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Growing Hot Peppers – Complete Guide

Growing your own hot peppers is an exciting challenge. Not only does it open up a world of options, but the rewarding feeling you get from harvesting your own peppers is unmatched.

There is no reason you can’t be successful in your first year growing hot peppers from seed or seedlings. So in this article, you’ll learn how to grow hot peppers in your garden (or even on your balcony). Let’s get growing!

If you’re growing from seed, start here. For planting seedlings, start here.

Cayennetta pepper plant with ripe peppers

1. Get prepared

Growing peppers requires minimal supplies. Let’s go over exactly what hot pepper plants need to grow.

  • Pepper seeds – I recommend only growing peppers that you know you will use, so make sure to take heat level into consideration before planting.
  • Pots – I recommend medium sized pots (around 3-4″ diameter) for sowing seeds, or 6-cell trays for planting over a dozen plants. If you plan to grow entirely in containers, larger pots (5 gallons+) are needed as well.
  • Trays – It is helpful to place your seedling pots in a water-tight propagation tray for easy, mess-free watering. You can also use plastic food containers for this purpose.
  • Soil – Normal potting mix works well for planting hot pepper seeds and for growing in containers. Our favorite type of soil is this brand, but anything you can find at your local nursery should work.

* Try our seed starter kit for all the basic supplies you’ll need.

Pepper seed starting supplies

These are the bare minimum essentials for growing hot peppers from seed. However, if you want the best possible results, there are a few items I’d recommend picking up:

  • Grow lights – For fast-growing seedlings, window light isn’t enough. Grow lights provide consistent light, and a longer duration of lighting each day. Try this hanging LED, or this clip on light is perfect for small spaces.
  • Heating mat – Hot peppers can take a long time to sprout (usually 2-3 weeks). Applying heat helps speed up germination by 4 days or more.
  • Humidity dome – A humidity dome is useful during germination to avoid the seeds drying out.
  • Plant labels – If you want to keep track of which plant is which, you’ll need a marker and plant tags.
  • Fertilizer – Potting soil does have some nutrients added in, but container plants may need supplemental fertilizing for the best yields.

Planning the garden

Before you start, I recommend planning when and where you will plant your hot peppers. Timing is one of the most important things to get right for maximizing your plant’s potential. Plus, location and light exposure can play a big role in how successful your plants are.

  • For timing, plant hot pepper seeds 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. This can be modified to your preference, but this range generally works for most hot pepper varieties.
  • For location, survey your property for a spot that receives full sun, or at least morning sun. If you only have a shady location for growing, your hot peppers may not grow well enough to produce a good harvest.

With your supplies in hand and a rough plan for your hot pepper garden, all that’s left is to get started planting the seeds!


2. Plant your seeds

Some hot peppers can take a very long time to produce their first harvest. Superhots like ghost peppers and Carolina reapers can take 120+ days after transplanting before harvesting. However, some cayenne peppers and jalapeños only need 70 days or less after planting outside.

So before you plant, check your seed packet to know how long your particular hot pepper variety takes to grow. If they take longer, I might recommend planting a week or two earlier indoors.

To plant hot pepper seeds:

  • Fill pots with potting mix. Mix your soil with water until it has the moisture of a wrung out sponge. Then, fill your pots (either 6-cell trays or 3-4″ pots) with the soil, leaving about 1/2″ of space at the top.
  • Make a hole in the center. Using the back of a pen, make a small hole in the center of each pot’s soil, about 1/4″ deep.
  • Drop 2-3 seeds in each hole. I recommend planting multiple seeds in each pot to ensure at least one of them sprouts. If you have rare seeds or a limited supply, just plant one.
    Note: Hot pepper seeds can have residual capsaicin (spicy oils) on them, so I always wash my hands after planting or use gloves. Avoid touching your eyes during this process!
Planting pepper seeds in 6-cell trays
  • Cover the seeds and gently water. Cover the seeds up and spray them with a spray bottle if you have one, or gently water with a watering can. Avoid disturbing the seed’s location and don’t cover the seeds with more than 1/4″ of soil.
  • Place the planted seeds in a warm location. Hot pepper seeds do not need light to germinate, but they prefer very warm conditions. Use a heating mat set to 80°F for the best results.
Spraying planted pepper seeds for germination

Be patient during this time, and never let the seeds dry out by spraying with water daily. After 7-14 days, you should see your hot pepper seedlings sprouting!


3. Growing the seedlings

As soon as you have seedlings, they need light to grow. Turn on your grow lights if you have them, or place the plants in the brightest window available. Use a South-facing window for maximum light exposure.

Lights do not need to be too bright, but should be on for around 15 hours per day, and off for the remaining 9 hours. If the seedlings get tall and weak, move the lights closer to the plants.

Young pepper seedlings 2-3 weeks
Pepper seedling.

The ideal temperature for pepper seedlings is between 70-75°F. The grow lights should help put off a bit of heat which your hot peppers will appreciate. If it is too cold, the seedlings will grow more slowly.

During this time of year, it is common for the indoor air to be dry from heating. So water regularly to keep the soil evenly moist, allowing excess water to drain.

Early growth is very slow, so be patient as your young seedlings begin developing. After 2-3 weeks they should begin growing more quickly.

If you planted in smaller seed cells, you may need to transplant into larger containers before it is time to move outside. Gently move the rootball of the 3-4 week old seedlings into larger pots (3-4″ diameter) filled with potting soil.

Young pepper plant in pot
Hot pepper plant in 3.5″ pot.

4. Move the plants outside

When the weather begins to warm up, you should begin the transition outside. Indoor plants need time to adjust to the outdoor elements. This slow adaptation is called hardening off.

To harden off hot peppers:

  • Start on a cloudy, warm day (at least 60°F) and bring your hot peppers outside for about an hour
  • Bring the plants back inside under grow lights for the remainder of the day
  • The next day, leave them out for about 2 hours
  • Introduce them to a bit of direct sunlight around day 3
  • Continue increasing outdoors time until the plants can handle direct sun all day in their final planting location
  • This process usually takes around 2 weeks

After hardening off, the plants can be outdoors permanently. However, do not leave the plants outdoors if the overnight temperatures will be below 55°F. You’re usually in the clear to plant out permanently around 3-4 weeks after your last frost date (though this can vary).

Staking

When you transplant your hot peppers into their final planting location, it is a good idea to insert a stake or cage for support. This helps keep the plants upright in heavy winds, and to prevent broken branches later in the season.

You can also use a tomato cage for larger varieties such as poblanos or hot banana peppers. Heavier pepper types will cause plants to become top-heavy, so have at least some type of support is important early on.


5. Watering and fertilizing

As your peppers grow, they may need to be watered and/or fertilized. If you are growing in containers, both of these tasks will be more frequent than for in-ground plants.

Keep the soil evenly moist, but avoid overwatering, as water-logged soil can lead to wilting leaves, flower drop, and root rot. Always dig about 2-3″ below the soil surface to check for moisture before watering. If there is moisture, the plants have enough water for now.

Fertilizing is a complicated topic, as it depends on many factors. If you are growing in pots, the plants will need at least a couple supplemental feedings throughout the season, or more for larger plants. In-ground or raised bed pepper plants may not need any fertilizer, assuming the soil was amended properly before transplanting.

For potted plants, I recommend an all-purpose fertilizer beginning about 1 month after transplanting outside. This gives the plants plenty of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, along with calcium and magnesium.

Don’t be tempted to over-feed! Too much nitrogen or phosphorus can be harmful to plant growth, and can even “burn” the leaves.


6. Harvesting hot peppers

After your plants flower, they should begin to form peppers. Over time, the pods will swell until they reach a full size. After this, the peppers will mature for about 4 weeks before beginning to change color.

Most hot peppers are harvested after they fully ripen, though there are a few exceptions. Namely, jalapeño peppers are usually harvested at their unripe green stage after they reach a fully mature size.

JPGS pepper on plant 2
Peach ghost peppers ripening on the plant.

As you harvest, the plants will have more energy to produce more flowers and fruits. The longer your growing season, the more fruits you can expect to harvest.

In general, I recommend harvesting your hot peppers as soon as they are ready. Don’t over-think it! If the peppers look ready to you, pick one and give it a try. If it tastes bitter and underdeveloped, it likely needed more time on the plant to mature and develop flavor.

Note: If you want to save your own seeds, make sure you allow the pepper to fully ripen before harvesting – this ensures the seeds are fully developed.


What to do with hot peppers

So what can you do with a huge harvest of hot peppers? I have been overwhelmed with an abundance of superhots, and I’m here to help to avoid your harvest going to waste!

Here are some ideas:

  • Make hot sauce! Homemade hot sauce is a ton of fun to make. With lots of fresh peppers, you can experiment and try to come up with your own secret recipe to share with family or friends. Or, try one of our favorite recipes.
  • Make fresh salsa. Enjoy that fresh pepper flavor while you can! Fresh salsa is one of my personal favorite summer snacks, and for me, it has to be spicy.
  • Ferment them. Fermentation is the secret to many famous hot sauce recipes. Hot peppers are a great ingredient to use in a fermented mash. This process develops a unique and rich flavor over the course of several weeks.
  • Make chili powder. Drying hot peppers is an easy way to preserve your harvest for the long term. Use a food dehydrator (or the oven) and grind the dried peppers into a powder or flake.
  • Freeze them for later. Freezing is another long-term storage method for hot peppers. If you can’t use up all of your harvests right away, simply throw the rest in a freezer bag, remove excess air, and stuff them in the freezer for up to a year.
White superhot pepper on plant

I hope you have success with growing hot peppers! While it may start as a hobby, it can grow into a lifelong passion (it did for us!). Enjoy the process and happy gardening.

– Calvin

As an avid gardener for many years, Calvin is always excited to learn more about the fascinating world of plants. He has a particular fascination with peppers, as well as big, showy flowers like peonies and roses

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