Imagine a pepper so sweet and crisp that you want to bite into it straight off the plant. ‘Jimmy Nardello’ is an Italian heirloom pepper that puts most bell peppers to shame. I have nothing against bells, but they get boring after a while. Nardellos are much more adaptable, easy to grow, and amazingly versatile in the kitchen.
The long, tapered fruits have thin walls and a multi-dimensional fruity flavor. Whether you pan fry them, dry them, pickle them, or eat them fresh, ‘Jimmy Nardello’ peppers make other sweet peppers seem bland in comparison.
Although they look similar to a cayenne pepper, these elongated red peppers are purely sweet and savory without any spice. The plants are vigorous and disease-resistant and have a unique history from their Italian home. They thrive in almost any climate, from the far North to the deep South. Let’s dig into how to grow this easygoing, high-yielding pepper!
Jimmy Nardello Overview
Capsicum annuum ‘Jimmy Nardello’
Where Does ‘Jimmy Nardello’ Get Its Name?
‘Jimmy Nardello’ peppers bear the name of an Italian family passionate about gardening.
The history of ‘Jimmy Nardello’ peppers is almost as rich and intriguing as their flavor. This Italian heirloom originated in the mountains of Italy and made its way to America in 1887.
‘Jimmy Nardello’ peppers are named after an Italian gardening family. The Nardiello family originated in the small mountain town of Ruoti, which sits about 100 miles east of Naples, Italy. In 1887, Giuseppe Nardiello decided to bring his family to the States. His wife Angella Nardiello carried a handful of the peppers in her bag when the family sailed from the port of Naples to Naugatuck, Connecticut. She promptly planted the seeds in their new garden.
The sweet frying pepper thrived in Connecticut and quickly adapted to the climate. The unique red pepper was particularly adored by her 4th child, Jimmy. His teachers misspelled his last name in school by eliminating the “i” and writing Nardello. The surname stuck to Jimmy and his descendants.
Jimmy continued to grow the special curved frying pepper and would string them up to dry in the shed for winter use. He saved the seeds year after year. Before Jimmy Nardello passed away in 1983, he donated some of his family’s heirloom pepper seeds to the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. They named the pepper ‘Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Italian Frying Pepper.’ The seeds are now widely distributed in seed catalogs and nurseries.
How Spicy are ‘Jimmy Nardello’ Peppers?
With a resemblance to cayenne but without the heat, these peppers boast savory complexity.
‘Jimmy Nardello’ peppers are sweet frying peppers without spice. Despite resembling a hot cayenne pepper, ‘Jimmy Nardellos’ have very little to no heat.
These sweet peppers have complex, savory flavors and no spice. You can eat them raw! They range from 0 to 100 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which is extremely low compared to a cayenne pepper’s ranking of 30,000 to 50,000 SHU.
This revered heirloom is propagated by seed in the same way as all of your other pepper plants. It’s best to sow the seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before your expected last frost date. Direct sowing is not recommended except in the warmest climates.
Growing these rare heirlooms from seedlings is preferable due to their scarcity in nurseries.
Botanical Interests offers an exceptionally vigorous strain of ‘Jimmy Nardello’ seeds that will probably outperform every other pepper in your garden. The key is to start the tender plants off in a cozy environment where they won’t get stressed by temperature fluctuations.
Like most peppers, ‘Jimmy Nardellos’ have a moderate-length growing season and benefit from a head start indoors. Since this heirloom is difficult to find in nurseries, it’s best to grow your own seedlings. The heirloom seeds have a fairly high germination rate when grown in a quality seed starting mix in a warm environment, such as a seed starting mat and a south-facing window or grow light setup.
To grow vibrant ‘Jimmy Nardello’ seedlings:
- In the spring, start peppers 8-10 weeks before your last frost date.
- Clean a set of 4” deep Epic 4-cell trays and sanitize them with a diluted bleach spray.
- Fill the cells with a quality, well-drained seed starting mix, but don’t compress it down.
- Use your finger to make a small indent on the surface of the soil.
- Sow the 1-2 pepper seeds per cell, no deeper than ¼ inch in the soil.
- Very lightly dust with soil over the top.
- Gently water in with a rain wand on the lowest setting, taking care not to displace the seeds.
- Optionally, place the trays on a heated germination mat.
- Use a soil thermometer probe to ensure the soil is 70-90°F.
- Keep seeds in a bright, warm place.
- Maintain consistent moisture until seeds emerge in 10-25 days.
- Nurture indoors until rootballs mature and the outdoor nighttime temperatures are reliably above 55°F.
The only issue you may encounter with pepper seedlings is damping off. Too much moisture and a lack of airflow can create conditions for a stem-girdling fungus to attack your baby peppers and rot the stems at the base.
Be sure to plant in a well-drained mix with plenty of compost and vermiculite. If water pools up on the surface of the container or green algae forms, the mix is not draining properly, or it is waterlogged due to overwatering. Always check soil moisture before watering. Only irrigate until water flows out of the bottom of the pots, then stop.
Transplanting is as simple and straightforward as any other vegetable. Just be sure to properly harden off your seedlings and avoid planting too early in the season. ‘Jimmy Nardellos’ are extremely cold-tender and finicky about chilly nights.
How to Transplant
It is advisable to shield young pepper plants with row fabric upon transplanting.
The best time to transplant pepper seedlings outside is 2 to 4 weeks after the average last frost date. Wait until the weather is thoroughly settled and daytime temperatures are above 70°F while nighttime temperatures are over 55°F.
I always recommend covering young pepper seedlings with row fabric when transplanting. This translucent agricultural textile adds several degrees of warmth, creating a little microclimate around each plant without building a low tunnel or greenhouse. Better yet, the row cover physically excludes any pests that may prey on the fragile baby plants.
Before subjecting these plants to late spring weather, it’s crucial to toughen them up appropriately.
But before you expose these warm-weather plants to late spring weather, be sure to harden them off properly. Hardening the seedlings means slowly introducing them to harsher conditions outdoors while still in their pots. This prepares them for successful transplanting and reduces the risk of transplant shock.
To help your plants adjust:
- While still in your windowsill or greenhouse, gradually reduce the amount of water, but don’t let plants dry out completely.
- On a sunny day, bring plants outside to a protected area like a patio or porch.
- If the nights are still chilly, cover it with row fabric or bring it back inside at night.
- Over the course of a week, allow seedlings to acclimate to outdoor temperature fluctuations.
- If you notice any signs of temperature stress, like wilting or yellowing, slow down the hardening process.
- By the end of the week, the potted plants should be fine on their own outdoors for several days and nights in a row.
Proper Transplanting Procedure
When moving pepper seedlings, ensure their roots are well-developed and not bound up.
Although peppers are related to tomatoes, you should not bury them deep in the soil like you would with tomato plants. If you plant them too deeply, the stem may rot, and your pepper crop will be ruined. Your ‘Jimmy Nardellos’ will likely thrive as long as you remember this rule.
To transplant the pepper seedlings:
- Gently lift a seedling from its cell to check that the root ball has thoroughly filled out.
- If a lot of soil falls off from the roots, it needs to stay in the container longer.
- If the roots are winding around in circles, it may be rootbound. Loosen them and transplant ASAP. If the weather isn’t settled, up-pot into a larger container.
- Prepare a loamy, well-drained soil bed without any weeds.
- Use a trowel or hori hori knife to dig a hole about twice as deep and wide as the root ball.
- Hold your seedling from the base and shimmy it out of its container.
- Place the root ball in the hole, keeping the soil level the same.
- Backfill with soil and gently press the soil against the plant without compacting it.
- Thoroughly water in the seedlings.
- Optionally, protect with a low tunnel or floating row cover draped over the top of the plants and secured with sandbags.
Optimal spacing is crucial; a too-cramped setup may hinder their full potential.
‘Jimmy Nardello’ peppers are best spaced with 18-24” between plants and 24-36” between rows. I like to stagger the plants in a zigzag pattern to allow more bushy growth and easier harvests.
If you space them too close, the plants won’t be able to produce to their full glory. If you are growing in a pot or a grow bag, choose at least a 10 or 15-gallon container.
How to Grow
This insanely delicious sweet frying pepper doesn’t need any special treatment compared to your other pepper plants. Warmth, water, and fertility are the most important factors for a prolific harvest of curved red peppers.
These peppers thrive in sunlight and struggle in shaded areas.
Plant ‘Jimmy Nardellos’ in full sunshine, where they can enjoy 6-8 hours or more of direct sunlight per day. These South American natives love the sun and don’t do well in the shade. Be sure taller plants, shrubs, or structures do not overshadow them. If you are companion planting Nardellos with tomatoes, marigolds, or other beneficial comrades, leave at least 12-18” of space between the peppers and their neighbors.
Only in the hottest southern climates can you consider growing peppers in partial afternoon shade. In the North, full sun exposure is essential. If you grow them in the shade, the plants may produce very few flowers and may fail to produce fruits altogether. Pale, yellow leaves and slow growth are common early signs of insufficient lighting.
Drip irrigation works best by directly nourishing the roots.
‘Jimmy Nardellos’ are thirsty plants! You’ll understand why these plants need so much water once you see how many peppers a single bush can crank out. Like your tomato plants, you want to be sure the soil is consistently moist. Avoid huge fluctuations from extreme dryness to extreme wetness. Peppers will stop fruiting or produce low-quality fruit if they don’t receive enough water during peak summer.
Drip irrigation is ideal for delivering water straight to the root zone. Overhead irrigation is not ideal for nightshade family crops because it can predispose them to fungal leaf diseases. If you don’t have a drip system, you may consider soaker hoses buried under a layer of leaf mulch. You can also hand-water the plants every couple of days using a hose aimed near the base. Avoid wetting the leaves.
It’s very important to check the soil moisture regularly. Sticking your finger 4-6” deep in the bed should ideally feel moist to the touch, like a wrung-out sponge. If your skin is completely dry or dusty when you remove your finger, the soil is far too dehydrated, and your peppers need water ASAP.
But if your skin comes out mucky as if you just dipped it in brownie batter, the soil is excessively wet, and you must let your plants dry out. It helps to incorporate peat moss or compost to buffer the excess moisture and ensure adequate drainage.
Providing top-quality soil will result in an abundant yield of sweet peppers.
These Italian heirlooms enjoy your typical loamy, well-drained garden soil rich in compost. A slightly acidic to neutral pH between 6.0 and 6.5 is ideal. Peppers and tomatoes are two crops you should prioritize for growing in your healthiest garden beds. If you give them the highest quality soil possible, they will reward you with more sweet peppers than you can imagine!
If the soil is compacted, the pepper’s roots may have difficulty anchoring and expanding, leading to a stunted or low-productivity plant. Properly prepare the bed before planting to improve drainage and loosen the soil. A broadfork is a great way to aerate lower layers and create more channels for root growth.
To enrich the soil texture, you can also incorporate extra compost, vermiculite, or moistened peat moss. The soil should feel loose, fluffy, and pleasant to handle with your hands. You should probably add more organic material if it is hard and crumbly or heavy in clay and rocks.
Climate and Temperature
Peppers, like ‘Jimmy Nardellos,’ require frost-free conditions and temperatures above 55°F to thrive.
Peppers are tropical plants that have absolutely zero tolerance for frost. ‘Jimmy Nardello’ needs warm temperatures above 55°F to grow. Once flowering, they prefer temperatures between 70 and 80°F for a strong fruit set.
These heat-loving crops can withstand temperatures well into the triple digits, but it’s crucial that they have enough water during a heat wave. Mulching the soil helps the roots stay cool. Southern growers may use a light shade cloth or plant peppers near the dappled canopy of tomatoes to ensure they don’t overheat in the scorching summer weather.
In colder climates, it’s helpful to use low tunnels, row fabric, or a greenhouse to get the most out of your peppers. A large pot on a sunny patio is another great way to extend the growth and ensure adequate warmth. You can always bring the pot indoors on cold nights and let it warm in the late morning summer sun. Remember that container-grown peppers generally dry out more quickly and need regular watering.
They flourish with a slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer at planting and flowering.
These sweet peppers are heavy feeders that require plenty of nutrients to produce a good crop. A slow-release all-purpose fertilizer like Espoma Tomato-tone Organic Plant Food is best incorporated at the time of planting and again once the plants begin flowering. A quality manure-rich compost is another great way to provide all the micronutrients that Nardellos need.
Avoid unbalanced fertilizers with high nitrogen and low amounts of phosphorus or potassium. Excessive nitrogen can cause leggy, overly lush foliage growth rather than channeling the plant’s energy toward flower and fruit production.
While bushy, ‘Jimmy Nardellos’ benefits from stakes, especially in storm-prone areas.
Bushy pepper plants don’t need a trellis system like their tomato cousins, but they enjoy staking to keep heavy fruit yields off the ground. This is especially important if you live in an area with late summer storms that could blow over the plants and snap the stems.
Create a pepper staking system with a bamboo, wooden, or sturdy metal stake next to the plant’s stem. Make sure the stake is buried at least 6” in the soil. Use twine or string to tie the stem to the stake to keep the plant upright. If you’re growing many pepper plants, you may want to use a Florida weave system with several stakes pounded every 2 feet and twine woven between them to create a long row of supported plants.
The only other maintenance I’d recommend is mulching, especially if you live in a hot, dry climate. Dried leaf mulch or shredded organic straw are the best options for suppressing weeds and retaining soil moisture at the base of pepper plants. Mulch at least 1-2” deep and leave a small ring of space around the base of the stems to prevent rot.
The singular ‘Jimmy Nardello’ heirloom pepper variety is widely available for its fruity flavor and prolific production.
There is only one true variety of the ‘Jimmy Nardello’ heirloom pepper. The seeds are widely available from specialty garden seed companies. This quintessential frying pepper is renowned for its fruity complex flavor, crunchy thin walls, and prolific production.
Peppers thrive alongside other warm-weather crops that enjoy similar soil and moisture conditions. Fragrant herbs and nectar-rich flowers can help repel pests and attract beneficial insects that assist with pest control.
Flowers also bring pollinators, which is especially important in a greenhouse environment. Although peppers are predominately pollinated by wind, bees aid the process on stagnant air days and add more biodiversity to your garden ecosystem.
Grow these companion species next to Nardellos, leaving at least 12” space between plants.
‘Jimmy Nardellos’ and basil make excellent companions in a raised bed or container garden.
Basil loves warm sunshine, loamy soil, and consistent moisture just as much as peppers. These two make great companions for a raised bed or container garden. The fragrant basil leaves deter pests from peppers and complement the signature Nardello flavor in the kitchen. The plants are also about the same height, so competition is not an issue.
The aromatic oils in oregano leaves act as a natural repellent against aphids and spider mites.
This Mediterranean herb grows low to the ground, creating a nice ground cover next to pepper plants. The aromatic essential oils in oregano leaves repel aphids and spider mites that may try to attack your Nardellos. The flowers are highly favored by bees and parasitic wasps.
Peppers and tomatoes share similar growth needs—full sun, warm weather, loamy soil, high fertility, and ample water.
Peppers and tomatoes are both nightshades with almost exact growth requirements: full sun, warm weather, loamy soil, high fertility, and lots of water. It makes sense to plant them in the same bed, but they each must have enough space to thrive.
Peppers are perfect for sowing along the corners or borders of a tomato bed so long as the tall tomatoes don’t cast shade over the plants. I leave about 18” between tomatoes and Nardellos to ensure both have sufficient space and resources. You may want to add extra compost and fertilizer to fuel heavy fruit production in both crops. Mulch with leaf litter or straw for added moisture retention.
Their strong fragrance deters above-ground pests and repels nematodes below ground.
These classic Dia de Los Muertos flowers are lovely companions for peppers because they have a strong fragrance to deter pests above ground while repelling nematodes below ground. Marigolds are one of the most well-studied companion plants. There is an abundance of science that shows that marigolds reliably suppress root-knot nematodes and improve nightshade yields by deterring pests. If leaf blight is an issue with your peppers, marigold flower tea is shown to have antifungal properties.
Pests and Diseases
‘Jimmy Nardello’ is one of the most disease-resistant pepper cultivars you can grow. I’ve seen the plants withstand intense summer rains while neighboring bell peppers succumb to major blight issues.
Still, no variety is completely fool-proof. Here are a few tips for preventing and controlling pests and diseases in your Italian sweet peppers.
Combat them by spraying leaves with water in the morning, allowing plants to dry in the sun.
These sap-sucking pests appear on the underside of pepper leaves in the summertime. They can be yellow, green, or white. You may notice a sugary residue left behind by the aphids that may attract ants.
The best way to deal with aphids is to spray a heavy blast of water on the leaves in the morning (leaving plenty of time for the plants to dry out in the summer sun). This will knock the aphids to the ground.
If the problem persists, directly applying diluted neem oil spray or horticultural oil to the leaves can kill and deter aphids. Interplanting with basil, oregano, marigolds, and other fragrant herbs may help keep populations at bay.
White or yellow spots and a dusty coating on pepper leaves indicate spider mite damage.
Tiny white or yellow spots or a dusty leaf coating are common signs of spider mite damage. These tiny mites are sap-suckers just like aphids, except they leave behind web-like substances (hence their spidery name). Spider mites can be many colors, but the yellowish-orange mites cause the most damage to peppers.
A soapy spray with horticultural oil is a reliable way to kill the mites. Neem oil can aid in prevention. Marigolds and white alyssum attract ladybugs that feed on mites.
Pepper seedlings succumb to rot and collapse with damping off disease, making a recovery unlikely once it strikes.
This fungal disease causes pepper seedlings to rot at the base of their stems and flop over to their death. Once damping off disease takes hold, you can’t save the baby plant. Fortunately, if your peppers survive past the seedling stage, you don’t have to worry about it anymore!
Damping off mostly happens in stagnant, humid environments where seedlings are being overwatered. To prevent it, add a fan to ensure proper airflow in your greenhouse or seed-starting area.
Avoid overwatering by planting in well-drained soil and checking the soil moisture before watering. If algae or green slime appears on the surface of your pots, cut back on water and remove the slime layer. Re-pot the peppers in fresh new soil with lots of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost for proper drainage.
While ‘Jimmy Nardello’ peppers are resilient to leaf blight, they’re not immune.
‘Jimmy Nardello’ peppers tend to be the most resilient to leaf blight but aren’t completely immune. This blight is primarily caused by a fungus-like organism called Phytophthora, which also causes tomato late blight.
The key symptoms are wilting plants in extra wet conditions and brown lesions on the leaves and near the base of the plant. The stem may become girdled by the pathogen and die. Fruit skins may develop water-soaked areas that shrivel and turn black.
To prevent this devastating pepper blight, ensure proper spacing between plants, avoid overhead irrigation, practice crop rotation with non-nightshade crops, and dispose of infected plants right away. Sanitize your gloves and tools after handling infected plants.
‘Jimmy Nardello’ showcases versatility—enjoy them fresh, pickled, roasted, pureed, or dried for a paprika-like seasoning.
‘Jimmy Nardello’ peppers are most popular for pan frying, but they can also be eaten fresh, pickled, roasted, and pureed into sauces and soups. The peppers are traditionally strung up and powdered for a dried paprika-like seasoning.
Frequently Asked Questions
It takes approximately 80 days from seeding for ‘Jimmy Nardello’ plants to begin ripening their fruits. The delightful fruity flavor of these curvy peppers fully develops once the slender fruits reach 6 to 9 inches long and transform from green to red.
This Italian heirloom pepper has a uniquely sweet, fruity, crisp flavor when enjoyed raw straight off the plant. In cooked dishes, the frying pepper is savory-sweet, mild, and adaptable to a range of different cuisines. The peppers are not spicy or hot like their cayenne doppelgangers.
Growing this unique heirloom isn’t much different from other peppers, but it rewards you with impeccably delicious and abundant yields of slender red peppers. Remember to plant ‘Jimmy Nardellos’ in full sunshine, provide regular water, and ensure rich, fertile soil to support their prolific fruit production. In areas with high winds or stormy summers, stake the plants to prevent them from toppling over from the weight of all their fruit.