I once watched a grown man cry while eating chilli. Sweating, tears rolling down his cheeks, and joy… yes joy in his eyes. The cause of this confusing sight? Habanero peppers!
These small and colorful peppers pack a punch. What I personally love about them compared to other peppers is that they're more than just hot. In addition to bringing the heat, Habanero's are full of flavor - a subtle citrus and smokiness makes them pretty dreamy for cooking with. Adding heat and flavor complexity to any recipe.
This compact pepper works well in containers and garden beds alike. As we explore how to grow habanero peppers indoors, I’ll cover seeds, soil, fertilizing, pruning, proper watering, and the tastiest part…harvesting peppers!
Varieties of Habanero Peppers
The truth is, I’ve never met a variety that doesn’t grow like a rock star when in a container and indoors. You can’t go wrong with choosing the one you’d love to cook with. I actually almost didn’t include this section, but I realized that sometimes, it’s good to know that you can’t really go wrong.
Some of the most common varieties of habaneros grown indoors include the Caribbean red habanero, orange habanero, and the deep colored chocolate habanero.
Whichever you decide to grow, it’s going to be a good choice, do don’t stress it! Just visit your local garden center or browse for something funky online, then choose any that you feel curious about. It’s that easy when it comes to selecting a variety of Habanero.
The best soil for growing Habanero Peppers indoors
Depending on their stage of growth, the answer to that is a little different. There are two types of soil that you’ll want to have available. One for your Habanero Pepper Plants, and one for your Habanero Pepper seeds as they become seedlings.
Soil for starting seeds:
Use a neutral growing medium that’s free of any fertilizers or other nutritional additives. These are often called ‘Seed Starter Mixes’ These mixes are available in any garden center or online store, and are typically made up of peat moss, coco coir, perlite, and vermiculite. This magic mixture is amazing at retaining moisture and enabling the roots of young plants to grow freely.
Seed starter mix is what you’ll want to use during the first 3 to 4 weeks of your Habanero Pepper plants growth cycle. From seed, to germination, to cute little transplant with true leaves and strong stems above the soil surface.
Soil for growing pepper plants
Habaneros' works best is loamy / sandy in texture. You’ll want to mix rich compost into your soil if it didn’t come amended or had previously grown something in it as it is likely short on the nutrients your plant will need to produce a good harvest for you. Peppers love a silt rich soil and adding organic matter each year gives them what they need.
Don’t let picking a soil take up valuable weekend time from you. Peppers are spicy on the pallet but easy on effort. They’ll happily grow in any soil that’s marked as being good for vegetables. Easy.
Germinating Pepper Seeds
Habanero’s little seeds usually germinate in about 7-10 days. Providing them with moist soil and a warm (around 80 degrees Fahrenheit / 26.67 degrees Celsius.) home with plenty of air circulation are happiest and most likely to germinate well. If you live in a cooler climate or home, try using a heat map to give them a toasty home.
Keep in mind that habanero are warm weather plant, so if you’re going to grow them indoors year-round, choose a spot that stays consistently warm and comfortable.
How to Fertilize Habanero Plants
Once the habanero plant begins to flower, it’s going to need a little extra love. This is when you’ll want to switch to a lower nitrogen fertilizer. This encourages the plant to focus more energy towards producing fruits
So, think of fertilizing as a two-stage approach. Young plants have different needs as they grow. During this stage, aim for a 11-3-8 organic mix fertilizer for best results. This will encourage strong leafy growth and give your plant the strong foundation that it needs for later.
Once the plants are producing flowers, switch over to a fertilizer that’s lower nitrogen to allow the habanero pepper pods to form. I tend to look for a fish-based fertilizer if you can find it, but other variations also work well.
Or, to keep it really simple, there is a bit of a 2-for-1 fertilizing plan you could follow. One fertilizer to serve them all! During early growth, use a 11-3-8 or 5-5-5 fertilizer all season. Then once your plant starts producing flowers, lower the volume by half. That would still help encourage your plants focus on producing pepper pod instead of additional leaves.
Ok - so, you’ve got your seeds, starting mix, soil, fertilizer and are ready to get this pepper growing party started. Let’s do it! Habanero pepper plants are middle of the road for all three of the typical areas of care. Medium needs for direct sun, watering, and level of overall effort.
All they ask for is 6 or more hours of direct sunlight, and water when the soil is dry to the touch with the occasional mist every couple of days between watering's.
Best Containers for Growing Plants
Personally, I’m a huge advocate of standard clay pots with multiple drainage holes. You want to hold the plant and nutritious soil, but not more water than your soil can hold which is why the drainage holes are very important.
For size, try to find a container that’s at least 3 gallons / 13 litres if you can. That’s usually about a cubic foot if measuring with a ruler rather than capacity.
Sunlight and Grow Lights
If you don’t have a place to put your planter with lots of sunshine, or if you’d like to grow year-round, grow lights are a great substitute for sunlight when you’re in a pinch.
If using lights, hang them approximately 12-18 inches from the plant leaves to avoid burning them, and let them run for a few hours a day. Think of grow lights as a vitamin. They’re meant to supplement other sunshine, not be the sole source when it comes to habanera pepper plants.
Keep in mind during the winter however humidity is often lower and water will naturally evaporate slower. During these times, check the plant and don’t be afraid to hold off an extra couple of days before watering.
Watering Habanero Pepper Plants
A good soak once a week, with a light misting a couple times a week is usually all these growing plants ask for. The key to deeply water and ensure that at least the top 6 inches of soil has been able to absorb water; however, containers also need good drainage to ensure that the water doesn’t sit and risk rotting the roots. A few things to keep in mind though are that if you live in a very humid arear, you may find that the water might evaporate slower, so check before you water and don’t be scared to hold off an extra day or two if need be.
On the other side of the weather meter is if you live in a very dry area. In this case you may benefit from lightly misting plants every couple days.
Increasing Habanero Crop Yields
Pruning, or what some call “topping” is a perfect example of how sometimes less is more. By pruning off a little, the plant will actually give you more. Let me explain. 😊 It’s like giving your pepper plant a haircut, except instead of hair, you’re snipping off small portions to help make it stronger.
When your young plant is approximately 6 inches tall, simply snip the central shoot at the base of the node. The growing plant will regrow new shoots in a few days. In addition to the tip bit, it’s also helpful to remove the lower branches if you find they’re touching the soil or difficult to keep dry during watering.
Be sure to use a sharp knife when pruning and avoid relying on just your fingers. A nice clean cut helps reduce damage and disease. Pruning / topping also helps encourage peppers to ripen faster.
When it comes to harvesting habaneros, the hotter the pepper variety, the longer it usually takes to ripen. Habanero’s take a while since they can reach over 250,000 SHU Scoville rating, so that is HOT!
From seed to your first harvest is usually about 4 -5 months after you’ve planted the seeds.
4-5 months from seed to harvest might seem like a while but they’re also usually rather pretty plants which is why they make such lovely indoor plants. (as long as you don’t have pets that like to snack)
Ripe habaneros are usually easy to spot as they’re green until then, and as they ripen, the fill with more color. Moving from green to orange, red, or whichever colour you picked to grow.
Curious about diseases and pests that impact some hot peppers? Check out the video and more detailed guide on growing hot peppers. There you'll find the info you need on the most common Habanero plant diseases and solutions for growing hot peppers at home. Happy gardening (and eating)!