Some like it hot – the weather that is – and ornamental peppers fall in that category. These annuals provide fiery color to the horticultural palette, not your palate; the new peppers are HOT! HOT! even to a Tex-Mex-jalapeno adjusted tongue. Rely on them to fire up containers and flower borders with reds, oranges, and yellows. 

Ornamental peppers and colored foliage plants are the most neglected and underused plants by Texas gardeners, yet they are some of the most useful and easy-to-grow. Nurseries will be rolling out their fall plants and ornamental peppers should be among them. 

The trend started several years ago with the pepper, Black Pearl, whose leaves are inky enough to be called black and whose round, deep-purple, shiny fruits mature to holiday red. An All American Selections Winner, it’s a wonderful cut flower growing up to 18” tall x 18” wide. It likes full sun but will tolerate light shade.  

Explosive Embers is one of the best of the ornamental peppers with purple foliage and multi-colored fruit. It continues to grow as it fruits. It has done so well at the Dallas Arboretum that it has made the North Texas Winner’s Circle. Grown in the sun it reaches a height of 10 to 14 inches.

Garda Tricolor ornamental peppers resemble tiny Dr. Seuss Christmas lights. Touted as a rising star at the arboretum, it’s an absolutely beautiful annual that has all of the following qualities:  flourishes in 100 percent full, burning, infernal Texas summer sun, is drought-tolerant enough to earn Water Wise designation, is deer and rabbit proof, 100 degree weather makes it more colorful, is beautiful from late spring until the first frost, is even edible, works equally well in containers or planted en masse, and is easy to grow from seed or 4-inch pots. Mature size is 24” x 24”. Mix it with ‘Profussion’ zinnias or purple fountain grass.

‘Chilly Chill’, only 12” x 12”, is a smaller ornamental pepper. Grow in full sun. Its peppers are sweet!

Shirley Campbell is an Ellis County Master Gardener and guest columnist in the Daily Light. For further information, contact the Ellis County Master Gardeners at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, 701 South Interstate 35E, Suite 3, Waxahachie, or call 972-825-5175 or e-mail: ellis-tx@tamu.edu.