Because its geography varies widely, the climate in Middle Tennessee also differs greatly even within the same county. Though it is considered as part of the South, weather that is warm enough for growing hot peppers does not arrive until well into April. Peppers need a long growing season, and therefore an early, indoors start, as well as consistently warm air and soil temperatures before they can be set out in the garden.
About Hot Peppers
Hot peppers have an undeserved reputation for fussiness, when all they really need is for a gardener to be aware of their growing preferences and allow them to grow without much interference. Native to Central and South America, peppers (Capsicum species) perform best when grown on rich, well-drained soil with ample, consistent moisture. Daytime temperatures must be warm, but excessive heat will cause blossom drop and fruit set failure. Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilizers, which result in lush foliage but fewer blooms and fruit. As shallow-rooted plants, peppers resent root disturbance, such as hoeing or digging in their vicinity. To reduce disease, avoid growing peppers in a spot where tomatoes, eggplants or potatoes were grown in the previous year, because all four vegetables are members of the nightshade family and susceptible to the same diseases.
Know Your Dates
The key piece of information you’ll need to time your hot pepper planting properly is the last frost date in spring, after which it is safe to plant frost-sensitive vegetables like peppers, eggplants and melons. The vast majority of the Middle Tennessee region has an average last frost date that falls between April 21 and 30. Metropolitan Nashville’s last frost is between April 11 and 21, and mountainous regions to the south and west of Nashville have a later last frost date, between May 1 and 10.
When to Start Indoors
Most types of hot peppers need eight to 10 weeks of indoor growing time before they will be ready to transplant outdoors. Use the last frost date for your area and count backwards to determine when to start pepper seeds indoors. For instance, a last frost date of April 21 would indicate an indoor seed start of between March 1 and 10. An April 11 last frost would put seed starting around Feb. 28.
Timing Hot Pepper Transplanting
The last frost date is a general guide, and you’ll need to use common sense and observations of your own growing area to determine exactly when to transplant hot pepper seedlings out into your garden. Optimal planting times generally fall two to three weeks after the last frost date has passed. Hot pepper varieties including jalapeno, habanero, cayenne and Hungarian wax can all be set out in May or June, when daytime temperatures are above 75 degrees Fahrenheit and overnight lows are above 60 degrees. Hot peppers prefer a minimum soil temperature of 75 degrees; cooler than this, and they may suffer transplant shock. Severe shock can kill plants or seriously stunt their development.
- Cornell University Growing Guide: Peppers
- University of Florida: Hot Peppers
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Capsicum Annuum (Hot Pepper Group)
- University of Tennessee Extension: Guide to Warm-Season Garden Vegetables
- Plant Maps: Interactive Tennessee Last Frost Date Map
- Johnny's Selected Seeds: Seed Starting Calculator
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