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Grow Your Own Chilli Plants

Growing your own chile from seed can be very rewarding! Anyone can do it and you don't have to be into gardening or a great gardener to be successful! All you need is some seeds, store bought compost and seed trays/small pots. Then a sunny space for your chilis, a little care and in no time you will have your own beautiful chilli plant brightening up your home and cooking!

Where to Begin:

Jalapeno Chillis

The key to good chilli plant growth is finding a nice sheltered sunny spot. Then just keep them watered and fed throughout the growing season. I have found that some types grow easier and better than others. The fun will be finding out which ones work for you. A good place to start though is with Jalapeno seeds (sometimes called pizza chillis in garden centres) or maybe the Apache Chilli. I have found these to be very hardy and successful plants.

Sowing the Seeds:

Chillis need a temperature between 18C and 22C with lots of light. The seeds first need to be germinated indoors to protect them from the cold. If you have a greenhouse or a Propagator (cheap and easy to pick up from and local DIY/garden centre) you can put the seeds in as early as February. If not sowing is best left until late March or early April.

Sow seeds thinly in trays with moist good compost. Take care to get the balance right, not dry but not soggy either. Once the seeds have germinated and grown two true leaves, plant each individual chilli plant into a small pot about 75mm again with plenty of light and space.

Once these mini plants have a healthy root system and are about a ruler length in height you can plant them out into their final position.

Where to put your Plants:

If you are short of space your chilli plant will be more than happy on a windowsill. Even better in a greenhouse if you have one. Last year when we had the good summer I found my plants did well in the garden out on the decking in a sunny sheltered spot.

Growing on:

One established chilli plants are best transferred to larger pots. Feed your chillis with a liquid fertiliser until they are established again then transfer to a high potash fertiliser to encourage your plant to flower and produce fruit. Try to handle the plants by their seed leaves only. This will avoid crushing them and the possibility of causing death by crushing the stem. Pay careful attention to keep them weed free and watch out for common pests as you will more than likely get some! see ideas below for dealing with them. Chilli plants need just the right amount of water too, sporadic watering stops growth and too much water can damage the plants. I always find this difficult to get the right balance but if you try and keep to the Little and often rule you will be fine. Once you have more interest in growing superior yields you can investigate various growing its to ensure your plants get what they need when they need. I have yet to try one of these these kits but will be soon!

Now you have Plants how do you keep them Happy?

As your chillis grow they will need support this just needs a simple small wooden stake in your pot secured with garden twine.

You have two choices when choosing to harvest your peppers. Harvesting regularly the green peppers which will stimulate the plant to produce more and more peppers. Or, leave a few choice peppers on the plant to fully ripen. You can watch Jalapeno chillis turn from green to black to red!

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Pests and Problems:

Even the best and most experienced gardeners among us suffer from pests affecting our plants and crops. here are some useful notes from articles I have read with my own personal experiences from the past few years.

Slugs and Snails can be of the biggest outdoor problems for the Chilli grower, usual signs of a slug or snail attack are the usual slime trails, the young branches near the base of the plant have been stripped away overnight or often the centre of the leaves have been munched away. These prefer dark damp places to live so keep your plants free from any fallen leaves and manually remove any slugs or snails you find. Alternative methods to deter slug and snails include copper tape or rings, or sprinkling egg shells or used coffee grounds round the base of the plant.
Greenfly/Whitefly: When the plants produce lush new growth they become vulnerable to these aphids that spread viruses quickly and lead to the determent & health of the plant. These can infest you chillies at any time of the season when you least expect it. The organic method is best to just hand pick them off or spray your chillies with a very weak soap solution. If you want to get technical you can introduce natural predators like lady birds and hover flies, attract these to your garden by planting marigolds and other bright flowers around your chillies. If you are growing in a greenhouse you could go as far as purchasing a parasitic wasp (Encarsia Formosa) from a specialist over the Internet. I try to go for the organic methods but do occasionally use a simple pesticide spray suitable for vegetables available form any garden centre. Before you spray the best poison you can find on them though think about the fact you hope to eat the chillies. You can buy pesticides for cropping / growing food you want to eat that makes it safe. Gardeners word magazine suggests that if you have a complete infestation to snip off the worst bits and put them on your bird table for the birds to eat.

Thrips produces a silver white discolouration with tiny black dots on the upper leaf surface. The leaves become distorted and flower and fruit production is affected. It likes hot, dry conditions so water regularly and regulate the temperature with shading and ventilation. Having my plants on the decking last year gave them afternoon sun, shelter from wind and plenty of ventilation. I do have a south facing garden though so the plants get a lot of nice warm sun. just experiment in your garden once your plants and strong and see which are the best positions for them. i was hesitant at first as the British weather is not the best climate to grow chillis but I was then pleasantly surprised when some plants thrived.

Botrytis may also pose a problem especially at the base of the plant and the fruit. It begins as a brownish spot that develops into a grey mould. It is particularly prevalent when it is cold & damp. Good ventilation will help stop this occurring, removing all dead or injured plant material before it becomes infected. Remove all infected material by cutting back into healthy stock and burning or binning the infected stem. Do not compost diseased plant material. Isolate infected plants to prevent the disease spreading don't be tempted like I did once to keep them going to get just one more chilli!

Phytophthora Blight and Southern Blight (fungal infections) develop on the stem and the disease spreads to the rest of the plant leading to its collapse and wilting occurs. Splashing water can dislodge spores and so spread the disease may affect plants particularly if grown outside during a typical British damp wet summer. Southern Blight is characterised by the presence of a white, cotton-like growth on the surface of the stem accompanied by tan or brown spherical bodies. Fungal diseases spread rapidly and it is best to burn infected plants straight away at the first signs of infection. In moist weather a white fungal growth also develops on the underside of leaves. From experience if your plants looks very unhappy just get rid of it to avoid damage to the rest of your precious season of plants.

Mold and Rot If you are growing in pots, do not over crowd the chillies, keep them well ventilated, and water regularly but not too much. Symptoms can include mould on the leaves, soft fruit, and fungus around the stems. The usual causes of this is over watering or under watering. I sometimes use a Propagator and they have vents on the top to let air out. Once I did not leave these open and the environment got very wet and I lost most of my plants from mold at the base of the stem. Learn from my experience and failures keep that ventilation there.

Pets Not an obvious one but one of our cute moggies 'Maddie' is very partial to munching pepper teptin, twilight and jalapeno plants. For some reason she appears to avoid other plants types One year in the morning I awoke to find that an entire crop of twilight chillis has been mysteriously munched!! Look out for further cat mischief throughout the 2011 growing season. :)

Over Wintering Chilli Plants:

For a bigger crop the next year you can over winter your plants. Not everyone recommends it due to a higher chance of disease, but I have had many successes by doing it and some bumper crops! Overwintered plants usually produce a better crop in their second year as the plants can get started more quickly in the spring and enjoy a longer growing season.
  • Pick all the fruit from your plants even the immature fruits.
  • Prune your plants to about four inches from the base once the leaves begin to drop.
  • Pot your chilli back up if it has been in the ground.
  • Be careful not to over water your precious plant, a small amount every ten days should be fine not letting the soil dry out.
  • Keep all plants frost free aiming for a temperature between 5C ans 12C.

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For further advice and more specialist products, such as self watering pots for bumper harvests, to help you in your chilli production visit greenhouse sensation. or check out for all kinds of growing advice not just for Chili Plants