Maintaining Your Chili Pepper Plants

Red pepper resting on a hand

The chili pepper is a tropical plant native to Latin America that has been used for hundreds of years as a valuable spice and medicinal product. It belongs to the genus capsicum annum, a relative of the bell pepper. Besides adding "fire" to many dishes, the chili pepper is packed with vitamins A, B, C, calcium and potassium. Growing peppers at home requires some attention because the chili pepper needs plenty of sun and watering.

The chili pepper can be easily maintained and kept healthy from seedling to mature plant by following these instructions.

Step 1 - Provide a Well-Draining Pot and Soil

soil and small plant in cupped hands

If you are growing peppers in a container, make sure the pot has plenty of holes for drainage so the soil doesn't get too soggy. The soil should be mixed with sand or vermiculite to keep the water flowing through the soil and to discourage root rot. Check to make sure that there is no standing water in the bottom of your pot.

Step 2 - Grow During Warm Temperatures

The chili doesn't like to get chilly! The hot pepper is native to tropical regions and doesn't stand up well to cold temperatures. Try to maintain the temperature between 70 to 95 degrees. Keep indoors if that is the only way to insure that your pepper plant can stay warm. If necessary, invest in a heating pad or fluorescent lighting to maintain warm temperatures.

Step 3 - Provide Lots of Light

Besides being warm, the chili pepper needs plenty of light, whether natural or synthetic. When growing peppers outdoors, plant them where there is optimum sun. Pepper plants will not grow in shady conditions. When growing indoors, set them near a window or use fluorescent lighting.

Step 4 - Monitor Watering

Don't forget to check your soil daily by feeling the top inch or so of soil with your finger. Water whenever the soil is dry. Over-watering will cause root rot, so don't just assume your plant needs water. Check to see if it's thirsty first. If using tap water, boil it and let it sit for 24 hours before watering your plants.

Step 5 -Feed

peppers on the plant

Fertilizing weekly is generally recommended to achieve best results. A good fertilizer to use is Miracle-Gro for Tomatoes, but if you prefer an organic option, use seaweed extract.

Step 6 - Fight Weeds and Pests

It is important to keep weeds away from your pepper plants, especially when they are young. Because of the spicy taste and aroma, animals will avoid chili peppers, although birds and aphids are common pests. Hang a net over your pepper plant or place a fake owl in your garden to keep out birds. Aphids can be hosed or washed off with an non-toxic insecticidal soap.

Step 7 - Emphasize the Spice (or not)

To bring out the highest spice potential in your pepper plant, cut back on feeding and watering several weeks before harvesting Waiting until the leaves show a slight wilting before watering and fertilizing will boost the level of capsaicin, making the peppers hot. If you prefer peppers on the mild side, harvest your crop before they have fully ripened.

Now that you have maintained your pepper plants, enjoy them ground, pickled, flaked, or fresh and add them to recipes for an extra kick!