How To Grow Habanero Peppers

Growing Habanero Peppers

So you must be into spicy food. You’re going to fit in just fine here at PepperGeek. We love hot peppers more than (almost) anything! In this article, I’m going to share our guide on how to grow Habaneros. We will cover lots of tips and secrets we’ve learned to make sure you get the most peppers off of every plant, and the highest heat level possible!

Habaneros are prolific pepper producing plants, often growing dozens of peppers per plant. They are also some of the spiciest peppers that most people can tolerate and enjoy, with lots of flavor. You’re going to love having fresh-picked Habanero peppers at home. Let’s get started growing Habaneros!

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1. Buy Habanero Pepper Seeds

If you already have seeds you can skip to the next step. If not, consider the options before you pick your pepper variety. Different plants will yield very different results!

Try Different Habanero Peppers Types

How To Store Pepper Seeds

The main takeaway here should be that there are a lot of different types of Habanero peppers. It can be fun to experiment with different varieties and watch them change colors and shape as they grow. If you’re like us, you’ll grow as many as you can fit in the garden! Or, perhaps more sensibly, you’ll try 2 or 3 types.

Either way, the growing process will be identical. So rest assured, regardless of which seed type you buy, this growing guide for Habaneros will work perfectly!

2. Choose The Right Soil

Most growers will need to purchase two types of soil. One for starting the seeds inside, and another for the outdoors. These two types of soil differ in both nutrient content and texture/aeration qualities. Both are also abundantly available at home gardening stores.

Soil Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Soil For Starting Seeds

When starting seeds, you need a fertilizer-free soil. These are marketed as ‘seed starter’ soil mixes and are available at Lowes or Home Depot. You can also order some online for pretty cheap at Amazon.

Soil For Mature Growth Stage

This is more of a mixed bag (no pun intended). There are lots and lots of gardening soils to choose from. We recommend using organic soil like this one, with a loamy texture and makeup. We will be using our own fertilizer, so the soil itself does not need to have slow-release fertilizer pellets like Miracle-Gro. However, if you already have some of this soil, it will work just fine.

Don’t stress too much about this! While soil is a critical component of gardening success, if you buy soil at Home Depot and it says “Suitable For Vegetables” on it, you’re going to be okay.

3. Get The Right Fertilizer

Fertilizer is another daunting topic. There are many all-purpose fertilizers made to grow any and all vegetables. These will work fine to grow healthy-looking plants, but we want to make sure we actually get peppers!

To ensure our plants grow lots of peppers, we want a fertilizer that doesn’t have too much nitrogen. This is especially important once the flowers have begun sprouting.

We use two fertilizers throughout the growing season. During early plant growth, we use a 3-4-4 mix fertilizer for strong leafy growth. Later, we switch to a lowernitrogen, fish-based fertilizer to allow the Habanero pepper pods to form.

The timing of this is slightly subjective, but we typically start fertilizing around mid-March and then switch to the lower-nitrogen fertilizer around mid-June.

See our early growth fertilizer suggestion: Click here

See our later growth fertilizer suggestion: Click here

If you want to keep it to one fertilizer, use the early growth, 3-4-4 (or a 5-5-5) all season and lower the frequency of fertilizing around mid-June by half. This will allow the plants to focus more energy on pod production instead of producing more leaves.

4. Start Seeds Indoors

Starting seeds early allows your Habaneros, which grow naturally near the equator, to have a longer growing season. Waiting until April or May to start pepper seeds would result in underdeveloped plants, lower yields, and unripe peppers come harvest time.

When To Start Habaneros Indoors

Use this planting tool to determine when you should be planting pepper seeds indoors. This tool allows you to provide a postal code to determine the approximate date that you should sow seeds indoors. For Northern hemisphere gardeners, mid-February is typically the time of year to start planting Habanero pepper seeds inside. This will depend mostly on your exact latitude, but you’ll most likely want to start in February. If you live in a warmer climate, you may move your plants outside earlier.

How To Sow Pepper Seeds Indoors

Planting seeds is pretty simple. However, there are a few steps that should be taken to give the seeds the best possibility of success.

Seed Starting Tips:

  1. Use fertilizer-free soil.

    Seeds contain enough nutrients to germinate and grow to about 1-2 inch tall plants. The soil you use for planting seeds should be ‘seed starter mix’ of some sort. Here are a few options on Amazon.

  2. Pre-moisten soil.

    Before planting, thoroughly moisten and mix your seed starter soil by hand. This will enhance the soil’s ability to absorb water in the future.

  3. Use bottom-water trays.

    The best method to water seedlings is to bottom-water. This means that you are filling a reservoir in which the seed trays are submerged. The water is then absorbed from the bottom through holes in the containers, keeping the soil moist. These trays are cheap and re-usable. Get some here on Amazon or alternatively, use plastic cups with holes cut out of the bottoms.

    Watering frequency will depend on the humidity of your environment. Check the surface moisture of your seed trays and water if the soil feels dry. Keep the soil moist, not soaked!

  4. Plant 2 seeds per container.

    If you’re just growing a few plants, you want to make sure that your seeds sprout. By planting 2 seeds per container, you increase the chances of successful germination. If both seeds sprout, you simply pluck away one of them when they reach 1 inch in height.

    Tip: If you have limited seed quantity and want to conserve seeds, you can ignore this step. Just plant one seed per container to avoid wasting seeds.

  5. Keep the soil warm.

    During germination, the soil temperature should be at 80-90F degrees during the day and around 70-75F degrees at night. Peppers come from very warm climates, and the heat significantly helps initiate germination. Using a heated propagation mat and a thermometer is ideal to keep conditions consistent. However, if your indoor temperatures already satisfy these ranges, no need to worry!

    Note: This is especially useful when growing stubborn seeds, or older seeds that have been dormant longer. Most Habanero seeds germinate without issue.

  6. Consider lighting.

    While window light is good, to get the most out of your plants, you’ll want some sort of lighting setup. This can be as simple as a clip-on plant light for less than $20.

Use Grow Lights If Possible!

We highly recommend using a grow light of some kind to start pepper seedlings indoors. Without adequate lighting, young pepper plants may become tall and lanky, with weak and leggy stems. This stage of growth is critical for determining the hardiness of your plant throughout the whole growing season.

By introducing some artificial light, you can ensure the young seedlings photosynthesize as much as possible. You will notice considerably healthier-looking plants when using a grow light vs using natural window light.

For an affordable option, try one of these clip-on lights from Amazon.

For a more robust light, we like this unit on Amazon.

If you choose one of these lights, keep the light very close to your plants when they are on, about 1-2 inches away from the leaves. This will ensure maximum photosynthesis without damaging the plants. If you use a stronger light that emits more heat, you may need to keep it farther from your pepper seedlings.

5. Prune To Help Increase Yield

Pruning is basically snipping off portions of your plant to influence its shape and sturdiness. Pruning should usually be done when pepper plants are young, around 6 inches tall. It is not necessary, but can often help plants develop much stronger stems and a bushier, fuller shape.

To prune, simply snip the central shoot or shoots at the base of the node. This technique is also called ‘topping’ the plant because you are taking the top of the plant off. Discard the cutting and watch as the habanero plant grows new shoots within just a few days! This process encourages the plant to grow outward rather than tall and lanky.

Pruning Peppers

Note: Use scissors when pruning, not your fingers. You want to get a clean slice across the stem without crushing it.

6. Transplant Habaneros Outdoors

Transplanting is when the plant is moved from a smaller container to a larger container. This usually takes place twice during growth, but can also be done just once if the seedlings are started in larger containers (like Solo cups or small garden pots).

To transplant, prepare the new pot with plenty of moistened potting soil, dig out a trench deep enough to fit your plant’s entire root system, and carefully move the entire plant to the new pot. Then, cover the root system with fresh soil and compact gently. Water immediately to ensure the roots have plenty of moisture.

When To Transplant Outdoors

Move your plants outdoors as soon as the risk of frost is gone for the season. For us in the Northeast US, this means around May 1st. Use this tool to find out the last frost date for your location.

Once you are ready to transition, be sure you harden your plants off before moving outdoors 100%. This is the process of gradually getting your plants used to the outdoor climate (wind, direct sunlight, etc.). Learn more about hardening off plants in our guide here.

7. Fertilize & Water Regularly

Watering Habaneros

This is one of the most common causes of plant problems. Over-watering or under-watering can cause significant stress to habanero plants.

Watering Tips:

  • Use pots or a garden plot with plenty of drainage
  • Watch for dry or hot weather and water more often
  • Don’t water if the soil is already damp at the surface
Yellow Pepper Plant Leaves
Under-watering can cause yellowing leaves

Soil wants to be moist, but not soaked. A simple check with your finger will be enough to test moisture levels. As you grow more plants, you will develop a keen eye for a dried-out plant, and for one that doesn’t need watering.

Tip: Allowing your Habanero plants to become dry between watering will actually produce hotter peppers. This is called ‘stressing’ the plants and is used by professional growers! But be careful not to over-stress them and cause damage.

Fertilizing & Keeping Nitrogen In Check

Once your plants are 4 or 5 inches tall, fertilizing can begin. Younger plants may require less fertilizer, but we typically follow the instructions on our fertilizer.

Too much Nitrogen can be a bad thing for Habanero plants. Once flowers begin to develop, Nitrogen levels should be brought down to ensure the plants can produce lots of healthy peppers. Too much, and the flowers may begin to fall off! Growing Habaneros is all about growing peppers, not about growing a bush.

As mentioned before, we recommend starting with this fertilizer, and switching to this fertilizer when the plants begin to flower. If you don’t want to use two, just stick with the first one all season.

8. Harvest & Prune Again

Harvesting Habaneros is easy. The clearest sign of a ripe Habanero is the bright orange color. They turn from green to orange in most cases, but if you grow any of the other varieties of Habanero, you may be looking for a different color.

How long until Habaneros are ripe?

The typical grow time from seedling to harvest for Habaneros is around 90 days or longer. The hotter the pepper, the longer the growing season typically takes. It’s no wonder the Habanero takes so long to grow, given its 250,000+ SHU Scoville rating!

Tip: When the risk of frost is approaching at the end of the season, you can prune away any unnecessary branches to encourage ripening of any remaining peppers.

9. Get Ready For Next Year!

Success! With your fiery hot peppers ready for picking, all that is left to do is use them!

I hope you have a bountiful harvest of fresh Habaneros this year. Good luck, and feel free to share any tips or suggestions on how to grow Habaneros in the comments below!


Calvin Portrait

Calvin

One of the original PepperGeeks! When Calvin isn’t gardening or learning more about peppers, he might be traveling new places or playing some music.

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