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 primary requirement is warmth, 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.  Chillies 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 for seeds or 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. 

Whether you grow from seed or buy a Chilli plant as soon as it flowers, this is a signal to start weekly feeding. Recommended is a feed high in potash such as tomato feed, which is ideal. Also, when the plant 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 sheltered 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, the likely cause is over-watering. The general rule is to water Chillies sparingly.

 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.

Equally, for the cost of a chilli plant, you can compost it and buy another each year, or grow from seed, 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 long 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.

You do not need a garden to grow chillies. They are ideal to grow 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

Chillies and pollination

The image left shows the flowers on a young chilli plant. The flowers pollinate and  form the chilli fruits. You can see in the image right, which I have annotated, that the spent flowers are still evident on the forming fruits. The more flowers, the more chillies, and the good news is that chillies, unlike, say, tomatoes, are self pollinating, which means the plant will pollinate itself with no help from bees or insects. This makes chillies easier to grow as you have fewer problems with a lack of pollination or pollinators, which can be a problem in cool summers for outside grown plants, such as courgettes. Another reason chillies are a green wheelbarrow plant.

How to Grow Chillies from Seed

Chillies germinate easily from seed if you want to grow your favourite variety. There is a huge range of Chilli seeds to choose from. It is all down to preference, although it is always worth looking at those varieties which have the RHS garden merit award. 

One thing which is different about growing Chillies is that Chillies need a long growing season. If you are growing them from seed, you will need to germinate 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. Usually because of the cold and low light levels, January is too early to sow 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. This risk 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 remains covered during the germination process. To germinate Chillies need a constant temperature of between 20-25 degrees and very hot varieties may need it even warmer, which means germinating in the house, somewhere with a steady temperature.

If you are growing on a windowsill, rotate the pot daily to ensure even growth and avoid spindly seedlings

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 .

In colder areas grow Chillies in the greenhouse and even in sheltered spots only put outside when all risk of frost and chill have passed and the weather is warm.  

 During the early stages of the growing season, it is often necessary to repot into a larger pot. You can tell when a 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.  

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 might want to grow 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 great 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 and dry really well, either is an option. All you need to do at the end of the season, or whenever you have a glut, is pick them off and freeze, or string them up to dry. 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 or use a dried one which you can crumble into chilli flakes. This way you can have a good supply of Chillies all the year round.

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 19.01.2022