Chilli plants make great gifts for the cook or grow your own enthusiast. The
more compact varieties will thrive in a cool conservatory, sheltered patio, or even
a sunny window sill and the more you crop them the more they produce.
One of our most popular gifts, chilli plants are easy to care for if you follow
a few basic rules:
1. Chilli plants like sunshine, the more sunlight the fruits receive the hotter
they will grow
2. The most common cause of problems with chilli plants is over watering so make
sure you only water when the top of the soil is dry to the touch and never let your
plant sit in water for any length of time.
3. Chilli plants are not hardy, so in the garden they are best treated as annuals
and harvested before the first frosts. Indoors many varieties will over winter with
a bit of care.
Caring for your chilli plant
Chilli plants should be fairly easy to care for.
They need to be protected from
frost and will do best in a sunny spot out of any cold winds or draughts. A South
or East facing windowsill or sheltered patio is ideal
Chilli plants should be kept on the dry side. We see far more problems from overwatering
than underwatering. If the soil is allowed to remain soggy, you often see the leaves
turn yellow as the roots start to suffocate and eventually the whole plant can shrivel
up and die if left unchecked. The rule is therefore to only water when the top of
the soil is dry to the touch. That might be once a month in the winter or as much
as twice a day in the summer. You can spot when your plant is getting underwatered
as the leaves will start to droop quite dramatically. At this point you will need
to water straight away but they will perk up again quickly. In fact there is a school
of thought that suggests that by watering only when the leaves are drooping you
stress the plant into producing hotter fruit!
Chilli plants should be kept in a small pot. They really don't like being overpotted
and will suffer from placing in to large a pot too quickly. Most of our chilli plants
shouldn't need repotting in their first year, however if you are struggling to keep
up with the watering or if your plants is 3 or more times the size of it's pot then
you can repot. Just choose a pot that is only 2 or 3cm bigger in diameter and use
a good general purpose compost with some drainage.
Chilli plants love sunshine, they originate in South America after all, the more sunlight
your plant can get on fruit, the hotter the fruit will become.
Chilli plants are greedy feeders and will benefit from feeding in the
growing season. A tomato feed, baby bio or any other high nitrogen feed will keep
the leaves nice and green and keep your plant fruiting longer. Apply in line with
the manufacturers instructions every couple of weeks from July through to September.
Over wintering your chilli plant
Chilli plants were traditionally grown as annuals but with a little care they can
be overwintered and will come back even stronger the following year.
The more compact
pot chilli plants over winter better than the larger fleshier plants and the apache
chilli plants seem to do particularly well in their second and even third year.
To achieve a strong chilli plant the following season it is important to let your
plant 'rest' over the winter. Your plant does need to be kept well above freezing
and a cool sunny spot is best, such as a greenhouse, conservatory, porch or cool
room where the temperature is roughly between 5 and 15C. At some point in December
or January you should then notice that your plant slows right down and stops putting
on new growth and fruits. At this stage, you need to harvest any remaining fruits (whether
they are red or green) and hold back on the watering so that the top of the soil
dries out completely. Then take sharp seceteurs and prune your chilli plant right
back to 3 or 4 main branches. Always make your cuts just above the 'nodal point'
where the plant branches. You are aiming to remove two thirds of this years growth
and your plant will look a bit bare and pathetic when you finish.
In this state you will hardly need to water your chilli plant and in fact unless
the room is on the warm side can probably leave off watering completely until march
or so when you should see the first one or two new leaves emerge from a nodal point.
At this point water half a teacup to get your chilli plant started and then after
a week or so - once it is putting on new growth - you can then give it a dose of
feed and then return to a more normal watering routine. NB new shoots and branches
will develop from where you cut back your chilli plant so if you didn't cut your
plant back hard or far enough it will look a bit 'straggly' the following year.
Typically chilli plants kept indoors over the winter will be a bit ahead of any
sown that year so you should start to see the first flowers form in April/May with
fruits soon after. In a warm room we have seen customers manage to keep their plants
fruiting and flowering right through into February from the year before but plants
treated in this way will eventually run out of energy without a rest.
Repotting your chilli plants
Our chilli plants are normally supplied in 1L pots
and can be kept in these until next year.. Because Chillies benefit from
a small pot, they should only be repotted if they are either more than 3 times the
size of the pot or if you are struggling to keep up with the watering. At this stage
they can then be repotted into a slightly larger pot (2-3cms bigger in diameter)
using a rich general purpose potting compost.
Chilli plants should only be repotted
in their growing season (late spring to late summer) never in the autumn or winter.
If your chilli plant has been in the same pot for more than a year but it is still
quite small you can always gently remove the old compost in the spring and replace
with fresh potting compost and this will give it the boost it needs without the
danger of overpotting it.
Drooping leaves are a sign of either under or over watering, if the weather is warm
and the soil is dry then water immediately and within a few hours you should see
your plant visibly perk up. However if the soil is wet or damp to the touch do not
water a plant with drooping leaves but try and get it in the sunniest warmest place
to dry the soil out. If you can catch it in time the leaves will slowly perk up
over a number of days but you may lose the odd branch. Unfortunately overwatering
can be terminal. If this is the case the leaves will loose their green colour, shrivel
up and eventually go mouldy and there is nothing you can do to bring it back.
Over time you may notice the leaves on your chilli plant getting lighter and yellower, this means they need a feed. Chilli plants and particularly potted chilli plants work very hard producing fruit
in the summer months and this uses up nutrients that do need replacing. Tomato feed,
baby bio, miracle gro or any high nitrogen feed will soon colour the leaves up again.
Apply at half the manufacturers strength directly on to the leaves for quickest
results but make sure you are doing this only on a cloudy day or in the evening
to avoid scorching the leaves.
Pests can be a problem with chilli plants, the most common being aphids or greenfly. These tend to attack the young shoots and flowers in the spring and can cause considerably
damage if not caught early. If you are vigilant you should be able to catch and
treat them early. Apidius colemanni or Aphid midges are effective biological controls
for aphids but if you manage to spot them when there are only a few breeding then
a washing up liquid bath will often get rid of the problem before they get hold.
The only other thing to watch out for is thrips. This is normally more of a problem
when the plant is young and the damage is quite distinctive, leaving wrinkled and
deformed leaves. Severe attacks can kill off a seedling but older plants will normally
survive an attack and put on new growth to replace the damaged leaves.
A 2 year old apache chilli plant cropping well in the nursery
A ring of fire chilli plant showing yellow leaves due to lack of nitrogen
A thai demon chilli plant recovering from thrip damage
At the plants4presents nursery we also trial our chilli plants in the ground
Chillies can be eaten green for a milder flavour but the longer you leave them on
the plant the more flavour and (usually) heat they will develop.
Regular harvesting will encourage
your plant to reflower and produce new chillies so you can always pick and store
a glut of fruits. When storing chillies it is best to pick them when the flesh is
still firm and once picked whole chillies will keep well in the fridge for several
If you do have a bit of a glut of chillies in mid summer, they can be made into
a simple paste by blending with salt and oil in a food processor or alternatively
fill a bottle of good quality olive oil with whole red chillies and in six months
you will have your very own chilli oil. You can also freeze chillies in an air tight
container or bag but once defrosted they will be soft and need to be used straight
away so it is a good idea to freeze them in ‘portions’.
The hot flavour of chillies comes from the concentration of oil in the fruit flesh
and seeds. Generally speaking the longer the fruit is allowed to ripen on the plant
and the stronger the sunlight the fruits receive as they ripen, the greater the
concentration of oils and therefore the 'hotter' the flavour. However this concentration
not only varies between varieties but between plants and even between fruits on
the same plant. Sunshine plays a part but so does stress, temperature and watering.
So if you want the hottest chillies possible
1) choose a hot variety
2) make sure it is in a really sunny warm spot so that the fruits get as much sunshine
3) allow the fruits to ripen on the plant until they go red.
4) keep your plant on the dry side and only water when the soil is completely dry
to the touch
5) use all parts of the chilli pepper including the seeds and the fleshy bit where
the seeds join the flesh.
If you like your chillies a little milder
1) choose a milder variety - normally with a larger fleshier fruit
2) pick the fruits before they are fully ripe (depending upon variety this will
be when they are green, yellow or purple)
3) remove the seeds and the fleshy part that joins the seed to the flesh before
4) cook your dishes a little longer - if on tasting your chilli or curry is a little
too hot just cook it for another half an hour or so and some of the heat will disappear.
Top tips when cooking with chilli
It is often hard to tell how hot an individual chilli is going to be, rather than
blowing your head off, cut another vegetable with the chilli knife and taste that.
You would normally add chillies at the beginning of a dish but if you don't think
a dish is hot enough you can always add more later.
If you do slip up and make a dish too hot, you can cook it for longer to reduce
the heat or add cream, yoghurt or coconut milk (depending upon the receipe) to cool
Raw chilli is an accquired taste - less is more!
Chilli is not just for savoury dishes, try small amounts of chilli in sweet and
chocolate dishes to cut through the richness.
1 lemongrass stalk, outer layer discarded and finely chopped
5 green apache chillies, deseeded and chopped,
A large bunch of fresh coriander, roots and stalks washed and chopped
6 fresh kaffir lime leaves (if not available use the zest and juice of an ordinary
1. Dry-fry 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and 2 teaspoons coriander seeds in a small non-stick
frying pan until aromatic.
2. Transfer the seeds to a food processor along with all the other ingredients and
whizz together to make a smooth green paste.
3. Excess paste will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.
Ingredients for the curry
3 large or 4 small chicken breasts
400ml can coconut milk
3 courgettes, thickly sliced
250g shelled fresh broad beans, skins removed
250g asparagus, halved
10 fresh basil leaves
1. Warm some oil in a large pan over a low heat. Add 40g curry paste and the chicken
pieces and fry for a few minutes until the chicken is sealed and starting to brown
in colour. Add the coconut milk, boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.
2. Toss the courgettes in oil, season, and fry on a hot griddle for 2 minutes each
side. Add to the curry and cook for 6 minutes. Add the asparagus and broad beans
and cook for 3-4 minutes, then stir in the basil. Serve with jasmine rice and lime
wedges to squeeze over.
SWEET CHILLI STIR FRY (serves 4)
The trick with stir fries is to keep it hot! The oil should sizzle when the first
ingredients are added and the pan or wok should be kept over maximum heat the whole
time it is cooking, the action of continually stirring will stop it burning. Serve
piping hot with rice or noodles.
Once you have the basic recipe, you can adjust the flavours to suit your tastes
and experiment with different vegetables, beef, chicken, pork, salmon, duck or prawns.
2 tbsp Sesame/Walnut/Sunflower oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce (available in good supermarkets or asian stores if unavailable
replace with soy sauce)
3 Apache Red Chilli peppers - finely chopped
2cm cube of ginger – peeled and finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic finely chopped
3 tbsp sweet chilli dipping sauce (can be replaced with oyster/black bean or other
shop bought sauce)
1 packet of paneer (oriental cheese) or 400g diced chicken or 400g diced rump steak
200g bag of mixed stir fry leaves/pak choi/Chinese cabbage, washed and roughly chopped
1 red pepper, finely sliced lengthways
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced lengthways
1 white onion, halved and finely sliced
Half white cabbage (finely chopped)
Handful of fresh chopped coriander to garnish
Heat the oil, soy and fish sauce in a hot wok or large saucepan, add the chilli,
garlic and ginger and stir fry for about a minute until you can smell the flavours
Add the diced paneer/chicken or beef a few pieces at a time and stir fry until the
edges brown all over.
Add the carrots, cabbage and onion and stir fry for 2-3 minutes before adding the
pepper and the sweet chilli sauce and continuing for a further 2-3 minutes.
When the onions are translucent and the cabbage and carrots are starting to soften
add the leaves and keep stirring until they wilt.
Garnish with fresh coriander and serve hot with rice or noodles.
CHILLI CHOCOLATE SAUCE: (Serves 6)
200g good quality Dark Chocolate
300ml Double Cream
1 chilli pepper of your choice – (pick red chillies for the richest flavours
and biggest kick!)
Start by adding the finely chopped and deseeded chilli to a saucepan with the cream
and warm it over a low heat.
Then add the broken chocolate cubes and stir gently.
As the chocolate begins to melt remove it from the heat and stir thoroughly until
the sauce thickens.
Serve warm over ice cream or your favourite dessert.
Can you taste the difference between the slow after burn of the thai demon and the
more immediate roof tingling of the apache chillies?
For more information on how to care for your Plants4Presents chilli plants or for
help with a problem that is not covered here then please do give us a call on 0845
226 8026 and our customer service team will do their very best to help.