How To Grow Hot Peppers: A Complete Guide


Growing hot peppers is an art form but one that is not out of reach for beginners. With so many hot pepper varieties, it can be easy to get lost in what works best. There are different ways to grow hot peppers, both indoors and outdoors. Sometimes, starting a hot pepper garden requires a little bit of help.

To grow hot peppers, plant seeds in trays and allow them to grow indoors for 40-60 days, before transplanting. After transplanting, make sure to weed and water daily. Fertilize 1 or 2 times per growing season and mulch as needed. Harvest the hot peppers between 65-100 days after first planting.

Whether you are starting your pepper from seed or plant, this article has essential gardening tips, as well as best practices for fertilizing, pruning, and caring for your hot pepper plants. This complete guide will help you learn all about hot peppers and the growing practices that will get you the best yield.

What Are the Easiest Hot Peppers to Grow?

Sometimes it can be hard to decide which hot peppers you should grow. The choice often depends on what you plan to cook and how spicy you like your dishes. Knowing how fast you can harvest your peppers can also help you choose the best pepper for you.

The following chart gives details about seven different hot peppers with facts to help you determine which one is best for your garden:

Type of PepperShort DescriptionDays to MaturityColorScoville Rating
JalapeñoEasiest to growLook for “early” seeds for fastest-growing hot peppers  65 to 75 daysMost Jalapeño peppers grow green and will turn red as they age.  2,500 to 8,000
PoblanoMildest hot pepperThe dried version is called “ancho”75 daysPoblano peppers have a dark green color that turns red as they age.  1,000 to 2,000
TabascoA hot and smoky flavor  75 daysTabasco peppers come in yellow, orange, and red varieties.Less than 100,000
CayenneGreat space saver in the gardenHigh producer75 to 90 daysRed varieties are most common.50,000 to 100,000
HabaneroSlightly sweet flavor80 to 100 daysHabanero plants produce small orange hot peppers.100,000 to 350,000
AnaheimLong and skinny varietyAnother mild option  80 to 100 daysGenerally, Anaheim peppers are green in color, but some may grow to be red.  1,000 to 1,400
Thai ChiliGreat ornamental, indoor plant  75 daysSmall, red hot peppersAround 100,000

No matter what variety of hot pepper you choose, it is sure to add flavor and freshness to any dish. All of the above peppers can be started from seeds. Many home improvement stores and gardening centers will carry seedlings that can be planted directly into containers and transplanted into your garden. 

How Much Sun Do Pepper Plants Need?

All hot peppers prefer full sun for growing, so be sure to modify your garden and outdoor space as needed to accommodate your new hot pepper plants. If you don’t have access to full sunlight, some peppers do fine in partial sun, but you would be taking a chance. All other conditions would have to be perfect for these partially-sunlit peppers to grow.

If you are growing your peppers indoors and don’t have access to a south-facing window, purchase a grow light. These can be set on a timer to mimic the natural sunlight plants need to thrive.

How Much Water Do Pepper Plants Need?

Hot pepper seeds require warmth and humidity. Keep the trays damp by watering two to three times per day. Your trays will require less water if you are using a covered tray.

Once in the garden, hot pepper plants will require daily watering. Water your garden multiple times a day if temperatures are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Water in the early morning and dusk to avoid the sun scorching your hot pepper plant’s leaves. Be careful not to over water your peppers. Before watering, check to see if the soil is damp. If it is, you can probably skip watering your plant, until it gets dry.

How to Grow Hot Peppers Indoors?

The best indoor pepper plants are smaller, ornamental ones. However, with the right amount of space and the proper conditions, any size hot pepper plant can thrive inside year-round.

Follow these steps when growing your hot pepper plants indoors:

  1. Turn your hot pepper pots. If your hot pepper plant is sitting by a window, you will want to occasionally turn the pot so the plant grows straight. If you are using a grow light, skip this step.
  2. Keep the temperature in mind. Peppers thrive in temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If they are positioned near a drafty window, you may want to move them away from the window on chilly nights.
  3. Water often, but not too frequently. The soil will dry out between waterings, and you can quickly check by sticking your finger down into the soil. Depending on your home’s humidity and temperature, you should be watering your plants a few times a week.
  4. Fertilize as needed. Fertilize your indoor plant after it has flowered. A balanced fertilizer is great for houseplants.

Which Hot Peppers Are Easiest to Grow In Pots?

Any hot pepper can grow in a pot. The easiest ones to grow in pots, however, are the smaller varieties. They don’t grow too tall and won’t require a trellis to support them. Jalapeños, Poblanos, and Tabasco hot peppers all grow great in pots.

Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)
Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)

How to Grow Hot Peppers in A Pot?

If growing your peppers in a pot, start with sowing the seeds directly into your pot. You will want to start with a smaller pot, about two to four inches across. As your pepper plant grows, you should transplant it into a larger pot so that it will flourish.

The following is a list of steps to get you started when growing hot pepper plants in a pot:

  1. Start your seeds. Plant your seeds directly into the soil. Follow package directions for how deep to sow the seeds.
  2. Watch the temperature. Keep your seeds in a warm place and make sure they are damp but not soaked. You may want a grow light to give them enough light.
  3. Fertilize your soil. Add fertilizer to the soil before you transplant your hot pepper plants to a bigger pot.
  4. Pinch the first flowers. Pinching the first flowers allows the plant to focus on getting taller and stronger before producing fruit.

Some of the prettiest peppers to grow in containers are NuMex Twilight and Bolivian Rainbow pepper varieties. These peppers grow to be red, orange, yellow, and purple! These types of hot peppers are smaller varieties that can grow well in a smaller setting.

How to Grow Hot Peppers in a Garden?

Growing peppers in a garden is not too different from growing peppers in pots. In fact, you can follow steps one through four above to get started. Additionally, two other steps to keep in mind are:

  1. Water frequently. If your peppers are planted in the ground, they will not require as much water as plants in a raised bed or container. The ground retains water much better than a container or a raised bed.
  2. Fertilize as needed. Fertilize your outdoor plant after it has flowered. A 5-10-10 fertilizer works well, but it may help to have your soil tested before adding more fertilizer.

The last step in growing your hot peppers is harvesting them. Whether you grow them indoors or outdoors, choosing when to harvest your peppers is an important step to ensure peak freshness and heat.

The next sections cover gardening tips and best practices for growing hot peppers. Keep reading to learn about soil additives, fertilizers, and general care for your hot pepper plant.

How to Fertilize Hot Pepper Plants?

Hot pepper plants only need to be fertilized once or twice a season. If you over-fertilize, your plants will be just as unhappy as when they are under-fertilized, so you must find the right balance.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when fertilizing hot pepper plants:

  • Test your soil for minerals and nutrients and adjust the pH level as needed to find the perfect balance.
  • Use a 5-10-10 fertilizer for most gardens and 10-10-10 for indoor plants. Epsom salt and coffee grounds are great DIY options.
  • Add fertilizer to the soil before transplanting your peppers.
  • Add the fertilizer around the base of each plant as needed throughout the season to encourage fruit production.
  • Mulch over-fertilized soil to prevent it evaporating or washing away during a rainstorm or the next watering.

How to Care for Pepper Plants?

Hot peppers require a delicate balance of care. If they receive too much or too few nutrients, sunlight, water, or the weather is not right, your hot peppers may turn out to be milder than you expected.

Monitor not only the soil and the weather, but the leaves and plant itself to inspect for diseases or other pests. These may be detracting from the plant, causing milder peppers. If you do end up with milder peppers than suits your tastes, you can dry them. Drying hot peppers will actually increase the spiciness of them as all the water is evaporated out!

What Type of Soil Should I Use for Pepper Plants?

The soil you use to grow hot peppers should meet three qualifications. The soil used to grow hot peppers should be sandy loam, have a neutral pH, and be well-draining. With all three of those parameters met, you are well on your way to having some beautiful hot peppers in a few months.

Should You Add Coffee Grounds to Your Soil?

Coffee grounds are a good alternative to fertilizer and can help increase the soil’s nitrogen levels. As with other fertilizers, coffee grounds should be used sparingly.

The increased nitrogen helps protect your plants from sun-scald. But if you apply too much coffee grounds, your plant might grow really well, but not produce as many peppers. If you notice this happening, it’s best to stop adding coffee grounds, and might be worth adding potassium and phosphorus to the soil to encourage fruit production.

Should You Add Epsom Salt to Your Soil?

You can also add Epsom salt to your soil as a DIY fertilizer. Adding Epsom salt to the soil will help it produce larger hot pepper yields. Adding Epsom salt to the soil can have different outcomes depending on when you add it to the soil.

Epsom salt is a simple additive that can increase magnesium and sulfur levels in your soil. Many soils lack these essential nutrients, which can lead to small, yellowing plants with slow-maturing fruits. Additionally, blossom end rot, a disease that can be common among pepper plants, is prevented when you add Epsom salt to the soil.

When you add Epsom salt early in the season, you will see the following improvements:

  • Germination is strong and healthy
  • Root and cell development increases
  • Photosynthesis improves
  • Overall plant growth is aided

How and When to Add Epsom Salt to the Soil

Add one to two tablespoons to the soil that will fall directly below the plant’s roots before placing your seedlings in the garden.

When you add Epsom salt later in the season, it’s best to administer it as a spray mixed with water. Two tablespoons of Epsom salt in one gallon of water dissolved and sprayed on to your hot pepper plants’ leaves will keep the plant looking full and green.

What Type of Fertilizer Should I Use for Pepper Plants?

The best fertilizer for hot pepper plants is a 5-10-10 fertilizer for outdoor plants and a 10-10-10 fertilizer for indoor plants. You do not need to fertilize your hot pepper plants more than once or twice during the growing season.

If you over-fertilize, you may see an abundance of growth but no fruit production. Keep this in mind as you can’t remove fertilizers once they have been incorporated into the soil.

How Do I Protect My Pepper Plants from Pests?

Sometimes diseases and pests can stress a hot pepper plant so much that it does not produce the highest quality fruit. Neem oil is a natural insecticide that is not harmful to humans or animals. It will also not kill the more beneficial insects like bees or butterflies, which are excellent pollinators.

There are a few pests that are common among hot pepper plants:

  • Mites
  • Aphids
  • Psyllids

Spray your plants with neem oil about once a week in the evenings, when the sun will not scorch the leaves, and the plant will be able to absorb it most effectively. As a bonus, neem oil also acts as a fungicide, and can help prevent fungi and mildew. Powdery mildew is commonly found on the leaves of hot pepper plants, but neem oil will quickly destroy it and keep it from returning when applied regularly.

Check the Leaves to Know If Your Hot Pepper Plants Have Enough Water

Over- and under-watering can result in disfigured or discolored leaves. For this reason, it is vital to keep a close eye on your plants and monitor the amount of water they get from day to day or week to week. If water levels are impacted drastically, this can harm your hot pepper’s flavor. 

If your hot pepper plant is under-watered, you will see droopy leaves, but the plant’s color is not impacted. This is simply remedied by changing the times when you water and possibly increasing the frequency of waterings. It is best to water your garden in the morning or evening when the sun is less severe.

Increase how often you water your hot pepper plants if you notice drooping leaves occurring around noon each day. If your plant is potted, moving it to a larger pot with more soil and more surface area to soak up water can help.

If your hot pepper plant’s leaves are yellow and droopy, this likely means you are overwatering your garden. If this is the case, make sure your soil drains well and reduce the frequency of waterings. Usually, you want to wait until the soil is dried out before watering the garden again.

Do My Indoor Hot Pepper Plants Need to Be Pollinated?

Hot pepper plants are self-pollinating, so you should not have to worry about pollination for your indoor or outdoor pepper plants. However, if the soil does not have the right nutrients or temperatures get too high, you may want to hand-pollinate.

How to Hand-Pollinate Your Hot Pepper Plants

During times of high-stress, pollination is inhibited and will thus diminish yields. This is an important consideration for both indoor and outdoor plants. When your hot pepper plants are under stress, it is a good idea to hand-pollinate your plants, which helps ensure pepper growth.

The following steps can be used to hand pollinate your indoor or outdoor hot pepper plants:

  1. Choose the right time. Hot pepper plants produce the most pollen between noon and 3 PM, so pollination during this time will be easiest.
  2. Gather your supplies. For hand-pollination, all you need is a tiny paintbrush or cotton swab and some water. Start hand-pollinating without water and add it if pollen grains are not sticking to your brush or swab.
  3. Be gentle. Swab or brush at the inside of the flower to gather pollen on to the swab or brush. These are delicate flowers, so take your time and be gentle.
  4. Complete the pollination. Make sure you then take the pollen you have on the brush or swab and rub it on to the end of the flower’s stigma. The stigma is usually in the center of the flower, and it is the larger projection within the flower.

Hot pepper plants are naturally self-pollinating and only have one type of flower, as opposed to other plants which can have female and male flowers. This makes them a really easy option to grow as an indoor plant because they do not require any pollinators to bear fruit.

How to Know When to Harvest Your Hot Peppers

Hot peppers are ready for harvest when the fruit is firm. Many times, hot peppers are harvested before they reach full maturity. The hot pepper will reach full maturity when its color has fully changed.

The following list gives you specific indicators for when to harvest hot peppers:

  • Calendar dates: Mark your calendar when you plant seeds to estimate when they will be mature based on the seed or plant manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Appearance of the fruit: All peppers start green. At full maturity, they will change color.
  • Firmness: As long as the hot pepper is firm, it is ready to eat. If it becomes withered on the plant or the counter, it will no longer taste as fresh as other less wilted hot peppers. Use when you first notice wilting or discard in your compost bin.

Options for Harvesting Hot Peppers

You have two options when it comes to harvesting your hot peppers. You have to decide if you want to sacrifice flavor for more peppers or harvest fewer peppers with maximum heat. Generally speaking, the longer the pepper is on the plant, the hotter it will be. You can play around with how quickly you harvest your hot peppers to get your desired spiciness.

There are two options for you to consider when it comes to harvesting your hot peppers:

  • For increased yield: Harvesting your hot peppers when they are firm but immature will increase the number of peppers that will grow on your plant.
  • For increased flavor: Harvesting your hot peppers when they are fully mature will ensure maximum heat and flavor, but you will not get as many peppers per plant. Some of the milder varieties of hot peppers get sweeter as they age on the plant.

When a frost is forecasted at the end of the outdoor growing season, it is time to harvest all the peppers on the plant. At this point, you can either let your plant die, or transplant it into a container and bring them indoors. Then, you can continue to harvest hot peppers every season, as long as you care for your plant.

The following two steps make harvesting hot peppers simple:

  1. Grab your gloves. Always wear your gardening gloves when handling hot peppers. These peppers naturally produce oils that can easily irritate our skin, eyes, and mucous membranes.
  2. Grab your knife or shears. Using a gardening knife or shears can help prevent damaging the plant. Trim the fruit off the plant gently and make sure to leave a small stem on the fruit.

What’s the Right Way to Store Hot Peppers?

Your hot peppers will be fine in a bowl on the counter but will last longer in the fridge. If your hot pepper was picked when it was turning color, it will continue to change color for three days when ripened at room temperature. If the hot pepper has stayed green, it is fine to eat right from the vine.

Starting Your Hot Pepper Seeds Outdoors: Is Direct Sowing Worth It?

Growing your hot peppers from seed outdoors is not impossible. Because the hot pepper seeds require such diligent care during the germination period, you have almost no control over the weather conditions if you choose to start them outside. This may make growing peppers a bit more challenging, but it is a wonderful gardening experiment if you have space.

This is also easier if you live in warmer, more temperate climates, like the southern United States. You can try it in any climate, but your success rate may be lower.

If you choose to directly sow your hot pepper seeds, protect the seeds. This can be done by covering the soil in which you planted the seeds with row covers or a light tarp to keep the soil warm.

To start, the best options for direct sowing would be hot pepper varieties with shorter growing seasons. The longer a hot pepper takes to mature, the less likely it is to succeed using the direct sow method because of changing weather conditions. 

Closing Thoughts

Hot peppers are easy to grow both indoors and outdoors. There are advantages to keeping them inside, as you have more control of the growing conditions. However, outdoor hot pepper plants can get full sun, which is necessary for good yields.

Once you choose your pepper and plant your seeds, it is mostly a waiting game. Hot peppers do require specific nutrients in the soil and dutiful watering habits to get the best outcomes. There are many hot pepper varieties on the market, and the common ones range from mild to hot to extremely spicy. Remember, the longer a hot pepper stays and matures on the plant, the hotter it will taste, so patience is key!

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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Supriya

Hi! I'm Supriya. I'm a home cook, bulldog mom, spicy food lover, and founder of The Spicy Trio. I have been a home cook for about 15 years and have been growing plants for the past six years.

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