How to grow Chillies

Chillies are relatively easy to grow their main requirement is warmth. Key to growing chillies is that they really need warmth, particularly at the early stages.  This means starting the plants off, and growing them on at a young stage, either indoors or a heated area. Chillies originate from the tropics which is why they need warm conditions.  Unless you want to eat Chillies every day, a couple of plants will keep you well supplied.

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,  in March, earlier in the North of England (because there is a shorter growing season,) from late January/early February onwards, provided you have somewhere warm to keep the plants.

To grow Chillies from seed put one/two seeds into a single pot, sprinkle with compost, mist and place in a propagator. Leave to germinate which should take up to 21 days. Ensure you cover the pot in a propagator or with a poly bag during the germination process. Chillies needs to be warm to germinate, and they need to grow on in the warmth only placing outside late in the year when all risk of frost and chill have passed and the weather is warm.  

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


Chillies are an easy to grow green wheelbarrow plant

Tips on Growing Chillies

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 .
  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 and set it off in a warm place.  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. Wherever the plants are growing, they will need pollination.

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.

 During the early stages in 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 in a sheltered spot.

 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 did 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.

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 15.10.2019