This plant is a member of the nightshade family and produces spicy little fruits known as “chili peppers.” These hot little numbers are believed to have originated in the Americas but have, since the 15th century, become increasingly popular all across the globe. There are hundreds of varieties of chili peppers that vary in color, size, and hotness, but most types are red, green, orange, purple, or yellow in color and pack a serious punch in terms of spice compared to other types of peppers.
Cayenne chili peppers are a type of hot pepper best grown in warm weather. This blend of long, thin peppers will ripen to a variety of colors, including purple, red, green, and yellow. Lush, green plants can grow up to 3 feet tall, developing white flowers from which this tasty, spicy fruit emerge. Naturally occurring as a perennial in tropical and subtropical areas, gardeners in more temperate climates will have success treating cayenne pepper as a warm season annual. Cayenne chili ranks in the 30,000-50,000 SHU range on the Scoville scale: enough to pack a punch, but definitely not the hottest fruit in the basket!
Seed Depth: 1/4″
Space Between Plants: 12–24″
Space Between Rows: 24″
Germination Soil Temperature: 60–80°F
Days for Germination: 10–25
Sow Indoors: 8–10 weeks before average last frost date. For fall crop in USDA Zones 9 and above, start in midsummer.
Sow Outdoors: 2–4 weeks after average last frost date.
Vegetative: Can be propagated by taking stem cuttings.
Grows best in a warm, tropical or subtropical climate. Seeds will germinate slowly in soils below 65°F. Plants can survive light frosts if well protected and can be grown as perennials in USDA Zones 9 and above.
Natural: Full sun. Prefers partial afternoon shade in hot weather.
Artificial: Will grow well under high output fluorescent, LED, or HID lamps. Needs at least 8 hours of light daily; however, more is preferred.
Soil: Prefers well-drained loamy soils. A pH of between 6.0 and 6.8 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems, including deep water culture, ebb and flow, and drip system.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires low to moderate levels of water. Aim for about 1–`2 inches of water per week. Drought tolerant but will produce more fruit if kept consistently moist. Use drip irrigation to avoid getting leaves wet.
Nutrients: Requires low to moderate amounts of nutrients. Too much nitrogen can result in an abundance of foliage with low fruit production, so make sure fertilizers contain sufficient amounts of phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium. Apply after the first fruits have formed. Sidedress with compost tea once every 3 weeks.
Foliar: Will benefit from foliar applications of 1 tbsp Epsom salts mixed with 1 gallon of water. Apply when blooms start to form and again about 2 weeks later.
Pruning: Perennial plants will benefit from light pruning once or twice per year.
MULCHING: Use mulch to suppress weeds and conserve moisture. While plastic mulches are commonly recommended as a method for retaining heat and moisture while suppressing weeds, we recommend using eco-friendly, reusable landscaping fabric or straw to help your peppers grow.
COVERING: Protect from frosts using row covers or tarps by forming a tent over your plants. Remove during the day.
SUPPORT: Use cages or stakes to provide support for larger plants.
DEFICIENCY(S): A calcium deficiency can result in blossom end rot. To remedy this situation, reduce your nitrogen application and/or ensure that you’re keeping your plants evenly watered. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, a calcium-based foliar can help your plants fight off this disorder.
Rotation: A 3-year rotation away from all plants in the Solanaceae family is recommended.
Companions: Grows well with basil, coriander, onion, spinach, tomato, and peas. Avoid beans and kohlrabi.
Harvest: Cut peppers from the plant once they are ripe and have reached their full size, which for this blend is generally between 1–6″ long. Wear gloves when harvesting and avoid touching your face and eyes: capsaicin found in the fruit is a skin irritant.
Storage: Fruits can be refrigerated for up to 10 days.
Fun Fact: Peppers are rated in terms of spiciness on the “Scoville scale,” which ranges from 0 to 15,000,000 units. Think that Cayenne is hot? Cayenne peppers only rank in the range of 30-50,000 on this scale, while other peppers, like the Carolina Reaper, can hit levels of 2,200,000 units. Talk about atomic heat!
Preserve: Fruits can be dried and ground or crushed for later use as a spice. Also can be frozen.
Prepare: Use small amounts of chopped peppers to give a spicy kick to your favorite curry dishes, Mexican salsas, chili, bean dishes, or casseroles. Try grilling them whole for a smoky side. Homemade hot sauce is always a special treat when you’ve got an abundance of ripe peppers. Always use care or wear gloves when handling fresh peppers, and avoid getting the juices on sensitive skin, especially near your eyes.
Nutritional: Provides small amounts of vitamin(s) A, B6, E, C, riboflavin, potassium, and manganese. Also a good source of phytochemicals.
Medicinal: Capsaicin causes blood vessel dilation and boosts metabolism. This can result in reductions of weight, increased circulation, and a suppressed appetite. Additional benefits include regulation of high blood pressure, promotion of a healthy liver and other organs due to increased blood flow and mucus production, and regulation of digestive functions. It has also been classified as a aphrodisiac, so pack some cayenne-infused chocolates on your next date.
Warnings: Capsaicin can be a skin irritant, especially on sensitive skin. Avoid handling peppers with bare hands and always wash your hands well before touching your face (or going to the bathroom!).
Once you’ve amassed a pound of these little peppers, try this spicy Cayenne Hot Sauce recipe.