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Beyond Jalapenogate: Tough summer for pepper lovers

Cool spring challenged seedling growth, no matter the pepper variety

This not-jalapeno is another mislabeled pepper in the summer of #jalapenogate.

This not-jalapeno is another mislabeled pepper in the summer of #jalapenogate. Laura Litzinger Hafner via Facebook

It’s been a tough summer for peppers – no matter the variety.

First, there’s Jalapenogate. Thousands of gardeners in several states are dealing with mislabeled jalapeno (or purple bell) plants. Instead of producing what their buyers expected, these plants grew yellow fruit that looks like a banana or wax pepper (and definitely not a jalapeno).

I planted jalapenos, habaneros, serranos, Anaheims, green bells, yellow bells, and red bells,” wrote SDG reader Hollie Snider of Colorado on our Facebook page. “One of my jalapenos appears to be either a golden jalapeno or a Hungarian wax. Another jalapeno appears to be a banana pepper.”

(Read more about Jalapenogate here: https://sacdigsgardening.californialocal.com/article/45405-jalapenogate-is-real/)

It’s not just jalapenos that have had a head-scratching summer; all sorts of peppers have not enjoyed 2023.

The trouble started with the cool spring temperatures, observed Evan Hanson, retail nursery manager at Big Oak Nursery in Elk Grove. “Our spring peppers didn’t grow well. We had a lot of problems with them growing. They just didn’t do anything. As a result, we didn’t have the hot peppers – such as Carolina Reaper and ghost peppers – like we usually do.”

Instead of developing, the baby pepper plants damped off or seemed stunted. It was an issue experienced by other local pepper growers, too.

Big Oak, which grows many of its own veggies from seed, avoided selling the mislabeled jalapenos, at least so far. Nurseries and customers can’t tell for sure until the peppers form fruit. “So far so good,” Hanson said.

But many pepper buyers found out the hard way that their “jalapenos” weren’t what they were labeled. For example, a quick survey of pepper plants at Fremont Community Garden in Midtown Sacramento found several peppers with “jalapeno” plant tags that were clearly bearing pale yellow peppers.

Mixing up pepper seed is an easy mistake, even for experienced growers.

“Pepper seeds look alike,” noted radio host-turned-podcaster Farmer Fred Hoffman, a lifetime UCCE master gardener and host of “Garden Basics with Farmer Fred.”

Pepper seed needs warm temperatures – above 80 degrees – to germinate and warm soil (above 55 degrees) to grow outdoors. That’s why local growers usually start their peppers indoors in February. Pepper seedlings take several weeks of development before they’re ready to transplant outside.

That need for warmth and a long growth period until maturity can make peppers challenging under the best of growing conditions. Although peppers need sun, they’re easily sunburned. The challenge now is to keep them semi-shaded during scorching summer days and evenly irrigated.

For more on peppers, check out these tips from the UCCE master gardeners: https://ipm.ucanr.edu/agriculture/peppers/

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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