Growing

How to Plant & Grow Chilli Peppers: Complete Guide

Our guide to growing Chillies in your garden - Everything you need to know from planting to caring for your chillies to harvesting and storing
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Once reserved for ethnic dishes and hot sauce, chili peppers have become an extremely popular crop among many home gardeners. Their spicy, yet slightly sweet taste is undeniably delicious and they can be used in an assortment of dishes. There are numerous varieties, and each one is packed with flavor. Plus, their bright coloring adds undeniable interest to any garden.

Growing chili peppers isn’t really hard; even novice gardeners can successfully grow these chillies. In this guide, we’ll share important types that will help to ensure your garden yields an abundance of chili peppers.

An Introduction to Chili Peppers

Before we share how to grow your own chili peppers, we’d like to share some background information about these plants, as we always find that knowing more about a plant helps gardeners develop a great appreciation for them.

A Brief History of Chillies

There isn’t a general consensus regarding the spelling of chili. Chili, with a single “l” and no “e” is usually the accepted way to spell dishes like chili con carne (chili with meat), while Chile with an “e” is the name of a South American country.

However, in regard to the peppers themselves, there are three different spellings and they are interchangeable; chili, chilli, and chile. Whether you use one “l” or two likely depends on what part of the world you live in.

No matter how you spell it, it’s common knowledge that chili peppers are hot; however, the term “hot” is a relative term, as it really depends on your taste buds.

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Some people might find that chillies turn them into fire breathing dragons, while others might find them only mildly hot; additionally, there are several varieties, which can also affect the degree of hotness.

All varieties of chillies can be traced back to a single small wild pepper that grew in Central and South America around 7,000 BC. They were given the moniker “pepper” by Christopher Columbus because the spiciness reminded the explorer of black pepper, which actually isn’t related to chillies at all.

The plants were brought back to Spain on one of Columbus’ ships, where they were well-received and distributed throughout European countries. They made their way to Southeast Asia and the Middle East, as well, where they became a common feature in many recipes of these regions; hence why they are commonly associated with ethnic cuisine.

Chili peppers were a common crop among colonial Americans, but some colonies preferred them more than others. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, two of the nation’s founding fathers, grew a cayenne variety of chili peppers. The regions of the United States where these peppers become most popular were the Southwest, as well as New Orleans and its surrounding areas.

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Types of Chillies

All peppers are a part of the Capsicum genus and five different species are cultivated.

  • Serranos, cayenne, and jalapenos, some of the most commonly grown varieties, are Capsicum annuum.
  • Another popular variety, habaneros, are C. chinense, while many of the hot peppers that are used in Asian dishes are C. Frutescens; tabasco peppers are also a part of this group.
  • The super fiery Aji peppers, including Aji Amarillo and Aji Colorado, are part of the C. baccatum group. Chilipiquins and chiltepins, wild peppers that grow in Mexico, are part of the C. glabriusculum group.

Needless to say, there are several different types of chili peppers. As you can see, their degree of hotness varies, as does their appearance; they come in a wide range of colors. Some of the most common types of chillies that are grown and cultivated by home gardeners include:

  • Cayenne, which are long and thin and have a medium to high level of spiciness.
  • Tabasco, which are point and short and also have a medium to high heat level.
  • Jalapeno, short peppers with a little taper and have a medium to high heat level.
  • Anaheium, a long, tapered pepper that has a medium to mild spiciness.
  • Habanero, short, squat peppers with high heat levels.
  • Ghost peppers, which are short and squat and are considered extremely hot.

Though they are commonly referred to as vegetables, all peppers – including chillies – are actually fruits. Fruits contain seeds and grow from the flower of a plant, which classified peppers as fruits.

Hot Habanero Peppers growing
Hot Habanero Peppers growing

How to Grow Chili Peppers

Now that you have some background information about chili peppers, let’s review some growing tips that will help to yield a healthy bounty of hot peppers that you can use in your favorite recipes.

Growing Chillies

All chili peppers do best when they are planted in warm soil. If you are intending on planting them in the ground, wait until the ambient temperature is higher than 50 degrees F and the threat of frost has passed.

Exposure to cold temperatures can prevent the plants from producing flowers, which can delay production of the fruit.

You can also start your chillies indoors. The earlier their sown, the more time the plants will have to produce healthy fruits by the end of the growing season, which is the end of the summer.

Additionally, the hottest chili peppers have the longest growing period. When starting your plants indoors, start at least 6 to 8 weeks before the average final frost date for your region.

  • Sow the seeds a seed starting topsoil mix and set the seeds about ¼ inch into the soil.
  • Place the newly planted seeds in a warm location, as they like heat.
  • Once the seeds germinate, keep the soil evenly moist and ensure that they stay in a location that receives plenty of light.
  • When the seedlings are large enough to handle without damaging them, you can transplant the plants into a garden; usually around the month of May.

When growing in the ground, make sure to mix in some type of organic compost into the native soil, as doing so will make the soil more fertile, which will increase the health of your plants.

Space your chili pepper plants about 18 to 36 inches apart. There should be about 2 to 3 feet between rows. Once the plants reach full maturity, they will be approximately 3 feet tall.

Beautiful red chillies growing
Beautiful red chillies growing

Where to Grow Chili Peppers

Choose a location that receives ample sunlight. Chillies like a lot of light and warmth. While they can tolerate some degree of shade, they will do their best when they are exposed to direct sunlight and in warm locations. The ideal temperature for chillies is between 80 to 85 degrees F.

How to Water Chillies

Chillies like evenly moist, well-drained soil. Chili peppers like water as much as the like the sun and heat, so it’s important to keep the soil wet; however, avoid overwatering, as too much water can drown the plants, so take care to avoid excessive watering.

When the peppers star to grow, you can reduce the amount of water you give them, but you should never let the soil dry out completely.

Feeding Chili Peppers

In order to get the healthiest peppers, your plants will need to be fertilized. A commercially produced tomato fertilizer will work well for chili pepper plants, as will compost and manure that is well-rotted.

A decent 5-10-10 fertilizer will usually suffice for chillies. Work the fertilizer into the soil before you transplant your chillies, mixing about 3 pounds of fertilizer per 100 square feet of soil.

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Disease and Pets that Affect Chili Pepper Plants

Unfortunately, there are several types of diseases and pests that can affect chili pepper plants. Blossom end rot is one type of disease that can affect chillies that occurs when calcium levels are low or as a result of irregular watering and high temperatures.

Root-knot is another disease that can affect these plants. As the name suggests, the roots of the plants become knotted, which leads to nutritional deficiencies and wilting.

Pests that can infect chili pepper plants include aphids, thrips, leafhoppers, and whiteflies. These pests eat away at the plants and can spread viruses to them that can cause extensive damage.

Aphids can be found on the underside of newly developed leaves and can cause spotting. Leafhoppers can also cause spotting. Whiteflies have a similar impact on chili pepper plants as aphids and can reduce the growth of the plants.

Keep an eye on your chili pepper plants. If you notice pests, remove them as quickly as possible. Heavily infected plants will need to be completely removed from your garden, as they can infect the rest of your crop.

Harvesting Chili Peppers

Chillies are usually ready to harvest in July. The more peppers you pick, the more peppers your plant will produce. You can pick your chillies when they are green and have a milder flavor, or you can wait until they turn a reddish color and have a stronger taste and hotter flavor.

The Best part - harvesting your chilli peppers!
The Best part – harvesting your chilli peppers!

Conclusion

If you love the flavor and spiciness of chili peppers, you might want to consider adding them to your garden. By following the above-mentioned tips, you can successfully cultivate your own, homegrown chillies.

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Hollie Carter

Hollie is a life-long gardener, having started helping her Dad work on their yard when she was just 5. Since then she has gone on to develop a passion for growing vegetables & fruit in her garden. She has an affinity with nature and loves to share her knowledge gained over a lifetime with readers online. Hollie has written for a number of publications and is now the resident garden blogger here at GardenBeast. Contact her at hollie@gardenbeast.com or follow on twitter https://twitter.com/greenholliec

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