Days to germination: 10 to 15 days
Days to harvest: 65 to 100 days
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Regular and frequent watering
Soil: Rich soil, adding lime and compost
Container: Grows well in containers
Peppers are common in the home garden, but hot peppers need different considerations than their close cousins, the sweet bell peppers. This article is specific to the spicy hot pepper plants.
Hot peppers come in many different shapes, sizes, colors and heat ratings. Though you can eat the milder ones raw, these kinds of peppers are usually used as seasonings or spices in cooked dishes. Some varieties with very small red peppers are even grown ornamentally because they add great color to a flower garden.
Some popular hot pepper varieties include the Jalapeno, Cayenne, and Habanero. These are listed in order of “hotness”, with Jalapeno being a relatively mild hot pepper. The term “chili pepper” is commonly used for hot peppers but it doesn’t refer to any one specific kind.
You may see some varieties list a “Scoville rating” when you are looking for seeds. That is how hot pepper heat is measured. Jalapeno peppers fall around 3,000 to 8000 on the scale, whereas Habanero peppers rank over 100,000.
Starting from Seed
The soil should be well passed the frost stage, and already warmed before any pepper plants go out. So you will want to start your seeds indoors. You can start your seedlings off around 8 weeks before your last frost is due.
They will a need a warm place to germinate, so keep your seedlings in a heated room. The potting soil should be around 80F to get the quickest germination. Cover your seeds with about half an inch of soil.
After your seeds have sprouted, they can tolerate a bit cooler temperatures. Daytime temps of 70F are fine, and you can let your seedlings get down to 62F at night. Peppers are particular about temperature, so if you will have to be attentive if you want them to thrive.
Start your seeds off in 3″ pots because they will outgrow smaller seedling trays before its time to transplant them out into the garden.
Wait around 3 weeks after the last frost date to put out your pepper seedlings once the ground has warmed up. Choose a spot for your peppers that will get as much sun as possible and still be sheltered. It’s common for gardeners to put their peppers near a wall, as long as the sun is facing the plants.
Dig up your pepper patch, adding in lime and compost for added nutrients. Pepper plants are on the small side, so you just need to allow for about 12 to 15 inches between your plants.
Peppers will benefit from light fertilizing during the summer, but use a fertilizer with little nitrogen. Nitrogen will help your plants grow well and produce a lot of leaves, but will prevent them from putting out blossoms and fruit.
Your plants can tolerate a few short dry spells, but you should try to keep them watered frequently. Twice a week or even daily if it hasn’t been raining. Dry weather can make your peppers hotter, and it can also make them bitter.
A little bit of shade won’t kill your plants, and it may help temper their spiciness a bit if you want your peppers to be a bit milder than usual.
Most varieties of hot peppers will grow great in containers, though these plants will get a bit larger than sweet peppers. One plant per 12-inch pot should work out just fine. Habanero peppers may be a bit large and bushy for container growing
Before you put your seedling in, mix the soil with compost and lime (to prevent blossom end rot). Once your plants are growing, water often to keep them from drying out.
Pests and Diseases
Peppers can be struck with tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), that can cause yellow leaves with brown mottling. The plants will be stunted and eventually die. It can be transmitted from tobacco plants, but also from processed tobacco such as cigarettes. After handling any tobacco products, you should wash your hands before working on your pepper plants.
TMV can also be transmitted from other plants by insects like aphids which is another reason to control this particular pest. Pyrethrin sprays can keep aphids from your plants, and populations of ladybugs can also control aphids naturally. Many pepper varieties are available with natural resistance to TMV.
As mentioned above, you also have to watch for blossom end rot. The end of the peppers will turn black and begin to rot if there isn’t enough calcium in your soil. Adding lime at transplant time can really help with this.
One problem that shouldn’t cause any alarm is the dropping of blossoms in very hot weather. Peppers thrive in the heat, but they do have their limits. When daytime temperatures get over 90F for a few days, or nights stay above 75F, you will see your plants lose their flowers without any peppers starting. It’s frustrating but perfectly normal. Your plants will go back to making peppers once the weather cools slightly.
Harvest and Storage
It will depend largely on the specific type of hot pepper you are growing, but most plants will provide you with anywhere between 20 and 50 peppers each season. You must wear gloves when you harvest your peppers, especially if you are growing extremely hot varieties. The oils can get on your fingers, which will likely go unnoticed until you accidentally touch your eyes and face.
Hot peppers should be harvested when they have reached their full size, and turned their final color. Hot weather can make your peppers hotter, so keep that in mind when you go to use them. They may have more of a kick than you expect if you’ve had a very hot summer.
Peppers should be cut from the plant when you harvest, not pulled. At the end of the summer, you may still have unripened peppers on your plants. You can uproot the entire plant, and hang it in a warm place until the last peppers are ready to pick.
You can use your peppers fresh or dry them for later uses. An easy way to dry smaller hot peppers is to string them on a piece of thread or string, and just hang them somewhere that is warm and dry until they are leathery. Even after they have been dried, take precautions when handling as mentioned earlier. Drying peppers can increase their heat levels, so use them with care when cooking.