Do you have a green thumb but still have trouble with growing hot peppers? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Peppers are a finicky plant to grow but they are SO worth the trouble! For many avid gardeners, having success with learning how to grow hot peppers brings a sense of satisfaction and pride.
Knowing where your food comes from is a part of everyday health and wellness. Growing your food takes health and wellness to a whole other level. Hot peppers are a difficult to grow. It’s taken us years of trial and error to figure out how to grow hot peppers in any climate. But we’ve figured it out and want to share what we’ve learned with you!
Believe it or not, a five-gallon bucket is one of the simplest ways to grow hot peppers. We’re going to show you how to grow hot peppers in buckets. Then we’re going to teach you how to overwinter your hot peppers in your house, so you can bring them back out in the spring. NO more starting peppers from seeds that this!
How to Grow Hot Peppers in a 5-Gallon Bucket
You need to know a few things about the growth stages of plants to have success with growing hot peppers. Whether you start from seeds or buy plants at the store, knowing what the peppers like and don’t like at each stage of growth will help you be successful with growing peppers year and year.
Growth Stages of Pepper Plants
- Seed Stage: This is where your plants are in seed form. They need heat and moisture to germinate (sprout).
- Seedling Stage: These are baby pepper plants. You keep them sheltered or indoors until they are mature enough to survive outside.
- Transplants Stage: When your plants reach four to six inches tall, they are ready to harden off and bring outside.
- Mature plants: After a season of labor and love your mature plants will flower and fruit, giving you delicious hot peppers.
Before you order seeds, you need to choose what kind of peppers you want to grow and how many plants you want.
Here are some of the basic types of hot peppers people like to grow:
- Jalapeno Peppers (2,500-8,000 SHU)
- Banana Peppers ( 500-1000 SHU)
- Serrano Peppers ( 10,000-23,000 SHU)
- Habanero Peppers (100,000-350,000 SHU)
- Bird’s Eye Chili’s (Thai Chilis) (50,000-100,000 SHU)
- Cayenne Peppers (30,000-50,000 SHU)
- Anaheim Peppers (500-2,500 SHU)
- Poblano Peppers ( 1,000-1,500 SHU)
- Pepperoncini Peppers (100-500 SHU)
- Cherry Peppers (2,500-5,000 SHU)
Choosing what kind of pepper you want to grow depends on what recipes you want to make and how hot you like your peppers. Peppers are categorized by how hot they are in units called Scoville units (SHU). Scovilles are based on how much capsaicin is in each pepper. Capsaicin is the chemical component in peppers that causes them to feel and taste hot.
Choosing How Many Plants to Grow:
One pepper plant grows an average of around 20-50 peppers per plant. One recipe for hot sauce calls for 20-40 hot peppers. We grow 5-10 pepper plants per year. That many plants get us plenty of hot sauce and a couple of bags of hot peppers in the freezer for cooking.
Recipes that Use Hot Peppers:
- Homemade hot sauce
- Curry or Indian Cuisine
- Tacos or Mexican Cuisine
- Salsa or Pico
- Soups and Stews
- Rice dishes
I often find myself reaching into my freezer and grabbing a hot pepper for a recipe I am creating in my kitchen. We tend to freeze our peppers whole and pop them out of the freezer when I need them. I LOVE having extra hot peppers around.
Learning How to Grow Hot Peppers from Seed:
While it’s easy to grow most plants from seeds, learning how to grow hot peppers requires a few extra supplies. Once you gather those supplies, it’s easy to grow hot peppers year after year. The additional upfront investment is intimidating, but once you have those supplies, they are useful for starting all kinds of seeds, even tomatoes, and other vegetables!
Supplies Needed for Starting Pepper Seeds:
- Seed starting tray or Peat Pots
- Well Draining Potting Soil (You can buy this yourself or make it yourself)
- Grow Lights:
- Heating Pads: Made specifically for under seed trays.
- Spray Bottle: For misting your seed trays.
- Watering Can: For watering the soil of mature plants.
- Small Fans: (mimick wind and help strengthen the stems to hold lots of peppers)
Hot Peppers are native to warmer climates. A simple sunny window unfortunately won’t be enough starting pepper seeds. To be successful with hot peppers, you need the grow lights (which don’t have to be expensive or complicated) and the heating pads. The heating pads create a gentle heat under the seed trays, which keeps the soil warm as if the hot sun was shining on the ground all day. Peppers germinate, or sprout, much better and more quickly with heating pads under the tray.
It can take 40-60 days for pepper seeds to sprout without any heat!
The heating pads and the grow lights also cause the soil to dry out more quickly. Pepper seeds need watering daily. Keep an eye on that soil in between waterings.
Starting Hot Pepper Seeds:
Peppers are the type of plant that you start indoors and then transplant outside when the weather is ideal. To start your seeds indoors, you will need to check for your last frost date, usually around late winter early spring.
The last frost date is when you can reasonably expect the temperatures at night to stay above freezing.
Knowing your last frost date gives you an estimate of when you will start transplanting your seeds outdoors. Pepper seeds are started indoors about 8-10 weeks before your last frost date. Peppers take a long time to mature enough to go outside. In my Plant Hardiness Zone, I start my hot peppers indoors during the middle to the end of February. If you live in a warmer climate, you could be starting your peppers indoors as early as December or January.
- Set up your seed tray with potting soil: Fill the trays to the top with soil and pre-moisten your soil before you plant your seeds.
- Plant one to two seeds per square: (You will thin them later, but this gives you a pepper chance of having enough peppers if some seeds don’t sprout.)
- Cover your seeds with a thin layer of soil, just enough to cover them.
- Spray the top of the soil with water to thoroughly moisten the soil and the seeds. Water helps to break down the hard outer coating of the seeds and allow the seed to germinate. Well-draining soil prevents the soil from becoming soggy, causing mold growth on the top of your soil.
- Place your seed trays in a well-ventilated room on top of the heating pads. Plant heating pads should be the exact length and width of your seed trays.
- Clamp the grow lights to the table so that the light reaches every square in your seed tray. We usually place one light on each side of the tray. As your plants grow, you will move the lights further and further away from your plants.
It can take anywhere from 10 days to 4 weeks for pepper plants to germinate or sprout. You will find some sprout earlier than others. It takes a couple of weeks for your entire seed tray to spout. You will get 80-95% of your seeds to sprout on a good year.
Caring for your Seedlings Trays:
Baby plants are called seedlings.
- Rotate your tray daily, so each plant gets direct light from the grow lights.
- Water or mist once a day. You will mist your seeds before they sprout. Heavy watering can cause the seeds to move around in the trays. Once they sprout, you can switch to a watering can and water the soil around the plant. Be sure to have something under your tray to catch any drainage.
- Once your plants reach two inches high, its time to get the fans out. Place the fan next to the seed tray and put the fan on its lowest setting. Too much wind at first can damage your seedlings. As you rotate your trays, the stems will blow in all directions helping to strengthen the stems. The fans mimic the windy conditions outside, which is what causes strong stems. The fans are essential for your plants to support the weight of 20-50 peppers per plant.
- If you find your plants growing too tall, or leaning toward the light, move the lights a bit closer or rotate the trays, so the leggy plants get more time in the light. As they get taller, you may find you need to add extra light.
If you added more than one seed in each tray, you may end up with multiple plants in a seed tray. When they are 3 inches tall, pick which plant you want to keep. Then use sharp clean scissors to trim the plants you’re not keeping down to the soil level.
It’s better to trim the plants than pull them so you don’t disturb the young roots of the plant you want to keep.
Transplanting Your Seedlings:
Once your seedlings reach 4-6 inches tall and have at least two sets of leaves, they are ready to be transplanted to their final buckets.
Plant Fact: The first set of leaves that emerge from your seedlings are called cotyledons. They are not true leaves. These generally fall off after the first sets of real leaves emerge.
At this point in your seedlings journey, you have to be careful. It gets tricky to time the transplant process. If you move them to their buckets while it’s still cold outside, you will have buckets of pepper plants all over your house.
We transplanted ours too early this year, and we ended up with 13 buckets in our south-facing window seat.
It’s ok to leave the seedlings in their smaller peat pots until they grow a little bigger, and it’s closer to moving them outside.
It takes at least a full week to harden off your pepper plants and get them ready for the outdoors. Try to time transplanting them about nine days before they go outside—that way, you give them a couple of days to rest indoors after the shock of being transplanted.
Prepping Your Buckets:
We use 5-gallon buckets from our local home-improvement store. They’re affordable and easy to move around because of the handles.
Keep in mind that they can get heavy when filled with wet soil.
The buckets are the perfect depth to allow for root growth, but you can transport them easily, taking your peppers and overwinter them indoors.
Peppers are perennial plants, they will continue to grow and fruit year after year. They don’t in most climates because of cold winter temps killing off the plants. Bringing a few pepper plants indoors for the winter can save you the efforts of starting peppers from seeds every year.
- Drill holes in the bottom of your buckets for drainage. If you don’t allow for drainage, your plants will die off with their roots sitting in water.
- Make an ideal potting mix for peppers by mixing equal parts sand, compost, and garden soil. The sand helps the soil drain properly while the compost lightens up the soil, so it’s not too thick or dense for the roots.
- To prevent root shock, you can place the peat pots directly into the soil. Poke a few holes in the peat pots to help it break down a little faster.
- Sprinkle a little sulfur/copper powder in your hole before adding the pepper plant. Use this fertilizer to help promote root growth and prevent mildew on the top of your soil.
- You can bury pepper plants rather deep into the soil. The stems to grow roots. The deeper you plant your pepper plant, the stronger the root system will be.
- Mix a teaspoon of both blood meal and bone meal into the top of the soil a couple of inches away from the pepper plant’s stem. These are both excellent fertilizers for pepper plants.
- Water thoroughly.
Hardening off Your Pepper Plants:
Hardening off your plants to get them outdoors in pots or directly in your the ground can be a labor of love for your garden. Especially carrying the heavy pots back and forth for seven days.
Pepper plans can get ready to go outside when ambient temperatures reach the high 60s and low 70’s and the night time temps are in the 60s.
It takes about seven days to harden off your plants fully.
Herbs are a lot easier to harden off than other types of plants, they do better with chilly night temps.
Place your pots outside in a shaded area. A day with low wind is best. Leave them outdoor for 1-2 hours.
Place your pots outdoors in a shaded area. Leave them outdoors for 2-3 hours.
Gradually place your pots in an area with more direct sunlight each day until they are in their final destination. Add 1-2 more hours of outside time each day until they are outside most of the day and come in at night. They are ready to be left outside full time when the night time temps stay in the 60s.
Pepper plants like heat and direct sunlight. Keeping your pepper buckets in a south-facing location will be them the perfect amount of sun they need daily.
Pepper Plant Care and Fertilization:
Once you have established plants, learning how to grow peppers in buckets is easy and convenient. Potted peppers dry out much more quickly than peppers planted directly in the ground. The pepper plants will require daily watering except for on days when it rains.
Water the soil around your pepper plant until approximately 1-inch of water gathers in the pot on top of the soil. Allow that water to drain down into the soil.
Morning waterings are best so your plants have lots of water leading into the hot days. If you work early mornings, evening waterings are OKAY too.
If the leaves start to droop or curl, your peppers need water. Peppers recover pretty well from being under-watered, but you don’t want to make it a chronic problem. Watering is especially important after the peppers plants start to fruit.
Hot Peppers are heavy feeders, especially when grown in pots.
Fish Emulsion is a perfect bi-weekly fertilizer for hot peppers.
While your peppers are seedlings, mix one tablespoon into a gallon of water and use this mixture to water your plants. Use Fish emulsion every two weeks to feed your pepper plants. For mature plants, increase it to two tablespoons of fish emulsion.
Fish emulsion is stinky, but your peppers will love it!
Magnesium is essential for a growing pepper plant. Spray one tablespoon of Epsom salts mixed into one liter of water onto the leaves and the soil on the weeks opposite the fish emulsion.
You should start to see peppers fruiting on your plants in mid-summer. See your specific variety of pepper for the right time to harvest your peppers.
Overwintering your Pepper Plants Indoors:
Depending on how many pepper plants you plan to grow, you may want to choose only a few to bring indoors.
We currently have 13 pepper plans in pots outside, and my husband thinks we will overwinter all 13 of them indoors.
There goes my south-facing window seat.
Once the fall time hits and overnight temps between to drop, its time to overwinter your peppers. When you overwinter your pepper plants, you save yourself the time and energy of having to start all over again each spring.
- Trim the top 1/3 of your pepper plants using a clean, sharp pair of gardening shears. Trip leaves and branches just above a bud. Some peppers lose all their leaves over the winter. Pepper plants naturally go dormant but will start growing again in the spring.
- Place your pepper pots in the window away from a direct heat source. You can use grow lights in a warm spot in your basement, but a sunny window is also great.
- Cut way back on watering. Only water a dormant pepper once the soil is almost completely dry. Stick your finger down into the soil. If it feels moist a couple of inches down, your peppers don’t need water yet.
- Keep an eye out for aphid or fruit flies bothering your pepper plants. Wipe them off if you see any.
- Once you start to see new growth in the spring, starting watering your plants again.
- Once your spring temps are back in the high 60’s and low 70s, you are ready to start hardening off your plants and getting them outdoors again.
You will have peppers much sooner the second summer!
Growing hot peppers in pots is a convenient way to get peppers every year without starting from seeds every year.
What are your favorite peppers to grow?
Check out our other posts on Hot Peppers!
- How to Make Homemade Red Hot Sauce
- Make Your Own Hot Sauce
- Best DIY Hot Sauce Kits
- Make Your Own Buffalo Sauce
- DIY Salsa
- Make Caribbean Style Hot Sauce