The habanero pepper is considered to be about 100 times hotter than the jalapeno. If you have an affinity for spice, then growing habanero peppers at home will give you an abundance of them to use in your cooking. They’re not terribly difficult to cultivate given the proper conditions and also make a nice edge crop if you’re less into heat and more into the novelty of the spice. Here are some instructions on how to grow habaneros at home.
WHEN TO GROW
Habaneros are perennials and will continue to produce quality peppers for several years under ideal conditions. They like hot temperatures, so in cooler climates they must be grown as annuals over the summer only. For most climates in the U.S. they should be started indoors about 8-10 weeks prior to the last frost for your area.
WHERE TO GROW
Habanero peppers can be grown anywhere they can receive 3-4 months of warm weather.
Habanero plants average 2-4 feet in height, but can grow 5-6 feet tall, sometimes even higher. In Central America, there are 8-foot tall Habanero plants! Give them plenty of space and choose a section of your garden that receives lots of sun. Strong morning sun is ideal but they must receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day, even more is even better.
BEST SOIL FOR GROWING HABANERO PEPPERS
Habanero plants prefer a slightly acidic soil (5.0 – 6.0) that is fertile and drains really well. A sandy loam works well but just be sure to amend your soil with lots of mature compost and aged manure. Till deeply, up to 18 inches and mix in the top 6 inches with compost.
Habaneros are best started as seedlings indoors and then transplanted outside only once the danger of frost has passed. This will allow you to grow habanero plants even in cooler climates. Sow them ½ inch deep in individual peat pots and put them in a sunny window as soon as they sprout. Give them lots of water and sun. Use a grow light if necessary. Rotate them a quarter turn each day to ensure even growth. Transplant outdoors about 3 weeks after the danger of frost has passed. You can also sow two seeds per pot and thin out the weaker one after they have grown their first set of leaves.
Harden off your transplants so they are not shocked. Shocked seedlings often do not bear fruit. This means letting them assimilate gradually to the outdoor environment. Put them outside during the day only for a week. Leave them in their pots outside overnight and transplant in the morning on the final day. Be sure to transplant freshly watered seedlings into moist soil.
For planting outdoors, direct sow seeds ½ inch deep and keep them spaced 18 inches apart. You can plant more closer together and thin later if you prefer. Water them well. Use plastic mulch and row covers to ensure they are warm enough.
WATERING & CARE
Water regularly, particularly during dry spells. Keep the soil moist without making it soggy. Soggy soil makes for soggy roots, which can easily rot. It’s best to give them a good, long soak every 2 – 3 days or as needed. Water at the base of the plants and keep the leaves dry. This will help limit the risk of mold and other fungal diseases.
Hand weed and use organic mulch, like straw or wood chips, to fight root competition. This will also help keep the soil moist and warm, key for growing habaneros in less than hot conditions.
Habanero peppers will greatly benefit from occasional feedings of a good fish emulsion, compost tea or well-balanced organic fertilizer that is not too rich in nitrogen. Side dress at 6 weeks old and again every 4 weeks until they bloom.
Habanero peppers are ready for harvest when they turn bright orange or red. This will usually be about 75-90 days after planting. Habanero plants can survive the first few frosts of winter, but it’s best to pick them all before it gets cold. They should pull easily from the vine when ripe without need to cut or clip them off.
For milder flavor, pick them when they are still green.
TIPS & ADVICE
Stressing your pepper plants for a few weeks before harvest (after they bloom) will create hotter habaneros. Water them only once per week during this period, even if they appear to wilt. Alternatively for a milder flavor, water them really well leading to harvest.
Habaneros like hot weather but too much sun and not enough water can be adverse to their development.
Watch out for pests. Most bugs that target habanero plants can be blasted off by the hose or kept under control with insecticidal soap.
Habanero peppers may good edge plants and may deter deer and other pests.
Water deeply during the blooming period to help limit the risk of blossom rot.
Pinching off the first flowers that appear on pepper plants is recommended by many gardeners. It purportedly helps focus the plants energy into producing great peppers.