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Growing chilli peppers

05 January 2022

Chilli peppers take a long time to grow, so make sure you sow the seeds early. Chillies come in a variety of colours, shapes and even strengths! The mildest ones taste almost like sweet peppers, while the hottest chillies are almost as hot as pepper spray! Growing chilli peppers isn’t difficult – here’s a step-by-step guide on how to grow them successfully.

Chillies can be grown outdoors, in pots on the balcony, in greenhouses, or indoors. A warm and sheltered spot is essential, so you get the most out of your seeds. You need to start chilli seeds early so that the plants have plenty of time to grow and bear fruit. If you start later, the fruit may never appear. Growing chilli peppers isn’t difficult. Just make sure that the seeds are kept moist and that the small plants are transplanted into larger pots as they grow.

When is the right time to sow chilli seeds?

There are various types of chilli peppers, but some of the most common are Capsicum annuumCapsicum baccatum and Capsicum chinense. Of these three species, chinense is the most suitable to start propagating in December as it has the longest growing period. Baccatum varieties can wait until January/February and annuum varieties can be propagated at any time between January and April.

How to sow chillies

  1. Sow chillies indoors in small pots with drainage holes. Use nutrient-poor seed compost and press two or three seeds into each pot to a depth of just under 0.5 cm. Water generously, preferably using a spray bottle.
  2. If the pots are placed in a mini-greenhouse, the humidity remains stable and germination usually takes place within about fourteen days at room temperature. If you are able to provide underheating with a heating mat, or lay them on the bathroom floor, germination will be considerably faster.
  3. Chilli seeds don’t depend on light to grow, but as soon as the shoots peek out of the ground they need plenty of light. Place the plants in a light and cool place, adding grow lights if possible as the natural light in Northern Europe is not sufficient this early in the year.

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When is the right time to transplant chillies?

Once the plants have developed their true leaves (the leaves that come after the cotyledons) and have grown big enough to be handled without breaking, it’s time to repot your chilli plants. Chillies can be transplanted into deeper soil. Choose potting soil or flower compost if possible, and plant so that the very first leaf pair is level with the soil. Make sure to water the plants regularly or place the pots on a capillary mat so they can soak up the liquid they need themselves. A couple of weeks after transplanting, you can carefully start feeding your plants to help them grow better.

Feel free to repot your chilli plants a few times to give their roots enough room to grow strong. Be gentle when changing pots – the roots of chilli plants are delicate and don’t like to be handled too roughly. To ensure that the chilli plant develops throughout the season, the final pot should hold at least 10 litres of soil.

How to ensure you get healthy plants

Light and temperature are crucial for plant growth and the balance between these two factors is important for all plants. If it’s too hot and there’s not enough light, the plants will quickly grow tall and thin. If you provide enough light, and possibly lower the temperature a few degrees, growth is slower, which means that the plants will grow to become compact and strong.

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Hardening off and transplanting

Chilli plants do not do well in the cold, so keep them indoors as long as the overnight temperature is below 10 degrees. The transition from indoor light to bright outdoor sunlight is tough on plants, which is why hardening off is so important. Let the plants get used to the sunlight and air by placing them outside in partial shade for a few hours during the first few days. Then place your chilli plants in a sunny and warm area. The plants need quite a lot of water, but it’s better to water the pots little and often, rather than to pour on large amounts rarely. On really hot summer days, it’s good to water them both morning and evening.

Of course, it is also possible to grow chillies indoors, all year round – or maybe you should try growing chillies hydroponically? That’s also possible.

To prune or not to prune chilli plants?

Whether you should prune your chilli plants or not depends a little on the variety you are growing. If you are growing a lower variety, you can pinch off the tops once they have started to grow. This can be done after the third–fifth leaf pair. By pinching off the top shoot, the plant will be stimulated to set more new side shoots which will result in a bushier and denser plant. And if you plant the shoot you pinched off in a little soil, it will grow into a new plant.

Hot or mild chillies?

Chillies have different pungencies to suit different tastes. The heat of a chilli is measured in Scoville Heat Units. The heat is mainly in the fruit’s seeds and mid-walls – this is why you might think that a chilli is fairly mild when you taste a bit of the tip, but it gives your stew more sting than intended when you use the rest of the fruit.

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When can I harvest chillies?

Chillies are normally harvested between July and September, depending on the variety and the prevailing conditions. The really hot varieties can sometimes take a little longer to ripen than the milder ones. Chillies can actually be harvested from the moment they are green, but it’s good to wait if you like more flavour. The flavour develops as they acquire their colour, and this can vary greatly depending on the variety. Some chillies are ripe when they are red, while others may be bright yellow, purple or orange. Chillies are great for drying and pickling, or for use in chutneys, jams and jellies!

Just remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling chillies, or use rubber gloves.

Chilli plants in the autumn

When the temperature drops in the autumn, chilli plants are often still very beautiful. Chillies grown in pots are easy to move indoors when the cold weather arrives, but remember to give them a gentle transition from outdoors to indoors so they don’t get a shock. If the plant is shocked by the transition, it may wilt or lose its leaves. Once the chilli plants are inside, it is a good idea to add grow lights.

Overwintering chilli plants

You can also try overwintering your chilli plants indoors. Cut back your plants considerably in the autumn and provide them with extra light throughout the winter. Water sparingly all winter. When the spring comes round again, it’s time to transplant your plants.