Why Are Your Habanero Plants So Small?

Gardening takes hard work, dedication, and patience. So when your plants grow smaller than you hoped, you might (rightfully) feel a bit disappointed. If your habanero plants have turned out too small for your liking, there’s probably a simple explanation.

Common reasons why your habanero plants are so small include insufficient direct sunlight, being over or underwatered, and mistimed harvests. Additionally, soil pH, temperature, and nutrients can all affect the pepper’s growth. You will also want to be vigilant for pests and illnesses.

Below, I will go over some of the most common culprits that cause habanero plants to grow smaller than average. Additionally, I’ll discuss the ideal conditions for growing your habanero plant and how some gardening choices may have affected its size. Lastly, I’ll take you through some tips and tricks on growing larger, stronger habanero plants.

Most Common Causes of Small Habanero Plants

Some of the most common causes of small habanero plants include:

  • Improper harvesting.
  • Over or underwatering.
  • Not providing enough sunlight for your plants to grow.

Pepper plants can be demanding, and habaneros have their unique preferences. Even if you’re a skilled anaheim grower or a bell pepper expert, your habaneros will require a different set of conditions to thrive compared to other varieties.

Improper Harvesting Can Lead to Smaller Habanero Plants

If your habanero plant is still mid-bloom and has more produce on the way, this is good news! This means that you still have a chance to harvest larger habaneros the next time you go out to pick a few. Improper harvesting might be the reason why your habanero plants have turned out so small.

There are two main factors at play here: harvesting time and harvesting method. If you pick your habaneros at the wrong time, and they still have more growing to do, they’ll be too small. If you pick them at the right time but yank them off the plant, this might damage your plant, meaning your next crop won’t do too well.

The right time to harvest your habanero plants is when the color, the size, and the texture are ideal. For a habanero, the color will depend on what you like. You can get them when they’re green, wait until they’re yellow, or wait even longer until they’re red. Additionally, letting them ripen in the sun even after picking them can help the colors change quicker.

Size-wise, you can choose your adventure. If you noticed your plants were pretty small at the last picking, practice patience and wait until they’re the size you prefer before harvest.

The texture is important here, too. If your habanero plants were small and the texture was off, then it is pretty likely you were just jumping the gun a little bit. Again, practicing patience can mean a bigger payoff for your habanero.

When it comes to harvesting, a sloppy technique can make a huge difference as well. Maybe your habanero is a perfect size, color, and texture, and you snap it off the plant. The next batch will likely be smaller because of damage sustained during your harvest.

Over or Underwatering Makes It Difficult for Habaneros To Grow

Watering is another key factor in how your habanero plants will grow. Over or underwatering them can cause some damage to the roots or prevent them from getting the nutrients they need.

Pepper plants like to have moist soil, not overly wet soil. You can determine how wet your soil is by looking at it or sticking something small down into it, such as a pencil or a bamboo stick. When you pull it back out, there should be some dirt clinging to it, and the stick should be damp. If it is muddy or super wet and goes through pretty quickly, you are watering too much. If it’s bone dry, you need more water.

Watering can be a complex issue because it has a lot to do with your soil composition. If you are watering the perfect amount, but your soil is not draining through, your peppers won’t be happy. They may become waterlogged, and all their nutrients might get flushed out. They require soil that drains and dries completely between watering sessions.

So with all this information, what does it mean for you and your gardening routine? To summarize, avoid both overwatering and underwatering:

  • Let the soil dry completely between waterings.
  • Check to make sure the water is draining through (especially if you are container growing).
  • Only water when your peppers need it, indicated by dry soil.

Moisture meters can also be helpful in figuring out whether you are watering too much or too little. All you have to do is stick the equipment into the ground, and the water in the soil will conduct against the meter’s metal. Then, the meter will indicate how moist or dry your soil is down near the bottom, where the roots are absorbing water.

Too Little or Too Much Sunlight Makes Habaneros Smaller

Another common reason why your habaneros might be coming out small is their exposure to sunlight. Remember, habanero plants need full direct sunlight to grow. This means that for at least six hours a day, they should be getting unfiltered sun exposure. Too much shade means they won’t grow properly.

If your pepper plant is growing somewhere with sunlight, but it is shaded most of the day, then this is the problem. Direct sunlight means choosing a location where the plan is getting exposed to unfiltered rays.

However, not too many unfiltered rays if you live in a hot climate.

You may be wondering how too much sunlight might affect pepper growth. Contrary to popular belief, peppers don’t do well in extremely hot temperatures. Even though they are spicy to the taste, they prefer temperatures below 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees celsius). They may become stressed and wilt if they are getting too much sun or heat. 

When this happens, a little extra water should help. Still, excess temperatures will stress your peppers out. Having your plants wilt or become stressed will affect how big the peppers grow.

Additionally, some pepper gardeners swear by pruning their pepper plants as seedlings throughout their growth cycle to make the plants stronger and bushier. This video describes that process:

Essentially, pruning your plants will help light get to the smaller leaves on the bottom of your plant. This ensures proper sunlight all over your plant. Then, your plant can grow stronger and produce more peppers.

Like all things gardening, there’s a balance. Make sure your peppers are getting the right amount of sunlight and shade.

Other Factors That May Affect Habanero Growth

The above are the most common reasons your habanero peppers are growing small, but there are some other possible causes, too. Your peppers might be experiencing:

If your plant is experiencing one or more of these issues, its peppers will grow smaller due to stress and lack of nutrients.

Soil pH & Nutrients Affect Habanero Growth

Soil pH and nutrient availability go hand in hand, but if you have an issue with one, it doesn’t mean you have to have an issue with the other. Let me explain.

Your soil pH, which should be between 6.4 and 7.0 for your habanero peppers, determines the availability of nutrients. If you’re providing all the necessary nutrients for your peppers, but your soil pH is too high or too low, your plant’s roots can’t take the nutrients in.

However, if you have a perfect soil pH but the nutrients are not there, your habanero plants won’t have anything to take in.

Determining which of these is your issue can be difficult. You can get a soil pH test online or at a gardening store to make sure your soil’s pH is correct for habanero growth, or you can send a soil sample to a lab to ensure all the necessary nutrients are present. I’d suggest the latter if you have no clue what’s going on–a lab test can tell you more about the moisture, nutrients, sunlight, soil composure, and pH.

Temperature Can Make Your Habanero Plants Smaller

As discussed above, temperature can make or break your habanero plants. Too much sunlight will make your habanero plants too hot, making them wilt. The stress of wilting may take away from important growing time.

However, if it’s too cold, your habanero plants won’t do well either. The stress of growing in freezing weather, even if it’s just for one day or one night, can affect how your peppers grow. Habanero peppers are not frostproof, so if you’ve planted them too early or too late in the season, a chill can upset their growth pattern.

Additionally, you need to consider the temperature at night. The temperature can play hand in hand with the frequency of your waterings. If you’re watering during the evening and your plants are still damp by nightfall, and the temperature pops below 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius), your plants will grow much slower. Slower growing plants may cause you to harvest too soon, leaving you with small habanero peppers.

Illness Affects Your Habanero’s Nutrient Uptake

Another essential component to consider is your plant’s health. Sometimes, illnesses make it harder for your plants to grow because they require them to use the energy reserves to keep growing. Additionally, they may not be able to grab the nutrients they require.

Look out for other strange happenings in your plants. Try to notice if there’s any discoloration, or any other weird processes going on with their growth. Fungus is also common if you’re overwatering and might just look like a mildewy white powder over your plants. While this white mildew isn’t necessarily harmful and is pretty common in house plants, it could still possibly affect how your habaneros are growing.

Pests Can Harm Your Habanero Roots and Absorb Nutrients

Pests are also a big red flag for your habanero plants.

Now, some insects and bugs are helpful. Ladybugs, for example, tend to be good in gardens because they help keep away aphids and butterflies, and bees help to pollinate. However, teenier bugs may be the source of your habanero issues. Some pests will get deep in the soil and eat away at your plant’s roots, making it impossible for your plant to absorb the nutrients it needs.

Check for other signs that you have pests before you decide that something else is the cause of your too small habanero. Some of these include:

  • Tiny bite marks on the plants.
  • Other plants in the same garden bed are struggling.
  • You see small bugs (you might need a magnifying glass!).

To get rid of pests, I swear by neem oil. It isn’t harmful to your plants; however, it helps deter bugs that might be thinking of landing and kills any already existing intruders. You can also use a water and hydrogen peroxide mixture or gently brush your plants with water and dish soap, making it hard for pests to stick.

How To Grow Larger Habanero Plants

If you’ve figured out the cause behind your habanero plant growing too small, you probably already know what to do differently next time. If you give them too much sun, you’ll shade them better. If you water too much, you’ll decrease your watering frequency.

However, if you have done everything right and just want a bigger crop, there are other ways to make your habaneros thrive. During the planning, growing, and harvesting phase, you can implement some tactics to make your habanero plants grow larger.

Planning Your Garden

You can make sure your habanero plants grow large right from the get-go! When you’re planning out your pepper garden, make sure to look for the following:

  • Space with full, direct sunlight.
  • A spot that doesn’t get too hot or cold.
  • Somewhere that your pepper plants have enough space to move and grow.
  • Nutrient-rich soil.

Additionally, pepper plants have a few companions that can grow with them symbiotically (meaning they help each other out!). Consider adding a leafy green like spinach or chard to help rid your garden bed of pests or something like beets to keep the soil cool. Avoid growing varieties like cauliflower, broccoli, kale, or brussels sprouts in the same gardening bed.

Moreover, if you’re in the early stages of planning, you could consider growing your peppers in a container rather than sowing them directly into the ground. If you’re experiencing unpredictable weather, you can move your peppers around accordingly.

During Growing

As previously mentioned, pruning your plants during the first stages of their growth is essential to growing high-yielding pepper plants. Taking off the top leaves as your plant gets bigger means that the smaller leaves on the bottom will get the sunlight they need to grow, making your plant much stronger. A stronger plant means a bigger harvest and possible bigger habanero peppers.

Keep track of all the necessities when you grow by investing in a moisture meter. I’d highly suggest any gardener get one–whether you’re a backyard homesteader or a container gardener! Moisture meters, especially the high-tech ones, will save you so much time and headache. All you have to do is stick them into the soil, and they’ll tell you the moisture, temperature, sunlight, and pH level.

During the growing process, you’ll also want to consider keeping pests away from your habaneros so they can grow properly. Habaneros are pretty spicy, so whoever (or whatever) takes a bite might not come back for much more, but it’s good to be cautious anyway. Put up a gate or use some easy scarecrow method to get rid of birds, squirrels, rabbits, or other pests. 

Another easy, inexpensive way is to hang up old CDs in your trees. The light will scare birds away!

Lastly, make sure you’re giving your habanero plants every nutrient they need. Add compost or fertilizer to help richen the soil and keep the pH in check to ensure all nutrients are accessible to your plants.

When To Harvest

The approaches you follow before and during the growth process can significantly affect habanero size, but harvesting at the right time is equally important. No matter how well you plan and take care of your habaneros, if you harvest them too soon, they’ll be small!

Make sure your habaneros are ready to pick before grabbing them off the plant. Additionally, you’ll want to use the right pinching method to grab them off of the plant. Some gardening shears or a little thumb knife (don’t forget the finger guard!) will make this process even easier.


If your habaneros are small, something went wrong along the growing process. This may have been something you did before you even planted the seeds–such as selecting a spot that didn’t get enough sunlight or didn’t have the right pH level–or it might have something to do with how you treated them as they grew. Even if you did everything perfectly, harvesting the peppers at the wrong time or using the wrong method will also lead to a smaller crop size.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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