties, I feel like I am on top of things-but occasionally there are those Rip Van Winkle moments. This is the case with NuMex Easter ornamental pepper. Holy cow, what a beauty and the embarrassing part for me is that it was a 2014 All-America Selections Winner and I am just now growing it.
My apologies and my accolades to the breeding program at New Mexico State Chili Pepper Institute. Las Cruces, New Mexico home of the best Mexican food in the country is also home to some of the best pepper breeding. NuMex Centennial and NuMex Twilight are also drop dead gorgeous peppers from the program that have garnered a lot of attention, but it is NuMex Easter that captured the award.
I love judging consumer satisfaction of plants via talks, photos and even in person. It's fun hearing the oohs and aahs which tell me a flower or in this case a fruiting pepper has winner written all over it. Such was the case a recently when one of our horticultural staff created a -container with blood-leaf bananas, Intenz celosia, Hot Pak marigolds and NuMex Easter peppers.
I'm a Nikon man when it comes to cameras, but this day I pulled out the old iPhone 6 plus and shot a couple of photos of the container. The photo appeared on our Facebook, and it took off like a proverbial rocket and by the time the weekend was over it was sitting in position as our number one photo of all time.
While I'll admit the combination is unique I know it's the NuMex Easter pepper that's stirring the pot so to speak. The clusters of peppers on the tips of each compact branch are an ever-changing array of Easter colors. You'll see shades of lavender, yellow and orange all born on a plant that is heat and humidity tolerant and persevering in rain or drought. It is truly an All-America Selections Award Winner. The question is how did it slip by me?
NuMex Easter peppers are small compact plants that reach up to 12 inches tall and as wide, but they load up with more colorful peppers than you would ever imagine for that size of plant. They make great border plants for the traditional landscape and will dazzle in the herb garden, or tropical garden.
Many garden centers are loaded with peppers this time of the year, and they are sensational grown alongside mums, marigolds, asters, and goldenrods. They bring a festive atmosphere. The oblong peppers are spicy but edible and will probably fire up a pot of red beans or corn salsa. So be warned to sample sparingly at first.
Whether you plant now or in the spring, grow the ornamental pepper much as you would the bell pepper. Before removing the peppers from their containers, dig their holes in the garden soil. Gardeners know they can plant a tomato deeper than it grew in the container, but you must plant the pepper at the same depth it is presently growing.
Feed your peppers with a complete garden fertilizer, preferably one that is higher in phosphorous, such as a 10-20-10. Scatter 2 tablespoons per plant at three- to four-week intervals. You can use dilute, water-soluble fertilizer every other week if you prefer or if you're growing them in a container. Keep your plants watered and mulched, and they will give you an unfailing performance all season.
Ornamental peppers like NuMex Easter are among the plants leaping off the garden center shelves this time of the year. If you love them in the fall as I do, I promise you'll treasure growing them all season long.
(Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden