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Plant of the Month: Purple Flash and Calico

Ornamental Pepper

‘Purple Flash’ and ‘Calico’ Peppers

Latin name: Capsicum annuum
Common name: hot peppers, sweet peppers, ornamental peppers, chili peppers
Cultivars: ‘Purple Flash’ and ‘Calico’
Family: Solanaceae
Origin: Southern U.S. and South America
Plant type: annual
Flowers: small single white flowers
Foliage: varies from variety to variety; can be dark purple, green or a variation of those two colors along with white.
Mature height: 6” – 24” depending on variety 
Hardiness: annual 
Soil: well-drained
Exposure: full sun 
Water usage: medium
Sources: mail order/ retail

With fall in the not too distant future, dreams of cooler temperatures arouse gardeners to get back outside into the garden and get their hands dirty! Luckily for us here in Texas, our warm climate allows us to grow plants later into the year! So what should you be putting out now to capture the warm yet cooler feeling of fall? ORNAMENTAL PEPPERS! 

The cool color of the newer purple-foliaged forms with hot-red or orange fruit will definitely capture that feeling! There are hundreds of different varieties of peppers that you can grow, and they come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. Some are small and reach only 6 inches tall, while others are tall and bushy and can grow up to 3 feet. The fruit varies as well, from long, narrow peppers that point straight up off the foliage to small, round peppers that hide and shine behind dark, beautiful foliage. 

The varieties I’d like to introduce you to are two spectacular new varieties that just arrived on the scene this year from Ball Horticultural Co. — ‘Purple Flash’ and ‘Calico’. Both of these varieties are considered to be annual ornamental peppers — edible, of course (though I am too scared to see how hot they really are)! They both grow to be 12 to 16 inches tall and have a nice arching, bushy habit. ‘Purple Flash’ has dark purple, almost black, foliage, with hints of bright purple and white. The fruit is small, round and black. ‘Calico’ on the other hand is a little brighter, but with the same growth habit as ‘Purple Flash’. ‘Calico’ has tricolor foliage in variations of purple, cream and green. Its conical fruits turn red as they mature.

Some people don’t know exactly how to use a pepper plant in the garden; the first thing they wonder is why put vegetables in the landscape?! Well, these varieties can make any landscape POP! Take, for instance, ‘Purple Flash’ with its dark purple to black foliage. This variety would make an excellent backdrop for many fall plants like annual garden mums or marigolds! Orange or yellow against the purple screams “autumn.” You can use ‘Calico’ in a mass group planting in the front of your perennial or shrub beds as well. Not only do they look good in the ground, but they make excellent filler plants for containers. Pot them up with pansies and violas, Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’, or ornamental grasses.

Since peppers like it warm, they will last only until first frost. Other than that, they are maintenance free! They are extremely drought and heat tolerant, so be careful not to over-water them. If you plant them in early summer next year, the fruits will begin to show as hot weather approaches. 

Capsicum ‘Purple Flash’ and ‘Calico’ should be available in retail stores, but if you can’t find them there, they should be an easy find on the Internet.