HomeGardening Tips And AdviceHow To Grow The Best Chillies

How To Grow The Best Chillies

The Ultimate Guide To Growing Chillies

Introduction to growing chillies

If you want to cultivate your own chillies, you have two choices: start from seed or get seedlings and go from there.

We’ll start at the beginning with picking the seeds from which to grow your chilies in this three-part series.

How to Get Chilli Seeds

Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a place where chillies grow wild, you can get your seeds from one of two places. Below, I’ll go over both of these topics and offer my advice.

Home-Grown Chillies

The first source of seeds that springs to mind is clearly one that you have produced yourself, or from a chilli-obsessed companion (or neighbour for those outside Australia).
This is a completely acceptable method of obtaining your seeds as long as you set your expectations appropriately, which means you’re not too concerned with the type of chillies you’ll grow as long as you acquire any.

What is the reason for this? Chilies are prolific cross-pollinators, which explains why. This means that if you bring commercial seeds or seedlings and keep them close together, the plants will fruit true to variety for the first year, but after that, the fruit will be a mix of surrounding types. A home gardener that completely isolates his or her chilli types to avoid cross-pollination is a very unusual breed.

Having said that, don’t make the mistake of thinking that homegrown seeds aren’t for you. If you get some seeds from your own or a friend’s plants, plant a few nevertheless; you might wind up with a hybrid variety that you truly like!

Commercially available chilli seeds

Large seed corporations have a vested interest in keeping the genetic purity of the cultivar, therefore seed produced by them is far more likely to grow true to variety. A cultivar is a cultivated plant that has been selected and given a distinctive name because it possesses desirable qualities that distinguish it from otherwise comparable plants of the same species, according to non-botanists. It preserves such features when propagated. Variety is a frequent term for a cultivar.

Seed firms use a range of systematic crop enhancement and seed growing techniques that need the variety to produce consistently over multiple generations until it is certified. Prior to packaging, tight internal processes are utilised to ensure that the quality of the seed is not jeopardised by cross-pollination or contamination with other seed kinds.

When obtaining seeds from small producers, you may notice some variance in seed quality and reliability as a result of this lack of consistency, as they may be unable or unwilling to implement tight measures to ensure cultivar purity. If you still want to buy from smaller suppliers, that’s OK; just go into it with the knowledge and perspective you now have. Before you spend too much of your hard-earned money, make a tiny purchase to test the quality.

Choosing The Chilli Seeds

You’ve brought your seeds home and are anxious to start planting them. Simply take a step back and listen because there is a test that can help you considerably enhance your outcomes at this point.

Fill a bowl with water and drop all of the seeds you want to plant into it. Swirl it around with your finger to break the surface tension of the water and ensure that none of the seeds are blocking them from sinking.

Due to a multitude of causes, including deformity and a lack of embryo or kernel, any seeds that are still floating are exceedingly unlikely to germinate. Remove the floaters and strain the remaining liquid through a sieve to remove the water. Now examine the seeds carefully, using a magnifying lens if necessary, and reject any that appear to be small, misshapen, or broken.

Factors Affecting Chilli Seed Germination

Getting chilli seeds to germinate, even in perfect conditions, can be a difficult and inconsistent process. Germination can take anywhere from one to six weeks, according to both small and large farmers in Western Australia, even in tropical climates. The lesson here is to not give up on your seedlings too soon.

Chilli seeds, like the majority of other plants, require temperature, oxygen, and moisture in order to germinate.

Other factors that may help you boost your seed-planting success rate are discussed below.

Temperature in the Environment

Chilli seeds should be germinated at a temperature of 22°C to 28°C.


The media in which the seeds are placed must be kept moist while attempting to induce seed germination. This should ideally happen with water that isn’t excessively hot or cold compared to the seed media, but don’t get too worked up over it.

Ripeness of fruit

I found a reference to a study done in 1986 in Texas on seed from tabasco chillies harvested 150, 195, and 240 days after transplanting in the fascinating but extremely scholarly Capsicum and Eggplant Newsletter that used to be issued by the University of Turin (Italy). The scientists R.L. Edwards and F.J. Sundstrom found that the seeds from ripe fruit had a higher germination percentage than seeds from immature fruit, as expected.

What was even more surprising was that as the fruit became older, the germination percentage reduced; after reaching 81 percent germination from 150-day-old plants, the percentage dropped to 63 percent for 240-day-old plants.

To summarise the study’s findings, seeds from recently ripened chillies have the highest probability of effective seed germination. If you harvest too soon or too late before the fruit ripens, you risk poor seed germination.

Several other studies have found that drying the seeds for 2-4 months after harvesting, whether within the chilli or separately, dramatically enhances germination percentages.


Another factor that impacts the germination of chilli seeds is a mechanism known as dormancy, which is seen in many plant species. This is a self-defense system that protects the seed from germinating in Autumn only to be exposed to the dangers of winter and possible seedling death. Although all chillies are perennials, they will behave as annuals unless you reside in the tropics, and the natural dormancy in both the seeds and the plants will differ between kinds.

Your Seedlings’ Development

Okay, you’ve chosen your best seeds and are ready to begin planting. So, what’s next?

Where Should Chilli Plants Be Grown?

I’ll admit up front that I know nothing about hydroponics and have never heard of anyone producing chilies in that manner. As a result, it will not be discussed in this article.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, there are two key topics to discuss in this section: the medium in which to plant the seeds and the container in which to store the medium.

When it comes to the media, I strongly advise choosing a high-quality potting or seed-raising mix.

This is because these products are specifically developed with large particles to prevent media compacting, which hinders both root penetration and drainage, and a nutritional profile that encourages rapid root extension and foliage growth.

People will invariably inform you that the seedling must begin its life in the soil in which it will eventually flourish. That is complete nonsense, and if true, there would be no plant nursery sector since no one would buy anything in pots to take home.

The nursery sector in Australia generates several billion dollars in revenue each year. Your garden soil is OK for chillies that are well on their way to maturity, but it is usually dense or infested with illnesses that can stifle root growth, harm, or even kill your fresh seedlings.

When it comes to containers, there is a wide variety to choose from, and what is best for you will rely a little on how many plants you hope to grow and a lot on personal preference. Individual Jiffy pots or blocks, plastic 6 cells, and big clay or plastic pots are all examples of containers. We’ll go over each of these in further depth.

Jiffy pots and blocks are constructed of compressed sphagnum peat moss and wood pulp, which uncompress and swell when placed in water. The seed can then be pressed into the swelling mass and sprout into a perfectly appropriate medium if maintained moist.

The fact that you can simply plant the pot into the garden soil once the seedlings are hardy enough to be placed outside is a significant plus. There is no need to change the seedling from one medium to another, which reduces stress on the young plant.

Plastic six-pack cells are now available as well. Simply fill them with seed propagation or potting mix, wet them, and use a dibble stick to place your seeds in each one. Alternatively, fill them three-quarters full, then place a seed on top of each one before adding more mix to finish filling the cells. It’s OK either way. The benefits of these are that they are inexpensive and reusable, which helps you save money.

However, because they are little, you will most likely have to transplant the seedlings into a larger container before they are ready to be planted outside. The rationale for the transfer is that the seedlings will quickly become root-bound in the small cells, which will impact the plant’s eventual performance and health.

The seedling is also stressed twice as it moves from cell to pot to garden. If you can plant from cell to garden (as you can in the tropics) or if the plant will stay in the pot it is transferred to, these drawbacks will not be an issue for you. Congrats.

Now I’ll take a quick glance at the pots.

I’m not going to go into detail about price because it obviously depends on your preferences, and there is a wide variety accessible. It’s totally acceptable to plant in inexpensive plastic pots and then transfer to the garden when the plants are ready. The only drawback is that if you live in a colder climate, you won’t be able to fit as many pots on a heating mat as shown below. However, if you can keep the pots warm in another way (for example, in a heated greenhouse or inside the house), this is not an issue.

It’s fine to plant the seeds straight into the pot you intended to grow them in; the disadvantages are limited to those mentioned in the previous two sentences. On the plus side, the seedling is not subjected to any of the stress associated with transplantation.

Finally, I’ll quickly go through the basics of what commercial nurseries do for your information. They employ a more time-consuming method in which the seeds are germinated on enormous flat trays with no other medium but water.

The tiny seedlings are transplanted into the six-pack cells that you are accustomed with after a few days. Because there are no empty cells as a result of seeds not germinating, this maximises the use and saleability of the six-packs. You’ve all seen the six-packs at the nursery that aren’t selling because one of the seedlings has died. So it’s worth the trouble for the nursery to be able to avoid non-germination.

Where Should I Plant Them?

You have your seeds, raising mix, and pots ready to go. So, we’ll talk about where you want to grow your seedlings and how to acclimate them.
I’ll briefly go over what I do first, and then I’ll go over a few options so you can pick the one that works best for you.

When I do grow from seeds, which isn’t very frequently these days, I start by germinating the seeds in a simple mini-greenhouse (see photo) filled with premium grade potting mix and kept moist. This sits outside during the day to obtain enough sunlight and comes inside at night to keep temperatures from dropping too low.

When the seedlings reach the top of the clear plastic lid, remove it (about 5cm high)

I transplant them to larger pots and set them outside, facing north, against a galvanised iron shed. They get lots of spring sunlight and warmth in this area, which is reflected back onto the plants by the shed. Occasionally, Perth will have a cold night or two during this period, in which case I will either bring the plants inside for the night or relocate them to a sheltered location where the temperature drop will be less severe.

I transfer the plants to the raised garden beds at the back of my yard once I’m certain that they’ve acclimatised and are ready to venture out on their own. The time frame for this varies, and it depends on the risk of damaging cold spells in the future as well as the plant’s preparation. Usually, this takes 3-6 weeks.

I should mention that I avoid sowing seeds too early (before October), which eliminates the need for a glasshouse or coldframe, as stated further down. I’m able to do this because Perth has a long, mild Autumn, which means I still have a harvest season that lasts well into April, and in some cases, May.

If you live north of Latitude 35 S, you may be able to produce chilies all year, especially if you live near the shore. If you live more than 200 kilometres from the coast, you should be wary of the cold throughout the winter/dry season.

If you live between 30 and 35 degrees south latitude (about Perth, Durban, and Santiago), you can use my method or start a bit sooner and follow the instructions below, which is for colder climates.

If you live south of Latitude 30 S, you should read the following information and consider germinating your seeds in July/August to ensure a long enough harvest season to make the effort worthwhile.

OK. The first thing to consider is that you will almost certainly require some type of heating in order to maintain the temperatures required for seed germination. I’ll go over a few different choices with you.

An electric heat pad is the first choice, which comes in both pre-set and adjustable temperature types. The former will set you back about AUD$50-60, while the adjustable models will set you back about three times as much. These can be found in good nurseries and garden centres throughout the world.

These mats come highly recommended by friends who own them. They have requested that I remind you that once the seeds have germinated, the heating pad be placed somewhere where the seedlings will receive sunlight.

Another option is the coldframe, which is very popular among serious gardeners. There are countless variations on the preceding example, all of which operate on the idea of solar heating of the medium in which your seeds are growing. Depending on how cold the weather is, you may want to open them during the day and close them at night to keep the heat in, or leave them closed the majority of the day to keep the heat in.

There are additional actions you can take to heat the contents of your cold frame if your climate is exceptionally cold. One method is to dig below the frame’s base and pack it with damp manure and straw, then cover it with a layer of loam before adding your potting mix/raising mix/cells/pots on top.

The breakdown of the underlying manure will then create further heat, and you may be amazed at how much heat this generates. I propose keeping a thermometer in the frame to ensure that temperatures do not exceed 35°C. Of course, the sashes can be opened to allow for cooling.

In exceptionally cold climates, you may want to consider electrically heating your coldframe with heating cables implanted beneath the coldframe’s base. I strongly advise you to hire a competent electrician to install this because a botched DIY job might be disastrous (and I’d hate to lose a subscriber!). A hotbox is a term used to describe a coldframe that has been adapted in this fashion.

The third and final alternative I’ll discuss briefly is for individuals who are fortunate enough to have access to a greenhouse. There isn’t much more to say about them that hasn’t already been said in the preceding three paragraphs.

They are sun heated, and this can be supplemented with electricity or by allowing compost to decompose either under the floor or in a tub in one corner. There are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing a greenhouse, including ensuring that it receives adequate sunshine during the winter months and that it does not become too hot during the summer. Many greenhouses include panels that open up to all of the aforementioned issues.

Let’s Help Them Grow

That’s it. Everything is now in place for you to plant your seeds. The best time to do this is about two months before you think you’ll be able to leave your chilli plants alone outside, i.e. after they’ve acclimatised.

Fill your six-pack cells or pots halfway with your favourite seed-raising media, being careful not to overfill them, since this will prevent root growth. If you’re using a premium potting mix, it’ll already contain enough nutrients to sustain the seedling’s initial growth. If you use any other media, though, there’s a good chance it doesn’t contain the right nutrient profile to nourish your young seedlings.

As a result, you’ll need to use a liquid fertiliser of your choice, diluted for seedlings according to the instructions on the package. I use Powerfeed (TM) by the same company that makes Seasol (TM) for those of you in Australia (I have no association with them whatsoever, though if they want to cut a deal I am open to that).

I apply the fertiliser with a hand-held spray bottle, although some people prefer to soak the filled containers in the liquid for a few minutes. It’s entirely up to you.
In any case, because of the liquid, the germination medium may compact a little here; this is not a problem; nevertheless, if you need to top up the medium in certain containers, do so.

Push a hole into the medium in each cell using the blunt end of a pencil or something similar in size, about 0.5 cm deep. Place 2 or 3 seeds in each hole and cover with a small amount of the germination media.

Depending on how many types you’re growing, you might want to identify the cells or pots in some way so you don’t have to guess which one is which. If you keep a garden notebook or almanack, you’ll almost certainly be keeping track of a variety of data points about your planting. It’s an excellent habit to get into because the information you gain over time can be useful for growing chilies in your location.

Maintain a moist and warm environment for the seeds now. The word “wet” does not imply “soggy,” but rather “moist.” Eventually, you’ll notice the seeds sprouting. Allow them to grow for a week while keeping them wet and warm, then cull all except the strongest seedlings in each cell by cutting them off at the base with a pair of scissors. This will ensure that each generation of chilli seeds is stronger and more hardy than the previous.

To encourage good growth, make sure the seedlings have enough light, heat, and ventilation where they’re being grown. Fertilize your seedlings according to the instructions on the packet/bottle once a week.

It is critical that you do not allow the seedlings to dry out. Seedlings that are dehydrated early in their lives are unlikely to fully recover, resulting in plants with dramatically reduced vigour and disease resistance.

After about the third week, you can switch off any electrical heating you’re using as long as the seedlings aren’t in danger of frost.

Your chilli plants should be of decent size and appearance after six weeks, and ready for planting.

Getting Your Seedlings Acclimatized and Transplanted

If you’ve ever had an aquarium, you’ll know that when you buy new fish at the store and get them home, you don’t just dump them into your tank and expect everything would be fine. The temperature and pH shocks would add to the stress of travel, resulting in dead fish in less than 24 hours.

Your seedlings are identical to mine. They’re used to the warm, well-ventilated, and well-watered nirvana in which you’ve reared them. They are, in essence, utter wimps who must be toughened up before being released into the great dangerous world.

In more scientific words, due to a lack of stress and environmental need, they have expanded rapidly, forming huge cells with thin walls. They’ll have to become used to day-long exposure to UV light, high winds, heavy rain, bigger temperature swings, and intermittent dry spells.

Hardening off is a term used by many gardeners to describe the process of toughening or acclimating plants.

Acclimatising Chilli Plants

Once your seedlings have reached the age of roughly six weeks, this is a two-week process.
The first approach is to slow down your plant’s growth by watering and feeding it less frequently, and keeping the seedlings at a little cooler temperature if possible. This will start the adjustment stage by conserving the energy of the plants so they can acclimatise to the new external conditions.

Begin acclimating your seedlings to outdoor circumstances by gradually exposing them to them. To begin, place them under the shadow of a tree or in a sheltered position away from the wind and direct sunlight. Allow them to be outside for 3-4 hours, then progressively extend their time outside by 1-2 hours per day until they are brought back into the shelter at night.

They should be able to survive a full day of sun after about a week. Keep an eye out for signs of stress while acclimating the seedlings (the leaves may start turning yellow and drying out if exposed to too much sun). They should now be permitted to stay out at night if the temperature does not fall below 10 degrees Celsius (50oF).

Acclimating your plants is a physiological process that adds glucose stores to the plant and generates extra cuticle on the leaves, which reduces water loss. In practise, the method reduces plant growth while acclimating the seedling to harsher environmental circumstances.

Transplanting Chilli Plants

Your seedlings are now ready to be transplanted, and if you purchased them from a nursery, this is where you should start reading this guide.

I’d want to go over a few of issues about seedlings acquired from a nursery before I go into the procedure of planting your plants in the ground. The first is that they are frequently root-bound, and if they are, it will take them longer to stretch their roots into the garden soil, causing them to wilt until they become established.

Tease the roots a little, being careful not to injure them; otherwise, they will continue to circle instead of spreading out. Also, after they’re in the ground, give them some extra attention.

The next issue to mention is that most nurseries state that their seedlings have been acclimatised and are ready to be transplanted right away. Instead of gambling and being upset (after all, it was your money), toughen them up for at least a week.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, as a general rule, growing the same sort of plant in the same location year after year is a recipe for disaster. Pests are to blame, as chillies, like their solanum cousins tomatoes and eggplants, are susceptible to root knot worm. These are microscopic roundworms that attack the plant’s roots, causing the plant to wilt.

Crop rotation and adding considerable amounts of organic matter to the soil at least once a year are the two best techniques for reducing this danger.

Plant spacing is determined by a variety of factors, including the size of the types being cultivated. Smaller types, such as ornamentals, can be planted closer together, and because the fruit is well protected by the foliage, there is usually less sunburn (light brown scorched regions). Chilli farmers in the commercial sector can position their plants as close as 10-15cm apart. Due to the heavy canopy of leaves, close spacing also helps to reduce evaporation.

Now it’s time to plant: the day before, generously water the plants that will be transplanted. This ensures that the entire plant, leaves and all, is hydrated when it’s time to transplant, allowing it to cope with stress.

Plan to transplant when the weather is gloomy or cooler in the evening.
Before digging or removing the plant from its pot, make sure it is well watered. Soak the root ball in water before digging it out of the garden so that the soil sticks to the roots.

Never expose the roots to direct sunlight, heat, or wind. If you remove all of the plants from their pots and simply lay them out, planting one after the other, you run the danger of this happening. It’s far better to take them out of the pots/cells right before planting.

Before you put the transplant in the hole, make sure it’s completely dry. Fill the hole halfway with water and insert the transplant. Finish filling the hole after allowing the water to settle the soil around the roots.

Water the entire plant, leaves and all, after lightly firming the soil around the transplant. If feasible, cover the fresh transplant with the bottom of an old plastic pot cut to the same height as the seedling and set it over it for 1-2 weeks to protect it from direct sunlight. This will help the plant recover from the shock by minimising evaporation and reducing direct light. In addition, it prevents the plant from being snapped off by severe winds.

For the first few weeks, keep an eye on the plant every day. Transplants will require daily, if not more, watering. Water the plant if it is withering. You may need to water twice a day until the plant becomes established, depending on the weather and the plant. The more water required depends on the size of the plant and/or the ratio of roots to top growth.

All of this may sound severe, but plants are stressed by being uprooted at any time of year. This extra precaution can mean the difference between maintaining and losing your transplants in the heat of summer.

Pests, diseases, and other issues that effect Chilli Plants

Pests That Suck

Aphids, mealy bugs, scales, and mites are the most frequent sucking pests that can damage your chillies.

These pests grow in groups on the leaves, stems, and fruit and feed on the sweet sap by piercing the plant with a needle-like sucking tube and sucking out the juice. After the insects have consumed the sap, it is expelled as honeydew, which serves as the foundation for the growth of a black fungus. Sooty mould is a type of fungus that decreases photosynthesis and discolours the fruit it infects.

Ants feed on honeydew and actively transfer insects (aphids, mealybugs, and scales) to positions on the plant (‘farm’ them). Sapsucker infections can be transported between plants by ants using underground tunnels. Aphids, mealybugs, scales, and mites may not be visible at first because they concentrate in hidden locations or on the lower leaf surface. Plants that have been affected look to be water-stressed, and their leaves become yellow and fall off. Leaves and flowers may curl and wilt in some circumstances.

Pests Chewing

Caterpillars, snails, and slugs are the main subjects of this category.
These pests are hard to ignore since they are persistent. Snails decimated 24 seedlings in one night since I failed to put out any pellets on the day I planted them. The next day, only a few 1cm high stems protruded from the ground – I’d squandered my time since I’d forgotten to do a 1-minute task and, when I remembered it later that night, concluded it could wait until tomorrow. Dumb.

Okay, for snails and slugs, I propose throwing a few snail pellets around once a week until the plants have grown large enough to not be easily wiped off.
I’m normally opposed to using poisonous, non-natural chemicals on or near foods I intend to consume, but I’m also a realist, therefore use the pellets sparingly. It doesn’t take a lot of them.

You can play it safe and utilise traps that use beer or other types of bait; I believe they’re excellent, but I don’t have the time to keep them up to date.

Caterpillars are a little more difficult. The best strategy for me is to inspect the plants twice a week, once on the weekend and once during the week. If there are any caterpillars present, I use pyrethrum to spray the plants.

Pyrethrum, a natural insecticide made from a variety of daisies, is, in my opinion, the appropriate option. It kills insects via contact or ingestion, is safe for mammals, and has a limited residual life, meaning it biodegrades in a matter of days.

Pests caused by fungi

The most common fungus that affects chilies is black sooty mould, which only appears when other issues, such as those outlined in Sucking Pests, are present. If you have black sooty mould, you must address the underlying cause, as described in that section.

Other Issues

Chilies prefer a warm, sunny location with well-drained soil and regular irrigation during periods of drought. Excessive foliage and fewer fruits can result from overfertilization, just as it can with tomatoes.

Chilies, like tomatoes, are susceptible to blossom end rot. This is caused by a calcium deficit as well as erratic watering and may be easily avoided by watering regularly and adding a dolomite lime dressing.

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