How to Grow Chilli Peppers

, written by Jeremy Dore gb flag

Yellow chili peppers

Hot chili peppers are something I have always had mixed success with.  Usually I grow plenty of sweet peppers with a few chili plants on the side. Yet despite trying several varieties over the past few years I have rarely managed to get much heat out of home grown peppers.  Growing here in the UK does mean they take longer to ripen and need extra care and attention.  Still, the results were disappointing – plenty of peppers but where was the heat?

To diagnose this lack of heat in peppers I contacted our expert, Barbara Pleasant, who says that cool, damp weather can take the heat out of some chili peppers and there can be a lot of variation, even in seeds from the same seed packet.  This would certainly account for my previous experience. 

Peppers can also cross-pollinate with each other very easily as insects move between them.  Many people believe that cross pollination between sweet and hot peppers is what causes lack of heat.  However the genes from each plant will only be mixed in the seeds inside the peppers, affecting the next generation - the peppers themselves will stay true to the original plant.  So, this year I set out to grow the two types of peppers in dryer, hotter conditions from a different supplier of seed and, hey presto, I have chili peppers with fiery heat!

Chili pepper

If there is one tip you need to know about growing peppers it is this: they hate getting cold.  Most of the important growing advice stems from this one fact:

  • Peppers should be started off with indoor warmth, away from draughts.  I use a heated propagator at about 18 °C (64 °F) and sow three or four into 3 inch pots of seed compost.  This can be done in late winter or very early spring as they take time to germinate and grow.
  • After 4 – 6 weeks of good growth they will need re-potting into individual pots.  Because peppers have quite small root systems they don’t like a lot of cold compost around them, so I usually wait until they are at least 5cm (2 inches) tall.  After another 4-6 weeks I transplant them into 6-8 inch pots that will become their final homes, just adding a layer of extra compost later on.
  • Once the weather warms up they can be gradually introduced to the outside temperatures.  To keep them happy, I always take some time to gradually harden them off.
  • In cooler climates such as the UK I find it necessary to grow peppers in the shelter and warmth of a greenhouse.  Without this they tend to just sit in the ground doing very little and certainly not bothering to produce fruit.
  • Even within a greenhouse the peppers do much better when raised up on staging.  Down at ground level they succumb to cold air and are easily crowded out by other plants.  My best peppers always come from pot-grown plants in the prime sunny spots on my greenhouse bench.
  • To get your peppers to ripen and produce a good crop, see our recent article on The Long Wait for Ripe Peppers.  There Barbara Pleasant reveals the vital tips that will get your plants pollinated, your peppers ripening and a bumper crop from a few plants.
Chilies drying
Chillies drying

Hot peppers come in a whole range of varieties: Cayenne, Anaheim, Ancho and Jalapeno types to name but a few.  Even within these types there are huge variations on how hot the peppers will be, so unless you are partial to burn-your-mouth sensations it is wise to consult seed catalogs very carefully before choosing varieties.  I have had particular success with a standard ‘Hot Cayenne’ variety this year but many people also recommend ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ and ‘Apache’.

Each pepper will also accumulate heat as it matures – picked green they will be much milder, turning hotter as they ripen to a deep red.  The hottest part of the chili is the white flesh that attaches the seeds to the inside of the pepper, which can be removed if you want to limit the heat.  The chemical which gives the chili pepper its heat is called capsaicin, and because this is an irritant it is important to either use gloves when handling hot chilies or thoroughly wash hand afterwards.  Anyone who has inadvertently touched their eyes after handling a pepper will know why (which is probably why an extract of capsaicin is the main component of pepper sprays used by police forces).

Peppers can be eaten fresh or preserved but this does vary by type.  The cayenne types are the best for drying – just hang the whole plant upside down when the peppers are fully mature in a dry, frost-free place for several weeks.  Once dry store them in an airtight container.  Another great idea is to create fresh chili oil but if doing so it is very important to follow these steps:

  • Wash containers thoroughly, or even better boil or bake them to sterilize them
  • Crushed dried chilies are best as they contain little moisture
  • Simmering the chilies in a pan of malt vinegar for 10 minutes will help acidify them so that they can be stored for longer
  • Adding the chilies to hot (but not over-heated) oil and then letting them infuse for some time will transfer much of the heat to the oil.  Remember that pouring hot oil into containers is a potential hazard as it may cause them to crack, so allow it to cool first.

[When preserving in oil there is a small risk of a very serious soil-borne disease called botulism which thrives in conditions in which foods with a pH above 4.6 are stored where there is no oxygen, such as under oil.  This is why the above method acidifies the chilies in vinegar and uses dried chilies.  Refrigerating the finished product is also a sensible precaution and you should apply the same principles to anything else you add to the oil.]

Once you start growing chili peppers it is easy to get hooked.  There are so many different types, colors and flavors to sample and it is easy to produce a bumper crop of high-value peppers for very little effort.  Some people grow special varieties for grinding their own spices, such as the Anchos used for chili powder or the Paprika types to make spice of the same name.  Others grow them for the challenge of exotic peppers ranging from bright yellows to deep purples.  Whatever you choose, be prepared for some mouth-tingling experiences and a great sense of achievement.

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Show Comments


"I have found out the Chili Pepper's get hotter depending on 2 things, How hot the growing season has been plus how dry it has been. "
vernon bullers on Monday 10 August 2009
"Try growing (Lemon Hot) Aji Límo (pronounced ah-hee lee-mo) baccatums are noted for their distinctive flavors and tolerance of cold weather. This is one reason why they have become extremely popular in England. " on Friday 18 September 2009
"It's fall and the temperature is dropping off fast. What are some suggestions to do with my excess Hungarian and Jalapeno peppers?"
Gail Johnson on Wednesday 30 September 2009
"Gail, like you I have excess hot peppers this year, so I am going to shake the soil off the roots of some of the plants and hang them upside down in a frost free shed as mentioned in this article. The cayenne ones are best for drying but I would expect the Hungarian ones to do well with this too. The Jalapenos may not dry so well, so you might need to experiment with them a bit, perhaps cooking them into a sauce and freezing it. Best wishes and do let us know what works!"
Jeremy Dore on Wednesday 30 September 2009
"Gail if you have a grill smoke them and put them in a bag in the refrigerator over night . Then freeze them in the freezer. When you need them you can defrost them and use them in your recipe. "
vernon Bullers on Thursday 1 October 2009
"Thanks for all the input on the peppers, it was truly appreciated."
Gail Johnson on Friday 2 October 2009
"There is an excellent article in Smithsonian (April 2009) on the heat of peppers" What's so Hot about Chili Peppers?" "
vernon bullers on Friday 2 October 2009
"Howdy from Texas! When I have left over cayenne peppers, I line a pan with foil, turn the oven to the lowest possible temp and place the pan of peppers into oven for few hours until they brown. At this point they will be dried and crispy and can be crushed. Then you can sprinkle over food or use to cook. Just another possiblity I didn't see here. Enjoy...."
Curtis Bloodworth on Wednesday 7 October 2009
"Thanks again for the interesting suggestions on the peppers. One other tidbit, what else can you do with Spagetti Squash other that a spagetti dish? "
Gail Johnson on Wednesday 7 October 2009
"Curtis and Vernon - very useful advice, thanks. "
Jeremy Dore on Thursday 8 October 2009
"Gail, I roast Spagetti Squash in the oven for almost an hour at 200 deg. C, then scoup it out and use it in soups. Goes very nicely in a thick tomato-lentil soup."
Jeremy Dore on Thursday 8 October 2009
"OK, I think this should make it official. We need a recipe section on the blog! To start off, Jeremy, could you post that tomato-lentil soup? Thanks!!! "
Mark Allstatt on Thursday 5 November 2009
"Thanks Jeremy. I agree with Mark, I'd like to try that recipe myself. Need some Spagetti Squash?"
Gail Johnson on Thursday 5 November 2009
"OK, here's the tomato-lentil soup recipe, though I usually just make it up as I go along, so feel free to alter the quantities. You can use pretty much any kind of squash in it, up to 800g in uncooked weight: First cut open the squash, remove the seeds and roast it in the oven at 200 degrees Celcius for 50 mins. Then take 2 chopped onions, 1 or 2 carrots finely diced and 2 crushed cloves of garlic, and lightly fry for 10 minutes without browning. Add 2 cans chopped tomatoes (or equivalent fresh), 2 tbsp tomato puree, 1 peeled and diced sweet potato, the scouped-out squash, 125g washed red lentils and 1.5 pints of vegetable stock. Simmer for 40 minutes, then season if required, allow to cool a little and liquidise. For a spicy taste, try adding 1-2 tsp of ground cumin/corriander or curry powder to the fried onions just before adding the rest of the ingredients. Let me know if you like it - it's a real winter-warmer and makes enough for a few meals!"
Jeremy Dore on Thursday 5 November 2009
"Has anyone tried using a PVC growhouse for their peppers? They are one of my favourite fruit (or veg?) but living in London, we don't get a great crop. I've found a clear PVC growhouse that is tall enough to accomodate the plant...any opinions? "
Tony on Wednesday 18 November 2009
"Tony, I've used a PVC growhouse before and it wasn't large enough to do much good. The only situations I think they are helpful in are protecting plants from very draughty environments (which is an advantage for peppers) but they don't seem to do much to keep plants warm over night. Far better is to find a sunny wall and use the heat absorbed by that to help the peppers. In that situation a PVC growhouse pushed right up against a warm wall or in a sheltered area protected by a fence might make a good combination."
Jeremy Dore on Wednesday 18 November 2009
"Thanks Jeremy, I have a wall at the rear of the plot that gets all the sun so maybe I'll try a plant in the growhouse against the wall and one outside to compare results. I'll let you know how it goes in...oh...6 months!"
Tony on Wednesday 18 November 2009
"Thank you for sharing your post.We are leading Manufacturer of Powder Plant and Chilly Powder Plant in India "
shesha on Thursday 10 March 2011
"I have been growing The Bhut Jolokia ( Ghost) peppers for six years now and have the best luck growing them in BIG containers in full sun shielded from the wind. I live in the U.S. in wisconsin where I basically have a 3 month to maybe 4 month growing period. They do much better in pots than the ground. I think the pots keep the heat better. I had 5 plants in pots last year (2011) and picked about 1500 peppers. Dry them in a dehydrator and then put in a blender for some VERY HOT pepper spice. "
Kevin Thomas on Sunday 19 February 2012
"I am from uk in the south and have been growing dry hot peppers for about 5 years .since they have a fairly small root ball I grow them in 8 inch pots. To grow really large plants in pots with good yields overwinter your plants in a conservatory or similar with no less than a few degrees above freezing and watch in the second year how early and large your plants and chillis grow I do this with orange habs and people are supprised how large they grow Kevin"
Kevin Dunn on Friday 13 April 2012
"Wow - there is a lot of great info out there! I have been growing a poblano plant indoors under grow lights since winter and it has reached about 16" and has been flowering now for about 3 months. I still don't have any peppers... any advice? Also, the flowers drop easily...HMMM"
Aileen in IDaho on Friday 1 June 2012
"to Aileen, if your flowers are dropping off and you have no peppers they are either too hot (add a little shade) or you are over fertilizing them. Excessive nitrogen will cause this."
Orsatti Farm on Friday 15 February 2013
"Tony , the PVC grow house will work , I used 1/2" PVC that is 10 feet long made a about a 4 foot high HOOP. Then covered it with clear plastic sheeting. "
Vernon on Friday 15 February 2013
"We grow chili peppers a lot at Finland too. Here is now about -20 celsius degrees and we have short summer. We can still grow hot chilis here. We start seeding chinenses, frutescens and pubescens at december or january. Baccatums maybe in february and annuums in march. In june we move plants outside. Somebody has greenhouse, someone maybe not have even garden and plants are always inside. Good lights and fertilization is necessary. If wanted more growth you can youse some kind of watergrowing device like bubler, NFT or and something like that. I have seen pictures from a Finish guy who planted seed couple month ago and his plans are now over 1,5 meters high. If you want realy hot peppers you should grow some capsicum chinense chilies, they are the hottest one :)"
Caj Koskinen on Sunday 10 March 2013
"The main reason that the flowers drop off is that the plant is indoors in a pot. Chillies will self-fertilise if they have some wind to knock the male and female parts of the flower together, in a pot, there's no way for this to happen. In order to help this, try putting the pots outside in the summer, or standing it next to a fan, or even using your finger to lightly brush the pollen from one flower to another. My Peruvian Habanero plant was producing flowers for months without any success before I found this out."
Phil on Monday 7 October 2013
"Umm... Cooooool"
Hi peeps on Monday 13 January 2014
"I'm in 6th grade and we r building a greenhouse we r growing lots of plants in it and tomatoes are one of the plants. Hope we have fun! Btws, this site is coooolllllll Lola"
Mrs.lautner on Monday 13 January 2014
Hi on Monday 13 January 2014
"I am growing for the second time 8 cayenne plants , i have transplanted them after theyre almost root bound to tall square pots they are very small/young 5 inches, but i already have plenty flowers and chillis well on the way :).i use miracle grow and cacti soil , you can just add sand to yours and they will have no problems,,,cayyene chillis in tall pots is the way! Cayenne chillis have amazing health benefits you guys gotta check them out...peace out ,"
Chris Grant on Thursday 23 April 2015

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