How to Grow Chillies in Containers

Twilight Chilli - ideal for a smaller pot on the windowsill - looks great, too.

Chillies grow very well in containers – but they do have some specific needs. To discover the ‘tricks of the trade’, I met up with (and filmed) professional chilli grower, Steve Waters.

Few other plants can match chillies for ‘flavour for space’ ratio. One plant will often give you a hundred chillies or more. So all but the most dedicated chilli eater can usually be self sufficient in chillies with just a few plants – something very achievable, even in a tiny growing space. Any surplus chillies can easily be dried or frozen, keeping you in supply all year.

A huge benefit of growing your own is the vast array of delicious varieties now available – you’ll discover a whole new world of flavour when compared to the ubiquitous, one dimensional ‘red’ and ‘green’ chillies sold by most supermarkets. Whether you are looking for amazing taste (try Aji Lemon, Fatali or Cherry Bomb), or fiery heat (try Bhut Jolokia) or something beautiful to brighten your balcony (try Twilight – pictured above – or Purple Princess), you will be spoilt for choice.

You do need a warm, sheltered spot – inside or outside – with at least six hours sun to grow chillies with any reliable success (they will be reluctant to fruit without). But with the right conditions, chillies can do brilliantly in containers.

Most chilli varieties are not difficult to grow – but they do have slightly different needs from most other edible crops. For example, the seeds need more warmth to germinate, and the plants benefit from drying out more between waterings. If you’re starting out, it’s also useful to know that some chilli varieties are a lot harder to grow than others. Some of the easiest and most reliable are recommended below.

Steve Waters (thank you Steve!), who runs the  South Devon Chilli Farm, grows over 170 varieties of chilli, and harvests hundreds of kilos every day in season.  He shares his tips and experience for you in the videos below:

Can you recommend four chillies for containers?

Steve recommends some reliable and tasty chillies for containers.

Steve’s top chillies for reliability and flavour in containers:

  • Thai Hot or Demon Red, Twilight, Apache – small plants, ideal for a 1 litre pot on the window sill.
  • Cherry bomb – produces heavy crop of large red chillies, great flavour, not too hot, one of the first to ripen.
  • Ring of fire – productive, tasty chilli, great for cooking.
  • Hungarian Hotwax – milder chilli but with excellent flavour, ideal for stuffing.

How to sow and germinate chillies

It’s not difficult to grow chillies from seed, but they do need warmth and good light. Steve offers his tips in this video:


Steve’s top sowing tips

  • Sow your seeds in fine vermiculite or seed compost in three inch pots or use coir jiffy pellets.
  • Chillies need warmth to germinate and good light to grow into healthy seedlings. Steve starts his chillies in mid January – but if you don’t have a heated propagator or a bright window sill (or LED grow lamp), it’s easier to start them at the end of March (small varieties like Thai Hot can be started even later).
  • Water the growing medium well before sowing – then try to water as little as possible until germination. Excessive watering can wash the goodness out of the seed before it germinates.
  • Some very hot chillies, like Bhut Jolokia, can benefit from soaking in water for 24  hours before sowing.
  • A thermostatically controlled propagator (set at 25 – 30 0C  / 77 – 860F) or a simple heated propagator makes germinating chillies easier and faster (but is not essential).  If you don’t have a propagator , try to find a place with a warm, consistent temperature. Chilli seeds need warmth! (A “propagator” is the gardening term for a container with a transparent lid, designed for raising seeds).
  • Place your propagator where it will not heat up too much in the sun – consistency of temperature is also important.
  • Once germinated, chillies can be replanted at any level. So if you have tall, spindly seedlings, replant them with some of the stem under the soil. (This is a very handy tip).
  • Chilli seedlings need good light to grow healthily. Many urban homes do not have bright light inside (neighbouring buildings and trees casting shade), particularly early in the season (February / March) when light levels are low. If you’re seedlings are struggling, you can either buy an LED grow light or simply wait and buy a plant later in the year (often a good option with chillies as you only need a few plants).

Where can you buy seeds and plants? Online is a good place to look first: a specialist chilli producer, like South Devon Chilli Farm, will often offer the best choice and the most expert advice.  Or look for a chilli festival happening near you (more and more are springing up) where you’ll also be able to taste the different chillies. 

How to water chillies in pots; what growing media to use?

How you water chillies will make a big difference to your growing success – and the right soil mix will help with this. Steve explains how in this video.

Steve’s top watering tips

  • Drainage is important (chilli roots must have air). If you are prone to over water or if you’re using an automatic watering system, you can improve drainage by adding perlite (10 – 30%) or grit.
  • Use a soil based compost – like ‘John Innes No.2’ if you can get it.
  • When you have planted a chilli in a new pot, feel the weight of the pot before watering it. Try to remember this weight – and avoid watering again until the pot has come back down to just above the unwatered weight again.
  • Chillies seem to do best with dry and wet cycles – so its best not to water them every day if possible.
  • As chillies grow bigger, they like to be moved into progressively slightly larger pots. For example, move a seedling from a three inch pot into a half litre, then one litre, then three litre – rather than from a three inch pot to a three litre one.

How to Feed Chillies

Chillies are less hungry than tomatoes but will still need regular feeding once they have used the food in their compost (usually after about six weeks). Large, heavily fruiting chillies, like Cherry Bomb, need substantially more feeding than smaller varieties that produce small chillies.

Steve’s top feeding tips

  • A high potassium or potash (K) feed is good for fruiting chillies (The potassium will help them fruit). You can make your own feed from comfrey leaves or use a tomato feed. If using tomato feed, use at slightly lower concentrations than suggested for tomatoes.
  • After heavily harvesting, a balanced liquid feed (one with equal N, P and K – see the side of the bottle) can help it to recover, and put on new growth.

Many thanks to Steve for sharing his knowledge and experience – I hope they will help guide you to chilli growing success.


For more videos on growing chillies in containers, including the amazing diversity of chillies you can grow – and much more –  check  out the Vertical Veg Club (you can try it free for two weeks here)

Your turn

What’s your favourite favourite of chilli to grow in containers?  I’d love to hear in the comments below.


31 comments… add one

  • Hello Mark, these were useful videos and great information, thank you. I live in Switzerland and have just purchased 4 nice chilli plants;

    1) Christmas Tree 100,000-350,000 on the Scoville Scale
    2) Big Jim Orange 50,000-100,000
    3) Black Horn 30,000-50,000
    4) Cayenna 30,000-50,000

    Are you familiar with any of these?

    I want to put them in some nice ceramic pots for our balcony, but need advice as to what sized containers they will require for healthy growth as I don’t know how big they get.

    If you can advise that would be great, if not then no problem.


    • Hi Clare, sorry for slow reply. I don’t know these particular varieties. 10 litres is normally big enough for most chillies. One option would be start them off in this size and move them to 15 or 20 litres if needed – they don’t usually mind being moved. Do let us know how they go – they sound very interesting varieties

  • I have some hot peppers that I got from texas that grows in the wild if you want some let me know very good to eat

  • can I buy some seed. thank you

  • Oops, I read this after having bought some chilli seeds! I’m growing Nepal Snakebite, I have no idea what it’s like. Does anyone have experience of it? My seeds are in a propagator at around 25-30deg so I expect them to germinate in the next week or so. Just for info, I have four propagators, each one I obtained from Freecycle or Freegle, so I didn’t pay for one of them. They’re out there, just do ‘wanted’ ads! I have a grow light too, but at a 200W bulb that adds up – used to extend daylight to bring plants on early.

  • Dear Mark,
    A few years ago I found out two strains of Frutescens, Kanthari Mulaku and Kochchi (or Kochi), even if I suspect they are the same variety. Kanthari Mulaku is cultivated in Kerala, a region located in South India. The capital city of Kerala is Kochi, the name Nepalese people gave to this strain. It’s similar to Tabasco and it’s very hot. In Kerala it grows wild and unsown on the street as well.

  • Thanks for the watering tips! This will help me much this year.
    The sorts that I get here in Vienna from the Arche Noah (Noah’s ark) seed bank are different from those you mentioned. They’re mostly from Hungary, Serbia, and Turkey, but they also have jalapenos etc., and they guarantee that they don’t have F1 hybrids. On our hot and windy south-facing balcony, we grow Feuerwerk (‘fireworks’), a small hot variety from Germany, as a spice, and ‘Nepalese bell pepper’, a medium hot variety, which we add to salad. I keep trying other varieties. The small round ‘Pretty in Purple’ chilli also grew well, and we had chillies until October with a small paintbrush as a pollinator. Our chillies are mostly pollinated by bumblebees, which are already hibernating by 1st September – but a small paintbrush does the trick too.
    I use an ordinary garden soil with a very generous helping (ca. 1/10th) of worm compost. After I had harvested the first fruits, I used tomato fertiliser, too.

  • I have had great success with Ring of fire in pots. I even managed to overwinter a plant one year and it performed well the next year. I saved seed which is now germinating on the bathroom window ledge.

    • Nice to hear another endorsement for Ring of Fire, Margaret – I had a lot of success with that in pots when I lived in London, too. Thanks for sharing.

  • Are all types of chilly edible, like TWILIGHT for example? Or is it just to have a beautiful plant?

    Thank you

    • Twilight is certainly edible, Catarina. The chillies of Twilight don’t have the same complexity of flavour of say an Aji Lemon, but they still taste good and will add a nice chilli heat to your dishes. As far as i know all chillies are edible – but I’d always recommend you double check before trying any one you’re not sure about.

      • Thank you Mark. Propably I will try the Twilight ones. Did you saw my peppers? I’ve sent you by email

  • Does anyone have experience growing poblanos from seed in containers?

  • I also have the same problem with whiteflies and aphids. The plant generally do really well in the summer and fall months, but as soon as the winter comes it gets a lots of whiteflies. We have tried using organic pesticides which will ward off the bugs for a couple weeks, but they will come back. It seems the plants just gets weak when there’s a lack of sun, and they never made it through the winter months. I put them outside in the summer and take them indoor as it gets cold. Any tips? Have lots two great chili plants already…

    • Hi Jessica, Steve from South Devon Chilli Farm says, in answer to your question: “White Fly (rather than aphids): These pests can over-winter as eggs or ‘crawlers’. They can be discourage by put the plants outside during the day (provided the temperature is not too low). If possible, grow chillies from seed each year and keep away from other plants that may be over-wintering pests.”

  • Lovely article Mark thank you
    Im growing , Bangalore torpedo, Habanero and Anaheim this year.
    They all seem to have germinated well and am about to re-pot
    Thanks again for all great emails

    • Many thanks for your kind comments, John. Love the names of the chillies you are growing, particularly the Bangalore Torpedo. Would be very interested to learn how you find them if you get the chance.

  • The secret to growing awesome chillis anywhere from Tallinn to Devon and Boscombe to Bangkok would be Root Better Mycorrhizal fungi and K+AMINO imo. If i could post you a picture, you can find one on our Facebook pages @BetterOrganix, I would show you 1.5lbs of harvested green chillis, taken from a single 14 inch tall, re vegged Thai plant, mid December in the UK.

  • I grow Thai dragon chiles and serrano chiles every year. If I am careful to protect the plants from heavy frost, I can keep the plants growing for two seasons (I live in Northern California).

  • Chili de Arbol is pretty and prolific, and they dry really well. I also loved growing Cumari – cute little yellow raisin-shaped chilies that pack a punch. This year, I’m excited to try the Chinese Five Colour chili. The pictures of it look gorgeous! I starting seeding indoors a few weeks ago. We don’t have a long growing season in Canada.

    • These sound like really interesting varieties, Jaime, thanks for sharing – and glad to hear you are successfully growing them in your short growing season.

  • Great article! I an a patented vertical garden container designer in the US and have grown chilies successfully for years. I have shared your article via FB at

    Thanks again

  • I had my first attempt at growing jalapeno chillies this summer in Australia. They grew beautifully with masses of fruit but, disappointingly they had no heat and ended up like mini capsicums. Would you know the reason for this? I have grown other species of chillies before with great success.

    • Anne, I had the same problem with jalapenos. I was so ecciged I stuffed them with fetta, baked them and they came out with less flavour than a capsicum. I was thinking maybe they need to be pickled to bring out the flavour. -Perth, Aus

      • Hi Anne and Jaya, I just asked Steve of South Devon Chilli farmer and he has kindly responded – he says “Jalapenos: There are many varieties from very mild to very hot. When you buy seeds, check the information from the supplier specifies the variety and the expected heat rating.” I hope that answers the question!

  • Last year, on my allotment, I grew Naga chillies successfully by growing them under the mini greenhouse type cloches from Poundstretchers. These are ideal for bushy plants as they are about 2-3 feet tall and only cost GBP1.50 each.
    They gave just the right amount of heat to support the plants without burning them and didn’t dry the soil too quickly. On one plant I got a crop of about a kilo and a half over the fruiting period of about 2 months!

  • I always seem to get whitefly on my chillies that I grow on the kitchen windowsill. What am I doing wrong and how do the whitefly return every year when I don’t grow any other plants in the area, and very carefully clean the pots over winter?

    • Hi Kaye, in answer to your question, Steve at South Devon Chilli Farm says: “White Fly (rather than aphids): These pests can over-winter as eggs or ‘crawlers’. They can be discourage by put the plants outside during the day (provided the temperature is not too low). If possible, grow chillies from seed each year and keep away from other plants that may be over-wintering pests.”


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