Gardening: Chilies are hot stuff but are also good pot plants

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As the tomatoes in the glasshouse are coming to an end for another year, chillies are coming into show. With the warm September we have had the glasshouse is brightening up with reds, oranges and purples as the chillies begin to ripen.

Chilli peppers (Capsicum annuun) originate from South and Central America and their popularity continues to grow across the world today. There are many choices of chilli peppers available, all with different fruit shapes, colours, sizes and heat.

Last year I went to Sandhill nursery in Hull to discover which chilli pepper deserved the Award of Garden Merit. There were 51 different varieties on trial and I was amazed to see all the different colours and different sizes and even how hot they were.

Some varieties that caught my eye were...

‘Thai Hot’: Low growing, spreading habit and produces bullet-shaped fruit turning to red. This is an excellent pot plant. This chilli variety is on display in the Kitchen Garden glasshouse at Harlow Carr.

‘Prairie Fire’: Common compact bush with small fiery chillies that mature from yellow to reds is ideal as a small pot plant and is also on display at Harlow Carr.

‘Pot Black’: Upright plant to 36cm with upward branching habit. Produces dark purple green leaves with ‘blocky’ fruit.

Seeds can be sown in mid-February or early April into a small seed tray or modules with multipurpose compost. Chillies appreciate good drainage. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick them out individually into 9cm pots into potting compost (John Innes No.2). Maintain high temperatures to encourage growth. Once the roots have filled the pot, plant out into their final sized container.

Chillies need a warm, sunny sheltered position to grow, so will benefit from being protected, but saying that there are many varieties that do grow well outside on your patio. If plants are grown outside harden them off for two to three weeks before planting outside in late May or early June once all of the danger of frosts has past.

Try to keep the plants at 36°C, don’t feed them a lot of nitrogen in the early stages of growth, and don’t let them dry out. When the plants start to fruit, feed weekly with a potassium-rich feed to encourage the fruit.

Different varieties are picked at different stages of their development. As there are many different colours available, for instance some varieties may start yellow or green and then ripen to red whilst others may start green and turn to purple. Once the chillies have become firm and glossy they are usually ready for harvest. Even if you don’t want to eat them now you can store them and use when you are ready. Harvesting usually begins in August through to October.

There is a couple of common pest’s gardener’s face when growing chillies. They are whitefly, thrips and red spider mite. There are many organic controls available and biological controls can be effective.

Come along to Harlow Carr gardens to see the chillies on display.

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