Question & Answer – Hot Chili Peppers

Posted By Admin on Jul 8, 2012

I’ll be adding to this post over the next month, I intend to answer as many of the questions sent to me as possible. Thanks, Tim.

Do pepper plants need direct sunlight?

Not all chili plants need direct sunlight, generally speaking most would prefer direct sunlight but keep in mind there are a lot of varieties of chili plants and they’ll all need different growing environments. If you have little growth, skinny long stems with little foliage there’s a good chance your plants need to be moved to a sunnier location.


Where should I position my chili plants in my garden?

If possible try to locate your plants up against a wall or fence. Peppers tend to grow well if they have a radiant heat source like a warm wall or fence. Having plants up against walls out of the reach of frosty conditions can help save your plants come winter.


Are chili plants affected by frost?

Yes, yes and YES! A chili pepper plant will be burnt and die within a very short period of time if subjected to a harsh frost. If plants can’t be kept inside during winter they need to be at least under shelter. Even under a tree will prolong the life of the chili plant during winter months.


Does grouping chili plants together help growth or hinder it?

That’s a tough question as it can do both. Grouping plants together to the point that their root system is fully entangled leads to significantly reduced pod formation per plant from my experience but overall you’ll get nearly the same as one really healthy and mature plant. I’m happy planting chili plants grouped together for their first year then I seperate them.

Having chili plants grouped so that the foliage of mature plants is just touching definitely promotes healthy growth. Ideal spacing provides a humid micro climate and a good wind break promoting fast growth.


Can I recycle soil from my last growing season?

You sure can, if your plants from the previous season were very healthy then there’s no reason not to use a percentage of reclaimed soil in your next seasons mix. If you had a sick plant last season try not to use its soil as the problem from last season is likely to be transferred onto the next plant. Also try to remove all root matter from the last seasons soil, it doesn’t tend to break down easily.


Can I use last seasons soil for this years seedlings?

Yes, I am a big believer in using live soil for seedlings. Using soil from a healthy garden bed or even pot can transfer beneficial bacteria and micro organisms that most pre made seedling mixtures lack. I have had great germination and survival rates while using aged soil.


Should I top my chili plants?

Yes, Depending on the period of growth. I typically remove the tips of seedlings after the fourth set of leaves and then I keep continuing tipping new growth after it’s reached 2″ in length. I would stop tipping before any flowering occurs and a limit of 1/3 to 1/2 of the way into the season would be a good practice.


Does adding eggshells do anything for my chili plants?

In terms of adding calcium yes adding egg shells helps but it depends on how you go about adding them and how often. Calcium is often overlooked when it comes to planning out your plants fertilizer feedings. Some people bake used eggshells so they can break down faster in the soil, before adding them to the top soil they are then ground down as fine as possible.


What does NPK mean? I’ve seen it on fertilizer bottles.

NPK is a neutrient ratio listed on most fertilizer bottles. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. It doesn’t mean their the only nutrients included in the bottle.


Should I use fertilizers on chili plants?

Yes, use fertilizers but for ideal growth pick a suitable fertilizer for the current stage of growth. An off the shelf all round fertilizer with an NPK of roughly 12:3:6 OR 10:4:6  will be fine all year round promoting dense foliage growth but it won’t produce excellent results for all aspects of growth.

An NPK of 8:3:10 with elevated potassium can promote prolific fruiting. When your at the shops next check the different ratio’s on the back labels of the specialized fertilizers.


Can I use fertilizers on seedlings?

This is a hard one to answer. Firstly dilute what ever your intending to use, seedlings will be killed very easily. If you can start with organic based fertilizers and if you see growth then be happy with limiting the amount of fertilizers used until the seedlings develop at least three or more sets of leaves.


Do organic fertilizers work?

Some organic fertilizers are very potent and not just in their stinky smell. Pellet Organic fertilizers  like blood and bone have in the past just been added to the soil when a chili plant is just being planted out and deliver amazing growth.

But a lot of the liquid organic fertilizers have been overlooked by a lot of growers. I have had great success feeding with an organic based liquid fertilizer made with a blend of chicken manure, seaweed extract, fish emulsion and blood & bone. The organic fertilizers are known to promote healthy micro organisms in the soil which is in my view the most important aspect of using an organic fertilizer.


I’ve heard a lot of people talk about using seaweed extract, does it work?

Liquid seaweed fertilizers are something I’ll always use on my chili plants. It can be used to strengthen the plants and enhances the plants ability to recover from stress. It can be especially useful when transplanting a chili plant into a new location with new soil.

I also dilute the seaweed extract and use it as a spray in my weekly watering schedule.


Epsom spray on chili plants?

Epsom salts are rich in magnesium, spraying a diluted mixture onto the leaves of a chili plant can keep the plant healthy and resilient. Add 2tsp of Epsom salts into a quart of water, spray morning and night if you want to promote healthy foliage.


My chili plant looks green, so is it healthy?

Yes, if your chili plant has a deep rich dark green color then this is a great sign of health. What ever your doing it’s working. A light colored green can indicate over watering or a nutrient deficiency, try introducing a weak fertilizer feeding slowly building up to the recommended dose as per the products instructions and also introduce a foliar feeding, using diluted Epsom salts and seaweed extract.


 My chili plants drooping, whats wrong?

The most likely answer is that the plant needs a good watering. Not watering a chili plant until it droops can be a good way of not over watering, which sounds obvious but chili plants hate water logged soil. Letting your plants wilt at least once a month is always a good practice.


Can I water my chili plant during the day?

I’ve said before that I only water my plants early in the morning or late in the evening but you can water them whenever you want. Just be mindful that wetting the leaves of a chili plant during intense sun can lead to sunburn which will destroy all leaves affected. Just water the soil and leave the foliar  feedings until the stength of the sun has died down.


 My chili plant leafs are all curly, do they need calcium?

So many people jump to the conclusion that a problem with curly leaf has to be calcium or magnesium related and it’s so hard to know what’s happening to some one else’s plants.  To be honest the only time I’ve experienced this is after overdosing fertilizers and calcium of all things. If you have been dosing and now have a problem flush out the soil with water. Then check for very fine dust like pests under and on top of the leaves as this can also be a common cause.


Do I have aphids on my chili plants?

Aphids are a very common pest, a pest that all chili plant growers will have to deal with during most growing seasons. The good news is that they are easy to see and also they tend to poo a lot staining the leaves directly bellow them. If you see a black tar like substance on a leaf check the leaves above and you should see the aphids sapping the life from the base of the leaves above the poo zone. When aphids multiply into large numbers they can kill your plant fast so the quicker you act the more likely your plant will bounce back faster.


My chili plants have aphids, how do I kill them?

If you can’t make it to the shops on the same day you find them make up a very diluted mixture of soapy water. Spray this all over the chili plants leaves, especially on the underside of the leaves. The soapy water dehydrates the shell of the aphid, hopefully killing it. Don’t be too gentle with the spray, dislodging the aphids from the chili plant is a good idea.

Neem oil can be bought at most plant nurseries, dilute the oil as per instructions and spray all of your chili plants. Spraying the aphids with the oil basically drowns them along with any other bugs on the plants. Be sure to dilute the oil as per the instructions otherwise your plants leaves will be killed, if you think this is happening (a few days after spraying) mix up some diluted dishwasher liquid and spray the leaves, this will hopefully remove the oil. Spray some water on the plants, if the water pools then you still have a problem.

If you found the aphids a bit too late then cut back the worse area’s and if possible submerge the cut back plant in water  for at least a few minutes. This will work but I’d only suggest it as an emergency response.


Do lady bugs kill aphids?

Yes, lady bugs do eat aphids. Some growers buy large quantities of lady bugs and release them around affected plants. Lady bugs do work but seem to disappear fairly fast if not in a captive area and keep in mind their offspring love to eat chili plant leaves.

Another noteworthy aphid killer are praying mantis, they can be found in a healthy garden but I’d rely on the old neem oil first to kill all aphids on your plants.


I have Ant’s living around my pepper plants, is that okay?

That’s notgoing to end well, ants find aphids and then place them on your chili plants. The ants harvest the aphids as they start to multiply on your soon to be very sick chili plants.

Must kill!!!!!


My Chili plant leaves have yellow areas and have red dust on them, whats happening?

Read up on spider mites, it sounds like thats going to be the pest. Giving your planst a spray with Neem Oil sounds like a good idea.


My plants have blossom drop! Help!

Don’t get too worried this can happen at times, especially if there’s been cold nights or very hot days, swings in the weather will always casue some flower/blossom drop.

Backing off your watering, including adding less fertilizer (less nitrogen) will also help. If its a problem with only one of your plants flush out the soil if its in a pot and move it closer to the other happier plants which might be getting more favorable conditions, wind, sun and less expsure to cold temps at night.


My peppers are rotting at the tips, I think I have BER.

Blossom End Rot can be caused by a number of imbalances. The simplest interim action is to thin out the foliage of the plant so it can receive more air circulation and hopefully free up more neutrients for the peppers. The next step is to check your pH, Chilli Plants will survive in neutral soil but a soil pH thats slightly acid (5.5-6.8) is preferred. If your soils pH is off then the plant will stop taking up Calcium and Magnesium which can cause BER.


 My chili pods are going rotten on the plant, help!

If you haven’t had a very large amount of prolonged rain over a number of weeks the next guess would be a form of pest, like a fruit fly or moth. Cut open a rotten pod and carefully look for any sign of larvae. In the case of finding this form of pest there’s no good news. You need to remove all of the pods and discard them in a sealed plastic bag. Don’t compost or let the pods rot in your garden. It’s more than likely you’ll need to use some form of poison designed for the specific pest, just keep in mind that any fruit that’s on the plant should not be eaten for a number of weeks after spraying (depending on the product used).


 Are green chili peppers hotter than red ones?

Nope. There are so many different types of peppers but generally if a chili pepper is green then its not had the chance to ripen and importantly it won’t have as much Capsaicin which responsible for that burning sensation we all love.


My pods aren’t changing color!

The bad news is that a lot of varieties of chili peppers take well over a month to ripen after growing to their full size. Warm weather and direct sunlight will help but expect a 4 -6 week wait from when they stop growing till when their fully ripened. If you live in extreme climates and are expecting a frost you can cut off branches containing unripened pods and then hang them inside, just be sure to cut off full branches as this seems to help.


Are the seeds the hottest part of a chili pepper?

For some strange reason a lot of people believe this to be true but I can inform you that the seeds have nearly zero heat. The hottest structure of a chili pepper is the light fluffy looking pith where the seeds are located.

If you want to test a peppers heat level the best method is to cut a small slice vertically from the center of the pepper, starting where the stem was attached all the way down to the base of the pepper.


 Umm, I tried the hottest pepper in the world and it wasn’t hot!

Even the hottest strain of chili peppers can be at times a lot less potent than expected. This can be due to either the growing conditions or their stage of development when they are picked from the chili plant.

An under ripe green pepper will never be anywhere as hot as a ripe pepper, also the sugars in the pepper will not have developed yet so they will also taste bitter.

The watering of a fruiting chili plant will also impact the heat level of the plant. The common method to guarantee a high heat level is to stress the plant over the ripening period. Wait till the pepper has reached it’s full size and then start to limit the amount of water intake. Let the plant wilt slightly between watering them and this will produce a hotter chili pepper.


I have a lot of peppers can I freeze them?

I have a few different freezer bags that I put fresh peppers in during the season. If you manage to fill a bag or have just picked a lot of the same pods try blending them up and then freeze the blended peppers. If the peppers aren’t blending well I add a small amount of vinegar until the peppers free up and blend down. You’ll save a lot of freezer space, just pat down the freezer bag so that you can snap off small peices, otherwise you’ll end up having to defrost a very large amount of chili paste just to make one sauce!