Hot peppers grow well in the warm summer months and are well adapted to a variety of climates. In temperate climates, with their long growing seasons, hot pepper plants continue to thrive, ceasing to produce only during the brief cold periods of winter. In colder climates, hot peppers grow as annuals, producing during the shorter growing seasons.
Starting from Seed
In colder climates, start your hot pepper plants from seed indoors. Use a soil mix of compost, vermiculite or perlite and sand. Place the soil mix in a seed-starting tray and place two to three seeds within each section of the tray. Start your seeds six to eight weeks before the end of your cold season, providing the seeds with water and sunlight as they germinate. Bring the young seedlings outside for two to three hours a day for one to two weeks to harden them off. When the temperature reaches 70 degrees F during the day, but does not drop below 55 degrees during the night, transplant the seedlings to the garden.
Hot peppers can grow in slightly acidic soils with pH levels ranging from 4 to 6, though some chili peppers can tolerate a more alkaline soil. Add compost to your soil before setting out the seedlings. The soil should be well-draining and populated by earthworms. The earthworms will continue to aerate the soil so the shallow rooted hot pepper plants can draw nutrients more easily.
Sink the seedlings deep into the soil, leaving between 1/2 to 2/3 of the plant exposed. This deep planting promotes additional root growth, protects the roots from pests and provides additional support against high winds. Allow approximately 18 to 24 inches between plants. Many species of hot pepper plants have bushy growing habits. Set up a support system while the seedlings are young, such as a trellis, so you can tie off the plants as they grow. The vertical support will prevent peppers from sitting in the wet soil.
Food and Water
Follow a consistent watering schedule for the hot pepper plants, allowing them to dry out between waterings. Hot pepper plants set out shallow root systems that are easily waterlogged. Water your hot peppers to a depth of 4 to 5 inches once a week. Increase watering frequency only if the temperatures reach over 90 degrees F during the day. Feed nitrogen rich fertilizer to your hot peppers when they begin to flower. Use an organic fertilizer and dress 4 to 5 inches from the base of the plant to prevent burning the stalk and roots.
Harvest hot peppers as soon as they appear. This will promote further flowering, resulting in a larger harvest. Allow some of the subsequent peppers to turn red before harvesting for a variety of pepper flavors.