Shishito peppers are delicious peppers that hail from originally from East Asia. Also sometimes referred to as padron peppers or dragon roll peppers (which are simply different shishito pepper varieties), these peppers have been growing in popularity in the United States in recent years. Here's how to grow them in your own garden!
Shishito peppers ar\][';/p. common to find at farmer's markets as well as local grocery stores like Trader Joe's. They have a unique flavor and simply roasting them is one of our favorite dishes in our house!
And, if you're just getting started with your home vegetable garden, they are a great choice for first time gardeners. Want to learn more about how to grow and care for these great peppers? Read on!
How to Grow Shishito Peppers
Shishito peppers are an easy plant to grow, especially if you're using a container garden. You can start them as seedlings indoors if you want to, but honestly I have had great luck just planting them directly into the soil.
For best results, plant them in a place with 6-8 hours of sunlight. We're talking direct sunlight, not shady or partial sunlight. These plants thrive in hot weather and a warm climate.
They need fairly consistent watering, but you need to make sure there's some sort of drainage holes in the soil to avoid what's called blossom end rot. This is a common problem when vegetable plants get overwatered, and can be seen a lot in tomatoes and squashes as well.
I also recommend putting a bamboo stake or something similar at the base of the plant to start. We will talk in a little bit about what to do when they start to get larger, but helping them with a stake to get started will support them and is the best way to keep them from growing sideways.
Give them a well-draining dry place with ideal soil temperatures between 75-85° for the seeds to germinate and you'll be rewarded with a bountiful harvest!
When to Plant Shishito Peppers
When deciding when to plant anything, it's important to know your planting zone. If you're not sure, you can check it here, or just Google, "What planting zone is City, State in?" and it should pop up.
We live in zone 8, so we plant in early spring, as our danger of frost has passed by then. If you live in a cooler climate with cold weather in the winter, you'll definitely want to wait until your last frost date has passed, but also wait until you have warm soil and your nighttime temperatures are warm enough to not shock the seedlings.
Depending on where you live, you might want to start your seedlings indoors in a seed tray. Working in indoor environments will take away the threat of frost. You can also explore the option of a heat mat if you're starting lots of different seeds.
Waiting for the warm temperatures in the growing season will give you higher yields and will make your experience growing shishito peppers that much more rewarding! It will also help you avoid transplant shock.
Remember, these plants thrive in hot, dry weather. Our daytime temperatures reach 100° multiple days in a row and our shishito pepper plants don't bat an eye at it. They have a long growing season - they're still producing for us in late summer, long after the last tomato plant has been pulled.
If this is not your first time growing shishito peppers in your garden, make sure you consider crop rotation. I talk a little bit about this in my DIY backyard garden post, but basically giving the plant a new location in the garden for the new season is beneficial to it in order for it to thrive! You can dive into more details about crop rotation here.
How Big Do Shishito Pepper Plants Get
Shishito pepper plants aren't huge when it comes to height, but they can get bushy. Unlike bell peppers, which grow one or two large main stalks and can get pretty tall vertically, the shishito pepper plant grows wider than it does tall, sending out lots of thin branches.
While I recommended staking them up when they were babies, before they get too big a tomato cage is a great addition to help give them support and shape in the garden and not take over everything.
And you'll get blooms before the plants are full grown! They can produce peppers before they're done growing up and out. Here's what the shishito pepper plant flowers look like:
For reference, mine are full grown right now. They are somewhat being shadowed by other plants at the moment, but I would say they are about 2 feet high and about 3 feet wide.
Shishito Pepper Plant Care
In my experience, shishito pepper plants are pretty disease tolerant. Because they are a thin-skinned pepper, they can sometimes be susceptible to common pests. Aphids are typically the worst. These are small pear-shaped insects that you'll find clustered on the underside of the leaves.
Most mature plants can tolerate a bit of aphids, but if they get to be too widespread, the leaves will start to shrivel and turn yellow and fall off, as the aphids are sucking the juices out of them.
Spider mites are also tiny sucking insects that have a similar effect. They are a true arachnid, and they pierce the leaves and suck the juices out.
You can see a small piercing spot from where they bit, which commonly shows up as white dots on top of the leaves. The mites themselves are very tiny - about the size of the period at the end of this sentence when grown to maturity.
You may also have things like caterpillars that will eat holes in the leaves. A little of this is ok, but if it gets too excessive it can kill the plant. Here you can see my leaves with holes eaten in them. We are at the end of the growing season right now, so this is the tail end and these plants will be coming out soon.
That said, this is pretty aggressive, and if we were earlier in the season I would be treating for this issue.
If you're looking to temper insect issues organically and/or naturally, Neem oil and insecticidal soap are two good options.
Neem oil is a naturally occurring pesticide found in seeds from the neem tree. It is yellow to brown, has a bitter taste, and a garlic/sulfur smell. It has been used for hundreds of years to control pests and diseases.
Insecticidal soap is a mixture of water and the potassium salts of fatty acids and is commonly used to curb infestations of insects on indoor and outdoor plants.
Soap sprays are effective for soft-bodied insects such as mealybugs and aphids. Even better, insecticidal soap typically does not harm the plants. Many people make their own insectidial soap out of soap, water, and oil. If this is something you want to explore, you can find instructions here.
There are some beneficial insects that can help mitigate pest problems - for example, ladybugs are known to eat aphids. You can order ladybugs, have them delivered, and release them into your garden to eat the aphids! Amazing.
In addition to insects, you may also experience fungal infections in your garden. One of the best ways to prevent this is to make sure you have well-drained soil in your garden bed.
Using organic matter - organic fertilizer, organic mulch, etc. will also help. It's much easier to make your own soil mix if you're working with a raised bed. Making sure you have good drainage will help with good growth.
Planting in a spot with full sun during the day, and watering in the morning, will ensure that the soil has time to dry out during the day and help prevent fungus growing in the dark, damp garden soil at night.
How to Tell When Shishito Peppers Are Ripe
Ripe shishito peppers are one of the prettiest fresh peppers, in my opinion. To get shishito peppers when they have the best flavor, you're looking for a bright green color. Some varieites will turn a bit of a darker shade of green, but most of mine turn this vibrant green that is eye-catching on the plant.
Now, you have to pick the ripe peppers at just the right time. If you give them too long on the plant, they will turn into red shishito peppers. These red peppers are a whole different story, as they can get hot!
You also want the peppers to be full size - so if they're small or short, give them a few days to elongate, then pick them before they start to darken and then turn red.
To harvest them, I like to use a small pair of garden shears or kitchen scissors to cut them from the stem end. Because they're a delicate pepper, they can be damaged easily, and if you try to just pull it off the plant, you'll more than likely take an entire branch of the plant with it. No bueno.
Shishito Pepper Companion Planting
When you're growing shishito peppers, it's important what you plant next to them. The first year I planted them, I put my jalapeño pepper plant right next to it. Know what I ended up with?
After cross pollination, I got hot shishito peppers, which was not what I wanted! Green bell peppers (or any other bell or sweet pepper) is great for companion planting with shishitos, as if they cross pollinate you're not going to be ruining your shishito peppers.
The scoville scale is a measure of how hot peppers are - and shishito peppers fall usually somewhere from 50-200, which is very very low. Below is a chart for reference:
Steer clear of planting things like capsicum annuum and other chili peppers nearby. I prefer to plant these hot and spicy peppers in their own pot, separate and away from the things I don't want to end up spicy!
Storage and Use
Once you've picked your shishito peppers, you'll want to try and use them within a few days. If you're not going to use them right away, store them in an airtight container in the fridge.
While there are a few different culinary uses, my favorite way is just to make roasted shishito peppers with a little oil and some sea salt. (I like to use avocado oil or this olive oil for roasting.) I cook these in the oven, but you can also do it in a hot pan on the stovetop (I prefer cast iron).
They're also commonly used in asian dishes, using soy sauce (coconut aminos for paleo) and garlic to make a glaze.
Shishito pepper seeds can be eaten right along with the pepper itself. When eating, you simply hold the stem end and bite the pepper off. Their thin skin and mild flavor makes them easy to eat, and they make a great appetizer or party dish!
They're best eaten right out of the oven. Saving them after they've been cooked is tough - you can try and put them in the fridge and heat them up in the oven for a minute or two as a reheat, but it's better to only cook what you plan to eat. Save the raw ones, and cook up a few more when you want to eat them again.
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