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How to Grow Hot Chili Peppers

close-up of growing young pepper plantation in the vegetable garden

Hot peppers are most easily grown from transplants. Grow hot chili peppers in the warmest, frost-free time of the year.

Start hot pepper seed indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the date you intend to set peppers into the garden.

Peppers can be seeded in the garden or transplanted out 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost in spring after the soil temperature has risen to at least 65°F.

Hot peppers grow best where the air temperature ranges from 70° to 95°F. Hot peppers mature in 60 to 95 days.

Description. Peppers are tender perennials that are grown as annuals. Peppers grow on compact erect bushes 1½ to 2 feet tall. The fruit follows a single flower growing in the angle between the leaf and the stem. Hot peppers can range in length from 1 to 7 inches long and in color from green to red to gold and yellow.

Yield. Hot peppers vary greatly in spiciness. Choose peppers and the number to plant according to how you plan to use them.

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Peppers growing in the garden
Transplant peppers into the garden after all danger of frost has passed in spring.

Planting Hot Peppers

Site. Grow peppers in full sun in soil that is rich in organic matter, moisture retentive but well draining. Peppers prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8. Work aged garden compost into beds prior to planting. The optimal soil temperature for peppers is 65°F or warmer.

Planting time. Hot peppers grow best in air temperatures 70° to 95°F. Peppers are most easily grown from transplants. Start seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the date you intend to set peppers into the garden. Peppers can be seeded in the garden or transplanted out 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost in spring after the soil temperature has risen to at least 65°F. In temperatures greater than 85°F, peppers may drop their blossoms although set fruit will ripen. Hot peppers tolerate hot weather better than sweet peppers.

Planting and spacing. Sow hot pepper seed ½ inch deep, 18 to 24 inches apart. Space rows 24 to 36 inches apart. Sow two seeds to each spot and thin to the most successful seedling. Peppers can be transplanted into the garden when they are 4 to 6 inches tall.

Container growing. Peppers can be grown in a large container. An 8-inch pot will accommodate a single plant. In larger containers, set plants on 12-inch centers. Peppers can be grown indoors. Peppers started indoors before the last frost in spring will get a head start on the season. Extend the season in the fall by moving plants indoors if frost threatens or if temperatures warm to greater than 90°F. Bring outdoor started peppers inside for a few hours a day at first until they get used to the lower light available indoors.

Young pepper plant in the garden
Young peppers need even moisture and feed plants with a fertilizer low in nitrogen.

Caring for Hot Peppers

Water and feeding. Keep peppers evenly moist but not wet particularly when blossoms appear and fruit begins to form. Soil that goes too dry can result in flower drop. Add aged compost to planting beds before planting and again at midseason. Water more frequently after the fruit forms. Water heavily 4 to 8 hours before harvest to turn hot peppers milder; withhold watering before harvest to make hot peppers hotter.

Companion plants. Beets, garlic, onions, parsnips, radishes.

Care. Keep planting beds well-weeded to avoid competition. Peppers are shallow-rooted, so cultivate around peppers with care. Mulch to keep soil temperature and moisture even.

Feed peppers with phosphorus and potassium-rich fertilizer such as 5-10-10. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers which will create large leafy plants with few or no fruits. High temperatures and wind can cause flowers to drop and plants not to set fruit.

Plastic mulch can improve pepper yields. Organic compost mulches will reduce weeding and watering, but not fruit yields.

Use shade cloth to protect peppers from sunburn if the temperature exceeds 105°F.

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Pests. Peppers can be attacked by aphids, cutworms, flea beetles, and hornworms. Discourage cutworms by placing a collar around each transplant at the time of planting; hand-pick hornworms off of plants. Flea beetles and aphids can be partially controlled by hosing them off the plants and pinching out infested foliage.

Diseases. Peppers are susceptible to rot, blossom end rot, anthracnose, tobacco mosaic virus, bacterial spot, and mildew. Plant disease-resistant varieties. Keep the garden clean and free of weeds where pests and diseases can shelter. Remove infected plants before the disease can spread. If you smoke, wash your hands before working with the plants to avoid spreading the tobacco mosaic virus.

Hot peppers harvest
Hot peppers are ready for harvest when they reach mature color.

Harvesting Hot Peppers

Harvest. Hot peppers are ready for harvest in 60 to 95 days after sowing. Pick hot peppers when they have reached full size and their mature color. Sweet peppers can be picked as soon as they reach any edible size; they can be picked and eaten green and do not have to reach mature color. Cut the peppers off the vine with a garden shear. Pulling a pepper away from the plant may cause the plant to come out of the soil.

Storing and preserving. Hot peppers will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week or in a cool, dry spot for up to 2 weeks. Roasted and peeled hot peppers will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months. Pickle whole, cooked, and canned hot peppers will keep for up to 2 years.

Hot Pepper Varieties to Grow

Long, tapering hot pepper: Anaheim Chili (80 days); Cayenne Long Red Slim (70 days); Crimson Hot (60 days); Diablo Grande (65 days); Espanola Ristra (65 days); Golden Prolific (65 days); Hot Portugal (64 days); Hungarian Yellow Wax (60 days); Inferno (65 days); Mirasol (75 days); Mulato Isleno (85 days); Surefire (65 days).

Cylindrical hot peppers: Ancho (65-100 days); Czechoslovakian Black (65 days); Hot Stuff (60 days); Jalapa (65 days); Jalapeno (72 days); Louisiana Hots (69 days); Pretty Hot Purple (80 days); Serrano (70 days); Tam Jalapeno (65 days).

Medium to small tapering hot peppers: Tabasco (80-120 days); Thai Hot (75 days).

Yellow hot peppers: Casabella (75 days); Santa Fe Grande (75 days); Szentesi Semi-Hot (60 days).

Common name. Pepper, hot pepper, chili pepper

Botanical name. Capsicum frutescens (hot pepper); Capsicum annuum (sweet and hot peppers)

Origin. New World Tropics

More articles about pepper growing:

40 Chili Peppers to Grow in the Home Garden

How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Peppers

Garden Planning Books at Amazon:

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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