Chile Pepper

Growing Peppers in Containers

Growing peppers in containers is easy, and most (if not all) peppers will thrive.  In fact, some were selected for their ability to grow well in a pot!  Let’s look at some things to consider when growing your peppers in a container.

Choose the Proper Size Pot

It’s not so much a problem with the pot being too big, but rather don’t go choosing one too small.  Although many peppers don’t grow to more than 20″ tall, they still need enough room for their roots to spread out.

For the smaller peppers (under 12 ” tall), you’ll need a 2 gallon container.  For the larger pepper plants, a 5 gallon or even 10 gallon container will give the peppers plenty of room to grow.  Not sure what you need?  Try a 3-gallon container and a good soil mixture with plenty of nutrients.

Oh, and remember — your container needs to have drainage holes, so excess water has a way to escape.

What Kind of Soil to Use

I prefer to use bagged soil, seeing as the soil in my yard is fairly sandy.  I like a mixture of composted cow manure and organic potting soil.  The composted cow manure feeds the plants, and the organic potting soil lets the plant’s roots grow freely.  I generally use in a 50/50 ratio (just as much composted cow manure as potting soil).

I generally avoid any potting soil labeled as “african violet” or “houseplant” or any such designation.  I also like to avoid pre-fertilized potting soil.  If you can’t find any “regular” potting soil, try using sphagnum moss instead, at a ration of 40/60 (40% sphagnum and 60% composted cow manure).  Here’s some more information on the kind of soil peppers like.

If you have access to real compost (meaning, from your own compost pile), by all means use that!  Just make sure it’s fully “cooked” to destroy any lingering unfriendly bacteria or fungi.

Feeding and Watering

Your pepper plants will very likely need more frequent watering when being grown in a container, as well as more frequent fertilizing.

Watering should be done whenever you can stick your finger 1 inch into the soil and it’s dry (the tried and true method).  Soon enough, you’ll get to recognize whether that means watering every day, every other day, etc. for your particular growing conditions.

I like to use my fertilizer at no more than 1/2 strength, but I fertilize a little more often — usually once every other week.  When your pepper is first growing, it needs a fair amount of nitrogen, but once it starts producing flowers, it needs more phosphorus.  I prefer doing things as organically as possible, so I like worm castings, fish emulsion and seaweed extract.  (See the organic fertilizer and peppers post for more information.)

If I feel the plant needs a little boost of nitrogen or phosphorus (beyond the normal fertilizing), I’ll add in some blood meal (nitrogen) or bone meal (phosphorus).  Both can be found in most garden centers.

I am debating adding an organic tomato fertilizer to this mix — after all, tomatoes and peppers are related and have similar requirements.

Staking or Caging

Some peppers may need to be staked or caged due to their growing habits.  I usually find that bell peppers need to be staked, due to fruit weight.  Large rangey plants like jalapenos may need to be caged if they start overtaking your container gardening area.

Ultimately, it’s up to you, especially since there are now peppers like Mohawk that are more of a draping/hanging pepper, instead of upright.

Those Really Hot Chile Peppers

Please keep in mind that if you decide to grow the really, really hot chile peppers (like scotch bonnet, habaneros, etc.), please don’t do it around small children or pets.  Just touching the fruit of these plants can cause severe irritation and burning.

I also would recommend staking or at least caging such chile peppers, if they are in an area where people will potentially be walking near them.  All you need to do is brush by the peppers to get the oil on your clothes/body.

And remember, when staking or caging the extra-hot chile peppers, please use rubber gloves — preferably the disposable kind.  That’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way.  (And naturally, also use the rubber gloves when harvesting the peppers.)

Growing Peppers in Containers is Easy!

That’s pretty much all you need to know about growing peppers in containers.  This means that even if you don’t have a yard, you can have garden-fresh peppers.  Just make sure that the spot where you plan to put the pots gets at least 8 hours of sun a day, and is in a warm spot (peppers like heat).

If you plan to grow your peppers from seeds, you may want to check out the growing peppers from seeds post.  If your inclination is towards growing chile peppers, check out the growing chile peppers post.


About Chile Peppers

Chile, chili, hot — what’s the difference? None, really. These pungent peppers are often called by any of the above names. 

Chile peppers are members of the genus Capsicum, and they are unrelated to black peppercorns (part of the Piper family). For convenience, however, we’ll only use the term “chile” when referring to these peppers. Please note, however, that there are several varieties that are actually have the word “chile” in their name.

Chile Pepper Facts

Where Did Peppers Come From?  The hot chile pepper is a New World addition to the diet, discovered by none other than Christopher Columbus on his first voyage in 1492. Today, we know of more than 200 varieties, over 100 of which are indigenous to Mexico.

Are Peppers Good for You?  Fresh chile peppers are loaded with Vitamin C — twice as much as citrus fruits! Fresh chiles also contain Vitamin A. What about dried? Well, drying chiles destroys most of the Vitamin C, but increases the Vitamin A content — up to 100 times! Some weight-loss programs advocate the use of spicy foods (chiles included), saying that the heat generated by the spice revs up the metabolism.

How Hot is “Hot”?  Back in 1902, a scientist by the name of Wilbur Scoville devised a test to measure the relative heat of the chile peppers. This resulting scale is referred to as the “Scoville Scale”. For example, bell peppers register a “0-100” on the Scoville, while the mighty habanero registers a whopping “300,000+”. That’s hot!

Here’s a list of commonly eaten peppers, with their Scoville rating (from mildest to hottest):

  • Bell peppers with a rating of 0-100
  • Anahaeim peppers with a rating of 500-3,500
  • Ancho/Poblano peppers with a rating of 500-1,000
  • Pasilla peppers with a rating of 1,000-3,000
  • Numex/New Mexico peppers with a rating of 3,000-4,000
  • Hungarian peppers with a rating of 3,500-4,500
  • Jalapeno peppers with a rating of 5,000-7,000
  • Serrano peppers with a rating of 6,000-10,000
  • De Arbol peppers with a rating of 15,000-30,000
  • Cayenne peppers with a rating of 30,000-50,000
  • Chipotle/Morita peppers with a rating of 75,000
  • Chiltepin/Birdseye peppers with a rating of 50,000-100,000
  • Scotch Bonnet peppers with a rating of 200,000
  • Habanero peppers with a rating of 300,000+
  • Habanero “Red Savina” with a rating of around 500,000
  • Jolokia is now the official hottest, with a rating of over 1,000,000!

Now these numbers aren’t chisled in stone; for example, there are jalapenos that have practically no heat, as well as some that are extra hot.  Different varieties of the same pepper can have different Scoville ratings.  Add to that is this little fact; the hotter the climate where the pepper is grown, the higher the Scoville rating.

What Makes Chiles so Hot?  A substance called capsaicin is what makes the chiles to hot! The more capsaicin, the hotter it is. Pure capsaicin tops out the Scoville scale with a rating of 16,000,000!

Too Hot! How Can I Cool my Mouth?  First of all, do not drink beer, water or a carbonated beverage — it will just make things worse! Capsaicin is an oil, and these liquids just spread it around. Try drinking milk, or eating some sour cream (or ice cream). Dairy items neutralize the oil and cool the burn.

Can I Lower the Heat of a Pepper? Sure! If you want to reduce the flames (so to speak), you can “neuter” the pepper by paring away the interior ribs and removing the seeds.  If the pepper is a really hot one, you might not notice a great difference, though.

How Can I Determine the Heat of an Unfamiliar Pepper?  Assuming that you don’t want to taste-test the pepper, here’s a general rule-of-thumb — the bigger the pepper, the lower the heat. The reverse is generally true as well — the smaller the pepper, the hotter it is.

Where Can I Get Chiles?  Chiles are increasingly available in grocery stores, but why not grow your own? They’re fun to grow, and you can be sure they’re fresh. Also, growing your own chile peppers allows you to grow the varieties that you like — not what the grocery store buyer thinks you should like.

How Long Will a Pepper Plant Live?  This all depends on the species of pepper plant. There are three main cultivated species: Capsicum annuum, Capsicum frutescens, and Capsicum chinense. Most peppers grown are of the Capsicum annuum species, and so are annual plants (living only one year). The Tabasco pepper (Capsicum frutescens) also lives a similar time. On the other hand, Capsicum chinense, otherwise known as the Habanero or Scotch Bonnet, is a perennial in a semi-tropical or tropical environment. In addition, the Capsicum baccatum, of which Ajis are a member, can also occasionally live more than one season.