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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:

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:


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Oct. 1:

Make the most of this cooler weather. Get to work on your fall garden:

* October is the best month to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. Plants become established – sending down deep, strong roots – faster in warm soil.

* Divide and replant perennials. Add a little well-aged compost and bone meal to the planting hole, but hold off on other fertilizers until spring. Keep the transplants well-watered (but not wet) for the first month as they become settled.

* Now is the time to plant seeds for many flowers directly into the garden, including cornflower, nasturtium, nigella, poppy, portulaca, sweet pea and stock.

* Plant seeds for radishes, bok choy, mustard, spinach and peas.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Set out cool-weather bedding plants, including calendula, pansy, snapdragon, primrose and viola.

* Reseed and feed the lawn. Work on bare spots.

* Dig up corms and tubers of gladioli, dahlias and tuberous begonias after the foliage dies. Clean and store in a cool, dry place.

* Treat azaleas, gardenias and camellias with chelated iron if leaves are yellowing between the veins.

* Clean up the summer vegetable garden and compost disease-free foliage.

* Harvest pumpkins and winter squash.

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Find our spring recipes here!