Grow Better Bell Peppers (Capsicum annuum)

Have you seen the picture on Pinterest and Facebook that says bell peppers with three lobes are “male” peppers and those with four lobes are “female”?  Well, it is very popular right now and very, very false.  This is one of those times where you can’t believe everything you read.  All peppers (and all of their family members-tomatoes, potatoes and egg plants) come from plants that produce flowers that have both male and female parts.  These flowers are called “perfect” flowers in the botanical world.  Because of this, there is absolutely no need for “male” or “female” fruits.  Each little flower has all it needs to produce a fruit full of seeds that will in turn grow into plants that produce more “perfect” flowers.  While there are plants out there that do produce only male or only female plants, bell peppers are not one of them.


I don’t know who originally posted this, but it is 100% incorrect.

This is just one of many false “horticultural facts” that I see on the internet.  I could literally do an entire post on them.  However, I am going to move away from this and tell you some real, verifiable facts about bell peppers.  First, bell peppers are the most commonly grown pepper in the United States.  According to the National Nursery survey, 46% of gardeners grow them every year.  Second, according to the same survey, bell peppers are the third most popular vegetable grown in American gardens.  Third, the bell pepper is the most consumed pepper in America.  According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Americans eat 9.8 pounds of them per year.  And finally, bell peppers are the only peppers in the genus that do not produce capsaicin.  Capsaicin is the compound that makes most members of the genus Capsicum hot.  In my opinion, it is this missing capsaicin that makes these peppers appeal to so many Americans.

Bell Peppers are relatively easy to grow and they are relatively pest free.  They have the longest growing season of any of the annual vegetables that you will plant.  Transplant them as soon as the threat of freeze has passed and you will be able to harvest fruit until the first killing frost.


Big Bertha did great in last year’s garden!

In my opinion, the hardest part of growing bell peppers is finding the right variety for your area.  Through the years I have grown many different varieties.  Some have been much more successful than others.  Some of the better ones for my Zone 9 garden have been “Big Bertha”, “Blushing Beauty” and “California Wonder”.

This year, I am growing a variety called the Better Belle Hybrid.  I ordered my seeds from Tomato Growers Supply ( in January and grew my own transplants.  I ordered “Better Belle Hybrid” because (according to their website) it is a thicker walled and earlier producer than the original Better Belle.  It is a vigorous, long season producer of green fruit that will turn red on the vine.  Basically, I ordered it because it claims to have everything going for it that I look for in a bell pepper.


Bell pepper foliage can be brittle. Because of this I never “pull” the peppers off of the vine.

Growing –  Bell peppers require full sun so place them in the sunniest part of your garden.  They also need at least an inch of water per week.  When it gets really hot, I up that to about an inch every four days.  Bell peppers love rich, loose, well-draining soil that has been thoroughly worked with compost.  If you want to ensure the biggest, firmest and most thick walled bell peppers consider adding dolomite (rock dust that is high in calcium and magnesium) to the soil before planting.   If the soil, sun and water are right, you can expect to start harvesting your first peppers 45 to 60 days after transplant.  Bell peppers are always the first pepper to produce in my garden.  Peppers will produce well until temperatures go  above 90F, then their production will fall.  However, if you add more organic material at this time and continue to water, your peppers will continue producing right up to the first freeze.  In fact, my plants generally produce more in the fall than they did in the spring.

Last year I planted my bell peppers on April 13.  These three bells were my first harvest on June 2.  That is just 50 days from transplanting to harvest.

Last year I planted my bell peppers on April 13. These three bells were my first harvest on June 2. That is just 50 days from transplanting to harvest.

Harvesting-Bell peppers can be harvested anytime they look like a bell pepper. However, they are immature at this point.  That is no problem unless you want red, yellow or orange peppers (depending on variety).  To get these beautifully colored peppers you will have leave them on the bush until they change colors.  Just be aware that the longer you leave the pepper on the bush, the more pests it will attract.

A ripe bell pepper will snap right off into your hand when it is ready to be picked.  However, the limbs of pepper plants are brittle.  If you try and pull a pepper before it is ready you can get a lot of foliage along with your pepper.  For this reason I always use a sharp pair of shears or scissors to harvest my peppers.


Hornworms ca n decimate peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and egg plants

Pests-Aphids, cutworms and hornworms can all be a problem for peppers.  Aphids can be controlled by regularly applying a good shot of water to the underside of the leaves.  Cutworms can be controlled by “wrapping” the stems of the young plants in cardboard.  Simply cut a toilet paper or paper towel roll into three inch sections.  Split these up the sides.  Loosely wrap this around the base of your plants after transplant.  Stick an inch or so of the tube into the ground and leave an inch or so above ground.  Hornworms are always a double problem for me.  I know they can wipe out my tomatoes, peppers and potatoes.  However, they are the immature form of the hummingbird moths that I love to watch feed on my datura.  Regardless of my fondness for hummingbird moths, I pull all hornworms that I find and quickly squish them.  If you have a bad infestation you can apply BT but is only effective if applied when the caterpillars are small.

One of our favorite bell pepper uses.  Slice thick, saute, and drop in egg.  Top with cheese and more sauteed peppers

One of our favorite bell pepper uses. Slice thick, saute, and drop in egg. Top with cheese and more sauteed peppers

Amazing Aloe Vera Collection at Hilltop Gardens

When I was young, my mother (and all the other mothers on our block) kept a pot of aloe vera on the back porch.  Every time I got a sun burn, my mom would go outside and snap a couple of leaves off of her plant and use the cool, viscous fluid that oozed out of the leaves to sooth the burn.  I think that since she used aloe vera as a medicine, I never really learned to think of it as an ornamental.


Water droplets on one of the over 200 aloes at Hilltop Gardens

This past Spring Break, I discovered (in a very big way) that aloe vera is as pretty as it is “useful”.  Sally and I spent her time off exploring Hilltop Gardens in Lyford, Texas.  Hilltop Gardens is the only Botanical Garden in the Texas Valley.  It is also home to the largest public collection of species aloes in the U.S.  Hilltop Gardens sits on the oldest commercial aloe vera farm in the U.S.  The company that owns the farm is the market leader in aloe production.  Because of their success growing and transforming the aloe vera plant into a variety of health and beauty products, they wanted to build a beautiful place to showcase the beauty and variety of the plant family that has been so good to them.


The farm and botanical garden at Hilltop Gardens is a certified organic operation.

The garden is under the direction of Paul Thornton.  In addition to maintaining this beautiful space, Paul also had a hand in designing it.  According to Paul, Hilltop Gardens has become “his dream job”.  Paul was an excellent host and tour guide and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay.  He is a walking encyclopedia of aloe knowledge.  One of the most interesting things that he shared with us was the fact that aloe vera is mentioned several times in the Bible. He also said that there are carvings of aloe in the Egyptian pyramids.  According to Paul, “Aloe’s health benefits have been known and used for thousands of years.  The ancient Egyptians called it “the immortal plant” and they offered it as a gift to their deceased pharaohs over 6000 years ago”.  Another thing that I found interesting was the fact that even though humans have been growing it and using it for 6000 years, there are no known wild populations of the plant.   What we all know as aloe vera only lives in cultivation.


Paul Thornton is the head horticulturist at Hilltop Gardens. He is a great host and posses an incredible knowledge of the aloe family.

Aloe vera is a succulent.  Because of this it thrives in environments like ours (Zones 8-11) that have limited or unpredictable water supplies.  Aloe vera is a very tough plant that can adapt to a lot of soil types (as long as they are well draining).  It is also fairly resistant to most pests.  Aphids can attack it but that usually only happens when the plants are grown too close together.  If grown properly, aloe vera will produce beautiful, tall flower spikes.


I was amazed at the variety of shapes, forms , and flower types of their 200+ aloe plants

When growing succulents in pots, you should allow the soil to dry out between each watering.  This makes aloe an easy choice for those of us that live in places where high summer temperatures make it almost impossible to keep the soil in our outdoor pots moist.  Aloe reproduces readily.  This is another great reason to try some this year.  Aloe vera will quickly produce lots of “pups” or off-shoots.  These pups can be used to make more potted plants or you can transplant them directly into your flower beds.  They will quickly grow into a large, showy, upright mass of thick, spikey leaves.


This lovely gate welcomes you into the “healing garden”.  The healing garden recently received an Award of Merit from the Texas Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

If you are looking for something to do that is a little out of the ordinary, go to their website and plan a visit.  As part of the gardens, Hilltop offers onsite bed and breakfast accommodations in a Spanish style mansion.  Sally and I stayed there and we were very impressed with the lovely décor, the heated pool and the excellent service.  If you have ever thought of spending a few days exploring the Texas/Mexico border, then Hilltop Gardens is the perfect place to settle while you enjoy all of the vibrant cultural offerings of the Rio Grande valley.

The heated pool is one of many features that you will enjoy if you stay ion the bed and breakfast accommodations at Hilltop Gardens

The heated pool is one of many features that you will enjoy if you stay in the bed and breakfast accommodations at Hilltop Gardens

Landscaping Incomes in Texas by Mark Hartley

Linnaeus-Teaching-Garden If you make your neighbor’s garden beautiful, will you earn more income than he does?

The work we do outside in our gardens is, for most of us, a labor of love. But some of us do turn this love into a full-time gig. If you decide to turn your hobby into a full time profession, the question then becomes: will my love of landscaping pay the bills or am I just going to wind up doing it for love.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks down landscaping services into the category of “landscaping, lawn service, and groundskeeping.” The latter two careers can very logically make one think of young males earning cash for the summer by cutting lawns, or those guys who steer a little too close as you’re teeing off at the local golf course. The distinction here is that the careers tracked by the federal agency are “first-line supervisors” who answer “inquiries from potential customers regarding methods, material, and price ranges; and preparing estimates according to labor, material, and machine costs.”

Tulsa-Landscape-2 I have a feeling that even the amateurs among us do these first-line supervisor services quite voluntarily with our neighbors.

The BLS statistically tracks the more manual labor aspects of groundskeeping in a separate category. So the feds see the distinction too. Landscape architects are yet another professional category (but since their training is more formalized, the BLS statistics for that occupation is not considered below).

BLSmap Texas ranks third in the country in employing these landscaping supervisors (see map below), trailing only California and Florida. Landscaping is a big business in Texas, employing more than 6,800 first-line supervisors.

 As mentioned above, I was wondering how the income earned by landscaping supervisors stacked up against the median household income in the Texas cities listed below. The percentages beside each city indicate how much below or above the median household income that the income of landscaping supervisors are. The higher the percentage, the better the chance that the income is more than just a labor of love.

Texas_Landscape_Statistics As you can see, the average landscaping supervisor earns less than city’s median household income in 11 of the 17 Texas cities above. The percentage under the median in Corpus Christi, Houston, El Paso, and San Antonio is slight, and remember that the median household income can, and often does, involve multiple incomes.

Nacogdoches_Landscape So it can be a good living supervising the makeover of an urban home garden that transforms the beauty of a neighborhood.

 As for College Station and Beaumont, the financial incentive appears to be even higher. I think we need to petition Jay to show us some of the gardens in College Station and Beaumont!