Jalapeño, Serrano, Cayenne, Tabasco, Habanero, Ghost! If you love spicy food, then you are likely a big fan of chili peppers. Chili peppers are versatile and can enhance the flavor of many dishes, and homegrown peppers are even more delicious because they are grown with your own hands.
Before planting chili peppers in your garden, there are some things you should know. Read on to see 15 tips that will take your chili pepper growing skills from lukewarm to blazing hot!
How to Prepare the Growing Site
To have success with planting your peppers, you must first prepare the growing site. If planting in the ground, choose an area that receives plenty of sunlight with quality soil that has good drainage. Start by adding in some organic compost to the earth to make it more fertile. Plants should be spaced about 18 to 36 inches apart, with 2 to 3 feet between rows.
Chili peppers can also be successfully grown in pots, either indoors or outdoors. Your pot should have good drainage to avoid waterlogging your plants. A 5-gallon pot should be sufficient for solo plants. For best results, place your plant in a warm spot that is protected from the wind and gets about six or more hours of sunlight.
Picking the Right Species of Peppers for the Climate
While chili peppers love warm to hot climates, they can also thrive in colder climates, if planted at the correct time. To make the best of your growing season in colder climates or higher altitudes, select early-maturing varieties of chili peppers and plant early.
If it is still freezing when you are ready to plant your peppers, it is best to start indoors and plant your seeds in containers. It is also recommended to choose species that are early maturing, meaning they don’t take as long to grow and fruit. Some of the best choices are the Yellow Wax Hot, Jalapeño, Long Red Cayenne, and Super Chili.
Planting During the Right Month
The best month to plant your chili pepper depends on your climate. Many gardeners begin their growing indoors and then transplant the pepper plants to their preferred outdoors site once the soil has warmed up. To see a personalized schedule of what months are best to sow indoors, sow outdoors, and harvest your peppers, check out this Planting and Harvesting Calendar.
If you are based in the Northern Hemisphere, you might consider starting your pepper plants indoors in either January or February. You want to give yourself between eight to ten weeks between sowing your seeds and transplanting it to its final pot. If you live somewhere that has warm temperatures year-round, then you can start planting your seedlings at any time during the year. And if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, your best bet is to start planting your pepper plants in August or September.
How to Harden Off Seedlings
Before transplanting your seedlings, it is essential to harden them off so that they can withstand the outdoor elements and not succumb to transplant shock. Gradually exposing your plant to sunlight is the best way to harden your seedlings.
First, start off by putting your seedlings out on an overcast day for 1-2 hours. You can also start by putting them in the shade for up to 2 hours. You want to work up to a full day of sunlight over the course of about seven days. Seedlings should still be protected from other elements, such as heavy rain or strong winds, at this time.
After you have worked up to a full day of exposure to sunlight, you will want to leave them outside for a night or two so that they can become accustomed to night conditions.
Despite your best attempts, some plants may still experience severe wilting or become stunted after being transplanted. But by hardening off your seedlings, you will give them a much better chance to thrive in their new home.
Mulch can be a great addition to your garden and can improve your pepper crop. The type of mulch that will be the most beneficial for your plants depends on your climate.
In warm climates, straw and hazelnut shells are the way to go. This type of mulch will allow water to get to your peppers while reducing weed growth. If your area is too hot (daytime temps of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), then you can try white plastic mulch to bring your soil temperature down.
For cool climates, choose plastic mulches to help warm up your soil and keep out weeds. If weeds are an issue, go with black plastic. If raising the temperature is more important in your garden bed, then go with clear plastic.
Soil PH Levels
The pH level of your soil is important as it affects the amount and proportion of nutrients your plant receives. The best soil pH level for your pepper plants depends on the type of pepper you are trying to grow, but in general, peppers do well in loamy soils with a neutral pH between 6 to 8.
The pH levels in soil can affect the availability of plant nutrients. Nutrients are generally more available for plants to absorb in soil that has pH levels between 5.5 to 7. In contrast, nutrients can leach quicker from soils that have pH levels below 5.5.
You can have your soil tested to determine its pH level and receive recommendations on adjusting your soil for maximum plant health.
Picking the Right Fertilizer and Use of Epsom Salts
When choosing the right fertilizer for your pepper plant, it is important to consider what stage of growth your plant is at. Seedlings should be lightly fertilized with a liquid fertilizer with a 5-5-5 (amount of nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium) makeup. Before transplanting, using a 5-10-10 fertilizer in the soil will help increase flower and fruit growth. Mature plants can be side-dressed with a 5-3-3 fertilizer (Fun fact: side dressing is the act of applying fertilizer along the side of your plant or in a circle around the plant).
Many pepper planters swear by Epsom salts to improve the productivity, size, and taste of their peppers. Plants need magnesium and sulfur to thrive, and Epsom salt is hydrated magnesium sulfate. The magnesium helps your plant to take in more nutrients and create chlorophyll, while the sulfur aids growth and resists disease.
Here are four ways you can use Epsom salts for your pepper plants:
- Add Epsom salts to the soil before transplanting or planting seeds.
- Use a mixture of water and Epsom salt in a spray bottle and water the foliage with this mixture once a month.
- Water the plant with a mixture of Epsom salt and water every 3-4 weeks.
- Side-dress the plant with the Epsom salt every 4-5 weeks.
Pinching Off Flowers
Pinching your pepper plant refers to removing unwanted fruits, flowers, flower buds, or leaves from your pepper plant, resulting in a bushier plant with a better yield. Flowers and flower buds take energy from the plant that should be used to develop strong roots and grow leaves.
To pinch off flowers, you can use your thumb and fingernail to pinch the small stem that connects the flower to the larger leaf stem. You should pinch as close to the larger stem as you can. You should also pinch off any buds that develop on your plant in the first three weeks after transplanting, as these will not be fully matured.
Pinching Off Leaves
Leaves should also be pinched off your plant if they show any signs of disease or if they are infested by pests. You should check your plant regularly to prune back these unwanted leaves. Towards the end of the growing season, you can also pinch the ends of the plant’s main stems so that the plant can focus its energy on developing fruit instead of adding new leaves.
Proper Time to Harvest Peppers
When purchasing pepper seeds or plants, there is usually information included on the packaging about the size and color of a mature pepper. Make sure to read this information as it will inform you about when your pepper is ready to be picked. In general, peppers are ready to be harvested 75-90 days after planting.
When peppers are ready to be picked, they come off of the plant very easily. If they do not come off easily, they may need more time to ripen. Another sign to look for is small brown lines on the pepper; this means that the pepper has finished growing and should be picked, no matter its size.
Proper Care During the Plant’s Growth Cycle
To keep your plants healthy as they mature, it is important to be on the lookout for pests and disease. Aphids, flea beetles, leafminers, and thrips are some of the pests that can eat your plants and spread disease. It is important to inspect your plants regularly and remove any pests you find. Common diseases that affect chili peppers are bacterial spots, damping-off, and southern blight.
As soon as you notice any symptoms of pests or disease on your plants, it is important to do research to determine what the issue may be and how best to remedy it. If proper action is not taken quickly, the problem can spread from plant to plant.
Proper Sunlight Levels
Chili peppers thrive in full sun but can also grow in climates that are not as sunny, although they may not be as productive. Your plants should receive a minimum of five hours of direct sunlight per day, with eight to twelve hours being optimal. Artificial lighting can also be used to provide enough light for your plants.
If you live in an extremely hot, sunny climate, then you may need to provide some shade for your pepper plants. While chili peppers do love the heat and sunlight, they can get “sunburned” in the most tropical of climates.
Letting the Peppers Ripen
Different pepper varieties will ripen at different rates, but in general, most pepper varieties should be ripe and ready to harvest between 90 to 150 days after planting. The spicier your pepper, the longer it will take to ripen, so you can expect bell peppers to ripen quicker than Serrano or Habanero peppers.
In general, you should wait for your peppers to reach their full, mature size. When you are sure they have stopped growing, it is probably safe to pick them off the plant. However, if you wait for a few more days, you can see your peppers start to change color, and you might want to wait for that to happen for different flavors Most peppers will ripen when they are green but, if you are patient, you might be rewarded with some sweeter, and spicier peppers! Soon after your Bell or Jalapeño peppers ripens, they will start to change from green to other colors. Red Jalapeños will have a sweeter and spicier taste, while red or orange Bell papers will have a sweeter, fruitier taste, so you it pays to wait!
Ideally, your peppers should be harvested when they are ripe. However, sometimes peppers need to be picked early due to certain circumstances, such as a frost. Here are four methods you can use to ripen unripe peppers:
- Place your peppers on a windowsill in a warm, sunny spot for a few days.
- Store the peppers in a paper bag with a ripe tomato or apple for about a week.
- Leave the peppers attached to the branch and hang them upside down indoors.
- Do nothing- peppers will continue to ripen slowly on their own when kept at room temperature.
How to Store Your Peppers After Picking
Once you have picked your delicious peppers, you do not want them to go to waste, so it is important that you store them properly. Before storing, you typically do not need to wash your peppers, as any residual water can cause them to rot more quickly.
If storing for short term use (2 to 3 weeks), you can store your fresh peppers in the fridge by putting them in a plastic bag in your veggie drawer. The best temperature to store your peppers is at 40-45 degrees Farenheit.
One thing that can affect how long your peppers last is the thickness of the pepper’s wall, or skin. Thicker walled peppers will last longer than thin. For best results, store your peppers whole, rather than sliced, and throw away any peppers that have soft or dark spots.
If you want to keep your peppers for longer, another option is to brine them in a mixture of salt and water and store them in a sealed jar in your refrigerator. This will keep for about a month.
If you have a large harvest and you want to keep your peppers for an extended period of time for up to six months, then you can freeze them. Peppers should be washed and completely dried before freezing. Peppers can be frozen whole, sliced, or in chunks. If slicing, you can leave the seeds and membrane in for more heat, or remove them for less heat.
Overwintering Pepper Plants
Overwintering allows you to keep your chili peppers alive over the winter season, giving you a jump start on the next year’s growing time. To do so, bring your plants inside and inspect and remove any pests, as well as all pepper fruit. You will want to store your plant in a cool and dry location inside, near a window, or a fluorescent lamp for the necessary light.
When overwintering, you should reduce watering to once every three to four weeks, keeping the soil moist but not soaked. After the leaves begin to die, you should prune the branches to a few main Ys. When the winter season is over, move your plant to a brighter and warmer location and increase watering slowing, making sure not to overwater.
Chili pepper plants may need a little extra TLC, but they will be well worth the effort. If you keep these 15 things about growing chili peppers in mind, you will have some delicious, spicy peppers on your table in no time!
Here are Some of my Favorite Gardening Products and Tools
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful for growing some new plants in your home or garden. Here are some products I like that I hope you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, and I am compensated for referring traffic. But in all honesty, these are the exact product that I use or recommend to everyone.
Soil: For high-quality soil, I really like Fox Farm Ocean Forest. I do all my growing in containers and this soil has worked great for me. I like how they use nutrient-rich contents like earthworm castings, bat guano, and composted crab and fish.
Fertilizer: Currently I am using a seaweed-based organic fertilizer call Neptunes Harvest. This is a great milder fertilizer option if you want to use something organic. If you want a more powerful fertilizer, I recommend Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio, lots of people have had great growing success with this product.
Pruning Shears: Pruning shears are one of the most useful gardening tools to have because it’s important to prune your plants to keep them healthy. The pruning shears I recommend are the Gonicc 8’’ pruning shears. I like them because they are built sturdy and work both on bigger and smaller plants, so you don’t need to have multiple pruning shears.
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