How To Grow Hotter Peppers: Five Simple Steps

Make ’em hot, hotter, and hottest!

Gardeners who just can’t get enough of the fire of a capsaicin-rich pepper are always on the lookout as to how to grow hotter peppers. Heat can be a tricky thing when it comes to peppers, especially when you realize that the heat of individual fruits that grow on the same plant can vary widely! But there are some tricks and techniques that can help peppers fulfill their potential.

Growing hotter peppers

Not too much water

One tip on how to grow hotter peppers is to not overwater the plants. Indeed, the gardener might be a bit stingier with the water than usual and give the plants a drink only when the leaves start looking a bit droopy. This works best when the plant is just setting fruit. It’s almost as if too much water puts out the fire! It’s not quite that simple, of course, but it’s an idea to keep in mind.

Not too much nitrogen, either, for hotter peppers

Besides being an element, nitrogen is a nutrient that helps the plant grow big and strong quickly. Unfortunately, it does this at the expense of the fruit. The best way to fertilize a pepper plant in a way that will bring more fruit is to use a slower and gentler type of fertilizer such as rotted manure or compost. It’s also a good idea to side dress the plant when the blossoms appear and then repeat the side dressing about three weeks later. It also helps to spray the blossoms with a diluted Epsom salt solution to promote fruiting. The formula is about a teaspoon of Epsom salt to a quart of water. Some gardeners also apply liquid seaweed about three or four times over the growing season.

Add sulfur

Chili pepper plants also appreciate an amount of sulfur in the soil and that tends to lead to hotter peppers. Some gardeners who buy sets of pepper plants toss a few unlit matches into the hole before they put the plant in. Match heads, after all, contain sulfur, and they’re cheaper to buy than great big bags of the element. Sulfur can also be mixed in with the soil or sprinkled on the plant itself.

Avoid cross-pollination

Since peppers are closely related to each other, they can cross pollinate. This means that a hot pepper can cross pollinate with a sweet pepper and create future generations of seeds that are milder than expected. Make sure that different types of peppers are grown a good distance from each other. Note: This only impacts the seeds of the fruit, not the current generation of peppers. Your chili peppers that first year would be as hot as expected. To learn more, read our post on what is a hybrid plant.

Let chili peppers age on the vine

The longer a hot pepper ages, the spicier they become. The amount of capsaicin in the fruit increases over time, so if you can wait until those green jalapeños turn red, then you’re in for a much spicier experience.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on July 29, 2021 to include new content. It was originally published on May 29, 2015.
  • Help! My pepper plant is the lone survivor from 12 two years ago. I have only received one small pepper in this time. I live in Southern California the southern San Quine Valley 100 + degrees here how can I produce fruit from the lone survivor?

    • You need to get your plant into a cooler environment. Maybe try mulching your soil to keep some heat from getting to the roots. 100+degrees is definitely up there.

  • “Avoid cross-pollination”

    that would only affect the future pepper plants grown from the seeds of the cross pollinated fruits, not the current pepper. a jalapeño plant will only produce hot peppers regardless of whether it was crossed with sweet pepper or a habanero. only the seeds would carry the traits of the sweet pepper or habanero.

    • You are absolutely wrong. I grew bell peppers and jalapeños in the same bed. Had bell peppers as hot as jalapeños and jalapeños that were not hot at all!

      • As a long time gardener and super hot enthusiast I can plainly say the first commenter is correct. Cross pollination does not affect the fruit at all only the seeds. The exception to this being corn. You will see cross pollination in the same year corn because the seeds are large and what we actually eat. As far as peppers it affects them in absolutely no way since the genetic strain is already set for the pod that will protect the incoming seeds. You need to grow the crossed seeds out in order to get the crosses genetic variants.

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