Ten rules for growing chillies and sweet peppers

by Michael Michaud on January 3, 2012 · 0 comments

in General Information

Michael Michaud

Michael Michaud

Chillies and sweet peppers are heat loving, long-lived plants that must be started as transplants. Seeds are sown early in the year, and the seedlings that come up are then pricked out and grown in small pots or modular trays. In about 8 weeks, they grow into transplants which are then transferred to their final place in the garden. To the uninitiated pepper grower, they can seem quite fiddly to grow, so we have come up with ten simple rules that will help guarantee their success:

1. Choose the right varieties. With thousands of varieties available worldwide, choosing the right ones to grow can be challenging. First to think about: do you go for a sweet pepper or a chilli? And once you jump over that hurdle, you then have to consider the flavour, plant growth habit and culinary utility of each variety. Talk to gardeners who already grow peppers, carefully read the seed shop descriptions, and then jump in: there’s always going to be bit of trial and error at first, so don’t worry about making a few mistakes. For hints on choosing chilli varieties, see…..

2. Decide whether to grow in a container or the ground. Which way you grow – container or ground – depends on your situation, personal preferences and state of your garden. If possible, grow tall, larger-framed plants in the ground and smaller-statured ones in containers. A paved greenhouse floor, however, leaves you with no choice but to grow in containers. But remember, container-grown plants need to be watered and fertilised more diligently then those that are in the ground, so avoid containers if you aren’t a detail sort of person.

3. Sow early. Because sweet peppers and chillies need a long growing season, they should be started early in the year. As a general rule, sow the seed between the middle of February and the middle of March. Move the date up by as much as a month for the slower growing habanero chillies.

Don’t sow too deeply. Pepper seeds are quite small and should be sown no more than 6mm deep. Any deeper, and the seedlings may not come up.

4. Provide plenty of light. Light makes plants grow, and peppers need lots of it just as soon as the first seedlings appear. Though natural light is better, artificial light of the right wavelengths are effective on plants started early in the house.

5. Keep the temperature high. Peppers are tropical plants that have an uncompromising need for heat at all stages of their life. To cater to this need, provide them with artificial heat during germination and transplant production, and grow the plants in the warmth of a tunnel or greenhouse in the summer. Some early maturing varieties might yield well in a sheltered spot outdoors down south, though the weather would have to be quite exceptional for this venture to be successful.

6. Maintain fertility levels. Sweet peppers and chillies need high levels of nutrients to produce a good crop. If your soil is deficient, add some fertiliser before transplanting. Commercial composts used for container growing will generally have enough nutrients to last for 2 or 3 weeks. Using a liquid feed, you can then replenish the nutrients that are used up by the growing plants: container plants should be fed every week or two, while those in the ground may need only one or two feedings.

7. Water diligently. Germinating seeds and growing plants must be regularly watered, especially when the weather is warm and sunny. Be especially vigilante with fully-grown plants in containers – they may need a daily watering in the middle of the summer.

9. Control green fly. Green fly is the most serious pest of sweet peppers and chillies. Fortunately, controlling them is easy, and they can be rubbed off, washed off, sprayed with a pesticide or killed by predators bought from specialist companies.

10. Harvest regularly. The more you harvest, the more fruit the plants will produce, and under no circumstances should ripe fruit (those that change to their mature colour) be kept on the plants.

Michael and Joy Michaud are chilli growing experts, between them they run Sea Spring Seeds and Pepper By Post as well as taking time writing about and photographing their passion for chillies.

Based in the idyllic location of West Bexington on the Dorset coast, where they run a specialist nursery.

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