If you like your food spicy, you know the secret is a dash of good, hot chili pepper. While chili peppers are known for their love of warm climates, you may still be able to grow them in your own backyard. Learn more about growing chilies and more tips for success.
Growing chilies tips: Find a nice, sunny spot for your chili pepper plants as they love the heat. Mix compost into the soil and regularly fertilize throughout the growing period. Be sure to harvest any chilies before the weather turns cold.
Is it hard to grow chilies?
Chili peppers need the same basic requirements for growing as many other plants, including fertile soil, water, and sunlight. However, chilies like heat so if you have moderate summers or a very short summer growing season, it can be difficult to achieve the desired hotness level in your chilies.
This is because chili peppers will become hotter the longer they are left to grow. Unfortunately, if there is a threat of frost or the weather starts to get really cold, you will need to harvest your chilies, whether they are done growing or not.
Many gardeners will grow chili peppers in a greenhouse or inside their homes to ensure they have enough exposure to higher temperatures. This makes growing chilies harder but not impossible.
How to grow chilies at home
In order to work around cooler spring temperatures, most gardeners will start their chili peppers from seed indoors. This way you can start earlier in the spring as you won’t have to wait until the outside temperatures are warm enough.
Plant your seeds in a seed tray about six to eight weeks before your local last frost date. This should be around March or April.
Chili pepper seeds are tiny so they only need to be covered by about ¼ inch of soil. You should use a seed-starting mix to ensure there are enough nutrients in the soil.
Place your seedlings in a warm, sunny area that isn’t prone to any drafts. While bell peppers only take about seven days to germinate, chili pepper seeds can take longer, so you may need to exercise some patience.
Water your seedlings well as you want the soil to be moist. However, don’t flood your plants as the delicate seedlings won’t survive.
To maximize the growth of your chili pepper seedlings, you may want to transplant them to a larger container once or twice before you transplant them outside. This will allow them more room to grow.
Regular fertilization will also help with seedling growth. Apply an all-purpose seedling fertilizer to the soil every three weeks. Be sure to water well to dilute the fertilizer and help it settle into the soil.
Try not to be too hasty when transplanting your chili pepper seedlings outside. You must wait until the daytime temperatures are consistently above 70 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your local climate is prone to sudden weather changes, resist the urge to transplant your peppers. Instead, move them to a larger pot indoors and wait until early to mid-June before planting outside.
When you do plant your chili peppers, try to bury them so the bottom third of the plant is under the soil. This way, you will encourage more growth and the plant will have access to more nutrients.
Chili pepper plants can look small at the beginning but they will fill out, so space your plants at least 24 inches apart. Peppers of all kinds need lots of nutrients, so more space means less competition for the nutrients currently in the soil.
Chili peppers like soil that is moist but not too wet. Try not to let the soil dry out completely between watering as this can stunt their growth.
If you can, install drip irrigation so you don’t have to worry so much about watering. Timers can also help in the process.
Once your chili pepper plants start to sprout peppers, you can start to ease off on the amount of watering. Don’t let the plants dry out, however, as this will stop the growth.
Less water will actually increase the heat of the chili pepper seeds, so if you love hot chilies, allow the soil to become drier.
Depending on the variety of chili pepper, you will see changes in color. Most start out green and then turn red. If you leave them for even longer, the peppers may turn black.
For optimal heat, harvest your chili peppers when they are at their peak ripeness. This usually means when they are bright red but you should look into the varieties and adjust accordingly.
To harvest chilies, gently twist the stem. They should come right off. You can also use clean, sharp scissors to cut the peppers from the stems.
Even though the real hotness of chili peppers comes from their seeds, you should still wear gloves when harvesting. If a chili skin breaks, you can expose yourself to the juices and this will sting if it is transported to your eyes or any open sores.
How long does it take to grow chilies?
It takes about 75 days for chili pepper to be ready to harvest. While this growing period should be fine for most crops, chili peppers don’t do well in the cold so your growing window will be considerably shorter.
Unless you live in the southern United States, you will need to start your chilies inside. This way, the seedlings can get a head start at growing in a warm, sunny location, even if it is still cold outside.
What is the best way to grow chilies?
For the best results, always start your chili pepper plants inside. This will give you the ability to control the temperature around your chili pepper plants which will result in more consistent growth.
Once the outside temperature reaches 70 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night, you can consider transplanting them outside. Always err on the side of caution, however, and be mindful of windy days which can bring too much cold to your growing area.
Fertilizer is also key when growing chili peppers. Start with loose, fertile soil that has plenty of compost in it.
As your peppers grow, you can add more compost around the plant or add a chemical fertilizer to the soil. Peppers can be heavy feeders so be sure to fertilize before the growth of the chilies for the best results.
Where is the best place to plant chilies?
The more sun, the better. Chili peppers love heat although if it is particularly hot in the summer, you will need to water more frequently so the plants don’t dry out.
Plant your chilies in an area that receives full sun. If the area is partially shaded in the afternoon, that is okay, as it will give the plants some protection.
Another consideration for planting chilies is support. The larger the plant grows, the more chilies it will produce, and this can weigh the whole plant down.
You can use a simple wire tomato cage to add some structure to your chili pepper plants. There are also bamboo options to choose from.
Will chili pepper ripen after picking?
If there is any hint of frost in the air or your weather forecast calls for a dramatic dip in temperature at the end of the growing season, it is better to harvest any remaining chilies. Otherwise, the cold will kill them.
If your chilies aren’t quite ripe, there is a chance they will ripen after you pick them. In fact, many peppers will continue to slowly ripen for up to two weeks after they are picked.
To speed up the process, place them in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana. As the other fruit ripens, it will produce ethylene, which will in turn ripen the peppers.
What is the Scoville rating
If you are a regular consumer of hot sauces, you may be familiar with the Scoville rating. This was designed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912 to measure just how hot chili peppers are.
While the rating isn’t the most accurate, it has been adapted to demonstrate the different hotness levels of chilies. The baseline for the rating is a sweet bell pepper, which ranks at 0 Scoville heat units (SHU). For comparison, the common jalapeno pepper comes in at 2500 SHU. Meanwhile, a habanero pepper ranks at 350,000 SHU.
Nowadays, the Scoville measurement isn’t used as much although it still has its place in the culinary lexicon. It’s important to note, however, the same varieties of pepper can rank at a different hotness level depending on how it was grown and how long it was allowed to mature.
Heat lovers rejoice; it is possible to grow chilies in your own backyard. As long as you keep the seedlings inside early in the season and wait until the weather warms up, you can have an abundance of chili peppers to tantalize your taste buds.