Since hot chili peppers (chilli pepper, chile pepper, chilli, or chile) are highly productive Mexico native plants, they are perfect for growing in the garden. Except for tasting excellent, they are amazing thanks to their color-changing properties. They commonly start green and change into yellow, orange, purple, or red variations over time. Some of them may change even their flavor from mild-tasting while they are green to spicy when becoming red.
They prefer warmth and thrive best during the warm growing season. You can start sowing seedlings a couple of weeks after the last frost, but you should remove them indoors during the cold nights. That way, you will have an enjoyable experience throughout a year.
Interesting History of Chili Peppers
Many centuries ago, people grew chili peppers extensively in Mexico as well as in Central and South America.
Columbus brought this fantastic plant to Europe, but they spread all over Asia and Africa fast. Surprisingly, the early colonists were the ones who brought peppers to North America, and so they closed the circle.
What Makes Chili Peppers Spicy
The spiciness of chili peppers comes from the capsaicin, chemical compound which stimulates chemoreceptor nerve endings. The higher level of capsaicin will increase the level your chili is hot.
Believe it or not, but it is possible to measure the heat of every hot pepper in Scoville units. Well, in the early 1900s an Englishman Wilbur Scoville was the first who measured heat in peppers. The fact is that their heat may incredibly vary.
For example, bell (sweet) pepper is a mild-flavored plant, and it is rated 0 to 100 on the Scoville scale. The hottest habanero is rated between 100,000 to unbelievable 300,000 on the scale! Therefore, to avoid unpleasant surprises, you should pick the peppers suit you the most.
Best chili varieties
Summer Heat (Jalapeno)
Chili Pepper Heat-wave
blow up the scale
Also, you should know that your chili peppers won’t be too hot if you pick them young. They will become much hotter over time, and you can expect the characteristic chili flavor when they fully ripen. However, picking off some immature, but eatable peppers will stimulate abundant production.
How to Plant Chili Pepper in Your Garden
Chili peppers are a bit weird for planting, and they grow by their rules. That means that regulations which work for other veggies won’t necessarily work for your hot peppers. However, once they germinate, you may consider the most challenging part finished.
Avoid sowing chili peppers’ seeds if you are a novice in gardening or you live in the north of the country. Only those who live in the Deep South and enjoy long growing seasons should try to sow chili pepper seeds directly in their gardens.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have such a privilege. If this applies to you, you need to start your hot plants indoors. After approximately eight to ten weeks, which means about two to three weeks after the last frost, you can transplant seedlings to your garden.
Most of the seeds will sprout in a week if the temperatures are 70 to 80 F (21 – 26.7 C), but you should know that the exact moment of germination will depend on the variety you have chosen.
To speed up the germination of your chili peppers, you should ‘trick’ seeds and recreate a moist, rainforest-like environment. Put seeds between moistened sheets of paper towel and wrap them in a plastic bag.
Let some air inside the bag to provide enough oxygen for seeds and keep the bag in some warm place until the seeds sprout. It is ideal if you can provide the temperatures of 85 F (29.5 C) for your seeds. Since it is a closed system, there is usually no need extra watering, but you should take care to prevent drying out of the paper towel.
At the moment when you seeds germinate after 14 to 30 days on average, you need to sow them in pots carefully. Then, just wait for the development of the first ‘true’ leaves, and move your delicate seedlings to a sunny southern window.
You can transplant young plants into your garden when the night temperatures are at least 55 to 60 F (13 – 15.5 C). Put them about 0.25 inches (0.6 cm) deep in the ground and take care that the roots are pointed down.
If you feel that is too much for you, there is an option of buying seedlings in the local garden center or ordering them online.
How to Care Hot Peppers
As congenial plants, your chili peppers will enjoy the company of other peppers. So, try to plant these veggies as close together as possible. In general, an ideal range is planting them 12 inches (30.5 cm) apart. That way, the foliage of one mature plant will barely touch the leaves of the neighbor pepper, and peppers will have plenty of space for healthy development.
Since these veggies are insect-pollinated, you should grow just one variety if you want to get exactly the same type of peppers the next year. If you like to take a chance, it is fine, but be prepared that new hybrids may look like the one variety and have the heat of the other.
Prepare the site
When it comes to peppers, an adequate site will make a huge difference in the way how your veggies grow and thrive. Chili peppers prefer the sunny and well-drained place, which means that you need to provide at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day for them.
Choose the part of your garden where you haven’t grown peppers for a few years. Chili peppers prefer slightly acidic soil, and the pH 5.9 – 6.5 will be perfect for them.
The soil needs to be productive, but you always can enrich it with 1 inch (2.5 cm) of compost. However, try to avoid adding too much nitrogen to the ground since it may cause too fast growth of plants, which will make them less productive and susceptible to common disease.
Basically, you should mix compost or continuous-release fertilizer with the soil while planting. Therefore, it is not necessary to add too much fertilizer later. You can only add some liquid plant fertilizer once the seedlings are 2 inches (5 cm) high.
If you over-fertilize the soil, you will get rich foliage but not many hot peppers. Therefore, be careful and use just granite dust, wood ashes, or a manufactured rock powder (Azomite) to enrich the ground where you want to grow chili peppers.
Also, you can spread some chopped leaves and straw as mulch around your veggies, which will help the soil to stay cold and moist.
Try to water your veggies properly immediately after planting, but avoid watering your chili peppers generously after that. It is always better to keep the soil on the dry side as much as possible.
That way, you will encourage the growth of fruits, not the foliage. In average, peppers need about 1 to 2 inches (2.5 – 5 cm) water a week, but some hotter varieties may require more water.
Don’t forget to support each plant to help it with the weight of the mature fruits once your chili peppers begin with production. You can use any stake or even some tomato cages you have already had.
Overwintering Hot Pepper Plants
If you want to keep your superhot pepper plants throughout winter, you should find a way to save them from freezing. Keep in mind that peppers can’t survive temperatures under 32 F (0 C).
Therefore, you can transplant your plants into a bucket of 5 gallons (19 l) after removing fruits and knocking off any pests. Place a pot next to the brightest window, reduce watering, and let plants spend winter in a state of hibernation. After the last frost, you can transplant your peppers back to the garden.
Chili Pepper Harvesting
In general, you can harvest even green peppers, but the real thing is to pick them up when they entirely ripe and change their color from green to yellow, red, or purple. That is the moment when they stop growing and are ready for harvesting. Do that approximately 8 to 10 weeks after transplanting.
You won’t have any problem to pop your chili off by angling it upward. However, you can always use pruning shears to cut hot fruits from the plants. When the first frost comes, you should harvest all of the remaining peppers.
You can eat them fresh, after rinsing and drying, or to store them dried, pickled, or frozen. Since green fruits may taste bitter, you can use them as a material for compost.
Chili Pepper Storing
After washing your chilies, you can keep them in the refrigerator for about five days. However, if you want to enjoy them throughout the winter, you need to store them properly.
Connect the peppers’ stems with needles and thread, and make a ‘daisy chain’ of them. Hang the chain in a warm, well-ventilated spot, and let them air-dry for a month.
That is the best method to store the smaller varieties of thin-walled peppers. Be patient. If you want to get dried peppers with full color and flavors, you should let them dry slowly.
Since peppers are low-acid fruits, you should preserve canning them under pressure. Pickle small peppers in a jar, and fill them with brine made of four cups of vinegar, four cups of water, a half of a cup of salt, two cloves of garlic, and a clove.
Put chilies in a freezer bag straight after picking. Even though their flesh will become slightly softened after defrosting, their taste will still be fiery. Anyway, it is better using defrosted peppers for soups, sauces, or stews, but not for direct eating.
Chili Pepper Diseases and Pests
Luckily, hot peppers have just a few severe pest problems. The best thing is that you can prevent most of them by growing resistant varieties, regular weeding, and avoiding working in your garden right after the rain.
They act on two ways, by attacking peppers directly and transmitting viruses from infected plants to healthy ones. You can keep these creatures under control with barrier crops (maize), by attracting predatory beetles, or with organic pesticides.
These small grasshoppers can cause severe infestations of your plants. Get rid of them by early bush clearance and plowing.
You can find these caterpillars underside of hot peppers’ leaves. The best way of prevention is hand-picking or attracting their natural enemies such as birds and parasitic wasps.
You can’t spot them, but discoloration, curling, and distortion of leaves they cause are visible. Remove all infected plants and burn them.
This fungal disease commonly affects chili peppers and cause dark, water-soaked areas on the fruit and consequential rotting. There is no treatment. Just destroy all affected plants.
This soil-borne fungal disease affects foliage, which becomes weak and yellowish. Fight this by good cultural practices and proper farming, including planting peppers on the well-cultivated soil, proper crop rotation, and improved drainage. Remove infected plants and burn them.
You will notice a whitish fungal growth and wilting of the lower leaves on the infected plants’ stems. Remove affected plants and burn them. Keep this disease under control by practicing deep plowing.
This seed-borne disease will develop under hot and highly moist conditions. You will notice brown spots on the underside of leaves and peppers’ fruit. Avoid using affected seeds and prevent the occurrence of this infection.