Chili pepper plants start from seeds. Once a seed has germinated, a seedling will grow from it. First, the plant will produce a stem with big green leaves. The stem will branch out in two directions, and these branches will, in their turn, continue to branch out.
At some point, flowers will appear. When these flowers have been pollinated, they will transform into chili fruits. These fruits can be harvested early when they are deep green or harvested at maturity when they have changed into their final color.
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Lately, I have been researching various aspects of chili, growing to deepen my knowledge in this area. Before this, I have grown chilies indoors for several years, so I have some experience with this.
Below, I will discuss the chili pepper life cycle in more depth.
Table of Contents
The Chili Pepper Life Cycle
Here is a rough outline of a Chili pepper plant lifecycle:
- Germination of the seeds
- Seedlings start growing
- The main stem branches out in two directions and thus creating the characteristic 'Y' shape of the hot pepper plants.
- Flowers start appearing
- Pollination by humans, wind, insects (cross-pollination), or even by itself (self-pollination)
- The flowers that are pollinated start growing into chili fruits (pods)
- Ripening of the chili fruits
- Picking of the ripe chilies (by humans, birds, ...)
- Two things will happen next:
- The seed will be spread and will likely start new plants (go to step 1.)
- The existing plant will flower again (go to step 4.)
Acquiring chili seeds
To grow chilies from seeds, you can acquire seeds from seed sellers, nurseries, etc. You can even buy chili peppers in your local supermarket and use the seeds that are inside them. This is actually how I started out.
These seeds are small, flat, smooth. Their color is usually light yellow to light brown. In case the of the rocoto and Manzano pepper varieties, the seeds will be black.
Each mature chili pepper fruit will contain about 40 seeds.
Germination of the seeds
Once you have chili seeds to grow, you'll need to start them. There are many techniques for this. The most straightforward and most apparent is simply putting the seeds in a pot with a standard potting mix. This can work perfectly for many varieties.
For other chili varieties, you'll need to pre-soak the seeds to weaken the wall of the seeds such that the seedling can push through it as it grows. In addition, you can use a technique like the paper towel method to get your seeds to germinate. When using the latter approach, you'll have to make sure that the seeds occasionally get some oxygen.
To germinate, the seeds need a temperature of above 20°C and preferably in the range of 27°C to 32°C. To create an environment like this, you can use a mini greenhouse that you have put on top of a heating mat.
It is best to make sure that the environment in which the seeds need to germinate is moist and humid.
Growth of the seedlings
In some cases, the seedling will push through the boundary of the seed within a few days of starting the seed. In other cases, this may take several weeks. This depends on the variety that you have chosen and on the environmental conditions.
The best place to keep the seedlings is in a mini greenhouse where they can be kept warm and where there is plenty of moisture.
At some point, the chili pepper seedlings will start to grow lovely green leaves. These leaves grow in pairs. The second pair of leaves will be the first real leaves of the chili plant.
From this point on, you'll need to make sure that the seedlings have enough room to grow. This means that you may need to transplant the seedling into larger pots, such that the roots have enough space.
The continued growth of the chili plant
The plants will typically grow to heights between 60cm and 4m, depending on the variety. The stem will first be dark green, and then as it hardens, it may develop a woody layer with a light brown color. The leaves will be dark green as well.
At some point during the growth, the chili plant will branch out in two directions and thus grow into a Y-shape. The smaller branches will continue to do the same.
If the chili plant does not receive the optimal amount of light, temperature, and nutrition, it may not reach its full height. In addition, the plant may not even flower if the environmental conditions are too poor.
Flowering and Pollination
The domesticated chili pepper plants produce flowers that are roughly 1cm to 2cm in diameter, and the colors can range from white to white with yellow spots to purple, depending on the species.
|Domesticated Chili Plant Species||Flower Colors|
|Capsicum Baccatum||White with Yellow Spots|
|(Capsicum Assamicum)||Very Light Yellow|
The flowers carry both male and female parts. In the middle of the flower is the ovary, which is the female part. This part is surrounded by filaments that carry the pollen.
The pollen grains can fall off the filaments and reach the stigma, which is the top of the ovary. In other cases, external influences can bring pollen from the filaments to the stigma. These influences could, for example, be humans who are intentionally pollinating the plant or insects that fly around spreading the pollen.
If you need to help your chili plant to have its flowers pollinated, you can first try by occasionally shaking it. When the chili plant gets shaken, the pollen may fall off the filaments and onto the stigma. If this does not work, you try to take a brush or a plastic swab and touch the centers of each of the flowers.
When pollen has successfully reached the stigma on the ovary, it will move downwards to the eggs. The eggs inside the ovary will thus be fertilized. These eggs are what will become the new seeds.
The flower petals will subsequently fall off, and the ovary will start growing into one chili fruit.
Ripening and picking of the chili peppers
At first, the chili fruit will be green like the leaves of the plant. Then, as the chili matures, it will grow into the shape and color of that specific variety.
It takes anywhere from about 60 days to 150 days for the planted seedling to reach maturity and thus when the first harvest can occur. This maturation time again depends on the chili pepper variety and the environmental conditions. This time will usually be the longest for the hottest peppers.
In some cases, the chilies are harvested while they are still green. Otherwise, they are left to grow until they have reached maturity. To pick the chilies, use gloves because the hotness of the chilies makes them hard to handle without some protection.
The chili plants will continue to produce chilies after maturation if it grows in favorable conditions.
The continued growth of the chilies
Given that most chili pepper species are perennial plants, they will keep producing fruits over their lifetime. Their lifetime can be 1.5 years to 15 years, depending on the variety.
The chili plant should be cut back regularly so that it continues to produce more mature fruits.