Growing Chilis

 

 

 

Transplanting your new plant

Your plant has been raised to its current size in a 10cm square pot.  This is far too small to successfully grow most varieties of chilli.  If left in this pot, your chilli plants may still fruit, but the yield will be incredibly small and the plants will be far more prone to suffer heat stress and disease.  For most varieties of chilli a 10inch or 25cm round pot is ideal as they don't take up too much room and the plants can reach a great size in such a pot, nearly a metre tall in some cases. If using decorative pots, make sure they are at least this size.  Some varieties, namely the Purple Bird, Brazillian Hot and other small ornamentals should be grown in a pot smaller and shallower than this as they will grow too large in the 25cm pot and lose their form and thus appeal as an ornamental plant. 

Growing in the Ground

Some of the larger growing varieties such as Mulato, Chilean Green, Anaheim and Valentines Thai will do even better in the ground.  This can be achieved in Canberra, however you will almost certainly lose the plants over winter.  In more temperate regions, where frost is not an issue, all varieties can be grown in the ground year round very successfully.  Plants can be sown directly into the ground from the 10cm pot they are supplied in.

Staking

Most varieties of chilli will need staking at some point as they grow. Staking not only supports the weight of the plant as it becomes laden with fruit, but also protects the plant when it is exposed to high levels of wind and rain.  Thin bamboo stakes are normally sufficient for chilli plants, however some varieties may need more than one. The photo on the right is of a Rocoto Red, which ended up requiring three 80cm stakes to keep it secure.

Of course not all varieties require staking. The small varieties like the Brazillian Hot, Purple Bird Fiesta and Jellybean Habanero don't grow tall enough to require a stake. And some varieties, like the Aji Amarillo and Chilean Green can be grown without a stake in a hanging basket.


Repairing Plants

From time to time even with careful staking you will find that the branches of chilli plants will snap. Do not panic though as chilli plants can be very resiliant and respond well to a quick repair job! The photos below are of a mature cayenne lilac plant whose branch snapped nearly clean off whilst being moved around the greenhouse. The first photo shows the bandage job which was made using ordinary masking tape, the second photo is of the same plant around three weeks later. This bandage was left on for about two months just to be sure, and when it was pulled off the wound had healed over completely.

Plant repair example Plant repair example


Fertilising

Whilst young you should encourage your chilli plants to grow by feeding them regularly with a fertiliser that is high in nitrogen.  This promotes leaf and stem growth.  Brands such as Aquasol or Thrive are great at this stage.  As the plant matures and prepares to flower, you should not use fertilisers that are high in nitrogen and instead feed them with something that is high in potassium.  This encourages flower and bud development.  Once the plant is in flower discontinue fertilisation as the fruit sets.  It is very important that you don't fertilise with a high nitrogen fertiliser at this stage, as the flowers can drop off ruining your yield.  When the fruit has set you can resume light fertilisation if you feel its needed.

Watering and Plant Location

One of the most important things you can do when you repot your chillis is to cover them with a good layer of hardwood mulch sucah as Red Gum chips.  This layer of mulch really keeps the moisture in and the plant healthy.  Snails and slugs dislike crawling on it too, so that is an added bonus.  Plants should be watered frequently enough to prevent wilting and drying out of the soil.  If their soil becomes really dried out, effective watering becomes difficult and a half hour soak in a bucket of water can be useful to fully resoak the soil again. During the hot Canberra summer chilli plants do best in a part sun and part shade position.  Try to position them so that they get morning sun, and afternoon shade.  If this is impossible to achieve it may be worth providing them with some artificial shelter, such as shadecloth.

Overwintering your plants.

If you live in an area which doesn't receive frosts, you are in luck as the plants will easily survive winter.  However, if you are in an area where your plants are likely to receive a frost or be subjected to multiple sub zero temperatures at night, care must be taken to ensure their survival as frosts will kill chilli plants very quickly. The photo on the right shows the damage that occured to a variety of adult plants after one strong frost in late May 2005.

The first step is to prepare the plant for winter by removing all fruit, whether ripe or not, as well as any flowers present.  In Canberra the best time to do this is sometime in May, or perhaps June depending on how mild the weather has been.

Next you will have to move the plants out of the elements.  If you get lucky, and have a north facing sheltered pergola attached to your house, you might be able to keep plants alive if moved under here.  It will be hit and miss though.  A small cheap greenhouse with as many other plants in there as possible (fill it right up) is the next best bet. The best method by far though is to move them indoors and place them by a window where they will receive sunlight over winter.  This should ensure that all will survive.  Plants can be brought back outside when the danger of frosts has passed.

Some plants will drop all their leaves during winter, even if moved inside. These will most likely reshoot come spring.  A quick way to check that the plant is still alive is to check its roots.  They should be white.  If the plant has brown roots, it is dead...even though the stems may remain green.

Harvesting Fruit.

Like many fruit plants, chillis will benefit from quick removal of the first few pods that appear before allowing them to ripen.  This is particularly important in varieties such as the Anaheim, Poblano and Big Jim.  Doing this encourages the plant to produce fresh buds and fruit, and it will almost certainly produce more fruit than what you took off (note: this technique is not necessary with some varieties as they produce prolific amounts of fruit in the first instance). 

In Canberra you can expect 3 or 4 full crops of fruit each season, depending on how early the plant fruits.  February, March and April are the 3 bumper months for chilli fruit production.  Excess fruit will almost certainly be present, and can be preserved in one of many ways, 

When the fruit will be ready is largely determined by which variety of plant you have.  Habaneros and other Chinense varieties have the longest fruit ripening time of the chilli plants, at around 60 days from the time the fruit appears to the time it becomes ripe.  Most of the varieties which have smaller fruit will ripen in around 30 days.  Its important to remember that chilli plants are largely a tropical species, accustomed to a long growing season...so be patient.