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Growing and Havesting Hot Peppers


Growing Hot Peppers from Seed

Growing Hot Peppers from Seed

Courtesy of the National Garden Bureau


Chile plants are slow to get going, so start pepper plants indoors a few weeks earlier than tomatoes. Sow the seeds about 8 to 12 weeks before the last frost date.

Sow several seeds 1/4-inch deep in 2-to 3-inch earth-friendly containers such as peat pots filled with lightly moistened seed starting mix. Water well and place the pots in a well-lighted, warm area (80º to 85ºF) such as under fluorescent lights. To prevent the seedlings from damping off, keep the soil damp but not wet, and provide good air circulation around the plants. Feed the seedlings with half-strength water-soluble nitrogen fertilizer every two weeks. When seedlings are about two inches tall, thin to one plant per pot by cutting out the smaller ones. Once the plants are about five inches tall and the nighttime temperatures are above 60ºF, harden the plants off by slowly acclimatizing the peppers to the garden.

After two weeks, plant them in the garden. Peppers need full sun, rich soil (amended with compost, well-rotted manure, or leaf mold) and good drainage. Allow two feet between plants. If the peppers are starting to produce flower buds, pinch them off and continue to do this for 1 to 2 weeks; this forces the plants to put their energy into growing leaves and roots. Mulch with 2 to 3 inches of organic matter. Mulch keeps weed growth down and maintains soil moisture. Stake varieties that grow taller than 2 feet. To avoid problems with cutworms (they can chew young seedlings off at the soil line) place two-inch-tall cardboard or aluminum foil collars around the new plants - with 1-inch below soil level and 1-inch above.

Keep the plants lightly moist, but not soggy. Pull any weeds if they appear. Feed the plants with an all-purpose water-soluble fertilizer about six weeks after transplanting and again if the plants start to look pale or the leaves are small.


Chile peppers are generally quite healthy. Pests are an occasional problem. Tiny green aphids sometimes cluster on the tips of branches. In large numbers, they suck plant juices, which deform the leaves and steal energy from the plant. Aphids can also spread deadly viruses. A strong spray of water from the garden hose can knock aphids off the plants. Caterpillars, including corn earworms and corn borers, destroy the fruits; hornworms eat both fruits and leaves. For information on controlling any pest infestation, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service or ask for advice at a local nursery.

Chile peppers are prone to a few virus diseases. There are quite a few viruses in peppers; the most common is tobacco mosaic virus, which causes mottled yellow leaves and misshapen fruits. There are no cures for viruses so the plants must be destroyed. Prevent the disease from spreading by controlling aphids.


Capsaicin (cap-say-a-sin), an alkaloid compound unique to chile peppers, gives them their heat. It creates a pleasure/pain response in the mouth, but it burns the skin and eyes.

Always use caution when handling hot peppers. To protect your hands, use disposable latex gloves. Never touch your face near your eyes, mouth, or nasal passages. Capsaicin is produced primarily in the veins/placental tissue of the pepper, but with an especially hot variety, take care when harvesting. If you accidentally get pepper juice in your eye immediately wash it out with clean cool water. And if you eat too fiery a pepper, get some relief by eating yogurt, ice cream, or milk.


Most chiles are green when unripe and turn yellow, orange, red, or brown when fully ripe. Individual chiles are considered most flavorful at different stages. For instance, in Mexico, Jalapeños and Serranos are preferable when green, and Cayenne types when red ripe. For fresh eating, it is a matter of personal taste; for drying, fully ripe peppers are best. Harvest chiles once they feel firm and get a glossy sheen. Cut the fruit off with clippers, as the branches of pepper plants are brittle and break off readily.


Dry thin-walled chiles in a warm, dry place or dehydrator until brittle dry. Store the dried chiles in airtight containers. If meal moths frequent your kitchen, store the peppers in zipper-style freezer bags in the freezer. Roast Poblano, Anaheim, and New Mexico chiles and then peel and put in zippered plastic freezer bags and freeze for up to six months.


All types of chile peppers can be grown in containers. Large Poblano, New Mexico, Anaheim, and most hybrids are best grown in large containers, such as a half wine barrel. Grow smaller, more compact ornamental peppers in 10" to 12" containers. This fact sheet is provided as a service from the National Garden Bureau.
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