Here’s how to grow black pepper, the fruit of the Piper nigrum plant. Also known as peppercorns, black pepper is the world’s most popular spice. Piper nigrum is a tropical vining plant that grows 12 feet tall in its native India. While only suitable to the hottest parts of North America, it can be a fun, exotic plant to grow in the home garden.
WHERE TO GROW
The peppercorn plant can be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 and 11. It prefers hot, humid and tropical climates and can not tolerate areas where temperatures drop below 60° F. In cooler areas, grow black pepper in a container and overwinter it indoors or in a greenhouse.
Plant Piper nigrum in the partial shade, with dappled sun light. You’ll want to grow it near a fence, trellis or similar support structure on which the vines may climb. In doors, it may work in a hanging planter with the vines draping down toward the floor.
WHEN TO PLANT
Plant black pepper when soil temperatures are at least 75° F or start it indoors year round. Transplant outside in the spring if possible when conditions are mild.
BEST SOIL FOR GROWING BLACK PEPPER
Black pepper needs rich soil that drains easily. A fertile potting mix works great. Garden soil should be amended with lots of compost. Plant in raised beds for better drainage. Soil pH is optimal at 5.5-7.0.
Soak your black pepper seeds in water for 24 hours prior to planting. Sow seeds very lightly, only about ¼ inch below the surface of the soil and about 3 inches apart. Moisten carefully with a spray bottle. Keep the soil moist and warm until the seeds germinate about 30 days later. Place them on top of a radiator or refrigerator if possible to help keep them warm. Move to indirect sunlight once they sprout. Transplant the healthiest seedlings outside or to larger growing pots when they are 4 to 6 inches high.
WATERING & CARE
Keep the soil constantly moist for good results. Mist regularly with a spray bottle to keep a humid environment. Water container plants even more often as they will dry out fast. No need to keep the soil sopping wet but don’t let it completely dry out between each watering either.
Provide a fence or trellis for the black pepper vines, which may reach about 15 feet long. Indoors, grow them in a hanging pot so the vines can spread out.
Fertilize every spring with a well balanced organic fertilizer. Fertilize house plants every four weeks.
DISEASE & PET CONTROL
Pepper plants are not susceptible to many pests or disease if they are well taken care of. Plant them in high quality soil and do not over or under water. Blast off pests with a hose. Use organic sprays if bugs appear to be a nuisance. Remove diseased or infested foliage from the garden.
Peppercorns can sometimes be harvested starting about one year after planting, but most will take 3 to 4 years to develop. First, flowers will appear throughout the spring and summer. Fruit will begin to form shortly after in clusters. They will ripen from green to red and can be harvested at these different stages. Most gardeners will harvest peppercorns when they begin to turn red.
Dry peppercorns in the sun for about three days. They should turn black when completely dry. Grind them up to make black pepper.
OTHER TIPS & ADVICE
Peppercorn seeds will likely need to be purchased through an online nursery.
Piper nigrum has been cultivated for over two thousand years and traded all over the world. Today, Malabar black pepper is considered the finest.
Pepper plants have evergreen leaves and large, beautiful flowers.
Remove the red hull to have white peppercorn, which has a milder flavor. Green peppercorns are harvested when still green.
Do you have tips or questions about how to grow black pepper? Let us know in the comments section below.