Q: My bell pepper plants got blossom-end rot earlier this year. It went away, but by then it was late in the season. When the first frost hit, my pepper plant had lots of baby peppers and a lot of blossoms on it. It broke my heart. Could I have dug it up and brought it inside and still gotten some peppers?
A: Bell peppers can be a heartbreak in northern gardens. They’re fussy about temperature and moisture. They don’t want it too hot or too cold, and they need even moisture to avoid blossom-end rot. It helps to cover the ground around them with black plastic or straw to retain moisture and keep the roots an even temperature. Even so, some years are going to be better than others.
It’s hard to see the season change when plants still look vigorous and are still producing. I think of those last peppers and tomatoes as the players left on base, and they always make me wish our summer could be just a little longer.
There are things you can do to extend the season a bit, such as covering sensitive plants when the first cold wave barrels through. But eventually, it all does come to an end. Digging up a pepper plant might be tempting, but it’s not likely to work. Peppers are perennial plants in the tropics, where they’re from, so in theory you could grow them indoors year-round. But your plant would resent being transplanted, and you’d be unlikely to be able to provide it with enough light indoors.
I have had better luck in the garden with jalapeño and ancho peppers than with bell peppers. In general, smaller peppers are more likely to give you a crop than bell peppers are. If you’ve got your heart set on growing bell peppers next year, look for varieties that mature early and are advertised as cold tolerant. I have also had good luck with grafted bell pepper plants — a tasty variety grafted onto tough root stock. You can order them online. They perform better, but they are expensive. I think I wound up spending about $7 for each for the two peppers I got from a grafted plant — but they were perfect, bright red bell peppers, and I was delighted.
Written by U of M Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.