Become a Chili Master: Grow Hot Peppers Indoors - Happy Hydro

With the rise of the Carolina Reaper and everyone's favorite youtube series, Hot Ones, growing hot peppers has become a national phenomenon. Hot peppers are hot in the gardening world right now. But, growing hot peppers indoors isn't a new sensation.

Passionate pepper-heads have been growing hot peppers indoors for decades, perfecting their cultivation techniques for big, spicy yields. As a new and passionate chilli grower, what do you need to know to get started growing chilis indoors

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What are the Best Hot Peppers for Growing Indoors?

  • Chile de Arbol
  • Cayenne Peppers
  • Bird Peppers
  • Pequin Peppers
  • Habañero Pepper
  • Piri Piri
  • Guajillo
  • Tabasco Pepper
  • Cherry Pepper
  • Scotch Bonnet

Choose hot peppers plants that grow short — these are often called ornamentals. A few examples include Chile de Arbol, cayenne peppers, bird peppers, and any other smaller variety. Small peppers are also typically super hot peppers, but they work well for indoor growing because they are short plants, with big yields. 

Many of these small hot peppers also have a prolonged fruiting season. Instead of a single flush of peppers, you may have a prolonged harvest over several weeks. It's an added bonus for the work you've put in to grow them.

Create the Ideal Indoor Environment for Growing Peppers Indoors

  • Soil: Premium potting soil, Well aerated, loss, and fluffy. Coco coir and other woody-natural mulches make for good soil amendments.
  • Lighting: 14 to 16 hours a day. Intense and leaning towards the blue spectrum. Set at least seven inches above the canopy.
  • Temperature: Day time temperature of between 65° to 80°F (18 to 26°C) and temperatures between 60° to 70°F (15° to 21°C). 
  • pH Level: 5.9 to 6.5 pH
  • Nutrient Needs: Nitrogen-rich in the vegetative stage (example: 11-3-8). In the fruiting stage, switch to a solution lower in nitrogen but higher phosphate and potassium (example: fish and seaweed fertilizer). Supplement with calcium-magnesium.

How to Grow Hot Peppers Indoors: Step by Step

1. Germinating Seeds

Chilli seeds can take anywhere from seven to 100 days to germinate. The tiny, super hot varieties tend to take the longest. Germination also requires a relatively warm damp environment. A common practice is to place several chilli seeds in a folded piece of wet paper towel in a zip lock bag placed on a gardener's heating pad. Check back every few days to investigate for signs of growth. Check the seed packet for average germinate times.

2. Prep the Grow Room

Growing hot peppers indoors means you must recreate a hot and humid environment, replicating a chilli's natural habitat. A small AC Infinity Grow Tent is perhaps the easiest way to create this functional space, but you can also make a DIY version. 

Unless you live in a legitimate greenhouse, usually, the window will not suffice as a light source. You will need to supplement to encourage growth and flowering. Peppers love six-plus hours (more is better) of direct sunlight or indoor LED grow light. As one study reported, "Strong light intensity affects plant growth, fruit yield, and accumulation of capsaicinoids in hot peppers (Capsicum spp.)." 

Source, a suitably sized LED grow light for the tent and install it in a way that allows you to adjust the height as the pepper plants grow. These lights should always hover at least seven inches above the canopy to avoid damage. Set the temperature to 70ºF (21ºC), and a 14 to 16 hour light schedule.

3. Prep the Container

All peppers, even larger cultivars do well in pots. Indoor hot peppers, like those suggested above, will do well in a 16" to 18" container. Peppers love light and fluffy potting soil mixes, with larger bits of organic material (mulch, bark, etc.) to improve aeration. Soil should be slightly acidic, between 5.9 to 6.5 pH.

4. Planting Hot Pepper Seeds

Once your seeds have germinated, use tweezers to gently transfer them into the container, in a hole deeper than ½". Cover loosely with soil and water well. Monitor over the coming days to ensure this tiny germinated hot pepper seed has popped through the soil and is taking root. 

5. Fertilizing Hot Peppers

Tomatoes and peppers are both from the nightshade family. These species require high levels of calcium as they grow. If the nitrogen levels in the soil are too high, it can prevent hot peppers from setting flowers and forming fruit. 

Calcium deficiency is often not an issue with the amount of calcium, but instead the availability of this nutrient. If the pH is off or there is a nutrient imbalance, it can be difficult for the plant to access any calcium.

6. Watering Indoor Pepper Plants

Peppers prefer drier soil and are prone to overwatering. In an indoor hot pepper grow, you'll likely only need to water every few days. Test the soil before watering by inserting the tip of your finger. If the surface is dry and still damp a few inches deep, you do not need to water. 

Or, you can avoid this issue with a simple Blumat automatic irrigation system that requires no electricity, and no timers required. Essentially, after set up, there is no manually watering required.

7. Stake or Cage Peppers

Peppers often require physical support as they grow. Especially come the fruiting season. Even a healthy plant can become top-heavy as it sets out dozens of baby peppers. Use a tomato cage or a stake to stabilize and support the hot pepper. Adjust as needed.

8. Pollinate Individual Hot Pepper Flower

Pepper plants are self-pollinating flowers, which means the pollen sits inside the flower, and in a natural environment, no outside attention is needed to complete the process. An insect or a breeze shakes it down on to the stamen to pollinate.

Inside, you have to take on the job of mother nature. Using an electric toothbrush, gently tickle the individual flowers to stimulate pollen drop. You can use anything that vibrates — even your hand in a tickling motion. 

9. Harvest

Reap the benefits of all that hard work you've put into your indoor pepper plants — it's time to harvest! Some peppers fruit within 30 to 60 days, but others (especially super hot varieties) may take upwards of 150. The good news is that when growing hot peppers indoors, you don't need to worry about changing seasonal temperatures and their effects on your pepper crop. When the peppers reach desired color and spiciness, snip off using garden scissors. 

Grow Hot Peppers Indoors All Year Long

Like other hot loving plants, like tomatoes and cannabis, peppers adapt well to growing indoors. Smaller super hot varieties, like the Carolina Reaper or Thai Chilis, tend to see the most indoor success. Using appropriate fertilizers and LEDs, it's a snap to grow a bountiful harvest of spicy chilis. Plus, you never have to worry about the fluctuating weather or seasonal changes. Especially for those living in colder climates, growing chilis indoors all year long spices life up a bit.

Author | Chris McDonald

With two decades of expertise, Chris leads Happy Hydro in redefining sustainable gardening and delights in backpacking adventures, mind-expanding journeys, and creating memories with his loved ones.

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