Peppers have long been a garden staple, and with the right treatment, growing hot peppers is easy and almost effortless. If you can’t get enough spice in your food, growing your own supply of hot peppers will be a rewarding way to keep your pantry well stocked with zesty flavor.
Peppers originated in the Americas, and have been a popular spice in the region for thousands of years. Columbus is responsible for introducing them to the rest of the world, and in doing so he forever changed the cooking styles of cultures throughout Europe and Asia. Today, hot peppers are grown just about everywhere in the world. With proper care and attention, you can soon produce your own spicy supply.
Start Growing Hot Peppers
When planning out your hot pepper garden, pay careful attention to the spice levels of the varieties you plant. The different types of peppers can vary considerably. If you love spice, it’s smart to plan for about five or six pepper plants per household member.
When and Where Should You Grow Hot Peppers?
You can grow your hot peppers in any well-fertilized garden bed that gets full sun and has good drainage. Raised beds and containers are also great growing choices.
In nature, hot peppers are perennial plants that form small bushes. In colder climates, they are typically grown annually, though some people bring their plants indoors at the end of the season to prolong their lives for the next year.
Understanding Seed Germination for Hot Peppers
It can take a long time for pepper seeds to germinate, so don’t give up hope if you don’t see sprouts right away! It’s not uncommon for some varieties to take six weeks or even longer to germinate if their conditions aren’t optimal, so patience is needed to keep nurturing these seeds until they sprout.
Starting Seeds Indoors
To ensure you have enough time before the beginning of the growing season, start your pepper seeds at least 10-14 weeks before the last frost date. You’ll need to provide plenty of heat and moisture to get them to germinate well.
You can plant your pepper seeds a quarter inch deep into trays or containers filled with a high-quality planting mix. Plant three to four seeds in each container, and keep the soil moist and around 75 degrees F. Give the trays at least 5 hours of sunlight a day to ensure that the hot pepper sprouts grow thick and stocky. A good tip for keeping your soil at the proper temperature is to cover it with a clear plastic lid or Saran wrap. This helps the soil retain heat for a longer time, but be sure to remove the plastic as soon as the seeds sprout, lest you accidentally overheat them.
Once the seedling’s first true leaves appear, they can be transplanted into four-inch pots to give them additional room to grow before being moved outside.
Preparing a Hot Peppers Bed
Hot pepper plants need high-quality soil, complete sun, and good drainage. Different seeds will have different pH level needs, so be sure to read your seed packet carefully to learn the specifics for your varieties. Be careful not to add too much nitrogen to your soil, as excessive amounts will encourage your plants to produce incredible foliage at the cost of actual peppers. It will also cause them to grow too fast, making them spindly and prone to disease.
Raised beds are a great way to grow peppers because they allow you to easily access your plants while ensuring they have high-quality soil that drains well. They also retain more heat than regular garden beds.
Once your pepper plants are four to six inches tall, they are ready to be hardened off. Start by moving them outside for an hour or two at a time, and gradually increase this time until they are fully acclimated to the outside weather, which is usually two to three weeks after the last frost.
For planting, dig holes that are significantly larger than the pepper root system, and place each plant about two feet away from others (less space is needed for dwarf varieties). If your soil is heavy or clay filled, adding a scoop of sand to the bottom of each hole can help with drainage.
As your peppers grow, they can be damaged easily unless they are properly staked up. You can stake them to posts using soft material like old nylons that give the stems the space to grow without damaging them.
Your plants will begin to flower almost immediately after the plants start to form branches, but you will need to remove these flowers for the overall health of the plant. This will encourage it to grow larger fruits later in the season when the plant is stronger and better able to handle the weight.
Growing Hot Peppers in Containers
Hot peppers are the perfect container plant because they thrive in small spaces. Simply plant your transplants into eight-inch pots and keep them well watered and in sunny places. With enough artificial light, peppers can also be grown indoors this way. Hot peppers are the perfect container plant because they thrive in small spaces. Simply plant your transplants into eight-inch pots and keep them well watered and in sunny places. With enough artificial light, peppers can also be grown indoors this way.
If you are lucky enough to live in a climate with a long growing season, you can grow peppers outdoors directly from seed. Wait to plant your seeds until the daytime temperature has reached 70-80 degrees F, and sow your seeds a quarter inch deep, spaced 18 to 24 inches apart, depending on the type you are growing. It’s best to sow three seeds in each spot and then thin them down to the strongest plant once they have their true leaves.
Watering and Mulching Requirements
To stay healthy, your hot pepper plants will need plenty of water throughout the entire growing season, but keep in mind that any waterlogged soil can cause their roots to rot. Inconsistent watering can also cause the flowers to fall off hot pepper plants, preventing them from fruiting. For this reason, it’s best to provide your pepper plants with high-quality mulch that will work to retain a level of moisture while also absorbing any excess that comes in the bed.
Feel free to fertilize your plants throughout the growing season, but be careful not to apply too much nitrogen as it can cause plants to grow lush green leaves at the cost of producing fruit. Also, keep your hot pepper bed weeded throughout the year, but be careful to not disturb their shallow roots.
Companion Planting and Rotation Considerations
Hot peppers have lots of plant friends. You can grow them successfully next to parsley, carrots, tomatoes, beets, garlic, radishes and basil, but keep them far away from kohlrabi and fennel as they will cause them to grow slowly. Also, be sure to keep your hot peppers away from a place that grew tomatoes or eggplants the year before, because all three species are in the nightshade family and all attract the same diseases.
Common Pests and Diseases for Hot Peppers
Peppers tend to be a robust species in the plant world, and pests and diseases that attack other members of the nightshade family often leave hot peppers alone. However, they can occasionally affect pepper plants as well, which is why it’s always a good idea to take precautions when growing them.
Here are some of the most common pests and diseases that you should be aware of.
- Anthracnose: sometimes called ripe fruit rot, this disease pathogen is spread by splashes of rain that get on the plants during warm weather. Water soaked spots will first show up on the hot peppers, which will quickly spread to darker spots that cause the fruit to rot. To avoid damage, you can grow fungus-resistant varieties or treat your plants with neem oil.
- Bacterial Wilt: Warm weather and wet soil leave your hot peppers susceptible to this bacterial infection which turns the leaves of your plants yellow and reduces the amount of energy the plants put into growing fruit. This disease is most prevalent in humid, tropical areas, so if you live in the northern United States you should have less to worry about.
- Aphids: These small insects love nothing more than snacking on the juicy leaves of your pepper plants, and if you get a big enough invasion they can suck the stems dry or transmit a virus to your weakened plants. Natural predators like ladybugs are a great way to keep aphid populations in check, and growing resistant pepper varieties can also make a big difference.
- Thrips: These pesky orange insects want to feed on your hot pepper leaves, causing them to curl inwards and weaken. Because they tend to move from nearby foliage to your plants, keeping the nearby weeds trimmed down will help to keep the population in check.
Harvesting and Storing Hot Peppers
Harvesting your hot peppers is straightforward. Peppers tend to have the best taste when they are harvested slightly before they peak, as overripe peppers spoil quickly. However, a careful balance needs to be set. Frequently harvesting your hot peppers at an early stage causes the plant to produce more, but it also prevents you from enjoying peak flavor.
The majority of hot peppers should be ready within 70 to 85 days of growth, but some varieties take longer. Harvest your peppers during dry weather by cutting the fruit from the stem with a knife. Don’t pull or twist your peppers off as this can lead to damage to the plant.
Note: The spice content in hot peppers can be damaging to your skin if you have too much contact. Avoid rubbing your eyes when harvesting them and consider wearing gloves to protect yourself farther.
Hot peppers taste best when eaten the same day they are picked, but you can also let them ripen farther by allowing them to sit on the kitchen counter for a few days. Because they are a warm-weather fruit, peppers don’t store well in refrigerators and tend to rot in plastic bags. If you find yourself with too many peppers, consider these storage tips instead.
- Freezing: Hot peppers will soften when thawed, but the flavor will remain, making them a great addition to soups and sauces. Simple freeze cut up peppers on a cookie sheet and repack them into Ziploc bags.
- Pickling: You can pressure can pickled peppers with your own unique mix of flavors for a fun pizza topping or spicy mid-winter treat.
- Drying: drying helps peppers to retain their color and flavors and tends to work best with smaller, thin-walled varieties. Simply use a food dehydrator or your oven turned on low.
Saving Hot Peppers Seeds
Saving hot pepper seeds is easy if you plan ahead. Be sure to isolate some of your plants so that they can’t pollinate with a different variety, and pick your pepper fruits when they reach maturity. Let them dry in a well-ventilated place, and pull out the seeds once the pepper has turned brown and shriveled. Store your seeds in a cool dark place and they should last for two to five years.
Choosing the Best Hot Peppers Seeds for Your Conditions
The type of hot peppers that you choose to grow depends mostly on your tolerance for spice and the amount of space that you have available. Most peppers are rated by the Scoville scoring system that ranks how much capsaicin is in each pepper.
Some of the best hot pepper varieties to grow for the beginner are:
Additional Growing Tips
There are lots of ways to increase your success in growing peppers. To get started in the right direction you can follow these tips.
- Cover your seed trays early on to encourage your seeds to germinate faster. A plastic dome is best but Saran wrap can work as well.
- Toss some matches into the hole where your pepper plants will get planted. Not only will they love the sulfur, but it will also work as a fungicide and kill any dangerous bacteria.
- Avoid any fertilizer that is high in nitrogen, unless you are more interested in big green leaves than spicy peppers.
- Pepper seedlings thrive with some air circulation, so keep a fan near your seedlings to help circulate the air around them.