Szechuan pepper plants (Zanthoxylum simulans), sometimes known as Chinese peppers, are graceful, spreading trees that reach mature heights of 13 to 17 feet (4-5 m.). Szechuan pepper plants provide year-round ornamental value, beginning with lush blooms in late spring and early summer. The flowers are followed by berries that turn bright red in early autumn. The gnarly branches, contorted shape, and woody spines add interest throughout the winter.
Are you interested in raising your own Szechuan pepper? Growing this sturdy plant isn’t difficult for gardeners in USDA plant hardiness zones 6 through 9. Read on and learn how to grow Szechuan peppers.
Szechuan Pepper Info
Where do Szechuan peppers come from? This fascinating tree hales from the Szechuan region of China. Szechuan pepper plants are actually more closely related to citrus trees than to familiar chili peppers or peppercorns. The peppers, which show up when the trees are two to three years old, aren’t widely used in the United States. However, they are a staple in Asia, where they are used to add spice to a variety of dishes.
According to the Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices by P.N. Ravindran, the tiny seedpods have a unique flavor and aroma that isn’t pungent like familiar red or black peppercorns. Most cooks prefer to toast and crush the pods before adding them to food.
How to Grow Szechuan Peppers
Szechuan pepper plants, generally planted in spring or fall, thrive in flower beds or large containers.
Plant Szechuan peppers in nearly any type of well-drained soil. A handful of all-purpose fertilizer added to the soil at planting time will provided extra nutrition that gets the plant off to a good start.
Szechuan pepper plants tolerate full sun or partial shade, however, afternoon shade is beneficial in hotter climates.
Water as necessary to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Water is important during extended dry periods, especially for plants grown in pots.
Szechuan pepper plants generally don’t require much pruning. Trim them to enhance the shape and remove dead or damaged growth, but be careful not to prune new growth, as this is where new peppers develop.
Szechuan pepper plants are generally unaffected by pests and disease.
Harvest Szechuan pepper plants in autumn. Put a tarp under the tree to catch the pods, then shake the branches. Wear gloves to protect your skin from the spikes when working with Szechuan pepper plants.