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28 May 2021

How to grow chillies

Chilli peppers are great for adding heat to cooking and are easy to grow, even on a windowsill. Discover our best chilli varieties and tips for how to grow them.
Fruiting chilli plant
CT
Ceri Thomas

Chillies are not only tasty but easy to grow. They do well in pots so thrive on a sunny patio, balcony or windowsill.

How to grow chillies: month by month

January February March April May June


SOWING SOWING

PLANTING

July August September October November December




HARVESTING HARVESTING HARVESTING

Best chilli varieties

Best Buy chillies
What it looks like Variety name Scoville scale
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30,000-50,000
This delightful chilli has decorative purple-tinged foliage and produces masses of brightly coloured fruits that turn from green to bluish purple and ultimately red, so it’s no surprise it was awarded a Best Buy as well as an RHS AGM. The ripe fruits are moderately hot and have an intriguing, almost smoky flavour that made them a favourite with our tasting panel, especially in a sauce. It can be grown in smaller pots to keep it compact, so it’s ideal for patio pots or hanging baskets.
What it looks like Variety name Scoville scale
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0-500
These small, unusual chillies have a round shape with a short tail, reminiscent of a bird’s beak. They’re very mild and have a fruity, piquant flavour that’s ideal for pizzas or sauces where you don’t necessarily want a burst of heat. The plants produce plenty of fruit and are reasonably attractive, although the fruit are the main attraction, creating little drops of orange and red among the green foliage.
What it looks like Variety name Scoville scale
Member content
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50,000-100,000
This was one of the more compact varieties we grew, making it ideal for patio pots. It produced masses of upright, rounded fruit that ripened from purple through to yellow, orange and red. Set against the mid-green foliage, the plants made a very attractive, decorative display. Taste-wise, the fruits are very hot with a strong kick along with a tangy chilli flavour so, unless you like your food really hot, they’re best used sparingly in cooking.
What it looks like Variety name Scoville scale
Member content
Member content
70,000-80,000
A previous Best Buy that has also been awarded an RHS AGM, this chilli produced masses of small brightly coloured fruits. The upward-pointing chillies shone out through the mid-green foliage as they ripened from pale lemon through orange to bright red. They developed into small bushy plants and produced a neat mound of foliage that nicely filled our pots. Watch out though, as the small peppers are very hot, so should be used with caution.

How we test chillies

We chose 16 varieties of chillies with either colourful fruits and attractive foliage or a reputation for flavour. These included some old favourites. We then sowed the seeds in our greenhouse in early March. All the chillies were potted up into 9L pots in a Best Buy compost for containers to which we added some controlled-release fertiliser, and kept in a polytunnel. They were fed weekly with tomato food as soon as they started flowering. At the end of September, we assessed the plants for their ornamental value and how much ripe fruit they had produced. We also asked a small panel of tasters to assess the flavour and heat of the chillies, both dried and in a sauce.

When to sow

You can either buy plants from the garden centre in spring or you can sow seeds from mid-February  to March in a heated propagator or on a warm windowsill. They need a minimum temperature of 18C to germinate. Starting off chillies early in the year will give them the opportunity to ripen their fruits over the summer.

Sow the seeds thinly in pots or trays of a Best Buy compost for sowing seeds. Cover with a light layer of fine compost or vermiculite. Keep the compost just moist; the seeds won't germinate if it dries out.

Carefully prick out the seedlings into individual pots using a Best Buy compost for raising young plants and pot on until they're in their final container, which needs to be 25-30cm wide. When potting on into the final container, use a Best Buy compost for containers and mix in a Best Buy controlled-release feed.

Caring for your plants

Where to grow

If you want to grow your chilli plants outside, wait until all risk of frost has passed in late May or early June  before moving to a spot outside in full sun. Chillies will be killed by frost if moved outdoors too early. Alternatively keep your plants on a sunny windowsill in the house.

Feeding and watering

Feed the plants weekly with a tomato fertiliser from when the first flowers appear and water whenever the compost is dry to the touch. This can be a twice a day in hot, dry weather.

Discover our Best Buy tomato feeds

Stake all but the shortest of varieties with a cane to support the stems under the weight of the developing fruit.

How and when to harvest

Harvest in: September-November

Fruit should ripen by September or October, depending on the summer. If your chillies are not ripening outside, bring the whole plant inside to a sunny windowsill to encourage the process.  Mice will happily eat chillies, as will birds, so you may need to protect your plants if they show any signs of being attacked. 

If you want chillies the following year, try bringing the plant inside as soon as frost threatens. You can continue harvesting the ripe chillies during the winter and lightly cut back the plant to encourage fresh growth in February.

Storing your harvest

Chillies are easy to dry or freeze fresh, so any surplus can be stored to be used later in the year. They can also be pickled in vinegar or added to oils for flavouring.

Common growing problems

Aphids

These sap-sucking insects can weaken the plant and cause poor growth. Squash any you find or use a suitable organic insecticide.

Read more about aphids.