Growing Chilli Plants
Learn how to grow chilli plants from seeds from the experts.
We have over 20 years of experience in growing chillies.
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.
- To view our guide to growing chillies click here.
- To view our quick guide to seed germination click here.
- If you've purchased plug plants from us, click here for advice on unpacking your chilli seedlings.
- You can also find lots of helpful hints and tips on our Growing FAQs page by clicking 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.
Germination Mediums and Soil-based Composts
We recommend that you use either a soil-based seed and potting-on composts - chillies really appreciate good drainage, or sow directly into pure vermiculite. We recommend a 'John Innes loam based seed compost' for germination if you choose this option. The benefit of pure vermiculite is that it is inert and sterile, so the risk of disease is lowered, it has no nutrition (seeds do not need any nutrients to germinate), and it allows for very easy pricking out for transplanting. The less root disturbance at this early stage the better it is for the plant.
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, placed on a sunny windowsill and watered with a little tepid water when dry, depending on the room temperature (central heating can dry out the plants). Large varieties may need some pruning if they have grown too tall or straggly for the house. Some varieties are better suited than others, smaller hot varieties like Apache, Thai Hot, and Prairie Fire do better than the bigger fleshy plants such as Poblano and Anaheim.
Have fun and feel free to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org