There are a number of differences between growing hot peppers and other vegetables. What works for bell peppers, cabbage or carrots won’t necessarily work for these super hot peppers.
Even seasoned gardeners have trouble germinating super hot peppers. We encourage beginners to start with live hot pepper plants. The hardest part, germinating, is already completed for you.
As a member of the nightshade family, super hot peppers have some specific requirements that seem counter-intuitive when you’ve grown other fruits and vegetables in the past.
Here’s our ultimate guide to growing hot peppers to help you successfully grow hot peppers from seed to harvest.
Germinating Super Hot Pepper Seeds
Step-by-Step Paper Towel Method for Germinating Hot Pepper Seeds
- Wash hands and use disposable latex gloves to avoid contaminating the seeds with unwanted bacteria or fungi.
- First soak the seeds in a 50/50 mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide for 5 minutes to kill any bacteria.
- Now, soak seeds in our Seed Germination Accelerator for a minimum of 12 hours and maximum of 24 hours.
- Then rinse seeds and place evenly spaced on a damp paper towel.
- The paper towel should be damp, but not soaking, like a wrung out sponge.
- Next, fold the paper towel in half and place in a zip lock bag.
- Don’t squeeze out the air in the bag. Leave a large air bubble to provide the seeds with oxygen.
- We are trying to recreate a humid rain forest-like environment and the seeds need oxygen to germinate.
- Place the bag on a towel on top of a heat mat set to 85º F or 29.4º C
- A barrier between the bag and heat mat, like a thick towel, will prevent large temperature swings.
- Over the next couple hours you will see water droplets condensating on the top of the bag.
- Add water as necessary to prevent the paper towel from drying out. You shouldn’t be losing water very fast as it is pretty much a closed system.
- Be patient – Super Hot Pepper seeds can take anywhere from 14 to 30+ days to germinate.
- Monitor the bag and open every few days to check for little white roots popping out of the seed shell.
- As soon as seeds “pop” transplant into a cell tray or a small pot with fresh potting soil.
- Bury seed about 1/4″ deep with the root pointing down.
- Cover seed with soil and press down slightly. Pressing down will reduce “helmet heads”
- Finally, water the seeds and keep adequate ventilation
The seed soaking step with the Seed Germination Accelerator is not to be skipped over. It is a requirement.
This is called seed priming in the scientific community. Priming is scientifically proven1 with peer reviewed articles to reduce germination times.
Benefits to Seed Priming
- Softens seed shell for easier and quicker germination
- Significantly fewer “helmet heads”
- Breaks seed dormancy and jump starts germination1
- Increases initial height of seedlings1
- Increases fresh shoot weight1
- Improves seedling survival ability1
Common Problems When Germinating Super Hot Pepper Seeds
- Paper towel/soil too wet
- Environment not warm enough (85º F/29.4º C)
- Not being patient
- Superhots take time so follow the steps above and give them plenty of time. These are not Jalapenos or Habaneros which take about 7 days. Superhots takes about 30 days and up to 100 days to germinate.
- Germination can be irregular in some varieties. Some of the seeds can germinate in a few weeks while others from the same seed stock can take over a month.
Environment for Early Growth
Once your seeds have sprouted, you can reduce the temperature to 70ºF and make sure the seedlings are getting between 14-16 hours of light every day.
Grow lights should be 7-12″ above the leaf canopy to avoid burning of leaves.
Don’t over-water the pepper seeds, as this can cause them to rot or cause damping off. The soil surface should dry out slightly between waterings.
You’ll want to avoid using plastic covers, as this can retain too much moisture in the soil and plant environment for many hot pepper varieties.
Add a fan or other source of ventilation to provide oxygen to the germinating plants and prevent damping off fungus.
Water plants when lights are off for the evening as water droplets create a magnifying effect with the light and can burn the foliage under the water droplet.
Once your seedlings have reached a height of 2″, it’s time to start fertilizing.
Start with a half-strength solution of a liquid plant fertilizer when you water once a week until the plants reach 4″ in height, at which time you can switch to full-strength liquid fertilizer.
Some gardeners have had issues with seedlings being burned by some strong mixes, so we typically use a fish fertilizer to avoid this issue.
As your seedlings grow, keep an eye out for downy mildew, aphids, white fly and other pests that can be problematic for your plants.
Best Potting Soil For Hot Peppers
While there is no “best” brand of potting soil, there are things to look for in a quality potting soil for growing huge pepper plants.
- “Premium” potting soil does make a difference
- Choose a potting soil that is light and fluffy with large chunks of bark
- This allows adequate oxygen to root zone
- Eliminates over-watering problems
- pH of 5.9 – 6.5
- While you may not be able to test for this, it is good to know that peppers love slightly acidic soil
- Peat Moss or Coco Coir based soil
- Low quality potting soils are sandy and will have issues retaining fertilizer
- Pre-charged with organic fertilizer and beneficial bacteria
What soil does PepperHead use?
We use FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil on all of our live pepper seedlings. This soil meets all of our recommendations and this stuff delivers results!
Just add water and watch them grow! This soil will need organic fertilizer after about 1-2 months or whenever growth slows.
Yes, you can even grow the smallest of seedlings in this stuff! It won’t burn them.
Transplanting Hot Pepper Seedlings
Once your plants reach 8-12″ in height, it’s time to put them in the garden or permanent containers. If you’re planting outside, be sure to wait at least two weeks after the last frost date in your area to prevent losses to sudden cold weather.
Peppers are sensitive to cold temperatures. Freezing or even near freezing temperatures will significantly retard growth and likely kill young seedlings.
Before transplanting, gradually introduce the seedlings to more direct sunlight over a few days. Move the pots closer to the actual planting location. This will give the plants time to adapt to their new environment and harden their leaves and stems.
Plant the seedlings 2-3′ apart to ensure plenty of space later in the season. If you’re planting in a container, you’ll want to use one that has at least five gallons of capacity to ensure there is plenty of room for the roots to grow.
Make sure to add lime or bone-meal to the soil when transplanting, as nightshades tend to go through a lot of calcium during the growing season.
Fertilize with an organic fertilizer at the time of transplanting. You may want to consider adding a root-promoting fertilizer to encourage rapid root growth, or you can mix one aspirin tablet in a gallon of water to reach a similar effect.
Top dress with mulch to prevent weeds from shooting up and stealing the nutrients your pepper plants need to grow. Mulching also keeps the roots cool and moist.
Water thoroughly after transplanting and keep a close eye for the next few days as transplant shock is very real.
Make sure to provide support for the plants throughout the growing season by either staking or using tomato cages.
Later in the season when fruit is set, strong winds can break heavy branches.
Flowering and Fruiting
Pepper plants tend to go through a lot of calcium and phosphorus in the growing season, so remember to add a sprinkle of bone meal to the surface of the soil every four weeks, going to every two weeks once the plants start to really put on flowers and through the fruiting cycle.
This simple addition of bone meal will prevent a host of calcium deficiency issues including leaf curl and blossom end rot on fruits.
If you’d rather use material that is not animal based, you can add a sprinkle of mixed lime powder and wood ash to achieve the same results, but be sure to use ash from actual wood, not artificial logs.
Peppers that have insufficient calcium tend to develop blossom end rot at the ends of the fruit or the deficiency might show up in the new leaves as crumpled or crinkled leaves. This is a permanent deformity and once calcium is applied, only new leaves will grow correctly.
Why aren’t my pepper plants flowering?
Pepper plants will only flower once the plant is established and healthy enough to support fruit production. Fruiting takes an immense amount of energy from the plant so it will only flower when it is ready.
Common reasons for plants not flowering
- Plant isn’t mature yet
- Not enough sun
- Pepper plants NEED full sun!
- High nitrogen in fertilizer
- Too high of nitrogen will cause the plant to focus energy on foliage instead of fruit production
- Pick a fertilizer with the first number lower than the other two. Example 10-30-20 (NPK – Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium)
- Not enough nutrients
- Pepper plants need to be on a regular fertilizing schedule
- Alternative method to fertilizing is to “feed the soil”
- Adding compost or organic fertilizers is a great alternative to “chemical” fertilizers
- Container isn’t large enough
- Minimum container size for a mature pepper plant is 5 gallons
- 10 gallons is recommended if you wish to achieve maximum genetic potential
Another common problem is flower drop
If you’re having issues with fruit not setting, you may have insufficient insect populations to pollinate the flowers or excessive nitrogen in the soil. You can hand pollinate by using a damp brush and picking pollen from one flower, then brushing it on surrounding flowers.
Causes for Flower Drop
- High daytime temperatures (over 100° F or 37° C)
- High temperatures in the root zone
- Keep roots cool by mulching
- High Nitrogen in soil or added fertilizer
- Over Watering
- Under Watering
- Macro or Micro Nutrient Deficiency
- Pest infestation
- Lack of Pollinating Insects (most common during indoor grows and winter months)
Though there are some exceptions, most hot peppers take 90-150 days to produce ripe fruit after planting.
By following the steps and tips outlined in this guide, you can enjoy wonderful hot peppers straight from your garden or container without making all of the common mistakes. Take the time to start your plants correctly and enjoy the fruits of your labors for months to come.
Hot Pepper Plant Pests
All of the same pests that affect your vegetable garden will also affect pepper plants.
Keeping plants healthy and happy will increase their natural ability to protect themselves from pests and diseases.
Common Pepper Plant Pests
- White Flys
- Tomato Hornworms
- Pepper Maggots
- Spider Mites
Recommended Organic Pesticide
Be sure to spray tops and bottoms of all leaves.
The hard part is over! Now comes harvesting.
The peppers are ripe when the color of the pepper transitions from green to their advertised color (red, yellow, chocolate, etc)
Once peppers completely change colors they won’t grow in size anymore and are ready to be picked.
The fruit should pop off easily by holding onto the stem of the fruit and angling it upward. It will make a crisp snap off the plant when fully ripe.
Pepper fruit will store the longest when placed unwashed in a ziplock bag in a refrigerator or freezer. Remove any partially rotting peppers or they will reduce the shelf life of the entire bag.
Wash fruit right before use.
Overwintering Hot Pepper Plants
Since superhot pepper plants take so long to grow many people turn to overwintering to save their plants from freezing winters.
Pepper plants won’t survive temperatures lower than 32° F or 0° C so bringing them in for the winter is a must for non-tropical regions. This will save months of growing time in the next season.
Keeping pepper plants in pots year-round makes it easier to overwinter.
- Remove all fruit and prune back plant
- Spray down remaining leaves with a hose to knock off any pests
- Transplant into 5 gallon bucket or larger
- Bring pot indoors and place next to the brightest window
- Reduce watering; only water when soil is completely dry
- Plant will go into hibernation mode and growing will slow down or completely stop
- After the last frost bring plant back outdoors and slowly introduce to more sun (don’t place in direct sun the 1st day)
- Gradually move to more sun over a few days
- Final location should have full sun
Super Hot Pepper Uses
There are virtually unlimited uses for super hot peppers. Some of our favorites are
- Dehydrate and Crush for Pepper Flakes
- Dehydrate and Blend for Pepper Powder
- Pepper Jelly
- Hot Sauce
- Chili Oil
- Freeze for extended storage
- Freshly Sliced on sandwiches
- Freshly Chopped in stir fry and chili
We hope our Ultimate Guide to Growing Hot Peppers has helped you with maximizing your pepper harvests. Please give this guide a share if it has. Comment below with tips or tricks you find helpful when growing your own hot peppers.
We might even add them to our guide! Happy growing!
- Agoncillo, B. (2018). Enhancement of Germination and Emergence of Hot Pepper Seeds by Priming with Acetyl Salicylic Acid. Journal of Biology, Agriculture and Healthcare ISSN 2224-3208 (Paper) ISSN 2225-093X (Online). Vol.8, No.2, 2018
67 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Growing Hot Peppers”
Will the Carolina reaper and Trinidad moruga scorpion plants that have produced peppers produce new plants from their seeds
Hello! When you say “full sun”, how many hours of full sun should a Carolina Reaper have as a minimum to produce the peppers? Thank you very much in advance!
First, thank-you for this excellent step-by-step article. Being a novice grower I learned so many essential points that, otherwise, I would have thrown out all of my ‘unproductive’ plantings. Truly outstanding!
My question is regarding soil. Can Happy Frog soil be used as an alternate to Fox Farm?
I just wanted to share my experience germinating the Carolina Reaper seeds.. Everything I’ve read states it takes at LEAST 30 days to sprout the reaper from seed.. I successfully sprouted my ENTIRE order (about ten seeds) in just FIVE DAYS. I ordered my seeds and Germinating Accelerator from this website. Using the paper towel method, I built a little incubator out of a cardboard box, a bath towel (to insulate the plastic bags containing my seeds and avoid hot spots or light penetration), and maintained the enclosure at about 89 degrees fahrenheit using a 40w incandescent desk lamp. I experimented with a few different wattages and styles of light bulb before I landed on this as a suitable solution. Per instruction, I soaked the seeds in 3% hydrogen peroxide for 5 minutes, but did NOT rinse them, only dabbed dry.. then soaked the seeds for about 18 hours in the germinating accelerator and distilled water in a small dish. Again, did NOT rinse them, only dabbed dry. Finally, I soaked my paper towel with distilled water, wrung out excess and folded up my seeds in it. I placed the towel in a ziplock sandwich bag with a nice large air bubble, labeled it, and wrapped it in the middle of the bath towel. ( the bath towel was necessary because I assume the seeds naturally germinate in the dark, also because according to a temperature probe, this was the best way to achieve an even, stable 85-90 degrees). I duplicated this method exactly on 4 different kinds of peppers at the same time, Carolina Reapers, Ghor-Pions, Yellow Peter Peppers, and my mother’s special GIANT Jalapenos. That was 5 days ago as of me typing this. I went to check on them today for the first time, and all the reapers are now sprouted and planted, as are half the jalapenos. I’m still waiting on the ghor-pion and yellow peter. This isn’t my first rodeo growing various foods, but this is definitely my first time with a super-hot. I’m super excited to see what the season will bring me and I’ll update as things happen. 🙂
Just figured it was time for an update. It’s been almost 3 months since I started germinating my seeds. Currently, I have two VERY healthy Carolina Reaper plants which are both in the fruiting stage. One of them has about six decently-sized peppers, the other has four. Both have dozens of flowers in various stages. The fruits are still green and not ready to pick, but things are looking very promising. Both plants have peppers on them and I’m sure that, given there’s probably two months left in the season where I’m located (NW Pennsylvania), I’ll get a great harvest. Both plants are over 2 feet tall and around 2 feet wide. I used the Fox Farm Ocean Forest soil as this website has suggested and the plants are thriving to the point that nothing else in our garden or our pots are doing anywhere near as well. I kept 2 of the Reaper seedlings and gave the rest away to loving homes. My Dad got a plant, which I gave to him as a seedling which was transplanted using a spoon. That spoon held a small amount of the Fox Farm soil. The rest was soil he decided to use, which was miracle grow vegetable soil. His plant is currently barely 6 inches tall and will not produce fruit this season. I’ve learned that using the soil recommended by this website is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for a fruitful 1st year harvest as the soil used is the only difference between mine and my father’s nurturing methods. My Ghor-Pion and Yellow Peter plants are also in this soil and producing fruit. As for my mother’s GIANT Jalapenos, none of them survived. I used a soil mixture that I had left over from last year’s Habanero grow which somehow ended up with a root-eating bug infestation. The plants did germinate and were transplanted to their permanent homes.. unfortunately, they never broke the surface of the soil. When I finally decided to dig them up to see what happened, there were tiny white insects populating the soil surrounding the seed, and those same insects could be seen INSIDE of the sprouted seeds. If anyone has any idea what those little b*****ds were, maybe give me a shout? Can this soil be purged or should i dump it? Thank you Pepperheads, for a VERY encouraging 1st Reaper grow! I’ll update this again at the end of the season after my final harvest. If anyone has any advice on how to over-winter these plants, I would be very thankful. I plant to try to save them indoors, just above freezing in the garage, so I can get a jumpstart next season.
Lots of very good information for a 2nd year rookie grower. Good tips and methods to try. Thanks all
What about blending up some aloe Vera with some water to use as a fertilizer? And as a foliage spray?
Coir Under the heading. “Best Potting Soil For Hot Peppers”, you mention Coco Coir, but immediately under that is a warning against poor quality soil. Is Coco Coir a good idea?
I bought some to use with other potting soil and cow manure to grow Dalle Khursani peppers. I don’t want to mess this up.
Do you have any advice on growing a Carolina reaper indoors? I live in the UK and am trying to grow one but it just seems to droop and a few of the leaves are dying
I have two plants (chocolate reaper and chocolate 7 pot douglah) in ten gallon cloth buckets. I’ve followed all your tips. I have fruit and one ripened to a nice chocolate color but it is small. All the other peppers don’t seem like they’re getting very big either. I use the fox farm soil. I’ve stopped adding nitrogen. Use a little bone meal from time to time. The plants are about three feet tall and really healthy. How do you make the fruit nice and big? Thanks!
This is my third year growing peppers in coastal Massachusetts, and by far the most variety. I bought 4 seedlings at a nursery when I thought my from-seed plants wouldn’t “take”. But they eventually did, and now I have 8 varieties. Problem is … so far, 2 of the nursery peppers have fruit, but, they don’t seem to be what they are labeled as (and I took great care not to get labels mixed up). The so-called Thai Dragon is producing a purple bell shaped pepper! The so-called Shishito is producing 8-9″ narrow, slightly curved green peppers. Pictures I’ve seen of Shishitos are slightly wrinkled. Thoughts? Is it just a crapshoot?! 🙂
Great article! Second year of growing ghosts in San Diego but we’ve had a cool and overcast summer so are just now producing. Last year we had so many we were running out of things to do so we dices a bunch, mixed with large grain sea salt and put them in the smoker. Then we fresh roasted some coffee beans, halves a bunch of ghosts, mixed them up and let them sit for a few days before making coffee with the beans.
Question though; I want to take the plants indoors after the season but how far back should I prune them before moving to pots?
I’ve been growing super hots since the Red Savina was king, so what.. 10-12 years now? This article is spot on in my opinion but I just wanted to throw out an alternative to a couple things for the sake of cost and logistics. About 15 years back or more I got some tabasco peppers from a family member in Tennessee and I still have a few in a bag in my spice bin. This past growing season I decided to see if I could get one to germinate so I extracted the seeds going on two decades old and gave the sides one quick pass on some 220 grit sand paper, and then soaked them in black tea for around 24 hours. I was about ready to give up when sometime in April (started in February) I had a few roots popping and eventually was able to get one solid tabasco plant that I have saved seeds from just this week. Keeping the family strain alive! I also have the most success growing in pots with the following steps. I use 20 gallon “half barrel” pots and line the bottom with rocks, mix compost with sand at 3:1 and put on the bottom on top of the rocks, and then mix miracle grow organic garden soil with pearlite and vermiculite at about 10:1:1 and top the pots off. Once flowers set I fertilize with Alaskan Mor-Bloom (from Home Depot or Lowes) and I’ve never had a plant grow less than 4′ tall by 4′ round. I consistently produce more peppers than I am able to keep up with and I do so without fancy this and that. I do get the leaf curl mentioned and am glad to learn about calcium supplementation to prevent it going forward. Never be such an “expert” that your ears close up at your own peril. I grow in Southeast Michigan, typically naga viper, moruga scorpion, naga morich, ghost, 7 pot varieties, habs, thai dragons, super chili, and whatever interesting crosses I’ve done the previous year. Sugar rush peach habs x ghost this season! Happy growing everyone.
so i live in michigan and im trying to grow ghost peppers and it has fruit but are still green im wondering if i cut the plant where the stem meets the dirt and hang them but i dont want to ruin my harvest its getting colder and im not sure if i should wait or maybe bring them inside
This is wonderful. Thank you.
I just got some seed (Carolina Reaper) and it is already July. I am thinking it it so late that I would like to wait and start them inside in the winter for next year. Will the seed be ok to keep them until then?
Yes the seeds will be fine until then. Just store them in a cool, dry location like inside your refrigerator.
SustainAbility Speaking here, I developed a garden tower for plants and Thai plants Grow well in it. I hav 24 plants on 24 square inches floor space. YouTube STEVE LG,
And great tips here thanks
Hi! I am trying my hand at growing Carolina Reaper & Apocalypse Scorpion. I cannot find anything about the Apocalypse, it always refers to the Trinidad Scorpion. The question I have is if I can use fertilizer on hand. It is 3-16-0 fish bone meal. I used Zeus Juice to accelerate seed germination. Thank you Pepperhead community!
The Apocalypse Scorpion is just another hybrid that shouldn’t need any different requirements than any of the other capsicum chinense peppers.
Do you keep the seedlings/young plants in the cell tray until ready to transplant outdoors, or do you move them to an intermediate small pot beforehand? Thanks.
Just now received my seeds (June) and am anxious to get started but might be too late to plant them outside once they germinate. Can these seeds grow to fruition and ultimately produce peppers in a garage or other inside area being 100% under a grow light? I imagine I will have to hand pollinate them, correct?
Love this article, thank you! I wanted to ask- I’m experiencing an interesting problem with some ‘semi-hot’ peppers I harvested seeds from that were grown on a local farm here in Ohio. Typically these peppers are pretty hot, large triangle shaped peppers. Mine look the part but are sweet with no spice! Any advice? I read other forums that say if you treat them ‘too well’ they don’t produce as much heat, but I am hoping for a different strategy, honestly. I already have 20-30 fully grow peppers turning red and fear that neglecting my plants isn’t going to work for my current harvest this late in the game. Should I maybe leave them on longer or pick them earlier? Thanks!
Wanted to provide an update on my post back in June of 2021 when I bought the seeds. The seeds made it through the winter after putting them in the refrigerator. Put all 10 seeds in different ziplock bags on Feb 7 after soaking them in the 50/50 mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide. Used the wet paper towel method and put them in front of fireplace to keep warm. One week later (Feb 16) 5 of them start to sprout roots (ghost, reaper, habanero, primo and viper). The others look like they are starting to root but now quite there yet. Transferred them to a seed starting windowsill greenhouse kit bought at bi-mart and put it over a heating mat bought at Amazon. Used the fox farm ocean forest soil. Today (Feb 19), they are all sprouting!! Super excited about the progress and looking forward to peppers this summer!
am growing all sorts this year. I had a highly successful hot sauce called “SuperNova Sauce” using Carolina Reaper, Orange Habanero, Hot cherry peppers, and some other peppers for other flavor and color. This years garden is moving along and I linked a video on teh status. I hope its accessible. I use lots of the espoma products but within reason. I have one pepepr plant not growing and I noticed his roots were brown. I went and moved him into a regulated covered area, repotted him, and added some root hormone to the soil. We shall see on that one.
Would you commonly coat hot peppers with any type of coating.
I love your germination and growing tips… as a gardener for 40+ years I can say it is a good idea to point out that some seeds can be tricky to get started compared to most others. Also like the tip about too much nitrogen… my biggest fails with all peppers (including bells) have been from over fertilizing; it’s so sad to see a massive healthy plant.. and not a single blossom! Looking forward to growing some of your ‘super hot’ pepper seeds!
I have a ghost pepper plant that is in its 2nd year. Last year it produced pretty nicely. This year I have probably had literally a thousand blooms and teeny tiny little peppers. Problem is that once they go from being flowers to teeny little peepers the fruits stop maturing and stay stuck there.
Plant gets plenty of direct sunlight and I water pretty much daily as they really like a lot of water and fertilize with Osmocote. Plant looks rich green and healthy but just won’t mature the fruits. Also I don’t see any evidence of pests of anything else of concern.
Any ideas? New fertilizer with different elements/different ratios? Not sure what else to do but if I could get the existing peppers to mature, it will be a massive yield.