When it comes to new varieties, I generally feel like I am on top of things. Occasionally, there are those Rip Van Winkle moments. This is the case with the ‘NuMex Easter’ ornamental pepper. What a beauty! I’m embarrassed that I am just now growing this 2014 All-America Selections Winner.
My apologies and my accolades now go to the breeding program at the New Mexico State University Chile 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 other 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 that tell me that a flower or, in this case, a fruiting pepper has “winner” written all over it. Such was the case recently when one of our horticultural staff created a container with blood 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 page and it took off like a proverbial rocket. By the time the weekend was over, it was sitting in position as our No. 1 photo of all time.
While I’ll admit that the combination is unique, I know that 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 on a plant that is tolerant of heat and humidity and perseveres in rain or drought. It is truly an All-America Selections 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 a plant. They make great border plants for the traditional landscape and will dazzle in herb or tropical gardens.
Many garden centers are loaded with peppers this time of the year, and they are sensational when grown alongside mums, marigolds, asters and goldenrods. They really bring a festive atmosphere. The oblong peppers are spicy but edible and will probably fire up a pot of red beans or corn salsa. 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 garden center shelves this time of the year. If you love them in the fall like I do, I promise you’ll treasure growing them all season long.
(Norman Winter is the director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georgia.)