Grow delicious chilli peppers with our easy guide and add some spice to your vegetable patch
Chillies come in a huge range of varieties, from mild to spicy, and as well as having a flash of vibrant colour in your veggie patch, the advantage to growing them yourself is the opportunity to have a choice not generally available in supermarkets.
Best time to plant: February - April
Flowering season: From July
Difficulty: Easy, suitable for beginners (perfect for children too!)
To grow a chilli plant from a seed you don’t need a huge outdoor space. These versatile vegetables can be grown in pots as well as in the ground, and don’t take up much room either way.
You can start your seeds off indoors anywhere from February through to April, but the earlier you plant them the better, so they have a nice long summer to ripen.
With over a hundred different kinds of chilli pepper, you have a great opportunity to experiment with different flavours and levels of spice. Our Verve chilli seeds come in nine different varieties including Jalapeno, Habanero and Birdseye.
The Scoville Scale
Chillies are rated by their heat using the Scoville Scale. Our Verve chillies have a rating of 500 to 600,000 Scoville heat units. If you think that tastes hot, some of the hottest chillies in the world can measure over 2.4 million units! Make a note of what chillies you grow and their heat ratings to see what your taste buds prefer.
Where to grow your chillies
To get the best out of your chillies they need to start their life indoors. A heated propagator will give them the perfect environment for germination so it’s well worth considering, but you can use a warm airing cupboard or a very sunny and warm windowsill. Once they’re ready you can decide whether you want to transfer your chilli peppers outside, if you do they need to be in either a sunny sheltered spot, in a grow house or cold frame, or a greenhouse if you have one. Whilst you can transplant them into the ground they tend to crop much better when grown in containers undercover.
If you don’t have much space outside, or you just want to keep your plants in cooking distance, they can stay inside on a windowsill with plenty of sun. If you are growing a particularly spicy variety then they will develop with a much more intense flavour if you keep them warm.
You might need:
How to sow your chilli seeds
Prepare your seed / potting compost by using a trigger sprayer to dampen it, you want it to be damp rather than soaked. Fill each cell of your seed tray with the compost to about 1cm from the top. Level the surface by gently tapping down the tray.
Drop two or three seeds into each cell on top of the compost, some won’t germinate so you want to give yourself the best chance of a good crop. Cover the seeds with a fine sprinkling of compost. Use your trigger sprayer to give the whole tray another quick water.
Don’t forget to label the chillies, especially if you are growing different varieties.
Chillies need warmth to germinate (18C to 25C). If you’re not using a heated propagator, cover your seed tray loosely with cling film or a plastic bag. Your seeds don’t need much light until they start to germinate but they do need air to be able to circulate under the plastic so don’t wrap it tightly. Place your seed tray in a warm, draft free spot such as an airing cupboard or on a warm windowsill.
Check on your seed tray every day, if the soil is dry to touch then give it another light watering. As soon as the seedlings start to emerge you need to remove the plastic and move them into a sunny spot, still inside. A greenhouse will work well too.
Remove the weakest plants from each cell so you are left with one, strong plant in each cell.
Potting on your chillies
As your seedlings turn into young plants they’ll outgrow their original seed trays, so you’ll need to repot them. When your seedlings reach around 2cm to 3cm tall, or they’ve got their first pair of true leaves, you can transfer them into a larger home.
Each individual seedling will need it’s own pot so make sure you prepare enough to hold your crop. 75mm diameter pots are ideal for the next growing stage. Fill the pots with compost to a couple of centimetres from the top, and water.
Make a well the size of a seed tray cell in the compost to put your seedling into. Gently remove your seedling from the cell trying not to disturb the roots too much. Push up from the bottom of the tray if you can. Place your seedling into the well and gently firm the compost around your chilli plant. Avoid handling the stem of the seedling as this can easily bruise and damage the plant.
Once the plants are large enough, and after the risk of frost has passed (usually from May onwards), it’s time to transfer your plants to their final positions. This can be individually into larger 2 litre pots, into grow bags (3 plants per bag) or outside in a raised bed (see below).
Each plant can give you dozens of chillies, so you might not require too many plants. But if you do have too many plants, pass them on to friends and family.
Pollinating the chillies
If you’re growing chillies indoors, open windows to allow insects to pollinate the flowers. Alternatively, you can give nature a helping hand by gently touching the centre of each flower with the tip of a small paintbrush.
Growing chillies outside
If you want to grow your chillies in your garden you’ll need to pick a sunny spot, which is sheltered from the wind and rain. Wait until you have sturdy young plants before you transition them outside (usually May for early sown seeds).
The prepared beds should have fertile, well-drained soil and enough space to plant the chillies about 50cm apart but check the label for any specific growing tips.
It’s important to give them a period of time to harden off which will help them to gradually get used to the change in weather and temperature. The best way to do this is to pop them outside in the shade for a few hours, and put them undercover at night. Gradually increase the time they spend outside and the amount of sunlight they’re exposed to over a period of two weeks. If frost is forecast, keep the plants inside to protect them.
Caring for your chilli plant
- Chilli plants need regular watering but sparingly. Aim to keep the soil on the dry side as this will help to slightly stress the plant and promote hotter chillies. If you can, use rainwater from a water butt rather than tap water
- Water your chilli plants from the base to reduce the likely hood of mould forming on the leaves
- Add a layer of organic mulch around the base of each plant to help conserve moisture. This can be done for potted chillies and those outside in the ground
- Taller varieties of chilli will require staking to support their stems
- Once they start fruiting you can feed them weekly with a high potassium fertiliser like Tomorite
- Early sown chillies can be harvested from July through to the autumn
- Chillies need long, warm sunny days to ripen. But if your crop does not ripen, especially those sown late, bring the plants indoors and let them ripen from green to red on a warm, sunny window
Storing your chillies
Chillies can be frozen whole in a freezer bag for about 6 months, which will give you plenty of time to use your homegrown goodies. If you fancy being more adventurous you can dry your chillies by baking them on a low heat in the oven for several hours. Once dried, keep them whole or you could grind them to make your own delicious spice, a great gift to impress family and friends.