How to grow Chillies

Chillies growing

Growing Chillies key Points

  1. Warmth is key at all growing stages keep warm.
  2. Minimum temperatures to germinate from seed is at least 25C.
  3. Water sparingly.
  4. Pinch out main stem and early shoots to make the plant bushier.
  5. Grow under glass or indoors unless in a sheltered warm garden.
  6. Ideal container plants.

Chillies are relatively easy to grow their main requirement being warmth, which is key to growing chillies, particularly at the early stages.  Chillies originate from the tropics which is why they need warm conditions.  

Chillies are ideal to grow in containers and unless you want to eat Chillies every day, a couple of plants will keep you well supplied.  They like sun and warmth and in sheltered gardens, especially in the south of the country, Chillies will crop outside but elsewhere they are best grown under glass. Early in the year it will be too cold in an unheated greenhouse or poly tunnel so if starting from seed or as a young plant Chillies are best kept indoors until the later in the summer and definitely do not plant out until the risk of frost has passed. 

You can also grow Chillies indoors throughout the season and they will crop well and look attractive.

Once the Chilli plant is mature and starting to flower, it will benefit from a potash feed. Also, when the plant first comes into flower pinch out those early flowers so that the Chilli plant will throw out more shoots, bush and produce a better crop. Chillies are best grown in a dry spot, and if grown in containers, keep on the dry side. Towards the end of the season you can bring the Chilli plants back inside to keep them growing and fruiting. If you are growing Chillies indoors, you will need to open windows or doors to allow the pollinating insects in.

If the leaves of the Chilli plant turn yellow, or drop off chances are the plant is being overwatered, only water sparingly.

Chillies germinate easily from seed if you want to grow your favourite variety. Chillies need quite a long growing season so if you are growing them from seed you will need to start germination early,  and even earlier in the North of England (because of the shorter growing season,) from late January/early February onwards, provided you have somewhere warm to keep the plants. Equally,  it is often is easier to buy a ready plant from a garden centre/online and get off to a good start with a reasonable size plant in a warm place.

 There is a gardening debate about whether you can over winter chilli plants. It is true to say, especially in northern climates, Chillies are best treated as an annual. Even if you persuade the Chilli plant through the winter the ensuing plant will be less vigorous, if not feeble, and you may not get much by way of fruit.

Other gardeners suggest that you can over winter the plant and get crops in successive years will be good and the plant will fruit well for about 4 or 5 years. To overwinter a chilli plant, at end of the growing cut back to stem and few branches and keep warm with occasional food and water.

Equally, for the cost of a chilli plant you can compost it and buy another each year they are still great value cropping from one small chilli plant maybe 40+ chillies   

The RHS undertook a trial of chillies for those most to look for those most suitable to grow in containers, suggestions are: 'Riot' a longer thin chilli, moderately hot; 'Krakatoa' a thicker cone shaped red chilli hot; 'Spike' a thin, very hot chilli. These are all short compact chillies suitable for container growing in a warm spot bearing in mind chillies are H1 hardy which is 5-10 degrees.

Chillies are ideal for growing in containers, on windowsills and balconies and make a great veg plant where space is limited. There is a range of vegetables which can be grown in containers, for more information about growing vegetables in containers

 

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Chillies are an easy to grow green wheelbarrow plant

How to Grow Chillies from Seed

General gardening advise is that January is too early to start sowing seeds, but Chillies are the exception because they need a long growing season. 

To grow Chillies from seed put one/two seeds into a single pot just below the surface. Sow Chillies shallow and sprinkle with minimal compost or vermiculite. Chillies can take some time to germinate which if conditions are damp can encourage fungus. The risk of this can be reduced by covering the Chilli seeds with vermiculite as opposed to compost. The pot needs to be misted, and either covered with glass or put into a propagator. Leave to germinate which should take up to 21 days. Ensure the pot is covered during the germination process. Chillies needs to be warm to germinate, and they need to grow on in the warmth only placing outside much later in the year when all risk of frost and chill have passed and the weather is warm.  

If you are growing Chillies from seed to germinate they need a constant temperature between 20-25 degrees and very hot varieties may need it even warmer, which means germinating in the house, somewhere with a steady temperature. Chillies dislike root disturbance and they are best sown into modules and transferred into a pot with all the root ball and a little soil disturbance .
You can grow Chillies from seed, they are easy to germinate and it is cheaper, but it pays to get ahead with this crop. Because Chillies like it warm the plants tend to well if grown under glass rather than outside, unless in a warm sheltered spot,  the coolness outside restricts the fruiting and cooler Chillies result.

When growing Chillies it is a good idea, if you have the time, to feed them with a tomato feed diluted and given this they will reward well with plenty of chillies which you can pick off daily. Take off any dead foliage to help to avoid grey mould. If you are growing on a windowsill turn the pot every day to ensure even growth and avoid spindly seedlings.

 During the early stages of the growing season, it is often necessary to repot into a larger pot. The chilli in the image top right needs to be upgraded to a larger pot. You can tell the Chilli is plant is too large for the pot as it looks top heavy. Another indicator is that when you look underneath at the bottom of the pot, tipping it carefully upside down, you can see the roots fighting to get out and straying out of the pot. Chillies do not like root disturbance so pot on carefully keeping the root ball intact.  

When the fruits start to set, which is when the flowers appear, is a good time to feed with high potash fertiliser, such as tomato feed. When watering Chillies it is important not to water too much as they resent being waterlogged.

Some varieties will grow outside but they will only do well in warmer parts of the country, and then only in a sheltered spot.

Which Chillies are the best to Grow?

Choosing which Chillies to grow is very much down to personal taste, mainly the heat of the Chilli.  The taste and heat range from mild to mouth shatteringly hot. All the on line sellers and garden centres have Chilli plants and seeds on sale of all different types and heat just pick what suits you. You may want to consider growing a self pollinating variety if you are going to grow it inside all summer, and to aid fruit setting give the plant a shake from time to time. Small varieties are most suited to containers and hanging baskets

How to have Chillies all year round

Chilli plants are really good value compared with buying packs of chillies from the supermarket or greengrocer. One or two plants is ample and they will produce chillies throughout the summer and Autumn to give you a fresh supply.  Once the weather cools off bring the chilli plant indoors and it will fruit for a while longer.

A bonus is that Chillies freeze really well and all you need to do at the end of the season, or whenever you have a glut, is pick them off and freeze. When you want to use a chilli for cooking,  just take it out of the freezer, rinse under the hot tap and they defrost instantly, they are firm and good to use straight away. This way you can have a good supply of Chillies all the year round, they are just easy to freeze and keep for months in the freezer.

You can also save the seed from one year to the next. At the end of the season, put a couple of good ripe chillies aside, and hang in a shed or conservatory to dry out. Once dry scrape out the seed and store in a cool dark place over winter ready for use next spring.

updated 11.01.2020