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How to Grow

Great Hot Peppers
Your complete guide to growing hot peppers in both Canada and other Northern regions, with cold region-specific growing information and 5 key tips for success.

How To Grow Great Hot Peppers In A Short Growing Season

by on February 22, 2024
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With dozens of unique hot pepper varieties to choose from these days, it’s hard not to add a slew of them to your garden each season. But growing great hot peppers in a short growing season like we have here in Canada can be tricky. We, Northern gardeners, often end up with big plants that bear little fruit. Or we end up lots of fruit but they don’t mature in time for harvest. I’ve been there! So here’s a few of the tricks I’ve learned over the years that have allowed me to grow great hot peppers in Canada (or other cold regions).

Hot Pepper Quick Growing Notes

Vegetable: Pepper

Latin name: Capsicum

Difficulty level: Easy to moderately challenging

Life cycle: Annual

Sun exposure: Full-sun

Days to maturity: 75-110 days

Timing: Start indoors 10-12 weeks before your last frost date

Planting seed depth: Sow seeds 1" deep

Soil needs: Well draining soil that's amended with compost & organic fertilizer regularly throughout the growing season

A Complete Guide To Growing Great Hot Peppers In Canada & Other Northern Regions

Consider this post your complete guide to growing hot peppers in both Canada (where I reside) and other Northern regions! You’ll find cold region-specific growing information here that you likely won’t find in other popular pepper growing resources.

So if you’ve stumbled upon this post and if you live in a Zone 7 or warmer, this advice might not be applicable to your garden.

This hot pepper growing guide is specific to gardeners living in Northern regions with short growing seasons of about 100 to 120 days.

If this is you and, like me, you’re one of the bad asses who preservers and continues to grow your own food even in a challenging climate, then you’ve come to the right place!

I hope you’ll learn something useful here.

Where To Get High Quality Hot Pepper Seeds In Canada

There’s an abundance of great, organic hot pepper seed providers and seed breeders across Canada, the U.S. and beyond.

You can find them all on my full list Where To Buy The Best Organic Vegetable Seeds In Canada.

But my personal fav providers for hot pepper seeds are West Coast Seeds, Sage Garden Greenhouses and Fruition Seeds (based in the U.S.).

Pro Tip: When selecting what hot pepper varieties to grow in a Northern region, select varieties that have been bred to produce early in the season.

If you choose pepper varieties that mature in 75 days or less, you will be able to enjoy your harvest earlier on in the growing season.

The Best Hot Pepper Varieties To Grow In A Short Growing Season

Here’s a few of my go-to fav hot pepper varieties to grow in my garden here in the Canadian Prairies. Of course, there’s so many amazing varieties to choose from so please do explore for yourself!

These are the hot peppers that have made my list because they’re unique, reliable and I can attest that they do well in a Zone 3 garden.

Hungarian Hot Wax: compact plants, fruits are ready by end of July and great for pickling

Ghost Chilli: as hot as they come, so fun to grow but not ready to harvest until the end of the season

Spicy Slice Jalapeño: my go-to jalapeño variety as it’s ready to harvest in just 60 days

When Should You Start Hot Pepper Seeds In Zone 3-4

My rule of thumb and an easy trick to remember for when to start your hot peppers in Zone 3-4 is to start them right around Valentine’s Day.

A spicy day for love and a spicy day for seeding (LOL).

This timing is ideal for Zone 3-4 gardeners as it will give your pepper seedlings a solid 8-12 weeks of indoor growing time (depending on when your exact last frost date is for your micro-climate) so that by the time they are ready to head outdoors they can focus on flowering rather than putting on more foliage.

You can find more seed starting dates for a huge range of veggies in my Free Canadian Prairies Planting Guide.

How To Grow Great Hot Peppers From Seed

Before I get into the specifics of starting hot peppers from seed, I encourage you to give my Full Seed Starting Guide a read — especially if you’re new to the world of seed starting.

If you’re a well seasoned seed starter already, then here’s my hot pepper specific seed starting advice.

First, if you’re starting your hot pepper seeds indoors in a Northern climate then you must start them under grow lights. There simply isn’t enough natural daylight hours in the Winter for hot peppers to do well indoors without supplemental light.

So start by setting up your indoor grow station with grow lights. We love using the Sunblaster brand for our indoor set-up.

Pro Tip: LED Full Spectrum grow lights not only mimic outdoor sunlight most effectively but they are also energy efficient so won’t add any extra cost to your power bill.

A seedling heat mat can also help with germination as hot pepper seeds love heat and will sprout faster with additional bottom heat. There’s also research that shows bottom heat can improve root development.

It’s not a must-have, but a seedling heat mat can definitely help!

Next, prepare your seedling soil mix. For hot peppers, I like to add both compost and worm castings to my soil blend so that my seedlings get some additional nutrients from the start. I’ve found this leads to more compact, bushy seedlings — two things you definitely want!

Once your wet soil blend is added to your seedling tray, plant one hot pepper seed per cell about 1″ deep and then cover with soil. I tend to pack my soil fairly tight into each cell.

From there, place your hot peppers under grow lights and cover with a humidity dome until germination appears.

In my experience, the hotter the pepper the longer it takes to germinate.

So be prepared to wait up to 14 days for germination…especially if you’re growing more unusual varieties that have specific growing requirements.

How To Care For Hot Pepper Seedlings

Hot pepper seedlings are relatively easy to care for and will do well indoors under grow lights for weeks as long as you provide them the following things.

1. Consistent light daily.

Keep your grow lights on for 8-10 hours/daily and adjust the height so it’s always just a few inches above the plant.

You don’t want your grow lights to burn your plants but you also don’t want your seedlings to be reaching for the light. So hang your grow lights in a way that is easy to adjust the height regularly.

2. Continue to organically fertilize your hot pepper seedlings every few weeks.

Fertilizer will make your hot peppers stronger, bigger and more disease resistant when they’re ready to head outdoors.

I love Sea Magic liquid fertilizer. It’s a kelp-based fertilizer and something I apply to all my edible seedlings after they develop their true leaves.

It really makes such a difference in both growth and plant resilience when they head outdoors. I should be a brand ambassador for Sea Magic (I’m not!) that’s just how much I love it!

And 3. Be sure to pot-up your hot pepper seedlings.

To avoid stunting your seedlings’ growth, you’ll want to size up the container they are in. I typically only do this once before I bring my hot peppers outside.

Usually I pot-up my hot pepper seedlings to a larger container after they’ve been growing in their original seed starting cell for 4 weeks or so. At this time, they are quite large and need more soil for nutrients and more space for root development.

Bonus Tip: Prune off any early flowers your seedlings put on while indoors so that they can focus on growing foliage still instead.

And that’s pretty much it! Hot pepper seedlings don’t really need any additional special care.

Follow those three tips and then treat them as you would any other indoor seedling and they will do well. Don’t overthink it!

How To Grow Hot Peppers In Canada

Alright, now here’s a few things I’ve learned over the years of growing hot peppers that is specific to a Canadian climate where we have a short growing season.

Again, if you garden in a Zone 7 or warmer you might not find these tips as applicable.

These are my 3 top hot pepper growing tips for gardeners in Zone 3-4.

Tip 1: Grow your hot peppers in containers.

You’ll find more later on in this post as to why exactly I started following this philosophy a few years ago. And let me tell you….it’s been LIFE CHANGING.

I love growing my hot peppers in these fabric grow bags. They let your plants roots breath, which leads to better root development and less disease. I love them and highly recommend.

Tip 2: Locate your hot pepper plants in the hottest region of your garden.

For the last few years, I’ve grown all our hot peppers inside our greenhouse and it has worked out great! The plants love the hot, humid environment and it allows me to harvest longer into the Fall.

If you don’t have a backyard greenhouse (or if you want one check out my post Best Tips For Building A DIY Backyard Greenhouse For Cold Weather Climates) simply place your hot peppers in the hottest spot of your yard.

This might be on the South side of your home or against an exterior wall. Don’t be afraid to move them around throughout the season to find what works best.

Tip 3: Mulch your hot pepper plants to keep soil moisture consistent.

This is so important for hot peppers especially if you follow my advice and keep them in the warmest area of your garden.

The soil will dry out and quickly! Inconsistent moisture in your soil can lead to blossom end rot, low yields and diseased plants.

So mulch the soil with a heavy layer of GardenStraw. Simply apply it to already watered plants and then water it again by hand to help it stick.

More of why I love mulching with straw in this post How To Use Garden Straw As Mulch For Vegetables.

How To Grow Hot Peppers In A Short Growing Season

If you live outside of Canada in another short growing season, be sure to follow the tips I’ve provided above as they still apply.

In addition, the biggest thing to consider when growing hot peppers in a short growing season is their location and being able to easily move them to a warmer environment if needed.

Hot peppers are heat loving plants and therefore need plenty of direct sunshine and consistent temperatures above 21°C in order to set fruit.

Again, this is why I love growing my hot peppers in containers.

Move your hot pepper containers to the warmest and sunniest region of your garden regularly. This may be a greenhouse (which is where I love to grow all my hot peppers) or even against a south-facing wall of your home.

You know the micro-climate of your own backyard better than anyone else, so adjust your hot peppers’ growing environment throughout the season as needed.

Do Hot Peppers Grow Better In Pots or In The Ground

I can hands down tell you that hot peppers do exceptionally better when grown in containers! There’s no doubt about it.

For years, I planted my hot peppers in the ground and would get big, beautiful, bushy plants but very few fruits. It was frustrating time and time again.

This was my approach until we had hot pepper growing enthusiast, Tyrell Benton on The Grow Guide Podcast who shared his own philosophy with hot peppers.

Be sure to give that episode of The Grow Guide a listen for all of Tyrell’s advice, but I’ll share the biggest takeaway next.

Tyrell shared that when hot peppers grown in Northern climates are planted in the ground, they spend weeks and weeks establishing their roots. All their energy is focused on this, which is why you’ll often see your hot peppers putting on lots of foliage growth but not much fruit.

But when hot peppers are planted in containers, they are limited to how big they can grow and therefore begin flowering and setting fruit earlier and more often.

Are you just as mind blown as I was?

Well, I can confidently tell you that Tyrell’s theory is accurate. I have had amazing, bountiful harvests and earlier in the season when I grow my peppers in containers.

I also apply this advice to my bell peppers and now grow them all in containers as well!

So do hot peppers grow better in containers or in the ground?

In a zone 3-4 garden and other cold regions, hot peppers absolutely grow better in containers.

5 Key Things To Know About Growing Hot Peppers In A Backyard Garden

1. Hot Peppers LOVE heat.

You’ve likely already come to this realization if you’ve made it this far in the blog.

But to reiterate, hot peppers are heat loving plants so try your best to mimic their native habitat by providing full sun and planting them in an area of your garden that is the warmest.

2. Hot Peppers are heavy feeders and need to be organically fertilized every few weeks.

The more you feed your hot peppers, the more fruit they will produce. FACTS.

One of the wonderful things about organically fertilizing your plants is that you can’t really over do it. So don’t be afraid to top dress your hot peppers with compost every few weeks and/or add a sprinkle of organic fertilizer to them.

If you’re new to fertilizing and a little nervous (don’t be!), give this blog a read — 3 Easy Ways To Organically Fertilize Your Veggie Garden In The Summer.

3. Hot Peppers take a long time to set roots.

I’ve talked in length about the benefits of growing hot peppers in containers already and this is the main reason why!

If you plant your hot peppers in the ground, they’ll spend too much time setting roots and not enough time fruiting before the season is over.

So if you’re a cold climate gardener, be sure to limit your hot peppers’ root growth and you’ll likely end up with smaller plants but more fruit.

4. Hot Peppers will produce more fruit if you prune off the first early flowers it sets.

It’s all about tricking your hot peppers and adapting them to our short growing season.

Simply take off the first flowers it sets with your fingers or a clean pair of scissors. This will allow your plant to continue growing rather than trying to develop its first flower into fruit before it’s really ready to.

This is especially important if your hot pepper seedlings begin to flower while still indoors.

5. Hot Pepper plants can be brought indoors in the Fall to extend your harvest for a few more weeks.

As mentioned, hot peppers love heat so if you can continue providing them a warm environment for longer, you may just be able to harvest well into Fall maybe even Winter!

And there you have it!

That’s your complete guide to growing great hot peppers even in a short growing season like I have here in Canada.

Comment below if you’ve found other tricks for growing hot peppers in Northern regions! I’d love to hear them and I answer all comments.

You can follow @fromsoiltosoul on InstagramPinterest and Tik Tok for more gardening content too.

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Latest Comments

  1. February 27, 2024

    Hi Maggie, my name is Oma. Is it advisable to prune peppers in zone 3 considering the short growing season.

    — Oma
  2. March 1, 2024

    Hi Oma! I also prune off the first flowers but then let them continue growing from there. If you are planting them in containers as suggested, the limited growing space will stunt the root growth and force the plants to focus their energy on flowering/fruiting so you should get good yields. Hope that helps!

    — Maggie
  3. March 18, 2024

    I am excited (and a bit terrified) to be starting a new raised-bed garden at my new home. After gardening successfully for decades in a protected, warm micro-climate in Winnipeg, I now am building a garden in a wild pasture, fully exposed to all nature can bring.

    — Rebecca Nemetchek
  4. March 20, 2024

    Hey Rebecca, that sounds exciting! I’d definitely try adding a fence around your garden if it’s in an exposed field as you might have wildlife visitors.

    — Maggie
  5. May 13, 2024

    how big a pot do you use for your hot peppers? i was going to use plastic cat litter containers but i think they may be too big and allow for the roots to go too deep and waste growing time for the peppers themselves.

    — Dan
  6. May 21, 2024

    I use 5 gallon containers!

    — Maggie