Growing chillies at home is easy, and there’s a huge variety of different types to choose from. Whether you want flavour, heat or colour, there’s a chilli pepper seed for every occasion. Homegrown chillies can be delicately mild or fiercely hot. Incredibly versatile, you can grow them on sunny windowsills, in a greenhouse, or directly in the ground. They’re also perfect for containers and their brightly-coloured fruits are a great way to brighten up conservatories or patios.
Here's how to grow your own bumper crop of chillies from seeds or plants.
Chillies contain a chemical called capsaicin that stimulates the nerve endings in your mucous membranes; that's what makes them feel hot when you bite into one. The amount of heat depends on the variety, the maturity of the plant and the growing conditions.
The heat of each chilli is measured by the Scoville Scale. In 2017, Welsh fruit grower Mike Smith accidentally grew the world's hottest specimen. Registering 2.48 million on the Scoville scale, experts say that just one of his ‘Dragon's Breath’ chillies is enough to trigger anaphylactic shock!
Whether you like your chillies delicate and mild or sizzling hot, there’s plenty of choice. Try planting a few different varieties to find the one that suits you. Some of our favourites include:
January and February are the perfect months to start sowing your chilli pepper seeds indoors. Although you can still sow the seeds right up until the end of March, early sowing gives your chillies plenty of time to ripen before the end of summer.
The hottest varieties need the longest growing period. If you didn’t give yourself enough time to grow from seed this year, don’t worry, you can buy chilli plants too. Here’s how to grow your own chillies from seed:
When your chilli seedlings are big enough to handle without breaking, gently transplant them from seed trays into individual pots of compost and grow them on until all risk of frost has passed. When they’re large enough, you can transplant them to their final position, which is usually about May.
You can grow chillies individually, by transplanting them into 2 litre containers, or plant them in grow bags, allowing three plants per bag. Place the pots or growbags undercover in a warm greenhouse, conservatory, or polytunnel.
Alternatively, plant your chillies outside in a sunny, sheltered spot. Gradually acclimatise your plants to outdoor conditions over a period of 7 to 10 days before transplanting them into well prepared beds of fertile, moist, well-drained soil. Space your chilli pepper plants 50cm (20") apart in the ground.
Water your chilli plants regularly throughout the growing season, and once the first fruits have set, feed them weekly with a high potash tomato fertiliser. Also remember to:
Growing chillies indoors? Do remember to open windows and doors to provide insects access to the flowers to ensure good pollination. Alternatively, hand pollinate the chillies by moving from flower to flower, tickling the centre of each with a fine artist's paint brush.
Chillies require warmth and long sunny days to ripen properly. From an early sowing, this shouldn't be a problem, but later sowings in the UK may leave your peppers feeling the cold as summer days begin to shorten.
Chillies are usually ready to start harvesting in about July. The more you pick, the more chillies your plant will grow. Towards the end of the season you might like to leave chillies on the plant a little longer, allowing them to mature until they achieve a deep red colour and intense flavour. This will let the plant know to produce less fruit, so wait until you’re ready to slow down.
If the weather starts to cool before your crop has fully ripened, bring your plants indoors and let them ripen on a warm sunny windowsill. Harvest chillies one at a time by cutting them from the plant with secateurs. Chilli peppers grown outdoors must be harvested before the first frost.
To preserve your chillies to enjoy over the winter, you can dry them or freeze them:
Do you love growing chillies? Let us know on our Facebook page - and if you have pictures of your crop, please share! Find loads more chilli advice at our chilli and sweet pepper hub page with our best guides, recipes and blogger articles.