2-3kg per 3m row
60cm between rows
Chillies are easy to grow from seed. There are thousands of chilli varieties to grow, coming in a huge range of colours, shapes, sizes and levels of heat, from mild to extremely hot. Many have unique flavours, with some offering a hint of lemon and others having a more fruity taste. All are bred from just five species:
- Capsicum annuum – the most common chilli species, from which sweet and paprika peppers originate.
- Capsicum baccatum – includes the aji family of chillies, popular in Peruvian dishes.
- Capsicum chinense – a hot variety of chilli, from which we have habanero and scotch bonnet chillies.
- Capsicum fruitescens – where tabasco Thai-style chillies come from.
- Capsicum pubescens – these are hot chillies with distinctive black seeds.
Many chilli varieties are available to buy in supermarkets but you will have a much greater range to choose from if you grow chillies yourself. Several online nurseries specialise in chilli seed, offering a range of interesting and unusual varieties you can use in different dishes, from Mexican salsas to Thai curries.
How to grow chillies
Originally from south and central America, chillies need a warm, sunny spot for the best results and the hottest chillies. Ideally, grow them in a greenhouse or raise them in pots on a south-facing patio or windowsill. Chillies need a long season to grow, so it’s best to sow seed as early as January in moist, peat-free multi-purpose compost, and keep in a heated propagator under a growing light, to prevent seedlings going leggy (sow seed in March if you don’t have a heated propagator). Pot on into individual pots when the first true leaves appear. Keep potting on if growing in pots or plant out into the greenhouse when night temperatures exceed 10ºC – ensure the soil or compost is free-draining. Feed weekly with a high potash fertiliser once plants have started flowering, and harvest chillies as and when they appear.
More on growing chillies:
Follow our detailed Grow Guide to growing chillies from seed, below.
How to sow chilli seed
Sow chilli seed indoors as early as January if you have a heated propagator, or from March if you don’t. Transplant seedlings into individual 7.5cm pots, when the first true leaves appear. Eventually, plant into the ground or individually in 30cm pots of peat-free, multi-purpose compost. If growing your chillies outside, wait until all risk of frost has passed before moving them to their final growing positions.
How to care for chillies
Once planted out, chillies require very little attention. Pinch out the growing tips when plants are about 20cm tall to encourage bushy growth. Tall varieties may need staking.
Water your chilli plants little and often. As soon as the first flowers appear, feed weekly with a high-potash liquid fertiliser such as tomato feed.
In hot weather, mist chilli plants to increase humidity and deter red spider mites.
Chillies will be ready to pick from late summer. For the mildest flavour, pick chillies while they’re still green, leave them mature for more heat.
Preparing and cooking chillies
Chillies add heat and flavour to curries, stir-fries and chilli con carne. Remove the flesh for less of a kick. Never touch your face or eyes while picking or preparing chillies.
Chillies can be dried, prepared with garlic and oil to make a paste or pickled in vinegar. Store dried chillies in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place, or chop them roughly to make chilli flakes.
Growing chillies: problem solving
Watch out for blossom-end rot and grey mould. These are caused by erratic watering so make sure you water consistently. Red spider mite can be avoided by regular misting, while a soapy spray should despatch whitefly.
Turning down the heat
If you burn your mouth while eating chillies, try a spoonful of sugar or a glass of milk, rather than water.
Chilli varieties to try
- ‘Apache’ – these tough dwarf plants cope well outdoors. The pretty green fruits mature to red and are medium hot
- ‘Habanero’ – the small, sizzling hot, green fruits ripen to orange-yellow
- ‘Joe’s Long Cayenne’ – the finger-like chillies, up to 25cm long, can be eaten green or red. Not too hot