Peppercorns are among those ingredients that are effective in adding flavors to your dishes. The freshly ground black pepper that comes from it has an addictive taste and scent.
Apart from being used as a spice, you will also find them useful in hamburger patties, pasta, salads, sandwiches, and sauces, among many others. The peppercorn also remedies many ailments, including scabies, sinus, stomach issues, and arthritis.
The good news is that you can grow your peppercorns at home, giving you easy access to them. Learn and understand the basics of growing one through this article.
Quick Facts About the Peppercorn
- Common name: Peppercorn
- Botanical name: Piper nigrum
- Type of plant: Tropical perennial flowering vine
- Sun exposure: Full and direct sunlight
- Mature size: 10 – 30 feet
- Type of soil and pH level: Loamy and rich; 6.0 to 7.0 pH level – should be a bit acidic to neutral
- Color of flower: White
- Bloom time: Summer
- Hardiness zones (USDA): USDA 12
Peppercorn (Piper Nigrum) Defined
Also known for its botanical name, Piper Nigrum, peppercorn is famous for being a native to South India. It falls under the category of a perennial vine capable of blooming small yet lovely white flowers. The bloom time, when they produce flowers, often happens in mid-summer.
This outdoor vine is capable of producing plenty of peppers. It is also an attractive indoor ornamental, considering how good it looks. What’s good about this climbing vine is that it can last several years once it is established.
This vine also has attractive heart-shaped pepper leaves, such as betel leaf. You can expect it to grow while getting the support it needs from the hanging aerial roots. They often come in the form of small granules of spice that can do many things for your dishes and when decorating your home.
As for their blooms, expect them to come in the form of tiny flowers in white with pendulous spikes that come out during the summer before the actual setting of the fruits. This spice can give you some flecks of black, grayish-white, and green flecks as they fall out of your paper shaker.
When they fall from your shaker, expect them to add more depth and flavor to your dishes.
Pepper and Peppercorn Varieties
To grow peppercorn, you must familiarize yourself with its different varieties, including black, green, and white pepper.
One assumption about the black pepper plant is that it is the plant’s mature fruit. It does not fall under that type, though. The black pepper plants may have obtained their full size but remain green and not completely ripe.
Once you pick the fruit, you must let it dry in the sun. It will cause the enzymes in the berries to make their skin black. This pepper plant has the strongest flavor, and you will often see it as a pantry staple in the form of ground black pepper.
This variety includes mature berries capable of ripening and obtaining a red shade before the time you can pick it. Once you harvest this, you have to soak it and then rub it free of its exterior skin. This will reveal its smooth and white underlayer.
After that, you must expose it to the sun to dry and bleach it. Compared to the black pepper plant, white peppercorns are a bit milder. You can also find ground pepper in this variety that’s often used in Asian cuisines and in dishes with light colors.
This type refers to unripe peppers that you have to pick at a similar ripeness stage as the black pepper plant. However, green and black pepper also have differences. The reason is that the green peppers should not be dried.
The green variety has less concentrated spiciness and flavor than black peppercorns. What you have to do is pickle green peppercorns in brine or vinegar. After that, you can dehydrate or freeze-dry them.
This means that if you are looking for a milder flavor and are still deciding whether to choose black or green pepper, go for the latter. The green variety is also the least pungent of all the peppercorn varieties.
The red pepper refers to the mature and unhulled peppercorn variety. This is why you may also have difficulty finding the red pepper in health food and gourmet stores. Fortunately, just like black pepper and the other varieties, you can also grow red peppercorns at home.
Where Should You Plant and Grow Peppercorns?
When planning to grow this vine, the first thing you should consider is the best place to plant them. In that case, you should know that peppercorn can grow at 10 to 12 USDA zones. These zones can give the plant the humid and hot conditions they will most likely need.
Just in case the conditions are not ideal, meaning they do not meet the requirements, you can grow the plant in a container and put them indoors. Also, take note that it is fond of dappled light.
This means that in an environment recognized as resembling a jungle, it is highly possible to feature a forest canopy capable of letting light in while filtering it. Aside from that type of light, you must cultivate the peppercorn in humus-rich soil.
When is the Best Time to Plant Peppercorns?
It is highly recommended to plant pepper outdoors during the spring, specifically when the temperature is consistent at 60 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. Ensure the temperature is not lower than that; otherwise, the peppercorn will experience difficulties and, worse, die.
When planting seeds indoors, you must wait around 30 to 35 days for them to germinate. During germination, the peppercorn seeds will require some sort of heat. You also have to set and keep the soil at a consistent temperature of 75-85 F.
What if you plan to start the vines in seed trays? You can do that but make sure that once they reach around four inches tall, you work on transplanting them. If possible, use a heating pad to maximize the results of germination.
How to Plant Pepper from Seeds?
When planning to use black pepper seeds in planting peppercorns, keep in mind that you can’t just grab the ones from your kitchen peppermill. It is advisable to get peppercorn seeds that are meant specifically for planting and are now easier to access.
Here’s what you have to do:
Soak the seeds overnight
This step is essential in hydrating the seeds. After that, get a seed-raising mix and plant the seeds there. Maintain the ideal temperature of around 75 to 85 degrees F.
If the temperatures are cooler, you may have to wait a while for the germination process to be completed. Use a spray bottle to ensure the seed-raising mix stays or keeps the soil slightly moist.
Transplant the seedlings
Wait for the seedlings to be around four inches tall. Once that happens, it is time to do the transplanting to larger pots. You can also transplant the seeds in your garden or hanging baskets.
Provide proper spacing
Ensure that there is a space of around 12 to 15 inches in between each peppercorn. This spacing is crucial as you cultivate the seedlings in your garden. If you are planting in pots, you can make the seedlings closer but ensure that you do not overcrowd them.
How to Plant Peppercorns in Containers?
You will also feel glad to know that peppercorns can thrive in containers. One advantage of container planting is that you can easily move them in case the weather becomes too cool.
An effective way to plant and grow peppercorns in containers is by using hanging baskets. You should put them in the mentioned baskets when they are still categorized as young plants.
Once planted, you can let them stay in the hanging basket for two years. You also have the option to leave it there if you prefer a decorative yard element.
If your goal is planting peppercorns for eating, then it helps to transplant them into larger containers that you can position on the ground after around two years. In this case, choose a pot with a 5-gallon capacity.
After transplanting into larger pots, utilize a trellis. Expect this container planting method to make the vine reach ten to twelve feet, provided it is around the perfect environmental circumstances. You may also want to put the containers where the vine will have an easier time climbing.
Also, note that the vines have root systems that grow slowly. This means you do not have to report too often, as doing it too frequently may only lead to it becoming rootbound.
It is also advisable to use a potting mix of top-notch quality. When planting, there should be a space of around three inches in between each seed or plant. You can continue making the soil moist with the help of a spray bottle.
This move will significantly depend on your container’s size and should help give the plants more space. It also helps to thin the plants that you consider the weakest. The goal is to adhere to the spacing requirements of 12 inches and lower in every direction.
How to Propagate the Peppercorn Plant?
You can use a runner, which is a low-lying stem, to propagate a new peppercorn plant. It works like a strawberry runner in that it starts propagating after a growing season once you bury it.
If you are using a container, ensure that you let the runner remain attached to the peppercorn. You should then place it in a nearby pot. Wait for a few months, and you will notice the roots developing – after which, clipping it from its parent plant should come next.
Caring for your Peppercorn Plant
For your peppercorn to grow healthily and successfully, ensure that you also meet the following care requirements:
Do you plan to grow black pepper as an indoor houseplant? Then ensure you can provide it with full sun – the brightest light as much as possible. Note that this vine requires the energy of the sun to form flowers and produce fruit.
You do not have to worry too much if the plant outdoors is in a greenhouse. The reason is that in most cases, you will only need to supply it with partial sunlight to guarantee their healthy growth in those areas.
Another important requirement is adequate water. Remember that these vines are not fond of drying out. This makes it necessary to water the plants every time you feel like the soil surface is dry.
Ensure that your peppercorn also utilizes humus-rich soil for its growth. This type of soil should be able to retain proper moisture, though it is also crucial for it to have proper and good drainage.
The reason behind this is that there is a possibility for root rot to develop because of heavy clay pot soils. A light potting mix is also a good choice for this, but you must first amend it with leaf mold or compost.
You also have to remember that the peppercorn falls under the light feeder category. During the spring, the time when you notice the start of an increase in its growth, you can start providing fertilizer.
Use one specifically designed for blooming plants. It should also have a balance of nutrients at 7-9-5. When it comes to feeding frequency, applying fertilizer to peppercorn plants every two weeks during the summer is often enough. Stop feeding once the winter and fall months come.
Humidity and temperature
Caring for peppercorns correctly also requires reminding yourself that they fall under the zone 12 plant classification. In other words, the plant must be exposed to a hot temperature to preserve its health.
There is a high chance for the plant to stop growing if the temperature goes down to 50 degrees F. Also, take note that this plant prefers a humid environment, which means it also likes to receive regular misting.
As much as possible, grow this vine in ideal indoor places like a humid kitchen or bathroom. Make sure you can supply bright light in such areas of your home.
It is not a requirement to prune the vines to improve their health. However, it is still an important task that you can do to remove all dying or dead foliage. Pruning also helps keep the peppercorn in bounds if you grow it in a tiny space.
You also have to remember that peppercorns are fond of mulch. When they are in their natural habitat or environment, it is greatly possible for all leaves from the plants around to drop to the ground.
In most cases, these come with mulch with plenty of depth. This means that they can break down and feed the soil constantly. You can mulch well so you can recreate it and nourish the plant. It also helps in retaining adequate moisture.
How to Manage Pests that Love Peppercorns?
One reminder regarding growing peppercorns is that they are not immune to a few insects, pests, and diseases. There are still instances when pests will gather around them. In that case, you can use an organic insecticide to treat your plant.
Also, aside from mealybugs and lace bugs, peppercorn is prone to fungal issues. You can prevent them by ensuring enough space between each plant. You also have to avoid overwatering and apply and use a non-toxic fungicide from time to time.
Mealybugs are among those pests that thrive well in a humid environment and when exposed to plants that can live in such environments, like peppercorns. In most cases, mealybugs can be found in greenhouses, sucking the juice of plants. Mealybugs also often serve as vectors for other ailments.
To deal with mealybugs, apply organic neem oil regularly. For mealybug infection, it helps to incorporate pyrethrum to improve the efficiency of the spray. Be extra careful when using this solution, though, so you will not end up harming or driving away from the pollinators in your garden.
There is also a great possibility for root rot to infect your peppercorn. This root disease attacks the plant’s roots if the soil becomes too wet, maybe because you are not using well-draining soil. That said, avoid planting peppercorns in poorly draining soil.
The primary cause of root rot is a fungus fond of staying in wet soil. If you have an affected plant, you must remove it immediately. Let the soil begin drying a bit before adding water again.
The removal is necessary for preventing this problem from causing more serious issues, like the growth of the plant becomes stunted. There are also instances when the leaves obtain black spots, specifically on their undersides.
Flea beetles are also among those that can infect peppercorns. The problem with this pest is that it can attack young peppercorns. You will be able to sense their presence if you notice some distinct and unique holes present in the foliage of the plants.
Other pests and insects that like being near peppercorns and feed on them are aphids, whiteflies, corn borers, spider mites, pepper weevils, and lace bugs. In most cases, you can remove these pests and insects by hand or by spraying them with soapy water.
Make it a regular habit to check and monitor your peppercorns to find out if there are any worms and bugs in there. By detecting their presence right away, you can prevent them from proliferating.
One more thing you can do is keep the garden area surrounding your peppercorn plants clean. It should be free of any debris and dead leaves. The reason is that most insects and pests prefer hiding and breading in decaying or dead materials in plants, so you have to make your garden devoid of them.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How long does it take to grow a peppercorn?
One thing to note about peppercorns is that they are slow-growing perennial vines. It may take up to four years for them to get into their fruiting and blooming size. If you are growing one, this means that the black pepper plant will take a lot of time to produce fruit.
Can you grow black pepper plants from peppercorns?
Yes, it is possible to grow black pepper plants from peppercorns. Many gardeners even grow and cultivate this tropical plant because of the black pepper plant and its other varieties, including the white and red peppercorns.
How do you grow your peppercorn at home?
Peppercorns are among those plants that you can grow at home. It is a tropical plant that can adapt to various environments. You can grow it at home and make it adapt to the environment by ensuring that you provide it with whatever it needs.
Growing peppercorn vine at home involves providing it with partial shade, sufficient space, and a warm temperature. You have to be extra particular with the space as this plant can grow up to 15 feet long.
Is peppercorn hard to grow?
Generally, peppercorns are not hard to grow. The fact that you can readily make them reproduce from cuttings and seeds, plus they do not have extreme and challenging care requirements, proves that they are indeed easy to grow. This vine can also adapt to various environments.
Is the black pepper plant different from peppercorns?
The two are different because the peppercorn refers to the black pepper’s seeds. The seeds have to be ground first to produce a spice known as pepper. Many also use the term pepper to describe fruits of plants that belong to the capsicum genus in some countries, such as the US.
Being a slow-growing perennial, you may have to wait a while to enjoy your first peppercorn harvest. Still, it is all worth it because once the vines begin to produce peppercorns and berries, you will be on your way towards enjoying years of summer crops.
You will start feeling good knowing that you have easy access to an important and probably the most commonly used spice and herb – the peppercorn.