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