Photo by Freepik.

While tomatoes continue to rank as the No. 1 vegetable planted in home gardens, peppers are by far easier and often more prolific. There is a huge variety of pepper plants to try, ranging from sweet to hot in various degrees. Some are large, some are small, but all do well in sunny gardens.

Peppers, like tomatoes, are warm-season vegetables and should not be planted outdoors until the air and the soil have warmed. Since peppers are long-season vegetables, most gardeners start with small plants or transplants, rather than seeds. Planted in well-drained soil, with at least 6 hours of sunlight and even moisture, peppers can produce from early summer through fall.

Beyond bell peppers, there is a bounty of other options. All peppers start out as green; the minimum maturity date is when they are green, and the maximum maturity date is when they are fully ripe and at their sweetest or hottest.

Peppers are measured for their heat by Scoville Heat Units (SHU) and the concentration of capsaicinoids. The world’s hottest pepper was the Carolina Reaper, with 1.6 million SHU. But last year, Guinness World Records declared Pepper X, with nearly 2.7 million SHU, the hottest.

There are hundreds of varieties recorded, but here are some that are usually readily available.


PepperSize / AppearanceAttributesSHU
BellLargest fruits if you fertilize well. Green, yellow, red or orange fruits.While the most commonly recognized, not the best producer in a home garden.0
Pimento2-3 inch round fruits, usually red.Paprika is a dried form of this pepper. Sweet to mild heat.0-500
Shishito3-inch wrinkled fruits, red or green.Sweet to mild heat.50-200
Sweet Banana6-inch fruits that are long and narrow, shades of yellowMild flavor, very prolific.0
Yum Yum Mini Bell2 1/2-3 inches long, in a colorful mix at maturity.Almost seedless, sweet, long-lasting.0
Carolina ReaperSmall red fruits with a tail at the base.About 10 times hotter than a habanero.1.6 million
Cayenne5-7 inches long in shades from green to red.Medium heat.30,000-50,000
Habanero1-3 inch pod-like fruits, typically orange to red in color.Seriously hot pepper with a hint of smokiness.100,000-350,000
Hot Banana6 inches long, greenish-yellow tapered fruits.Mild to medium.200-500
Jalapeño3-5 inches long, pod-like.Most common hot pepper.2,500-8,000
Mad Hatter2-3 inches wide, unique, small, hat-shaped fruit in shades from green to red.Mild to medium heat; the redder they get, the hotter they are.500-1,000
Poblano4-5 inches long with broad cavity.When grown to red stage and dried, they become the ancho chili pepper. Popular dish is chili relleno.1,000-1,500
Scotch BonnetSmall, uniquely shaped fruits, usually yellow to orange at maturity.Hot.100,000-350,000
Tabasco1 1/2 -2 inches long, in shades from green to red.Main ingredient in Tabasco hot sauce.30,000-50,000