Also known as Capsicum annum, the chili plant is one way to add spice to your kitchen garden.
Chilis are fantastic to grow in pots, on the ground, on the balcony, or in a greenhouse, and this versatile plant will provide you with a bumper crop of crisp fresh chilis throughout the growing season.
As with other plants, the chili plant needs to go through its life stages before reaching maturity, starting with you planting the seeds. After planting chili seeds, they will germinate and turn into seedlings.
Following the seedling stage, with little care on your part, they will start to flower. After flowering, the chili plant will begin to mature, and you will see chilis turn from shades of green to red.
Once the chili plant has developed, you have the pleasure of harvesting it.
With such wide varieties of chilis (over 4,000), you will find a cultivar to suit your growing conditions and taste pallet.
Growing chilis has become a hobby for many over the years, and even the most beginner gardener can achieve success with the easy-growing plant.
This time-lapse video of a chili plant will give you a visualization of the life of a chili plant:
We will dive deeper into the chili growing stages, and after reading this article, you will be ready to start growing your chili crop.
Stages of Chili Plant Growth
1. Planting Chili Seeds
To initiate the life of a chili plant, it starts with planting the seeds, and this can be done indoors in a greenhouse from late February to early March.
Chili plants originate from Central or South America, so they love the warm weather, and to get their seeds started, the soil needs to be 77°F to 82°F (25°C to 28°C).
If you are in a warm climate and plan to transfer the seedlings to the garden, you can begin sowing the seeds in April or May to give you enough time for the soil to warm up.
When sowing the seeds for the chili plant, you will need a few supplies to get you started: a seed tray or egg carton, chili seeds of your chosen variety, loam-based seed compost, and Vermiculite to help with moisture and maintain temperature.
Once you’ve stocked up on the supplies to start growing your chili plants, the following steps are easy!
How to seed chili plants:
- Fill the seed tray or egg carton ¾ complete with your compost and vermiculite mix
- Spead a few seeds on the surface of the soil
- Lightly cover the seeds with soil
- Using a spray bottle, moisten the soil with water and position it in a warm sunny spot.
Another way to start your chili seeds is to use the paper towel method. You can put some seeds into a paper towel and moisten the paper towel daily; after ten days or so, you will see the little seeds begin to shoot.
Once they have sprouted, you can gently transfer the little sprouts to small pots or seed trays filled with soil.
I prefer to sow directly in the soil as I can be heavy-handed sometimes and don’t want to disturb the little sprouts, but you can decide what method suits you.
2. Germination Time
Once your seeds are in their moist warm soil, you can expect to see them begin the germination stage after 7 to 10 days.
The temperature needs to be at least 60°F for this to happen, so keep an eye on any changes in the climate; if it’s a bit cooler, you will need to be a bit patient with them.
Depending on the variety of chilis you are growing, germination may happen in as long as four weeks, especially with Habanero.
Cayenne seeds can germinate in a few days, so when you are scouting for the best variety, look at the germination time and base your expectations on that.
During the germination stage, keep the soil moist but not soaking wet; ideally, spray it with water every other day, and they should be happy.
When seeds are germinating, you will see the seed case has cracked, and a tiny delicate white shoot has come out; this is the beginning of the next stage of the chili plant’s life.
3. Time to Sprout
After seeing your seeds happy to germinate, you will witness them in their sprouting stage. At first, green shoots will emerge through the soil’s surface, eventually turning into green leaves.
The first set of leaves are called cotyledons and are recognized as false leaves, which will eventually die off when the plant has grown more. The leaves of the chili plant are lance-shaped and are a deep green color.
As the chili plant starts to form leaves, it is a sign that it is ready to start receiving light to photosynthesize. Keep the chili plants in a well-lit sunny spot at this stage, as they will need about 6 hours of sunlight daily.
If your chili sprouts are inside, keep them on a windowsill or behind glass.
While the chili plants are sprouting, they still require moist soil, and you can reduce your watering schedule to every two days but check the soil first with your finger to see if it has dried out.
4. Seedlings Appear
This is a super exciting time for your chili plant; it’s the broken sprouting stage, where it is slightly fragile and sensitive to varying conditions to become stronger and develop more leaves.
This point probably overgrows your seeding tray, so they are ready for transplanting.
Aim for your seedlings to be about 1 inch tall before transplanting; this gives them a good chance, and their root system will be strong enough to handle the transition.
The seedling stage of the chili plant is one to two months from when you sowed your seeds, so you can expect to plant your seedlings outside in May when the soil has started to warm up.
Look at the underside of the seedling tray to see if the roots have started to escape- this is a sign that they have used up all their soil and are ready to move into a larger container.
To transplant your chili seedlings for them to reach their next stage of life, you will need to either plant them in pots (3-4 inches/7-10 cm is good) or find a sunny spot in your garden or vegetable patch.
If planting in pots, fill them with a premium potting mix. Wet the soil in the pot to give the seedling a good substrate to move into. After the pots are ¾ full of soil, make a hole in the center to put the seedling.
Push the seedlings out of the container, trying not to disturb the roots too much, and gently plant them into the new soil pots. Backfill the pot with soil and tamp down the seedling to ensure it is firmly in place.
Water the seedling again and watch as the little chili plant grows!
If you are planting your seedlings directly in the garden, ensure you take a week to harden them off if they have sprouted indoors.
Harden your seedlings by putting them in a few hours of the direct sun outside each day, and when the temperature drops, return them indoors. This is a crucial stage to prevent your new babies from being shocked into outdoor life.
5. Time to Flower
One sign that your chili plant is happy in the conditions you have provided is when you witness the flowering stage- this means everything you have done so far is working!
The chili flowers will appear when the temperatures are at least 50F and are usually small white, and star-shaped with purple anthers and filaments.
Chili plants in the flowering stage are ready for reproduction, and unlike other plants, they don’t require insects or bees to pollinate them.
Chili plants are self-pollinating, providing that the male part (stamen) is in contact with the female (pistil).
You can encourage this by shaking the plant gently now and then.
As the flowers begin to fertilize, they will produce your beloved chili peppers, and you will see the petals drop off the flower, and the bottom of the chill will start to form.
Over time your chilis will grow longer and wider and eventually reach their maturity stage.
This time can be tempting for many chili growers, and seeing your chilis grow to an acceptable size is satisfying. After your chilis have borne fruit, they will need to start to ripen or mature.
Some people love the taste of super-hot chilis, whereas others prefer the mild green chilis, and factoring in your taste requirements vs. patience will determine how long you will leave your chilis on the plant.
During the ripening stage, the weather should be consistently warm with lots of sunlight – this should be peak summertime. When picking chilis during this stage, ensure you’re happy with the taste as they will not ripen further plucked from the plant.
Your plant will continue to produce flowers while another fruit is ripening, so don’t panic.
7. Harvest Time
After all your effort and care, you finally reap the chili plant’s rewards. It’s time to start harvesting your chilis, and the method remains the same, whether green or bright red.
This should be around the 75-day mark of the growing cycle for green chilis, and if you want to leave them to turn red, they can take an extra month.
To harvest your chilis, use a clean, sharp pair of secateurs or scissors to prevent any wounding or disease to the stem. One great thing about the chili plant in this stage is the more you harvest, the more the plant will bloom and produce more.
Wear gloves to harvest if you are growing a super-hot variety, as you will feel the burns later!
How To Speed Up Chili Plant Growth
The heat-loving chili plants can test your patience sometimes, and with our current climate conditions, we may have to interfere with the growing process to speed things up.
To ensure you are growing your chili plants at the most optimum rate, you will need to follow a few steps:
- Start your seeds early.
- Grow them indoors and use a light or season extender until the temperatures start to increase.
- Please ensure they are in full sun and receive at least 6 hours of sunlight daily.
- Choose a variety that grows quicker such as Jalapeno or Apache F1.
- Apply a slow-release fertilizer to the soil after transplanting to boost nutrients.
Most chili plants will reach maturity after 80 to 120 days, but by following these steps, you can speed up the process and see the harvest stage at 65 days (yellow jalapeno).
Chili Plant Growing Season
The chili plant growing season commences in January or February when you start sowing your seeds indoors.
The latest time for sowing seeds will be March, as, after that time, they are unlikely to have the temperature needed to ripen or produce fruit.
Temperatures required to start growing chilis from seed are (70°F to 90°F) 21°C to 32°C, and around 26°C is ideal. Chili plants favor tropical and subtropical conditions, and humidity over 50% is perfect for foliage growth.
During the peak of summer, when the air becomes drier, this time will enhance the flower production and ripening stage.
You can grow chilis indoors all year round, away from the natural elements, if you can provide suitable conditions.
Some of the more pungent varieties of chilis are sensitive to frost and can suffer when the night temperature is below 54°F (12°C), so keep this in mind when planting your seedlings.
Growing them in a pot allows you to move them indoors when the weather starts to chill.
Last year I planted 30 chili plants in my vegetable patch, and as the cooler weather arrived, I found myself uprooting plants to move them into the polytunnel.
I will leave them in their pots next year and use the space in the patch for another crop!
Common Problems and Solutions
When growing plants, we sometimes experience challenges along the way, and the same can happen with chili plants.
Here are some common problems with chili plants during growth and what to look for, and how to fix them:
- Seedlings are leggy – Not enough space, water, or sunlight. Some plants stretch in a particular direction to reach for the sun, and you can see this during the seedling stage. Keep the soil moist and position the seedlings in direct sunlight.
- Flowers are dropping off – Temperature changes, over-fertilizing, and overwatering can cause this. Without flowers, you will have no chilis, so hold back on the water and let the soil dries out. If you have used a granulated fertilizer, try to scrape some out to stop it from releasing. Control the temperature by moving them into a consistent environment.
- Powdery mildew – White furry spots on the leaves form when the plant is in high humidity. This fungal infection can spread rapidly, so nip it in the bud at first sight. You can use a fungicidal spray, or for some using a milk and soap water solution can help to control it.
- Aphids and spider mites – These pests tend to be attracted to chili plants, and you can remove them by hand, blast them off with water, or use a neem oil spray for a few weeks to reduce their numbers and chances of return.
- Yellowing leaves signify poor drainage overwatering, lack of fertilizer, or pest infestation. Check the soil for moisture; if it feels soaked, hold off watering for a few days to let it dry out. You may need to uproot your plants and amend the soil if it results from poor drainage.
- Black leaf spot – The bacteria pseudomonas leaves small spots and holes in the leaves. Be careful not to drench the foliage when watering, and ensure your plants have enough space for aeration. Bacteria thrive in warm, humid environments making dense plants the ideal place to live.
FAQ About Chili Plant Growing Stages
How long do chili plants take to grow?
From the day you sow the seeds of chili plants to the time of harvest, the chili plant will take 80 to 120 days.
If you leave your chilis to ripen on the plant for a spicier taste, you can add an extra 30 days to their cycle.
What do chilis look like when growing?
Chilis start growing from the flower and are green, to begin with. You will see the base of the chili to start with, and as time goes on, the size will increase.
Once the chili has reached full length, it will ripen and change to red.
What is the lifespan of a chili plant?
The lifespan of a chili plant is 1.5 to 3 years.
The first year of the chili plant life is the most productive, and most people decide to plant new ones each season for the best harvests.
Chili plants are one of the most favored plants of newbie gardeners to grow; they are relatively low maintenance and produce high yields in their first year. Providing you give them the right warm conditions, suitable soil, and water needs, you can have a supply of chilis each summer.
Chilis are versatile in the kitchen, and you can store your chilis dried for use during winter or make sauces to keep on hand.
With over 4000 varieties of different shapes and sizes, you will dive into a whole new chili-growing culture!