Chilli peppers are originally from South America, but they are now widely grown all over the world. Most modern varieties are Capsicum annuum, although some varieties are hybrids with C. frutescens. The heat of the chilli pepper is believed to have evolved to prevent anything other than birds (which are immune to chilli heat) from eating them. Chilli plants can be treated as annuals in areas with harsh winters, but they will grow as perennial plants in frost-free zones.
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Things you need
- Seed tray
- Potting compost
- Liquid fertiliser
Choose commercial chilli seed from a store or collect your own seed from a ripe, fresh chilli pepper. Clean collected seed in water and allow it to dry out in a warm, dry spot for a week before planting. Soak your seeds in water for 24 hours prior to planting them.
Plant your chilli seeds in a seed tray of standard potting compost mixed in with 30-percent sharp sand or perlite to aid drainage. Moisten the soil prior to sowing but do not soak it completely. You should be able to squeeze the compost without it dripping. Plant each seed at least 3 inches from its neighbours and cover them with a 1/8-inch-thick layer of sieved compost.
Place the seed tray in a bright and warm spot such as a south-facing windowsill. Chilli pepper seeds germinate most reliably at between 21.1 and 26.7 degrees Celsius. Place the seed tray in a clear plastic bag or cover it with cling film to trap heat and humidity. Germination can take as long as six weeks.
Transplant each seedling into an individual 3-inch pot when it has four true leaves, or is large enough to handle. Apply a liquid house plant fertiliser diluted by half. Place the pots in a warm, bright spot with a minimum temperature of 15.6 degrees C. Water your chilli plants as soon as the surface of the compost starts to dry out and allow all excess water to drain away.
Harden off your chilli seedlings by exposing them to outdoor conditions for increasing periods of time if you plan to plant them in the garden. Only do this after all danger of frost has passed. Plant the chilli peppers outside once minimum night time temperatures are above 12.8 degrees C. Leave 12 to 18 inches between plants or grow several together on hill or mound.
Fertilise your chilli plants every two weeks with liquid fertiliser that is low in nitrogen and high in trace elements. This encourages the plants to develop flowers and fruit rather than leaves. Water when the surface of the soil starts to dry out. Chilli plants take between 120 and 130 days from germination to produce ripe fruit, although the exact time depends on the variety you are growing.
Tips and warnings
- Grow a chilli plant indoors in a 6-inch pot on a south-facing windowsill that receives direct sunshine.
- Never place your chilli plants outdoors if there is any danger of frost as it will kill them.
- Chilli plant roots are very sensitive to damage during repotting.
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