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Bell peppers, Cayenne and Jalapeño – Capsicum frutescens

Peppers, both mild and hot – Capsicum annuum  

Hot chillies, such as naga and habaner – Capsicum chinense

Often called capsicums, these are all in the nightshade or Solanaceae family. They have been grown and harvested for as long as 10,000 years, in the warmer parts of both Americas – Peru and Bolivia especially.

The cool summers at Homeacres do not allow their full expression of quality and sweetness. Afternoon temperatures through summer average 21–22 °C/low 70’s °F here, therefore I struggle to grow capsicums outdoors but do reasonably well with plants under cover. My aim in this lesson is to give you an idea of possibilities.

There is some confusion in categorisation between what we call chillies and sweet peppers. The Latin names above show that it’s not a clear distinction. In terms of growing any of these plants, the most important thing is that they are closely related. As a result their needs are similar, to achieve successful harvests.

One-year-old chilli plants on the left, and four-year-old plants on the right, including red Habanero chillis

Lemon Drop chillis on one four-year-old plant in early November

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: 100 for unripe peppers and chillies, 125 for ripe fruits.

  • Best climate is a warm to hot summer, with days of 24–35 °C/75–95 °F, and first frost not before mid-autumn.
30th August, in the Small Garden – a Puzta Gold pepper

Summer colours – peppers with nasturtium and marigolds

After an unusually hot summer, an early autumn sweet pepper rainbow

Why grow them

In a warm climate, peppers can be highly productive for several months after midsummer. You have the choice to pick them green and unripe, or sweeter with colour, and there are many colours to choose from.

Chillies are both easy to grow and give a lot of harvest, even from small plants growing in containers. There is a huge choice of varieties.

Pattern of growth

Although mostly grown as annuals because of dying in any frost, these plants are perennial.

They take a fair time to flower and then fruit, and even longer for peppers to ripen. The size of plants varies between different varieties, and peppers can grow tall if grown as cordons.

Suitable for containers/shade?

Chilli plants especially are suited to container growing, but they need as much sun as possible. In the first year, they do not grow into large plants, so a 20 cm/8 in pot is sufficient to produce 20 or more chillies.

Pepper plants are more hungry than chilli plants, so use a 30 cm/12 in pot and the best multipurpose compost you can find. You will probably need to feed pepper plants as well, from the middle of summer, using any proprietary feed.

27th June – a compost trial of peppers; Melcourt organic on the left, my own compost in the middle, and horse manure with digestate on the right

6th October – here is the summer’s total harvest of one plant, in a 30 cm/12 in pot

Perennialise chilli plants in containers

You can prune any chilli plant, to about 50% of its size, in mid to late autumn. Bring the pruned plant to any room in the house for two to three months over winter – the pots can even be out of natural light. Do not water at this point.

Once past the winter solstice, you should see some new leaves appearing and plants need to be in the lightest place you have. Give as little water as you dare, then, once there are no more frosts, you can move the pot outside. At this point, tap out the rootball and place all the contents into a larger pot for a second summer of growth.

  • I grew the chilli plant below through four summers – it worked better than I had expected.

The most difficult time is late winter, when new leaves are often full of aphids. However, as soon as the plants are outside and/or under cover in full light, aphids are no longer a problem, having been eaten by predators.

  • A further option is to bring plants inside before frost, without any pruning. This is not guaranteed to succeed but I did manage it once with a Habanero chilli – see the photo under ‘Water’ below.
17th May – a three-year-old Habanero chilli plant

23rd September – the same plant of Habanero chilli


There are many fine pepper varieties, with different offerings every year in catalogues. Best select those that appeal to you, according to their description. Use my photos for ideas too.

  • If your climate has a summer cooler than the ideal, which is the case for much of the UK, it’s important to remember that the photos of highly coloured peppers are achievable only in warm conditions.

Bell peppers are almost rectangular in shape, with a thick skin, and the harvest can be heavy. Often they are available as hybrids, such as Bell Boy and Bendigo.

Hungarian Hot Wax grows pointed peppers, unusual for being of variable heat, some mild and some spicy.

Roter Augsburger grows well in cooler conditions but, if it’s windy, growth is not worthwhile – see the photo in ‘Planting’ below. The fruits are medium-sized, slightly pointy and tasty when ripe red.

For chillies there are fun shapes to try as well as a range of colours and heat units. Bishops Hat is a beautiful fruit, Lemon Drop is easy to grow and of medium heat, Alphonso Loco makes a large plant with really hot, black-seeded chillies.

Cayenne grown in a pot in the greenhouse with no feeding – this is mid-November
Chilli plants grown outside since June, doing well in containers before being harvested
sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems


Use a trowel or sharp knife to cut around the main roots, just below the stem. Some twisting will help to break any remaining roots and leave most of them in the ground.

If you have grown plants in containers and don’t want to overwinter them, pull them out and drop the compost on any bed in the garden, or use it for winter salad plants.

Follow with

Plants under cover will finish by mid-autumn, which gives time to transplant salads and leafy vegetables for winter harvests. You need to have sown these in early autumn, so that plants are already four weeks old.