Chili peppers are a staple in many cuisines worldwide, and there’s nothing quite like fresh chili peppers straight from the garden. If you’re a chili lover or aficionado, you may wonder if you can grow chili plants outside.
You can grow chili peppers outside, but you must start them off indoors. Plant them in a rich, well-draining potting mix and water them regularly. Place them in a sunny spot with temperatures between 70-90 °F (21-32 °C). Once established, you can gradually acclimate them to outdoor conditions.
In this comprehensive guide, I will share everything you need to know about growing chili peppers outdoors, from starting them off indoors to taking care of them in the garden. By the end of this guide, you will know exactly how to grow chili peppers outside and enjoy a bountiful harvest. Let’s get started!
Starting off Chili Plants Indoors
The best months to start chili seeds indoors are January and February, but you can also start them as late as March. Starting chili plants indoors will give them a head start on the growing season and allow you to transplant them into the garden when the weather is warm enough.
To start chili peppers indoors, you will need:
- Chili pepper seeds
- Seed starting mix
- Seed tray or 4-inch (10 cm) planting pots with drainage holes
- Fill the seed tray or planting pots with seed starting mix and dampen with water.
- Sow chili pepper seeds on the surface of the mix, spacing them about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. Sprinkle a thin layer of compost or vermiculite over the seeds.
- Cover the seed tray or planting pots with a polythene bag or cling film to create a mini greenhouse effect.
- Place the tray or pots in a warm spot with temperatures of 70-90 °F (21-32 °C) and excellent airflow. Keep the soil moist but not soggy to prevent rot and fungal infections.
- Once the chili pepper seeds have germinated, usually after 7-10 days, remove the cover and place the seedlings in a sunny spot like the windowsill.
What Chilis Need for Healthy, Vigorous Outdoor Growth
To ensure successful chili plant growth outdoors, it is essential to provide them with the right growing conditions.
Here is the low down of chili plant requirements for healthy, vigorous growth:
Chili plants require warm weather and lots of sunshine to thrive. They are not frost-tolerant, so ensure the last frost date in your area has passed before transplanting them into the garden.
They prefer daytime temperatures of 70-90 °F (21-32 °C) and night-time temperatures of 50-60 °F (10-16 °C). If you live in an area with scorching summers, your chili plants may benefit from afternoon shade to prevent the peppers from getting too hot and developing a bitter flavor.
Chili plants prefer rich, well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. If your soil is heavy or clay-like, consider amending it with compost or other organic matter to improve drainage. For acidic soils, consider adding some agricultural lime to raise the pH.
You can lower the pH of your soil by adding sulfur or aluminum sulfate. You can also grow chili peppers in raised garden beds, as they have excellent drainage, are easy to maintain, and warm up quickly in the spring.
While chili plants are drought tolerant, frequent watering will help to ensure a good pepper yield. Water your chili plants deeply but infrequently—only when the top inch or two of soil is dry—to encourage deep root growth. Stick your finger 2-3 inches (5.08-7.62 centimeters) into the soil to check for moisture.
Avoid wetting the leaves of your chili plants, as this can encourage fungal diseases. Water early in the morning, so the leaves have time to dry before nightfall.
Spreading a thin layer of organic mulch like straw, bark chips, and leaves around your chili plants can help reduce evaporation and discourage weed growth.
Chili plants are not heavy feeders but will benefit from a monthly feeding of compost or a balanced fertilizer during the growing season. Avoid fertilizing chili plants with high nitrogen fertilizer, as this can encourage foliage growth at the expense of fruit production.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to avoid burning the plants. Water deeply after application so the nutrients can leach down to the roots.
Pests and Diseases
Like other crops, chili peppers are susceptible to several pests and diseases. The most common include aphids, whiteflies, slugs, and snails. These pests can quickly decimate a chili plant and affect yield when left unchecked.
Inspect your plants regularly and control pests with organic methods like neem oil and diatomaceous earth. Alternatively, you can sprinkle a layer of Repel-All around your garden to keep them away.
If you’re concerned about the safety of Repels-All, you should read my guide on the topic: Is Repels-All Safe for Vegetable Gardens?
Chili peppers are also susceptible to several fungal diseases, including anthracnose, early blight, and powdery mildew. These diseases can cause leaf spots, fruit rot, and stunted growth. Water early in the morning to prevent fungal diseases, increase airflow by thinning out plants, and avoid wetting the leaves. Remove and destroy affected plants and avoid composting them as this can spread the disease.
Transplanting Your Plants Outside
Now that you understand what chili plants need to thrive outdoors, you’re ready to transplant them into the garden. Your chili plants will be ready for transplanting when they develop their third set of true leaves and the weather has warmed up.
Follow these steps:
Harden Them Off
About 7-10 days before transplanting your chili plants outdoors, start acclimating them to cooler temperatures and harsher conditions. This process, called hardening off, will help reduce transplant shock and ensure a successful transition.
Gradually increase their exposure to the outdoors by moving them to a shady spot for an hour or two the first day. Add an additional hour of sun each day and eventually move them to a spot that receives full sun.
Choose the Right Location
Chili peppers need full sun to produce a good pepper yield, so choose a spot in your garden that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. They also need well-drained soil, so avoid low-lying areas prone to flooding. If you have heavy clay soil, consider planting your chili peppers in raised garden beds or amend with compost to improve drainage.
Prepare the Soil
Before transplanting your chili plants, loosen the top 6-8 inches (15.24-20.32 centimeters) of soil with a shovel or spade. This will help the roots establish more easily and quickly. Mix in a 2-3 inch (5.08-7.62 centimeters) layer of compost or aged manure to improve drainage and provide nutrients.
Dig Holes for Transplanting
Dig holes that are twice as wide as the root ball of your chili plants and space them 18-36 inches (45-90 centimeters) apart. The plants will grow and spread, so give them plenty of space to flourish. Gently loosen the roots of your chili plants and position them in the hole. Backfill with high-quality soil and water deeply.
Mulch Around Plants
Mulching around your chili plants will help retain moisture, suppress weeds, and protect the roots from extreme temperatures. Use an organic mulch like straw, wood chips, or leaves.
Apply a 2-3 inch (5.08-7.62 centimeters) layer of mulch around the plants, being careful not to pile it too high against the stem. Over time, the mulch will break down and improve the quality of your soil.
Water Deeply and Less Frequently
Chili peppers need consistent moisture to produce a good yield, but they don’t like wet feet. Water your plants deeply and infrequently to encourage deep root growth. Aim for 1-2 inches (2.5-5 centimeters) of water per week, either from rainfall or irrigation. Avoid getting water on the leaves, as this can encourage fungal diseases.
Feed your chili plants monthly with a balanced fertilizer or compost tea. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for frequency and amount. Alternatively, you can side-dress your plants with compost or aged manure every few weeks.
Monitor Your Chili
Monitor your chili plants regularly for insect pests and diseases to ensure optimal and healthy growth. Look for problems like wilting, yellowing leaves, or stunted growth. If you notice any issues, take steps to address them immediately.
Stunted growth can be caused by several factors, including nutrient deficiencies, pests, or diseases. The leaves might turn yellow due to nutrient deficiencies, too much or too little water, or pests.
Growing chili plants outdoors can be a rewarding experience. With proper care, you can enjoy an abundance of fresh peppers all season long. Start off your plants indoors to give them a head start on the growing season.
When transplanting outdoors, choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil and space your plants 18-36 inches (45-90 centimeters) apart. Water deeply and infrequently, fertilize monthly, and monitor your plants regularly for pests and diseases. By following these tips, you will enjoy a bountiful chili harvest in no time.