Le Poivrier du Sichuan (Zanthoxylum piperitum), is a thorny shrub deciduous native to Asia which belongs to the same family as citrus fruits, namely the Rutaceae. It is incorrectly called Sishuan pepper or sanshō pepper. Its fruit is not a real pepper, at least botanically. Easy to growit deserves a place of choice in the garden on the one hand for its ornamental assets, on the other hand for its small red berries much appreciated. They are used in cooking, whole or crushed, to enhance many dishes thanks to their powerful flavor. Let’s see together how to plant and maintain the Sichuan pepper tree and when to harvest this non-spicy pseudo pepper.
Planter un Poivrier de Sichuan
spring and autumn are the two periods of the year conducive to planting Sichuan Pepper. It can be grown in the ground or in a large pot placed outside. But pot culture should only last 3 or 4 years. Beyond that, the shrub must be planted in the garden so that its root system has enough room to spread out.
The planting of the Sichuan pepper tree takes place as follows:
- Dig a hole of at least 40 x 40 cm,
- Put a basic fertilizer or two shovelfuls of decomposed manure then a little topsoil,
- Place the shrub in the center of the hole so that the collar is flush with ground level as it should not be buried,
- fill in the hole,
- Tamp down,
- Water very generously.
For a container culture, we choose a full container drilled 50 cm in diameter and depth.
Cultiver un Poivrier de Sichuan
This shrub tolerates any type of soil provided it is well drained et fertile enough. He enjoys an exhibition semi-shaded to sunny.
From one great hardinessthe Sichuan pepper plant is capable of withstanding temperatures of the order of -22°C. However, beware of the late frosts that rage during the spring because it may be hardy, it is its young shoots of the year and the flower buds that are very likely not to appreciate these cold snaps. It is prudent to protect young subjects with a wintering veil from -5°C. It is considered that the shrub gains in hardiness when it reaches the age of 5 years.
It is used alone, in a group or as an absolutely impenetrable defensive hedge. It lends itself perfectly to topiary art and can be pruned into bonsai. Note that some varieties have red foliage and are unarmed – that is to say devoid of thorns – which allows them to be installed without any risk near places of passage such as at the edge of an alley or on the lawn…
Caring for the Sichuan Pepper Plant
This easy-going shrub is perfect for home gardeners.
During the first year after planting, the shrub needsvery copious watering. Once it is perfectly rooted, watering is no longer necessary except in the event of severe drought. The Sichuan Pepper plant in pots or trays must benefit from sustained watering during the summer or if it does not rain enough during the vegetation period.
It is possible to prune a Sichuan pepper plant, shrub with very dense branches, to keep only a single trunk and give it the appearance of a small tree rather than that of a bush. This makes it possible to bring a very decorative note to the garden.
The winter pruning takes place after harvesting the berries. It is necessary on the Sichuan Pepper plant aged 3 years and over since it helps aerate the heart of the shrub. As a result, access to the center of the crown is easier, because let’s not forget that its thorns are extremely sharp. Care must be taken to keep a few branches of the year because the buttons appear on the wood of 1 year.
For specimens grown in pots, it is recommended to carry out a size in green in order to limit the risks of leaf transpiration. This means that the crown must be thinned before the berries are harvested (ie in June) and sufficient leaves must be removed.
Any Sichuan pepper plant can be headless about 2 m if its growth is a little too fast and it is very useful to remove the lowest branches because they make weeding difficult at the foot of the shrub.
It is above all during the two or three years following its planting that it is necessary to protect the young Sichuan pepper tree against the heavy late frosts which rage in some of our regions.
Pests and diseases
With the exception of a few aphids likely to settle on young subjects and gastropods (snails and slugs) fond of its very tender young leaves, the Sichuan Pepper plant is not sensitive to any particular parasite. He is equally disease resistant as long as it benefits from good growing conditions.
Harvest the red berries of the Sichuan Pepper tree
After flowering which blooms from April to June, this shrub produces red berries with a very particular taste appreciated by gourmets. To obtain good fruiting, it is recommended to plant either two to three feet monoeciousi.e. a male foot and a female foot.
It is absolutely essential to wear thick gloves and covering clothes to carry out the harvest because its thorns are formidable. The time for picking has come when the berries are black. However, it is quite possible to carry out a summer harvest, when the fruits are still green, because their flavor is particularly delicate.
We collect the clusters using a pruner. You then have to move on to the step of survey which consists of separating the shells from the seeds. As an indication, note that 3 kg of raw berries make it possible to obtain more or less 1 kg of “pepper”.
There are a thousand ways to use Sichuan Pepper berries, ground or whole, and we can take inspiration from Asian wok cooking in particular. It is also quite possible to keep raw seeds, that is to say not stripped of their shell: placed in cheesecloth, these whole fruits must be incorporated into a court bouillon when only a quarter of the cooking time remains to be carried out. This makes it possible to subtly flavor sauces, vegetables, fish or meat.
Photo credit: Didier Descouens