Once the domain of ethnic dishes and asbestos-mouthed show-offs, chili peppers and hot sauces are now commonplace everywhere from snack foods to diner booths. And growing hot peppers has become positively competitive
Hot peppers may have become commonplace, but there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on how to spell chili pepper. Chili is the generally accepted form for chili con carne and Chile, with an “E”, is the name of a country in South America, but you will find chili, chilli, and chile used interchangeably, to refer to hot peppers. One “L” or two seems to depend on your geographic region.
Regardless of how you spell it, chili peppers are expected to be hot. “Hot,” however, is a relative term and one person’s scorcher is another person’s tease. Thankfully there are dozens of varieties to choose from, which helps make chili peppers popular around the world. They all owe their heritage to a small wild pepper traced back to at least 7,000 BC, in Central and South America.
Christopher Columbus is credited with giving certain chilis the name “pepper” because its zing reminded him of black pepper, an unrelated species (Piper nigrum). Someone on one of his ships brought the first chili peppers back to Spain and from there they were eventually dispersed throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Some cultures were quicker to incorporate them in their cooking than others.
Although chili peppers were grown in colonial America, not all the colonies were enamored of them. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew a cayenne variety, but their real popularity was in the Southwest and the area around New Orleans.
It’s quiet around here lately. Sorry. Jamie and I are having our spirits crushed by our #1 summer (now autumn, now winter) project — stripping and repainting the exterior walls on our house — and it’s making me feel overwhelmed by all things home-related at the moment, even my beloved plants. And yet, the chili pepper that lives in our living room is thriving and as cheery as ever. We’ve had two years to get to know each other, and I think I’ve got him figured out.
Back when Jamie and I were living in an apartment, one with no private outdoor area, I made use of the large, north-facing window in our living room and stuck a bunch of plants in front of it. (Apartment gardening!) I potted a few chili seedlings — at the time, if you wanted anything other than medium-hot Thai chilies, you had to grow them yourself — and they thrived in that mini-hothouse environment. I was growing chilies year-round! Yay!
And then I got Texas Pete, my habanero chili. He came home as a weeny, bug-eaten sprout two years ago during an end-of-summer clearance sale, and he’s grown quite a lot since then, surviving the move and a couple of re-pots. A chili plant can live for years in the right environment, and I’ve learned a few things about successfully growing chili peppers.
- WHAT YOU NEED FOR INDOOR CHILI PEPPERS:
- Indoor Pepper Care: Growing Hot Pepper Plants Inside
- Growing Hot Peppers Indoors
- Indoor Pepper Care
- By Dave DeWitt and Paul W. Bosland
- Growing Peppers Indoors
- When to Start Peppers Indoors
- Tips from Growing Peppers from Seed
- Providing Ample Space
- Lighting Requirements
- Finding the Ideal Temperature
- Humidity Requirements of Peppers
- Nutritional Requirements
- Watering Requirements
- How To Grow Peppers Indoors All Winter Long
WHAT YOU NEED FOR INDOOR CHILI PEPPERS:
- Light and consistent, warm temperatures. I was pretty confident about growing chilis when we moved into our house… and then watched in horror as every chili plant either died or failed to thrive outdoors over the past two summers. Turns out they don’t like our hot-and-cold summers; they just want consistent warmth. If they’re indoors, they need a window with all the direct sun you can throw at it.
- Food and water. Chilies are thirsty plants, but they’re also fairly resilient if you don’t feed or water them straight away. (They’ll also let you know when they’re lacking either, whether from wilted leaves or discolouration.) I mixed a healthy amount of water-retaining crystals into the potting mix, and I’ll give the plant a sprinkle of Osmocote slow-release fertiliser once or twice a year.
- Comfortable pots. I learned this the hard way: chilies don’t like to be under-potted or over-potted. They have dense, water-sucking rootballs that leave them thirsty if their pot is too small, and if the pot is too big, too much water will sit in the bottom and make the plant susceptible to root rot. Texas Pete has been repotted twice in two years; if water seems to disappear as soon as it’s poured in, it might be time to upgrade its pot.
- The occasional hard trim. Chilies do well with a haircut every so often. My habanero has bushy, unwieldy growth that needs a trim every now and again, and the best time to cut it back is in early spring, before its main flush of growth.
- If indoors: hand pollination. I use a small paintbrush sometimes for getting chili flowers to set fruit. It makes me so happy to see bitty peppers!
This corner of our living room faces north-west, so I sometimes put other house plants here when I want them to get an extra boost. The snake plant living in Don Draper’s ashtray survives in darker aspects just fine, but I left it here for a few weeks and there’s a little pup popping up at the base. Awww.
Sidenote: my scented candles have been getting some use lately. I like earthy scents, and that Paddywax tobacco-patchouli candle is heaven. (The other tins are coffee and potpourri-scented.) And yeah, those wood-slice coasters are the twee-est thing, but they’re absorbent so I like them.
That birch tree already has much fewer leaves on it than when I took these photos. Texas Pete already lives the pampered indoor lifestyle, but I’m sure he’s extra-relieved to be indoors right about now. I got you, buddy!
Worried about trying to grow your own produce at home? This is a low-maintenance, easy plant project that doesn’t require any outdoor space. Feed your family fresh, delicious produce while saving money. All you need is a windiwsill to grow these chillis, which spice up any meal. Just one or two plants will give you a constant supply of fresh chilli fruits for a good few months. Learn how to grow chilli plants indoors!
Step 1: When you buy a packet of seeds make sure they are suitable for growing indoors—it will say so on the packet.
Step 2: Always plant one extra plant. If you’d like to grow three plants, sow four seeds, as occasionally seeds can fail to germinate.
Step 3: Plant inside your propagator in compost and cover with a thin layer of vermiculite or compost, then water. If you don’t have a lidded seed propagator, it’s easy to assemble a makeshift propagator: just use a pot with some clear plastic covering on the top. For the clear covering, I usually use the lid of an old CD case, but you can also use a food bag secured with a rubber band. Be sure to use something clear because the sunlight will help the seeds to germinate.
Step 4: It can take up to two weeks for the seeds to germinate and seedlings to appear. Put each seedling into its own small pot—you could use a yoghurt pot with a hole in the bottom if you don’t have a small pot as they won’t be in this pot for very long.The seedlings will start to grow and look like this:
Step 5: Once there are around five levels of leaves, it’s a good idea to pinch off the top of the plant. Doing this encourages the young plant to branch out, which is important to ensure a nice, bushy plant and plenty of fruit.
Step 6: Once the seeds are around four inches tall, transplant into an eight-inch pot, still on your windowsill. The plant will continue to grow and should soon start to look like the photo below, blooming with plenty of leaves and branches!
You will soon notice white flowers forming, which is where each fruit will grow. The fruits are white at first, as in the picture below, which also shows several of the flowers.
The fruits will ripen around July if you planted in March/April (colour depends on variety of chilli) and are ready to be harvested and eaten.
Because fruits ripen at different rates, you should have a plentiful supply of chilli fruits for the next few months. Mine only finished for the year in the middle of November. Be sure to harvest your fruits once they are ripe, as the plant will then put its energy into producing new fruit. If, like me, you love the chilli flavor but can’t take too much heat, deseed your chilli fruits before using them in cooking. Always take care when handling chilli fruits due to the intensity of heat in their oils. There are some safety tips along with a recipe on this Mayo Clinic page.
More Gardening Tips:
- Winter Gardening: How to Force Grape Hyacinths Indoors
- How to Use Kitchen Scraps to Grow Your Own Vegetables
- Why I’m a Sucker for Succulents
Indoor Pepper Care: Growing Hot Pepper Plants Inside
Are you looking for an unusual houseplant for your country décor? Maybe something for the kitchen, or even a pretty plant to include with an indoor herb garden tray? Consider growing hot peppers indoors as houseplants. These are great specimens for the situations mentioned.
Growing Hot Peppers Indoors
Foliage of ornamental hot pepper plants is attractive, peppers are ornamental, and they grow fairly well indoors. Of course, take advantage of warm, sunny days to give them that extra boost by putting them outside for a few hours.
Ornamental pepper is possibly the best hot pepper to grow indoors. Fruits are green, yellow, orange, and finally red. You may use them in cooking, but they are extremely hot. If you’re looking for a pepper plant to use regularly, try growing the colorful cayenne ‘Carnivale’ in a pot. Really, any hot pepper type will work well but stick with compact varieties, as these adapt better to containers.
You may start seeds of peppers in clean containers or purchase seedlings or small plants to grow indoors. Transplant into a permanent container. When growing small plants or seedlings, provide 10-12 hours of sunlight per day or locate plants six inches (15 cm.) under a grow light 14 to 16 hours.
When starting from seed, you may use a warming mat to sprout seeds. Start seeds in a warm spot out of direct sunlight and keep the soil moist. A plastic covering helps hold moisture. Increase sunlight as seedlings sprout. Proper lighting is essential to keep pepper plants from growing spindly when reaching for light.
Indoor Pepper Care
Care for hot peppers in pots will include turning the pots as seedlings lean toward the light. This won’t be needed if seedlings are directly under an artificial light. Pinch the first flowers down to the stem to encourage heavier fruit set. Only pinch the first few blooms so as not to interrupt the 70-day growing cycle. Flowers are perfect, meaning each one is both male and female, so they self-pollinate.
Indoor pepper care includes watering a couple times a week. Let the soil dry out between watering. Check down a couple of inches (5 cm.) with your forefinger before watering to make sure the soil is dry or use a moisture meter.
Fertilization is also an important step for the most attractive indoor pepper plant. Sources advise fertilization with fish emulsion or compost tea. You may also use a houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength.
Keep an eye out for pests. They are rare on pepper plants, especially those grown indoors, but occasionally attack if they have a chance. If you see aphids hovering near new growth, use a soapy spray to get rid of them. Fungus gnats are often a sign that soil is too wet. Decrease watering to stop attracting them.
By Dave DeWitt and Paul W. Bosland
Illustration by Lois Manno
Over the years, our readers have written us about the joys of growing chile peppers indoors with artificial light. Pepper hobbyist Cap Farmer: “I don’t have to worry about winter freezes or heating a greenhouse because I grow all my chiles indoors, under lights!” Nancy and John Pierce of New Earth Garden Center in Louisville, Kentucky, feel the same way. “Our indoor hydroponic chile peppers yield more and grow faster than soil-grown chiles,” they told us. “Chiles are fairly easy to grow, tend to be high-yielding, and are always a lot of fun.”
Types of Lights
The least expensive way to set up an indoor pepper garden is with fluorescent tubes. They’re relatively efficient, cost little to set up, and a standard fixture accepts two 40-watt tubes. The number of fixtures to use depends on the size of the growing area, and they can also be placed vertically in corners for side-lighting. The major problem with fluorescents is that the intensity of light falls off very rapidly as a function of distance. The tops of the plants must remain two to four inches below the tubes. Standard cool-white fluorescent tubes can be used, but many gardeners prefer the Sylvania Gro-Lux with its pink and purplish light, or Vita-Lites, which approach 92 percent of the spectrum of natural sunlight.
Until recently, fluorescent grow lights have had a low output and have been too big and bulky to be of much use as a grow light for anything more than starting seedlings. However, the new compact fluorescent (or CFL ) and T5 full-spectrum fluorescent lights are great improvements that are growing in popularity for both propagation and plant growth. These lights are energy efficient and extremely effective, especially when used in numbers. While not quite as efficient as HID lights, these fluorescents have better color rendering properties (more of the light emitted is used by the plant) and produce much less heat when compared to HID lights. This allows them to be placed closer to plants (within a few inches) greatly decreasing lumen loss from the bulb to the plant.
Illustration courtesy of ACF Greenhouses
However, the Pierces report: “Our research indicates that the color spectrum only minimally–if at all–affects plant growth. The biggest factor in plant performance is enough light, especially for plants setting flowers and fruit.” To avoid the problem of low light levels on lower foliage, serious pepper gardeners should use high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps. They are very similar to the mercury or sodium vapor lamps used to light city streets and come in two basic types, metal halide, and high-pressure sodium. They use more electricity than fluorescent tubes.
Agrotech HID Lamp; Illustration courtesy of New Earth Garden Center
Metal halide lamps have a spectrum like the bright midday sun, while the high-pressure sodium has the spectrum of the early morning or late afternoon sun, which promotes flowering, according to Cap Farmer. The high pressure sodium lamp emits more lumens of light than a metal halide lamp. HID lights are twice as efficient as fluorescent lights: it would take 800 watts of fluorescents to put out as much light as one 400 watt HID light.
Illustration courtesy of ACF Greenhoses
One word of warning. This equipment is identical to that used by indoor marijuana growers. The Drug Enforcement Administration has been known to subpoena the records of stores selling indoor growing equipment and to pay visits on indoor gardeners who have ordered it. One year New Earth Garden Center exhibited at the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show and demonstrated their metal halide grow lamps. After the show, Dave stored the lights under his carport until he had a chance to ship the lights back to Kentucky. Sure enough, about two weeks later, an undercover state police officer, accompanied by a DEA agent, showed up at Dave’s door and bluntly asked him where the pot plants were. Dave laughed and showed them his greenhouse with the chile pepper seedlings. The officers were totally embarrassed and apologized profusely. Dave speculates that a meter reader saw the grow light boxes and turned him in. There will be no problem as long as you grow peppers–the legal high.
LED grow lights are the newest lighting option for plants. They are advertised to be the most efficient and coolest running grow lights available. On the ACF Greenhouses website, they report: “We have tested several different types of LED grow lights and have found none that outperform much cheaper fluorescent grow lights of similar wattage. LED plant grow lights are also not recommended for use with plants that you want to be viewed, because they give plants an unnatural appearance when the light is on.”
Either paint the plant growing room white or line it with white trashbags to reflect and diffuse light. Aluminum foil and mylar relect light but do not diffuse it, causing numerous hot spots unless they are applied evenly, without wrinkling. Line the floors with white plastic to protect them from spills when watering.
Varieties to Grow
Chiles Under Lights
According to Cap Farmer, “the miniature varieties seem to do the best under lights, and I’ve had good success with ornamentals like ‘Ethiopian’ and ‘Black Dallas.’” Other recommended peppers for growing under lights are, ‘Thai Hot’, ‘Super Chili’, and varieties of piquin, such as chiltepin.
The containers, soil mix, and fertilizing should be the same as with other potted peppers. The Pierces told us that “indoor pepper gardeners will benefit from an 18-hour light cycle rather than a 12-hour light cycle. Think of it this way: chiles are long-day plants, yielding best during the long days of summer. They are not photo-period sensitive.”
New Earth Garden Center
9810 Taylorsville Road
Louisville, KY 40299
Phone: 800-462-5953, 502-261-0005
Chile Pepper Bedding Plants… over 500 varieties from Cross Country Nurseries, shipping April to mid-June. Fresh pods ship September and early October. Go here
Chile Pepper Seeds… from all over the world from the Chile Pepper Institute. Go here
Growing Peppers Indoors
Peppers are a diverse plant, ranging in flavor from sweet to unbearably spicy. Provided their desired conditions are accurately mimicked, they can flourish in an indoor environment, allowing you ample pepper harvests throughout the year. In order to ensure the healthiest plant and largest harvest, you need to provide the plant with all that it needs to thrive. Here are some basic tips to help your pepper plants thrive.
When to Start Peppers Indoors
Peppers can be grown entirely indoors or started indoors and transplanted to an outdoor location. If you intend to transplant the peppers outdoors, you will want to plant the seeds about 8 to 12 weeks prior to the date of the last frost in your region. This will allow them to become fully grounded and strong prior to being placed outdoors. They will need to be placed outdoors about 2 weeks prior to the last frost. By this point in their growth cycle, they will be established enough to be able to tolerate the inclement weather and colder soils of an outdoor garden.
If you intend to grow the peppers indoors throughout their entire growth cycle, then they can be started at any time. As long as their needs in terms of water, lighting, warmth, and nutrition are being met sufficiently, they can thrive indoors year-round. You may require the use of a grow light, particularly in wintertime, to help simulate the proper growing conditions.
Tips from Growing Peppers from Seed
There are many different factors that will determine the health of the plant, each of which should be given equal consideration. They will require ample warmth and sunlight, both of which will need to be mimicked when you grow peppers indoors.
Providing Ample Space
Peppers will require a lot of space to grow. They have large, extensive root systems, which will require a large pot in order for them to spread their roots fully. Additionally, the plant itself can grow quite large, depending on the variety. Be sure to pick a place in your home that is open and free of clutter, so the plant can grow unimpeded. If you are short on space, consider growing a smaller variety of pepper. Consider choosing a smaller variety, such as dwarf chili peppers, because they have smaller root systems and require less space to spread out. You can also prune pepper plants if needed to reduce the overall volume.
Peppers require bright, consistent light sources in order to flourish. Place your pepper plants near a window to maximize their lighting source throughout the day. South and southwest facing windows receive the largest quantity of natural lighting. During the hot summer months, consider bringing the plant outdoors during the day, so it can soak in as much light as possible. Also, consider supplementing with a grow light to improve the lighting conditions for the peppers. If you intend to grow the peppers indoors for their entire life cycle, the use of a grow light will be integral in meeting the lighting needs of the plant.
Finding the Ideal Temperature
Every species of pepper is going to prefer slightly different temperature ranges. For best results, research into the particular species you are growing to ensure you can accommodate their precise needs. Most peppers thrive at similar temperatures as humans, making them an ideal houseplant year-round as they can easily acclimate to the temperature of your home. Keeping your thermostat set to around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. When growing chili peppers, the plant likes warm temperatures during the day but cooler temperatures in the nighttime. To accommodate this, consider turning the thermostat down overnight or relocating the plant to a cooler location like a closet or temperature-controlled garage.
Humidity Requirements of Peppers
Different species will vary in terms of their desired humidity. Habaneros, for instance, prefer high humidity, whereas many chili peppers require moderate humidity. For plants that are in need of more humidity, consider misting with a spray bottle. The amount that you mist them will depend on the desired humidity of the plant, but generally, you should mist once per day until the water begins dripping from the leaves.
Pepper plants could benefit from the occasional use of fertilizer. A balanced fertilizer at a ration of 15-15-15, nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium, is ideal. The peppers should only need fertilizer one to two times throughout the growth process. Allow the seeds to fully sprout and establish their root systems before applying fertilizer the first time. At about 6 inches to 1 foot of growth, you can add the first fertilizer treatment. The second fertilizer treatment should be done when the peppers first begin forming and are the size of a dime. Composted manure also makes a fantastic fertilizer option for pepper plants. Add a couple handfuls of the fertilizer to each plant and spread it evenly around the base of the plant. After adding the fertilizer, water the plant thoroughly.
Water is quite possibly the most important element in properly caring for a plant. It is essential to the health of a plant, and too much or too little could result in the plant becoming unhealthy and possibly dying. Most peppers require moderate watering and can easily drown from too much water. Because of this, it’s important to plant your peppers into pots with drainage holes and use well-draining soil so that the roots don’t become submerged in excess water. When the top layer of soil in the pot feels mostly dry, with slight dampness, it’s time to water. Add enough water so that it just barely begins trickling from the holes in the bottom of the pot. Empty any excess water in the base of dish so that the plant roots aren’t soaking in the runoff. This could result in root rot over time.
When determining the location of your indoor pepper plants, consider the spot where the air in your home will be the cleanest. Since plants metabolize oxygen to grown, they are sensitive to pollutants in the air and can become unhealthy and diseased if their oxygen supply contains chemicals. For smokers, keep all smoke outside and away from the plants. Tobacco smoke and residue is known to cause a number of ailments in plants. Always wash your hands after smoking and before handling plants to minimize their risk of exposure. Additionally, your pepper plants should be kept in a clean room, free of kitchen odors and smoke, and with easily accessible windows to provide fresh air as needed.
Time to Grow
The time that the pepper plant takes to grow will depend on the species you planted. The seeds can take as long as 2 weeks to 1 month to fully germinate, and an additional 3 months to begin producing their fruits. The size, coloring, and texture of the peppers are all indicative of whether the pepper is ready to be harvested. This will vary greatly depending on the variety. If harvested too early or late, it’s not a big deal as it can still be eaten. However, the pepper will be most flavorful when it is fully developed.
With the right lighting, temperature, humidity, and nutrients, you can grow healthy and vibrant pepper plants that will provide you a large and flavorful harvest. Since they thrive in warm conditions, growing them indoors is easy because you can ensure the temperature remains consistent. Keep in mind, however, that peppers aren’t a low-maintenance plant, and they will require regular attention and maintenance in order to truly flourish indoors.
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There are few things that you can grow in your garden that are as versatile as the pepper. Hot, sweet, red or green – even yellows, oranges and purples can add a touch of the exotic to your next dish. For most gardeners it simply wouldn’t be the same without a nice harvest of peppers come late summer and early fall.
But why limit yourself to fresh peppers for only a few months of the year? Unbeknownst to many of us who do not live in a desert climate, peppers are actually perennial plants that can live for many years if given the proper care.
There are two main ways that you can grow peppers indoors. The first is by starting a plant from seed, and the second is by bringing your existing plants indoors at the end of your normal outdoor growing season.
Starting Peppers Indoors
Starting your peppers indoors from seeds is fairly simple and can be done at any time of year. Seeds should be planted in a mixture of peat moss, vermiculite and sand (roughly equal parts of each). Place two seeds in each pot near its center, and push the seeds just below the surface of the soil. Keep soil moist but not wet, and keep pots in a spot where they will get sunlight throughout the day.
Looking For Non-GMO Pepper Seeds? Get Them From A Company You Can Trust!
If you are starting peppers from seed, then you will have the advantage of selecting a variety that will grow to the ideal size for your indoor space. If you have lots of room, then you can grow larger plants such as red bell peppers or Hungarian wax peppers. If you are short on space, however, then try more compact varieties such as dwarf chilies.
Bringing Your Outdoor Peppers Inside
If you’ve already got pepper plants in your garden, you’re ahead of the game. Peppers in containers can be brought directly inside.
For peppers that are planted directly in the ground, the process for bringing them inside is trickier – but so worth it! Start this process well before your first frost. Using a sharp shovel, you can dig around each plant and lift it out of the ground, placing it into a plastic (not terra cotta) pot. This should be done during the evening so that the plant has the cool of the night to recover.
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If there is extra room in the pot, you can add some compost, but avoid adding extra garden soil. Water you plants and place them in a shady spot outside, and leave them for a few days. Inspect you plants for any pests or aphids and rinse them off very well and then move them to a different spot. Repeat as necessary, until you can’t find any pests. After a few days, you can bring your plants into an in-between spot like a porch.
Finally, bring your pepper plants inside and place under florescent bulbs.
Keeping Your Peppers Fruiting
It is possible to keep your pepper plants fruiting the entire winter – but you will need to keep them toasty warm and give them sufficient light if you are to be successful. Ideally, the room that they are in should be a constant 65-75 degrees. Using very bring florescent lighting or a combination of sunlight and florescent light is best. Peppers tend to need more light than other plants, so if you want fruit you should plan on leaving their lights on for 14-16 hours per day. Some people control this using a timer, but it is also fine to leave the lights on 24 hours a day. Once plants have flowers, they should be fertilized on a weekly basis.
This New All-Natural Fertilizer Doubles Garden Production!
Watering may be done whenever the soil is slightly dry. It is important to never let your peppers sit in a pool of water, as this can cause disease.
Finally, in caring for you plants, remember that peppers are sensitive to air quality. They should not be kept in a room where people smoke or where there are other pollutants in the air, as this can damage the plants.
When fruit is ripe, you may harvest it using a sharp knife. This will help to prevent you from inadvertently damaging the plant.
Growing any type of fruit or vegetable indoors gives you greater control over your growing environment and provides an extended growing season. Peppers are a perfect choice for those who love to make spicy Asian or Mexican dishes to beat out the chill of winter.
Even if you decide that it is too much trouble to keep your pepper plants fruiting over the winter months, there is still good reason to bring this season’s plants indoors and keep them healthy. That’s because next season, you’ll be able to re-plant your mature pepper plants – instead of seeds or starts from your local garden center.
And those mature plants will start producing peppers fast, and you will be the envy of the neighborhood. Your only problem will be trying to figure out what to do with all of those peppers!
Have you ever grown peppers indoors? What tips would you add? Share them in the section below:
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