- Learn how to grow bell peppers in containers. Growing bell peppers in pots is a great idea if you’re short of space or live in a cold temperate climate as it requires warm soil to thrive.
- How to Grow Bell Peppers in Containers
- Requirements for Growing Bell Pepper in Containers
- Bell Pepper Care
- Choose the Right Container Type
- How to Grow Chili Pepper Plants in Pots
- Choosing a Pot for Growing Chili Peppers
- What about Soil for Growing Peppers?
- Watering Your Pepper Plants
- Optimal Growing Temperature for Growing Peppers in Pots
- What Fertilizer Should I Use for My Pepper Plants?
- Pinching Your Pepper Plants for Bushier Plants
- Diseases and Nasty Pests
- Learn More about Growing Chili Peppers
- Additional Information
- A Guide to Overwintering Your Chilli Plants
- Does Pruning Bell Peppers Help: How to Prune Pepper Plants
- Two Kinds of Pepper Plant Pruning
- How To Preserve Chillies
- 1.Drying Your Chillies
- 2. Freezing Your Chillies
- 3. Pickling Your Chillies
- 4. Short Term Preservation
- Food Storage – How long can you keep…
- Chilli Potting Soils
- How to grow chilli in pots – planting and care guide
- Top 10 Chillies in Order of Hotness
Learn how to grow bell peppers in containers. Growing bell peppers in pots is a great idea if you’re short of space or live in a cold temperate climate as it requires warm soil to thrive.
USDA Zones— Pepper plants are short-lived perennials in tropics but in cold temperate regions, they are grown as annual.
Soil pH— Slightly acidic to neutral
Due to the fact that the pepper is a warm weather vegetable crop and requires considerably more heat than cucumbers and tomatoes, growing bell peppers in pots is a great idea if you live in a cold climate.
How to Grow Bell Peppers in Containers
Growing bell pepper in the pot is easy. The first thing you have to do is to buy the plant from a nursery or propagate it from seeds.
Choosing a Pot
Planting bell pepper in containers requires a pot that is at least 10-12 inches deep and wide and has sufficient drainage holes. You can grow up to 2-3 plants (smaller varieties) in such a pot. Avoid using the black color container if you’re growing bell pepper in a tropical climate.
Buy good quality seeds from a local garden store or buy them online. Also, buy seed starting mix or make yourself. Fill small pots or seedling tray with the seed mix and plant two seeds in each pot, 2-3 cm deep.
Start seeds 6-10 weeks before last spring frost date. Usually, in subtropical and tropical climate, you can start seeds anytime except in harsh summer.
The seeds will germinate in 1 to 3 weeks depending on the weather conditions and seed quality. After they germinate thin out and only keep one plant per pot. When seedlings have 2 true leaves they are ready to be transplanted into the desired containers.
Requirements for Growing Bell Pepper in Containers
Peppers love the sun. The most productive pepper plants are grown in warmth and heat. When you’re growing bell peppers in pots, keep them in a position that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight daily. That place should be sheltered from strong wind.
Good soil is the key to productive pepper plants. Buy best quality potting mix that is well drained, loose and fertile or make your own potting mix. Potting mix must be rich in organic matter. Add well-rotted manure or compost in the combination of peat moss/coco peat and vermiculite or perlite (alternatively, sand). You can also add 5-10 gm neem cake at the time of soil preparation, it will protect the young plant from soil-borne diseases and pests.
Growing bell peppers require regular watering to keep the soil slightly moist, soil should never dry out completely. In any case, avoid wetting the foliage, overhead watering may cause fungal infection. Water at the foot of the plant. Also, pepper plants suffer from overwatering so be careful that your plants don’t sit in water.
Growing bell peppers require soil temperature above 60 F (15 C) for best growth. The optimum seed germination temperature is above 68 F (20 C). It can tolerate temperature up to 95 F (35 C) and down to 50 F (10 C) easily. The ideal growing temperature is between 70-90 F (21-32C).
Bell Pepper Care
For your convenience and to reduce the evaporation of water, do mulching. Cover the base of the plant with organic matter such as leaves, pine barks, straws, paper or whatever that is readily available to you.
Pepper plants like tomatoes are heavy feeders and you’ll need to fertilize the plant in every 15 days or so. When fertilizing, remember too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer can promote foliage growth. You can also feed the plant with tomato fertilizer. Also, once in a month feed the plant with compost or manure tea. Use of Epsom salt (2tsp/gallon water at the time of watering, you can also spray the plants with this solution) each month improves the health and increases the yield of tomato and pepper plants so it must be applied too.
Pinching and Pruning
In the early stage, when the plant is young pinch growing tips regularly to make it bushier. Pruning is not necessary but can be carried out if required.
If your pepper plant is flowering too early deadhead the flowers, it is important. This will direct the plant’s energy into growing and becoming healthy. You can also stop the formation of new fruits if you want to speed up the maturation of pepper fruits that are already growing on the plant by pinching off emerging flowers.
Pepper plants are self-fertile so you don’t need to care about pollination but to get better fruits and to improve productivity you can gently shake the plants when they’re in bloom.
You may need to support the plants. For this, either use tomato cages or simply poke a stick near the main stem and tie the plant to it.
Pests and Diseases
Growing bell peppers in pots require care from aphids as they are the number one enemy of pepper plants. In hot and dry weather you’ll also need to keep an eye on spider mites.
Bell peppers are ready for harvesting in 60-90 days after transplanting. You can harvest them green when they reach full size and remain firm. If left to ripen, the color will change into orange, yellow or red.
A Fact: Pepper is one of the richest sources of Vitamin C (more than the oranges).
Choose the Right Container Type
A 10-inch diameter pot will hold one of these
- small herbs
Keep in mind that not all pots are round and tall. Shallow-rooted plants such as lettuce will be happy in a container that is wider than it is tall. However, most vegetables will need deeper pots. Broad plants such as a zucchini or pumpkin will benefit from a container that is both broad and deep. Half-barrels are perfect for bigger plants such as tomatoes and squash. Use your best judgment to give your plants plenty of room for optimum harvests, and know that sometimes experience provides the best advice for the future. No matter what kind of pot you’re using, be sure to fill it with premium potting mix, such as Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix. Enriched with aged compost, it’s just what your plants need for a strong start. For the best results throughout the season, though, starting with great soil isn’t enough. You’ll also want to feed your container plants regularly with a plant food like Miracle Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition, since even the best soil will eventually run short of food for your garden if you don’t replace it. This water-soluble organic fertilizer goes one step further, feeding the microbes in the soil that help make nutrients available to your plants, so your vegetables and herbs get all the food they need throughout the season.
How to Grow Chili Pepper Plants in Pots
Growing chili pepper plants in pots is not difficult, though pepper plants do have certain needs, so consider these tips to help you achieve a good pepper harvest.
First, you need a warm spot to grow your peppers in pots or containers, either inside or outside the home. The potted plants should be protected from the wind and receive at least 6 hours of sun. Any less and you’ll hinder pepper production.
If you need support for your growing pepper plants, insert a stick near the main stem and tie the plant to the stick with a string.
Choosing a Pot for Growing Chili Peppers
Choose a pot or container that offers sufficient drainage. You don’t want to waterlog your plants, as that is the main cause of disease and other issues with growing. A 5-gallon pot that is 12 inches deep is good for most single plants. Choose a larger pot or container if you live in a warmer climate to accommodate growth.
What about Soil for Growing Peppers?
Choose a good quality soil or potting mix for growing your pepper that allows for good drainage. Add compost or manure before planting if you’d like.
Watering Your Pepper Plants
As with growing chili peppers in general, keep the soil moist but do not overwater them. For pepper plants in pots or containers, do not let the soil dry out completely. When peppers start to grow, cut back on your watering schedule a bit, but again, do not let the soil dry out.
Optimal Growing Temperature for Growing Peppers in Pots
The ideal growing temperature for chili pepper plants is between 70-90 F (21-32 C).
What Fertilizer Should I Use for My Pepper Plants?
Tomato fertilizers work well for chili pepper plants, as do compost and well-rotted manure. A good 5-10-10 fertilizer is usually sufficient for peppers. Work it into the soil before transplanting, about 3 pounds per 100 square feet. We use a solution of fish emulsion and seaweed.
Once the peppers begin to appear, fertilize one more time. You can also use manure or compost, which releases more slowly into the soil. Much, however, is affected by your soil, so you may want to consider a soil test if you are having issues.
Pinching Your Pepper Plants for Bushier Plants
When the pepper plant is about six inches high, clipping the growing tip will result in a bushier plant. Remove any flowers that appear early, as the early flowers diminish the plants overall energy.
Pinch Flowers off of Early Pepper Plants for Bushier Plants
Diseases and Nasty Pests
Stay vigilant with your pepper plants. Keep a constant eye out for common diseases like bacterial spot, mildew or rotting. Pests like aphids or spiders are common as well, so watch out for them.
Learn More about Growing Chili Peppers
Learn more about growing chili peppers here – A Guide to Growing Chili Peppers.
- Growing Chili Peppers from Seed
- Growing Chili Peppers in the Ground
- Growing Chili Peppers Indoors
- Growing Chili Pepper Plants in Pots
- Harvesting Your Chili Peppers
- Winter Gardening for Chili Peppers and more
A Guide to Overwintering Your Chilli Plants
Over-wintering Your Chilli Plants for Greater Future Harvests…
So, you are growing chillies. Maybe even enjoying the first fruits of your labour – but what now?
What most people do not know is that chilli plants are in fact perennials and will continue to produce fruits for many years of growing, provided a little care and attention is taken. This extra care and attention after your plants have fruited is called over-wintering and can be very rewarding…
First let’s take a look at why you would want to over-winter your chilli plants:
– Your next harvest will come a lot earlier
– You plant(s) will produce many more fruits and for longer periods of time – more peppers to enjoy
– You will have a great head start over planting seeds in the Spring
At the end of the growing season, and when the temperature drops below about 10 degrees C at night (in the UK this is about the end of October) plants start to shut down for the winter as their job of producing chilli seed pods is done.
At this time, usually the plant will slow its growth to almost nil, therefore reducing its sunlight and water intake requirements drastically, whilst preparing for the long winter months ahead.
Therefore, to give your chilli plants the best chance at coming back strong and surviving the winter, it is important to follow the points:
– As soon as your plant has finish fruiting – make sure you pick all the ripe chilli seed pods from your chilli plant (this tells the plants to produce more in future).
– Next, you would want to prune your plants right back, leaving just a short stem – this includes trimming back the majority of vegetation. This may sound like a harsh thing to do, however it will help your plant to concentrate its energy and not waste any during the winter trying to sustain all that vegetation.
– You can also repot your chilli plants in slightly smaller containers in order to concentrate your plants energies into a smaller space ready for hibernation.
– And finally, make sure you move your chilli plants some place warm to give them the best chance of surviving the winter (preferably in a greenhouse or near a sunny window sill indoors where the average temperature will be higher, which helps your plants during the cold winter months.
Make sure that you water your chilli plants much less often during this stage as to prevent the water sitting in pots and promoting the growth of mould. Do not worry – your plants will be using much less water during this hibernation-like stage. Up to 2 weeks between watering is fine – just make sure you check that the soil is moist but not damp.
If you are unsure of how much water is just right, you can use a moisture tester which is available from any good garden centre – look at maintaining around 25% moisture in the soil.
If you are successful, your efforts will be rewarded in many different ways. First of all, when Spring does arrive, your plants already have well established roots balls and stems. Give them a couple of weeks after Spring has arrived and they will start producing new shoots and leaves.
This gives you a great advantage over planting chillies from seeds and your over-wintered chilli plants will start producing fruit much earlier in the growing season – this has the added benefit of a longer harvesting period, so not only will your plant produce more chillies, it will produce them for a longer duration!
You can expect your chilli plants to last for many years by over-wintering them properly – so when you’ve picked your last chilli of the season – why not start over-wintering for lots more in future?
For a little bit of effort, you enjoy both the challenge of looking after your plants during the winter when there very little else happening in the garden, and enjoy the many additional benefits when Spring finally does arrive.
If you follow these tips, your chilli plants will be ready for a great growing season come Spring time – Saving you time and improving your chilli harvests!
Does Pruning Bell Peppers Help: How to Prune Pepper Plants
There are many theories and suggestions that float around the world of gardening. One of them is that pruning pepper plants will help to improve the yield on peppers. You may be wondering if pruning bell peppers in your garden can help your peppers give you more fruit. The answer to this is not a simple one. Let’s look at the idea of pruning bell peppers and see if it is sound.
Two Kinds of Pepper Plant Pruning
First of all, we should make it clear that there are two ways for pruning bell peppers. The first way for pruning pepper plants is early season pruning and the second is late season pruning. We will look at the benefits of both of these.
Early season pepper plant pruning
When it comes to bell peppers, pruning at the beginning of the season, before the plant has set fruit, is suppose to help increase yield. The theory goes that the increased air circulation and better access of sunlight to the deeper parts of the plant will help it to grow more peppers.
In university studies, this kind of bell peppers pruning actually slightly decreased the number of fruits on the plant. So, the theory that doing this will increase the number of fruits is false.
That being said, the studies did find that if you prune peppers early in the season, the quality of the fruit was improved. So, pepper plant pruning is a trade off. You get slightly fewer fruit but those fruit will be bigger.
How to prune peppers early in the season
Early season pepper plant pruning shouldn’t be done until the plant is at least a foot tall, and can be stopped once fruit have set. Most pepper plants have an overall Y shape and branches then create smaller and smaller Ys off of the main stems. By the time the plant is a foot tall, you will be able to see the strongest branches on the plant. Cut back any smaller branches, including any suckers. Suckers are branches growing from the crook where two other branches form a Y.
Be careful not to damage the main Y of the plant as this is the backbone of the plant. Damaging it will cause the plant to perform poorly.
Late season pepper plant pruning
The main reason to prune peppers late in the season is speed up maturing the fruit that are sill on the plant. Pruning bell peppers late in the season does help to speed up the ripening process because it focuses the plant’s energy on the remaining fruit.
How to prune peppers late in the season
A few weeks before first frost, trim back all the branches on the plant except for the branches that have fruit that have a chance of ripening before the end of the season. From the entire plant, carefully snip off the flowers and any fruit too small to have a chance to fully ripen before the frost. Pruning pepper plants this way will force the remaining energy in the plant to the remaining fruit.
By Gary Pilarchik (The Rusted Garden)
There are several reasons you may want to prune peppers. One reason is to help the pepper plants develop stronger sturdier stems. Another reason is to force or create a bushier plant with more side shoots which leads to more flowers and potentially more peppers.
Visit my YouTube Channel with over 800 gardening videos: The Rusted Garden
I want to be clear, you do not have to do this. If you haven’t pruned peppers before, take the middle ground. Prune a couple plants and see how they respond. One of the things I love about gardening is that it is an ongoing creative experiment you can vary year to year. Create your own experiment, especially if you are growing several of one variety of pepper.
Your pruned plant will grow upward, it won’t remain stunted, as new growing tips take over. If your variety is natural small and compact, I would not recommend removing the growing tip. Many ‘Habanero’ varieties tend to fit that category. Pruning is done differently, if at all, with smaller compact peppers.
Pruning helps plants manage high wind periods and better support heavy crops of peppers. Stronger stems means less breaking as pepper stems can easily snap. Removing the main growing tip will create more side shoot growth in 95% of pepper varieties. I found a few that don’t seem to respond well or fare any better to the removal or topping off, as it is called, to the growth-tip.. ‘Banana’ or “Bell’ peppers are two. ‘Banana’ peppers seem to grow furiously own their own and pruning didn’t improve production. My ‘Bell’ peppers seemed a little stunted and didn’t really get a ton of side growth. In general, pruning, will create a bushier plant that will branch out and flower more. The more flowers, the greater the yield of peppers.
Pruning or topping off of the growth-tip is fairly simple. Just remove it. Here is my original pruning video (2016) if you would like to see how it is done. Pruning can be done many ways. This is just one way I prefer.
Pruning ultimately lets you make a stronger plant that produces more. I will be doing an ongoing series based on the peppers I am pruning for 2017. I will be using control groups when available. Here is what young pruned peppers look like (from the above video), about 1 month later after their initial pruning. This video is from 2016. They are compared to unpruned peppers of the same variety so you can see the early changes.
Chilli peppers are used in many different cuisines to add flavour or a bit of spice. It can be used fresh or to create condiments. The many uses of chilli peppers make it an easy decision to grow them in your home garden. However, since it’s such an easy item to grow, you sometimes end up with an overabundance of peppers. That is why it is important to learn how to preserve peppers. By preserving peppers, you will be able to enjoy them all year long.
How To Preserve Chillies
There are four unique ways to preserve chillies so that they retain their flavour and heat. These include:
- Drying Chillies
- Freezing Chillies
- Pickling Chillies
- Preserving Chillies in Oil
Chillies freeze reasonably well, retaining most of their flavour and heat. Freezing is the best way to preserve fleshier chillies like Scotch Bonnets and Habaneros. To freeze chillies whole, spread them out on a baking tray so they are not touching, freeze and pop into a sealed bag or container.
1.Drying Your Chillies
The most popular method of preserving chillies is to dry them. There are multiple ways you can dry peppers and different types of peppers are more conducive to the drying method. Experts say that the drying method works best for the waxier peppers but if dried properly it can work for almost any of them.
The easiest way to dry chillies is by using a dehydrator. This is what you’ll want to use if you have peppers of the more fleshy variety, like habaneros. With that being said, if you don’t have a dehydrator, another option when drying chillies is to lay them out in the sun, giving the peppers enough ventilation and warmth to achieve the proper consistency. Too much heat will make the pepper too brittle making it hard to work with and not enough ventilation will make your peppers too moist allowing mould to form, ruining your batch.
The best way to prepare your chilli peppers is to rinse them in salt water to prevent mould from forming and then use a drying method of your choice. Once the chillies are dried, the best storage method is in an airtight container either whole or use a coffee grinder to create chilli pepper.
2. Freezing Your Chillies
Freezing chilli peppers is another sure fire way to preserve the freshness and flavour of chillies. This is a way to keep an abundance of peppers without needing any extra tools for preservation. The simplest method is to clean your peppers in cool water, gently dry them with a cloth, and then store them in a Ziploc bag or container and put them in the freezer. A quick tip to remember is to freeze them before they get ripe.
A more creative way to freeze peppers is to slice or dice them and store them in whatever shapes or sizes you desire. Peppers generally don’t keep their shape during the freezing process, so you may want to prep them in the size you desire.
You can even freeze store bought chilli peppers if you don’t have the time or space to grow them. Remember that chilli peppers can develop mould quickly. When you do purchase and freeze chilli peppers, make sure to prepare them and store them in the freezer in small packs. You don’t want to freeze too many in a package and then have them go bad. That would defeat the whole preservation process. Freeze in small containers and take them out as needed.
3. Pickling Your Chillies
Pickling is another method used to preserve your chilli peppers. You’ve seen the beautifully filled jars full of colour. Some say it’s a form of art to get the perfectly pickled peppers situated in those jars. However, there is a method to all this pickling madness.
First, you will want to get creative in your ingredients. The best-pickled peppers are full of flavour. You can create different tastes just by adding a touch of spice or different types of vinegar. Mixing up different batches of your pickling formula can make your run of the mill chilli pepper exotic and unique.
The most basic way to pickle a pepper is to start by washing them in salty water. Once that is done, you’ll set aside your peppers while you boil up some white wine mixed with cider vinegar and sugar. You can vary your pickling juice by adding different ingredients that fit with your taste buds. While your “juice” is boiling, you will want to poke holes in the top of the chillies so the taste will be even bolder within your pepper.
An important item for the pickling process is the jars. Make sure, once you fill the jars with the solution and chilli peppers, that you allow it to cool before sealing the jars. This is pertinent to make sure your peppers pickle properly. Once cooled, store the sealed jars in your refrigerator for at least two weeks before digging in and enjoying them.
4. Short Term Preservation
While the methods mentioned are excellent ways to preserve your chilli peppers for the long haul, a few methods will help keep your peppers from spoiling for a week or two.
Of course, you can just throw your peppers in your refrigerator as is and they will keep as other vegetables and fruits. This will give your chilli peppers about a week long life before they start to spoil.
You can also preserve your chilli peppers in olive oil, which will last for a week or two. With this method, you will want to clean and dry your peppers and then roast them in your broiler or on the grill until the skins are blackened. Make sure not to overcook them. At that point, you will skin them and cut them into strips. You will then put them in a clean, airtight jar. Cover your peppers in olive oil and tightly close the lid. You will then refrigerate them and have delicious chilli peppers for the next few weeks.
Whatever method you do choose, you will be enjoying the flavourful and spice of chilli peppers for weeks and months. Imagine all the dishes you can spice up with this savoury crop.
- About the Author
About John Rosato
I’m the founder of Chasing Chilli where I share my journey in chasing down the best chilli – from seed, to sauce to salt. I’m a 24 year-old from Melbourne with a love for all things chilli and sport. I’m not a great writer, but I will tell it how I taste it. Thanks for stopping by!
Food Storage – How long can you keep…
- How long do raw chili peppers last in the fridge? The precise answer to that question depends to a large extent on storage conditions – after purchasing, keep chili peppers refrigerated at all times.
- To maximize the shelf life of raw chili peppers, store in a paper bag in the vegetable crisper of refrigerator.
- How long do raw chili peppers last in the refrigerator? Properly stored, chili peppers will usually keep well for 1 week in the fridge.
- Can you freeze chili peppers? Yes, to freeze: Slice or chop the peppers, then place in airtight containers or heavy-duty freezer bags, or wrap tightly in heavy-duty aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
- How long do chili peppers last in the freezer? Properly stored, they will maintain best quality for about 10 to 12 months, but will remain safe beyond that time.
- The freezer time shown is for best quality only – chili peppers that have been kept constantly frozen at 0° F will keep safe indefinitely.
- How to tell if chili peppers are bad or spoiled? Chili peppers that are spoiling will typically become soft and discolored; discard any chili peppers that have an off smell or appearance.
Sources: For details about data sources used for food storage information, please
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Chilli Potting Soils
Chilli Potting Soils. We often get questions from customers asking about the best soil to use for chillies. So we are dedicating this page to Potting Soils.
There are a few factors to take into consideration when talking about soil and chillies.
Chillies hate wet, soggy soil
This is a fact. Chillies hate wet soggy soil that has their roots water-logged. These are generally compact/dense claggy soils – such as clay soils. Chillies may grow in wet, soggy soil but they will be plagued with issues. Development/growth may be poor. They will suffer with fungal issues at root level and above ground and plants will remain small and unproductive – may even end up dying!
Chillies like loamy soil
Chillies love light loamy soil. A little bit of silt, lots of rich organic matter with lots of nice air pockets and good drainage. We recommend a good quality Potting Soil from your local nursery.
Now we know what you are thinking – what? And your impulse is going to be to add stuff to the mix to grow better chillies than anyone else. That if you add this and that to your potting mix, your plants will grow faster and bigger and you will get super hot monster pods… are we right??
If you are a first time grower… our advice is to “Keep it simple”. There are many things that can go wrong on your first grow season. Make your life simple and let the soil just be Potting Mix. We know this sounds really boring, but messing with other ingredients will only run the risk of disaster. We encourage first time growers to go and get themselves a nice, good quality organic potting soil from your local nursery.
Give your roots space
Another factor that is relevant here is space. Obviously when planting into the garden, plants will grow naturally without constraint. When growing into pots, we are effectively constraining the root bowl. The size of your container or pot is important. Constraining your plants roots will constrain your plants size and development. You want to be able to give your plant sufficient space to never feel root bound. For this we would recommend 10 liter pots for small plants and 20 liter pots for large plants.
Larger containers are also easier to manage. Plants that are in pots too small for them will need too much watering and will also require supplements. Chances are the plant will run you ragged with needing watering. So it is always best to go with as large a container as you can.
Advanced potting soil mixes
For the more advanced chilli growers, you may wish to start looking at special soil/potting mixes. Again, we would not recommend this for first time growers, as many of the listed ingredients below can harm your plants if used without knowledge.
At this point we are going to recommend you check the internet for potting soil mixes for chillies. You will find that there are chilli growers such as yourself, the world over. and each, will have his or her own special potting mix. Literally thousands to choose from and really depends on personal preference and depth of pocket. The ingredients below can add up and special potting mixes can get very expensive on the pocket.
Do we have any recommendations? We can’t really say. When we come across a mix that stands out, we will definitely let you know. But we would recommend you do a search on the internet for what looks good.
What we can tell you is that from what we have seen, there are certain ingredients that seem to appear consistently in the various recipes and these will include among other ingredients:
- Potting Soil/Top Soil/Garden Soil/Sand
- Sharp Sand/River Sand/Green Sand
- Sphagnum/Canadian Peat Moss/Coco Coir Peat
- Compost/Leaf Mould/Mushroom Compost
- Cow Manure/Kraal Manure/Chicken or Bat Guano
- Seaweed/Fish Supplement
- Blood meal
- Worm Castings
- Mycorrhizal Fungi
- Dolomitic Limestone/Ground Limestone/Lime
- Calcium Carbonate
- Rock Phosphate/Super Phosphate (0-20-0)/Colloidal Phosphate
- Potassium Nitrate/Potassium Sulphate/Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom Salt)
- Saw dust/paper/straw/alfalfa meal
- Wood Ash
So, the items above are just some of the things chilli growers will throw into the mix. If you feel confident enough, you can look and find a recipe online that has been tried & tested and is recommended. Just a word of caution, that trying to come up with your own mix without knowing the effects can result in burning roots, ill plants and possibly even plants dying. So, know what you are doing before you attempt this.
Very often growers will want the best. In a fuzzy logic we throw everything that looks good into the mix and are surprised when rather than monster plants we get plants that are disfigured and loosing leaves. Nature has a very fine balance. too much of a good thing and you will end up with undesirable outcomes. So, steady as you go!
Learn how to grow chilli plants from seeds from the experts. We were featured on the BBC Gardeners World programme during their 2006 chilli seed trial. To purchase chilli seeds go to the chilli seeds page. Click on the following links to view our advice leaflets: “Growing Chillies from Seed and Plant Care” “Unpacking Your Chilli Seedling Plug Plants” “8-plug Growing Kit Instructions”
How-To videos can be found here and our FAQ sheet can be downloaded here.
In the UK, chilli seeds need to be sown early in the year and grown on in a greenhouse or poly-tunnel, although they can be grown outside in a sunny spot during the height of summer. Germination can be very variable between varieties and can take as much as five weeks, though the varieties we sell on our seed page should all germinate within 10-14 days, some sooner. To help you get going, we have listed some of the tricks and guidelines we use to give our chillies the best start possible and for growing-on in pots.
We recommend that you use soil-based seed and potting-on composts – chillies really appreciate good drainage. We recommend a ‘John Innes loam based seed compost’ for germination.
Warmth and Surface Watering
Germination speed and percentage is greatly improved by applying warmth to the seed compost. We use thermostatically-controlled heated propagators, but placing the seed pots/trays in a warm environment or on a simple heated tray will also work well. With the seed compost at 27-32°C (80-90°F), you should see good results. Seeds will still germinate down to 21°C (70°F) but germination will be slower and more erratic. If the temperature drifts towards 38°C (100°F) germination will be quick but there will be a lower success rate.
Try to use surface watering with a spray bottle rather than watering from the base, surface watering has less effect on the temperature of the compost. Don’t over water, and certainly don’t make them swim. Watering with a sprayer causes less impact.
When to Sow
We mainly sow seeds during February and March, but you can leave it later. There is a great variance in the number of days taken for a particular variety to reach maturity. Some can produce ripe fruit in 60 days from sowing and others take as long as 120 days.
Remember that varieties such as Habaneros take 100 or more days (3 1/2 months) from potting on to reach maturity. So these need to be started in good time or the fruit will never ripen.
Germination and pricking-out
We tend to sow seeds about 5mm deep and in small pots, with a number of seeds of the same variety in each pot. Keeping each variety in its own pot is a good idea because germination time varies greatly. As soon as the majority of the seeds in a pot have emerged and are showing two well formed leaves, and certainly before they become leggy, they should be transferred into 3 inch pots. Hold the seedlings by the leaves, and not the stems. Note that some seedlings may need a little gentle help getting free of the seed pod. If you have the propagator space you can sow directly into 3 inch pots.
At this stage they should be moved to a site where they will get plenty of sunlight; ideally to a heated greenhouse or warm conservatory. Continue to keep them warm, moist and well ventilated. They can stay in a 3 inch pot until they are 3 to 6 inches high.
Seedlings by post
If you didn’t get around to sowing in time or you don’t have a suitable place to raise chilli seeds, we can ship you a wide range of chilli seedlings in March – order here.
When the plants have about 5 pairs of leaves they should be potted-on into larger pots. We grow most of our plants in the ground and this is a possibility if you have a polytunnel or open soil in your greenhouse. Otherwise pot-on into 9 to 12 inch pots depending on the variety. You can use smaller pots for compact ornamental varieties. As the summer sun intensifies, you may need to provide some shade, for example, lining your greenhouse or painting with greenhouse paint.
Try to keep the plants below 36°C, be careful not to feed them a lot of nitrogen (they will grow big, but can forget to set fruit) and don’t let them dry out; that should help prevent blossom-drop and pod-drop. Larger varieties may need support with a cane. Ornamental varieties can be moved to a bright position in the house or to a patio once they are well established. If your flowers are dropping off there could be a number of causes. If they are outside it is probably cold windy weather. If they are indoors it could be lack of humidity, in which case give them a mist spray. Lack of feed may also reduce flower production.
Different varieties are picked at different stages of their development. Fruits that start yellow or green generally ripen to red, though green chillies will sometimes ripen to orange or yellow, it all depends on the variety. Usually, and regardless of the colour, once they have filled out and become firm crisp and glossy they can be picked. Experiment by picking one to see if it has all it’s heat and flavour. The sooner you pick the more the plant will produce so even if you don’t need them at the time you should pick them and keep them in the freezer until you do.
Most chilli plants can be treated as perennial house plants, but will need some pruning in the winter. Some varieties are better suited than others, smaller hot varieties like Serrano and Twilight, and Prairie Fire do better than the bigger fleshy plants such as Poblano and Anaheim.
Have fun and feel free to email us at:
Current customer FAQs and our Answers
– Selecting varieties to Grow –
Q: What variety of chilli plant should I grow?
A: We are often asked this, and we start by asking how you will use the chillies. Pot plant chillies for a windowsill? We have plenty to choose from in this category, some of the best being Thai Hot, Pretty Purple and Apache. Medium-Hot for Salsa, pickling, mild sauces and stuffing? Some great varieties in this category are – Santa Fe Grande, Jalapeno and Cherry Bomb. Mild chillies for stuffing? Poblano and Anaheim are great for Mexican stuffed chilli recipes.
- Hot and Very hot chillies for cooking? Any of the Habaneros, Ring of Fire and Aji Limon are all great for cooking hot dishes – for extremely hot – the Bhut Jolokia.
- Plants for the patio? We recommend a plant with smaller fruits or pliable stems to prevent too much damage from rough weather. Twilight, Aji Limon and Firecracker are good choices. You can grow other varieties, but they may need some support from canes.
- What chilli plants are best for hanging baskets? At the farm, we plant hanging baskets for Summer display with the following varieties: Super, Apache, Thai Hot, Firecracker, Pretty Purple and Purple Tiger.
See our seed collection here: https://www.southdevonchillifarm.co.uk/online-shop/chilli-seeds/
Our seedlings and pots plants are here: https://www.southdevonchillifarm.co.uk/online-shop/chilli-plants-and-seedlings/
– Germination –
Q: What is the best time of year to start sowing in the UK?
A: March usually works out best for sowing chilli seeds. You can sow earlier, but you may need a heated propagator.
Q: How late in the Spring can I sow chilli seeds?
A: This depends on the variety, and at what stage you will pick the fruits.
For smaller, quick growing plants and for varieties that are used ‘green’, sowing can be done as late as June in the UK. The hotter varieties which are mostly used when ripe, tend to need a longer growing time and are best sown earlier. If you do miss the main sowing time, all chillies are perennial, so, if kept frost-free over winter, they will get you off to a quick start in the following season.
There are some advantages to sowing in late spring/early summmer are:
1- There is less need for a heated propagator.
2- The seedlings and plants will come on quickly due to the warmer conditions and longer day length.
The advantage of sowing early in the year is that you can maximize the crop from multiple harvests.
Q: I have followed your tips, but my seeds have not germinated. What went wrong?
A: The links above to the tips on growing from seed may help. Chilli seeds need a steady temperature of 25c to 28c to germinate and they also need a good quality seed compost – fine material, good drainage and not too high in nitrogen. The seeds should also be kept moist (if they are allowed to dry out, germination can be erratic), but not too wet (which can cause imbibition issues). If the growing conditions are not ideal, they may take a long time to germinate – they can still germinate up to a month after sowing. At the farm, we sow into Vermiculite with the seeds about 3mm-5mm below the surface. We water well from the base until the moisture appears on the surface, then move the seed pot/tray to a heated propagator. From sowing, we surface water with a dilute solution of Chilli Focus in a fine spray (https://www.southdevonchillifarm.co.uk/online-shop/chilli-growing-equipment/chill-focus-plant-food/). In these conditions, we expect most of the seed to germinate within two weeks, but a few varieties take longer.
Q: I have used ‘plugs’ and I have sown two seeds in each. What should I do if both germinate?
A: The best plan is to let them un-curl their false leaves, then pinch out (above the surface) the weaker one.
Q: My seedlings are collapsing after germination and dying. What am I doing wrong?
A: This is known as damping-off and is the work of fungi or fungus-like organisms that were present in the compost or migrated there. This problem can affect seeds, seedlings and plants. The conditions that cause them to thrive are cool, humid conditions. Prevention is the best defence:
- Use good quality seed compost
- Keep the compost warm while still keeping good air circulation
- Avoid over watering – which cools the compost and increases humidity
- Use new pots/trays when sowing
- Use tap water or fresh rain water
- To avoid the problem spreading to healthy seedlings, remove any affected plants.
Q: I have germinated in a warm cupboard and the seedlings are now very leggy; what should I do?
A: A warm cupboard is a great place to encourage germination, but it is best to check them every day to see if they have sprouted (showing on the surface). As soon as they start to emerge, it is best to move them to good sun light so that they can start generating food. If they do get leggy, prick them out into individual pots and set them so that there is about 1cm gap from the compost to the first leaves – this will make them more stable and less likely to be damaged by watering.
– Seedling problems –
Q: My chilli seedlings are leggy; what should I do?
A: If you can move your chilli seedlings to a brighter spot, that will help. You can also move the seedlings apart from each other to provide more all-round light. If you still have leggy plants when you decide to pot-on, chilli plants are quite happy to be replanted to a new soil level, so you can bury part of the stem to stabilise the plant then. This should be less of a problem if they start to get better light and are not too crowded. Chilli plants that want to be big (like Padron peppers) will need better light than small plants (like Prairie Fire), so if you only have a small area with good light, use that area for your larger plants
Q: When using your plugs, how should I sow them and pot them on?
A: At the farm, when we sow chilli seeds into plugs, we usually sow two seeds per plug and pick-out the weaker seedlings to leave just one per plug. Once the seedling in the plug has three or four true sets of leaves, we pot-on into a 1ltr (about 6”) pot.
– Potting on and Pot Size –
Q: What pot sizes should I use for chilli plants?
A: We recommend using a 3” (7.5cm) pot for the first transplant, and then using progressively larger pots as the chilli plant develops. Our experience is that the plants do better with a fairly gradual size increase, rather than potting on into a pot that is much larger than the plant needs, for example: 3”, 6”, 9”, and 12”. The final pot size will depend on the growing conditions, the variety of chilli and where the plant is being grown.
Q: What compost should I use?
A: There are several brands available in garden centres for a compost made to the John Innes #2 formula. This is a soil-based compost with good drainage, suitable pH and a good level of nutrients. Soil-based composts are also easy to re-wet when dry, and are still heavy when dry (which avoids problems with pots blowing over or being knocked over).
– Watering and Feeding –
Q: What should I feed my chilli plants and how often?
A: We recommend Chilli Focus, available from our web page in three sizes. A weak solution should be used initially (see bottle for guidelines), building up as the plant matures. A weekly feed is usually sufficient, depending on the richness of the compost, and how often you re-pot.
Q: What type of plant food do chilli plants like?
A: The best approach is to use a reasonably balanced feed, but one that has a good quantity of potash (potassium) to encourage flowering and fruiting. We sell a feed called Chilli Focus which is formulated for chilli plants.
Q: Can I use an automatic watering system?
A: Yes, you can. We recommend that the compost should contain a significant amount of drainage matter, such as perlite to help keep air around the roots. You can make a simple auto-watering system by placing pots on a platform over a water tray. Feed a thin strip of capillary matting into the pot from the base and trail into the water tray.
Q: How often should I water my plants?
A: Chilli plants enjoy a good watering followed by a period without water – until the compost is almost dry. Select a compost with good drainage to help keep air in the soil and try to avoid the pot standing in water. If the underside of leaves develop oedema (white ‘fluff’ or crystals), that is a sign that the plant has too much water at the roots.
Q: Should I water from the top or the base?
A: If you can, water from the base. This will reduce the likelihood of algae developing on the compost surface, which can reduce the air and nutrients from liquid feeding that are available to the plant. Avoid the plant sitting in water for long periods of time as this will damage the lower roots.
– Growing outdoors (e.g. in a pot on a patio) –
Q: Can I grow chilli plants in a pot outside on a patio?
A: Yes, you can, as long as there is no risk of frost. Here are a few tips to get the best from outdoor chilli plants:
- Go big on the drainage in the compost/raised bed to prevent the roots being waterlogged.
- Use black pots – they help to keep the compost warm.
- Use rain guards around the plant base to deflect heavy rain.
- Consider bringing the pots indoors during bad weather.
- Use soil-based compost (heavy, so less likely to blow over) John Innes No.2 is a good choice.
- Select small/light fruited varieties (less likely to get damaged in bad weather).
- Pick the fruits green to maximise the crop – expect a lower yield compared to greenhouse growing.
- Support the plant with canes and place in a warm, sheltered spot.
– Growing hydroponically and under artificial lighting –
Q: Do chillies grow well under artificial lights?
A: Although we don’t currently use artificial light at the farm, we have heard from customers that chillies grow very well to these growing systems. As they are light-hungry plants, stronger lighting systems would work best.
Q: Can I grow chillies hydroponically?
A: Yes, we have experimented with this at the farm using aerated ‘water-bath’ feeding/growing systems, and it works very well. Plants can also be grown in inert material with drip-fed water and nutrients. All the chillies grown by South Devon Chilli Farm are grown in the soil and in poytunnels. If you don’t have access to a garden, hydroponics is an alternative when you are looking to grow a good crop of chillies, particularly when growing some of the larger varieties.
– Flowering and Fruiting –
Q: Does it help to hand-pollinate chilli flowers?
A: Chillies have ‘perfect flowers’ meaning they don’t need help from another plant or pollinating insects to set fruits. In our crop tunnels, we don’t hand pollinate, but there is some pollination care of bees and hoverflies in the polytunnels. The vast majority of our crop will be from self-pollinated flowers. Chilli plants usually produce an abundance of flowers – more than they need or could sustain if they all turned to fruits. There is some evidence that fruits produced from cross pollination tend to be larger and contain more seeds, so it would be worth trying some hand pollination for the fruits that you want to be bigger. To hand pollinate, use a fine art brush.
Q: I am having problems with fruit yield; how do I improve the cropping?
A: These steps will help to encourage the production of flowers and set of fruits on chilli plants:
- Warm night-time temperature (comfortably over 15c)
- Avoiding periods of extreme heat in the day. Over 40c will cause flowers to abort. 25c is ideal
- Too much nitrogen can cause the plant for forget to flower
- Too little potash can cause set flowers to abort (try our Chilli Focus feed).
- Soil too wet or too and high winds
– Picking –
Q: My chillies fruits have black marks on, is that a problem?
A: As long as the fruits are firm, the black is just an early sign of ripening. There are a few chillies that we get asked about concerning blackening – Jalapeno very often has black streaks before ripening. We sometime get the same question concerning the plants which can develop black marks around the divisions in the stems, which is very common and not a problem.
Q: How long before I can pick fruit?
A: From sowing, chilli plants vary from about 80 to 120 days to fruit being ready. If you are using the unripe (green) fruit, this range will be reduced. Our seed packets have information on typical fruiting times. This information is repeated on our web page in the seed section.
Q: When should I pick the fruit on my plant?
A: To keep a plant busy, pick the fruits as soon as they are the size and colour you want.
We pick a lot of fully-grown green chillies such as Ring of Fire, Jalapeno, Poblano and Hungarian Hot Wax. These varieties are traditionally used green/unripe. Once the fruits are picked, the plant will form new flowers and mature smaller fruits.
If you are looking to cook with fresh or dried brightly coloured chillies, pick the fruits as soon as they reach the ripe colour to maximise crop weight.
Q: Are any chillies ripe when green?
A: No, they all turn to one of the following colours as they ripen: Red, Orange, Yellow, Brown or white. Some varieties go through a several colours as they ripen, and some develop ‘black’ marks prior to ripening. Ripening tends to accelerate towards the end of the growing season.
– Pests –
Q: How do I control Spider Mites on my chilli plants?
A: Spider mites can be a problem during periods of hot, dry weather. These conditions will greatly increase the lifecycle of Spider Mites, allowing them to get to such large numbers that they can harm the plant. The signs are very fine web on the under-side of the leaves, and ‘windows’ that can be seen from the top of the leaves.
Spider Mites can be controlled by regular spray or water on the under-side of the leaves, or by using a non-toxic spray, like the SB Invigorator we sell online:
You can also consider cutting off heavily infested section of the plant to stop the spread.
Q: How do I control aphids on my chilli plants?
A: If you look on the under-side of the leaves, you may spot greenfly (aphids) during the Summer months. The easiest way to clear the plant is to take it outside (or away from its normal growing area); tip the plant so you can see the under-side of the leaves, and gentle brush them off. Smaller ones may need to be squished. If you repeat this for a few days, that should bring it back under control. For extreme cases, we sell a non-toxic spray and feed:
White ‘flies’ on the top of the leave are probably shed skins of aphids, and will wash off with a hand-sprayer.
Q: My plant has yellow leaves. What’s wrong with it?
A: Yellow leaves on chilli plants can indicate a host of different problems or a combination of them. The usual causes and cures are listed below:
– Poor drainage. If the plant is in very wet soil, it will not be able to take up nutrients from the soil. Re-pot into good quality, free-draining compost and allow to dry out. Avoid leaving the plant sitting in water.
– Poor soil or feed. Compost or feed low in essential nutrients (in particular, Nitrogen) can cause leaves to look pale. Re-pot into good quality compost or try a new feed.
– Pest attack. Inspect the plant carefully for pests – especially on the underside of leaves. Use the recommended treatment (see above) and feed the plant to help it recover.
– Viruses and bacteria. Plants that have been attacked by a pest can sometime succumb to a virus. If the pests are removed and the affected leaves removed, the plant can sometimes be saved.
– Pruning and training –
Q: Do I need to prune my chilli plants to get a good crop?
A: We don’t prune our crop plants at the farm. We do sometimes pick off set fruit on small Hungarian Wax plants as they can sometimes get a little preoccupied with developing the first fruit that sets, but this doesn’t happen very often. Pruning to re-shape a plant may be needed if it has grown a little too much towards a bright window, or to remove dead growth while over wintering a plant. As long as you provide good spacing and good light, chilli plants usually develop into a natural bush shape.
Q: Can I train my chilli plants like tomatoes?
A: If you wanted to train the plants into a more vertical shape, then pruning out the side shoots would be necessary. This is a technique used by large greenhouse pepper growers to maximize the area under glass.
– Over-wintering –
Q: I would like to keep my chilli plant over winter, what should I do?
A: Chilli plants tend to stop growing and flowering during the winter months in the UK. If the plant is coming in from a greenhouse or patio, you may need to prune it to fit the available space. You can lightly prune to re-shape the plant or heavily prune to just leave the main stem. If the plant grew to an ideal size, then a hard pruning will allow it to re-grow with the same fruit cover and size the following season. Keep the compost just off dry while the plant is dormant and keep it somewhere light, but not with extremes of temperature. In the UK, overwintered plants usually start to become active in March or April, depending on where they are being kept. Fresh compost in the Spring will help to get them going.
– Preserving Chillies –
Q: How do I dry the chillies I have grown?
A: Drying chillies is more about air circulation than heat, so place them in a well-aired basket and put them somewhere warm – such as over a radiator. Spread the chillies in a thin layer and leave the stalk attached. They should dry out in a few days. Chillies with thick flesh (like Jalapenos) are not a good choice for drying. A thin-fleshed chilli, like Ring-of-Fire, is an easy chilli to dry. Once dry, store in an airtight glass jar or tin, and keep out of direct sunlight to preserve the colour and flavour.
Q: Can I freeze chillies?
A: Yes, they freeze very well. They don’t lose any heat and are easier to chop finely when frozen. To save space in your freezer, chop chillies (by hand or in a food processor) before freezing and store in thin slabs or ice-cube trays.
Q: How do I pickle chillies?
– Saving Seed –
Q: I would like to collect and save chilli seed for next season, do you have any tips?
A: The ideal time to pick a chilli to be used for seed stock is just as it reaches its ripe colour. Cut the fruit open and with a blunt instrument, scrape the seeds out onto paper. Place the seeds in a warm spot out of direct sunlight until they dry a little – this will prevent them developing mould. Store wrapped in foil and place the foil wrapper in a tin or glass jar with a lid. Store the jar/tin in a cool place (in a cupboard). The fridge is good if you want to keep the seed for several years, but they should be fine for a couple of years if they are dried a little before storing.
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How to grow chilli in pots – planting and care guide
Spicy food and exotic dishes just wouldn’t be the same without the zing of the hot chilli, those fiery relatives of the sweet capsicum.
These ornamental plants are easy to grow in the vegetable garden and they also perform extremely well in pots where they liven up verandahs, patios and balconies with their abundant crops of scarlet, green, purple and yellow fruits.
There are hundreds of varieties of chillis from which to choose, ranging from the mildest ‘Anaheim’, and ‘Fiesta’ to the fiery ‘Habanero’ and ‘Tabasco’ types. They can be used fresh, dried, pickled or powdered.
Chillies are related to tomatoes and eggplants and love warm weather and regular watering. They can be grown from seed or bought as seedlings, but whichever you choose, there are some important tips for producing bountiful crops.
Chillies thrive in full sun, and although they will grow in semi-shade they won’t produce as many fruits, so make sure you position your pot in a sunny area away from strong winds.
Select a pot at least 30cm (12 in) wide and fill it with a good quality potting mix such as Searles Herb & Vegetable Potting Mix. Seeds can be sown direct or seedlings can be transplanted into the pot and watered well.
Chillies require constant moisture to produce their small, white flowers, which later develop into the fruit we eat. During average summer weather conditions they will need watering two to three times a week, (although this may vary from area to area depending on soil type, wind exposure and rainfall) paying particular attention to your watering regime during flowering through to fruit set.
To promote better growth and more flowers and fruit, fertilise weekly with SeaMax Fish & Kelp, a well-balanced formula that promotes good root and plant development.
When the chillies are mature they can be picked and added to your favourite casserole, curry or stir fry, or eaten fresh in salads and dips. Ripe chillies are rich in vitamins A and C, so they’re not only delicious but they’re good for you too.
- Use a pot at least 30cm wide and position in full sun
- Plant into Searles Herb & Vegetable Mix
- Water regularly and fertilise weekly with SeaMax Fish & Kelp.
Growing chillies in pots is as easy as that.
- It pays to know your peppers. This gallery guide will help you identify common chilli varieties. Photo: Marina Oliphant
- Five to nine centimetres long with a rounded end, the jalapeno is one of the world’s most popular chillies. Photo: Marina Oliphant
- Unripe bird’s eye chillies have an intense sting. Photo: Melanie Faith Dove
- Bird’s eye chillies can pack a wallop. Ripe, red bird’s eyes are widely used in south-east Asian dishes. Photo: Angela Wylie
- Long chillies can be up to 15 centimetres long and ripen from green to red. Photo: Angela Wylie
- Serrano chillies look like a bird’s eye chilli but have a rounded end like a jalapeno. With the sweet, crunchy flesh of a capsicum and the heat of a jalapeno, they are typically eaten raw but can also be pickled or roasted. Photo: Julian Kingma
- About five centimetres long and wide at the shoulder, tapering to a small point, habanero chillies are intensely hot and start out green and ripen to yellow, orange or red. Handle with care. Photo: Julian Kingma
- Guajillo chillies are bright red, conical and up to 14 centimetres long. They can be very hot, with fruity berry overtones. Photo: Eddie Jim
- Pasilla chillies are not wildly hot but add colour and richness. The name means ‘little raisin’, for its dark brown and wrinkled appearance. Photo: Eddie Jim
- Coffee brown and wrinkly, chipotle chillies have a deep, rich smoky roasted flavour. Photo: Eddie Jim
- Large (up to 14 centimetres long) and broad, mulato chillies have a mild to medium heat and aniseed note. Photo: Eddie Jim
- Large and heart-shaped, ancho chillies have a mild to hot, sweet fruit flavour reminiscent of raisin or prune. Photo: Eddie Jim
- Heavenly facing chillies or facing heaven chillies are dried Sichuan chillies and are so named because they grow skywards rather than down. Fragrant, lemony and moderately hot, they’re between three and six centimetres in length, with thin skin. Photo: Eddie Jim
- Cayenne pepper gets a lot of attention as a metabolism stoker. Photo: Eddie Jim
- Dried habanero chillies. Photo: Eddie Jim
The chemical in chillies that makes them taste hot, capsaicin, is technically a neurotoxin. It stimulates the adrenal glands to release hormones, giving you an energy rush. No wonder we’re hooked on them.
Good Weekend recipe columnist and chef Neil Perry is a chilli fiend. Lunch on the run might be a bowl of rice with salted chillies, and a quick family dinner canned white beans and tuna with anchovies, fresh tomatoes, olive oil and a dash of chipotle powder.
But it’s at his restaurants that Perry’s chilli love affair really reveals itself. At the Chinese-influenced Spice Temple restaurants, for example, the chef uses pickled, salted, fermented and dried chillies – in the one dish. “They all add a different dimension and heat. The sum of them is much better than the parts,” says Perry.
“Chillies really are an incredible lift not just for the food you’re eating but for your body itself, with all the endorphins that it kicks off.”
British chef Paul Wilson says he’s using more chillies than ever before. Visiting Mexico has given him an appreciation for the dried product.
“When you actually see the Mexicans harvest produce and how they use chillies and how they sell them at the market, it makes perfect sense. All their gastronomy is about rehydrating stuff because it’s such a hot climate nothing lasts very long… They put them over a flat grill or over a wood barbecue and almost catch alight, then cover them in water or stock and let them stew for a couple of hours and those chillies and that water becomes crucial to the flavour of whatever they’re making.”
These are some of the main fresh and dried varieties available in Australia.
Two to four centimetres in length, tapering to a point, these small chillies can pack a wallop. Ripe, red bird’s eyes are widely used in south-east Asian dishes such as Thai salads, Indonesia’s sambal ulek (chilli paste) and Vietnam’s nuoc cham dipping sauce. Chef Neil Perry likes the citrus character and intense sting unripe green bird’s eye chillies add to salads.
Try Thai yam (salad), with prawns or squid, lime juice, fish sauce and heaps of chopped chillies.
About five centimetres long and wide at the shoulder, tapering to a small point, these intensely hot chillies start out green and ripen to yellow, orange or red. In The Great Chile Book, Mark Miller says their flavour has ”tropical fruit tones” that work well in food containing tropical fruit or tomatoes. Handle with care: too much habanero will overpower a dish and can cause havoc if you get it on your skin.
Try A little in a salsa made with tomatillos, a small green fruit in the tomato family.
Five to nine centimetres long with a rounded end, the jalapeno is one of the world’s most popular chillies. Its thick flesh makes it easy to work with. Perry prefers to use jalapenos green for their citrus character. Consultant chef Paul Wilson pickles them, green and red, and shaves them raw on ceviche: ”It gives you punch and a nice capsicum flavour.”
Try A salad with cherry tomatoes, avocado, butter lettuce and chopped jalapenos, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.
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Perhaps the most common variety in Australian markets, these chillies can be up to 15 centimetres long and ripen from green to red. ”They’re a bit of a lottery,” Perry says. ”At different times of year they go up and down in heat levels.”
Try Chopped long chillies add a lovely fresh heat and crunch to a stir-fry.
Wilson’s current favourite variety, these small chillies look like a bird’s eye chilli but have a rounded end like a jalapeno. With the sweet, crunchy flesh of a capsicum and the heat of a jalapeno, they are typically eaten raw but can also be pickled or roasted.
Try Finely chopped red serrano in a salsa or pureed green serrano in salsa verde, with onion, garlic, coriander and lime juice.
A ripe red poblano chilli, when dried, is known as an ancho (”wide”). Large and heart-shaped, it has a mild to hot, sweet fruit flavour reminiscent of raisin or prune. Ancho, mulato and pasilla chillies make up the so-called holy trinity used to make Mexico’s national dish, mole poblano.
Try In chicken and tortilla soup.
This round dried chilli rattles when shaken because of the many loose seeds inside – the name literally means ”little bell”. It is spicy and smoky, with a mild to medium heat.
Try In roasted tomato sauce, pasta and meatballs.
Small, bright red and pointed, the cayenne chilli has thin skin that lends itself to drying. It has a sharp, bright flavour and plenty of heat and is often used in powder form.
Try Turbo-charge your macaroni and cheese with a sprinkle of cayenne powder.
These dried ripe jalapeno chillies are Perry’s favourite. Coffee-brown and wrinkly, they have deep, rich smoky roasted flavour. They can also be used instead of bacon in vegetarian dishes. Perry adds them to Mexican-style braised dishes, stir-fries and salads.
Try Mayonnaise flavoured with finely chopped chipotle and garlic on a burger or corn cobs.
When dried, ripe mirasol chillies are known as guajillo. Bright red, conical and up to 14 centimetres long, guajillo can be very hot, with fruity berry overtones.
Try In home-made baked beans.
Heavenly facing chillies
Also known as facing heaven chillies, these dried Sichuan chillies are so named because they grow skywards rather than down. Fragrant, lemony and moderately hot, they’re between three and six centimetres in length, with thin skin. They’re available at Asian grocers.
Try In mapo doufu, the Sichuan dish of minced meat and tofu in spicy chilli-bean sauce.
Like the ancho, mulato is a dried poblano chilli, but has been allowed to ripen to dark brown before drying. Large (up to 14 centimetres long) and broad, it has a mild to medium heat and aniseed notes.
Try In a rich beef, bean and tomato stew.
The name means ”little raisin”, for its dark brown and wrinkled appearance. The dried chilaca chilli even tastes a bit like a raisin, Wilson says. It’s not wildly hot but adds colour and richness.
Try In mole negro (dark mole) and seafood dishes.
- Paul Wilson’s tomatillo verde recipe
- More chilli recipes here
Top 10 Chillies in Order of Hotness
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This tiny pepper, called Pimiento, usually has a sweet and succulent flesh. It is barely spicy and ranks the lowest on the Scoville scale, 100-900 SHU.
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Jalapeno, an interesting name for a kind of pepper. It is apparently named after the Mexican town Xalapa where it originated. Jalapeno poppers are very famous and their pungency ranges 2,500-10,000 SHU.
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These vibrant red and yellow color peppers are the only chilli variety whose fruits are juicy and not dry on the inside. Tabasco peppers are fiery hot peppers that made Tabasco sauce famous. Unlike the rest, they have got distinctive flavor and the heat ranges from 30,000-50,000 on the Scoville heat Index.
Image Source: Pinterest/Ruth’s Touch of Class
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Cayenne pepper is one that comes with many health benefits like boosting your metabolism, fighting flu and helping with stress. At the same time it is one of the hottest chili peppers which scores 30,000-50,000 SHU, according to the Scoville Scale. It takes its name from its supposed centre of origin, the Cayenne region of French, Guiana.
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Bird’s eye chillies are small, tapered chillies which are extremely pungent and very very hot ranging from 50,000-1,00,000 SHU! They are often used in Chinese and South East Asian cuisine. They are also known as Thai hot, Thai dragon and Boonie pepper though they are Mexican in origin.
Image Source: Pinterest/Chilli Guide
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Rocoto chile stands out for being on a heat scale of 1,00,000-3,50,000 SHU. It has black seeds and the shape resembles a small apples or pear. Dry roasting brings out the intense flavours.
Image Source: Pinterest/Sippitysup.com
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Aren’t they look yummy and juicy? Behind this look,the fiery reddish-yellow bell shaped pepper has got a special spicy nature and this is why, Scotch Bonnet is popularly known as the ‘Ball of Fire’ in Guyana.It has branched out from Chinese capsicum having 1,00,000-3,50,000 SHU. It has got some amazing names like Scotty Bons, Bonney peppers, Caribbean red peppers.
Image Source: Pinterest/Maggie Beyer
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The super plum Red Savina Habanero is extremely hot with a Scoville heat unit of 5,00,000. Till date it’s the second hottest pepper in the world and it is twice as hot as the regular Habanero. They are often use for pickling and making sauces.
Image Source: Pinterest/Shelby Oertel
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The ghost pepper or Bhut Jalokia can make you feel like a thousand burning needles are stabbing your tongue. At the same time its is also famous for its unique fragrance. It is one of the hottest peppers found in north east India. It has more than 1,000,000 Scoville units.
Image Source: Pinterest/Robyn Lindars
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This exceptionally hot and a golf ball-sized beast pepper is called Trinidad Moruga Scorpion. It has been identified as the world’s hottest cultivated chilli pepper. Initially the taste is sweet and then gradually the fire builds up. The heat measures about 2 million SHU on the Scoville scale.
Image Source: Pinterest/Gramzee