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How Do I Grow Ghost Peppers?

By Eugene P.
Updated May 16, 2024
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Ghost peppers, also known as bhut jolokia peppers, are native to the northern regions of India and are one of the hottest chili peppers known. It can be somewhat difficult to grow ghost peppers, because they only truly thrive in conditions that closely mimic their native habitat. The most important thing to understand is that, from the moment the seeds germinate up to the point at which the peppers are harvested, the plant must be kept in constantly warm temperatures, moist soil and relatively high humidity for much longer than most other pepper plants. This is very important for gardeners who want to grow ghost peppers for the heat of the fruit, because cold weather, dry soil and a lack of sun will dramatically reduce the heat of the peppers. As difficult as it can be to germinate the plant, once it is hardened off and growing, it has a tendency to drop blossoms, wither and fail to pollinate if conditions are not as close to optimal as possible.

The first hurdle to cross in growing ghost peppers is to get the seeds to germinate, unless seedlings — uncommon in most garden centers as of 2011 — are available. To germinate, the seeds must be placed in warm soil — as close to 85° Fahrenheit (30° Celsius) as possible, but not outside the 75° F to 90° F (about 24° C to 32° C) range — for anywhere from 14 to 40 days. The soil needs to be kept moist and out of sunlight. An electric seed-starting mat can be used to raise the temperature of the soil, and having a cover over the tray or using a commercial propagation tray also can help. In some instances, the seeds can be prepared for germination by being soaked in hydrogen peroxide for a minute or so before being planted.

Once the seedlings have sprouted and are starting to grow, they must eventually be hardened off if they are going to be planted outdoors. Even though some plants can be put in the ground after the last frost in an area, this might be too early for ghost peppers. To grow ghost peppers outdoors, the temperature must be at least 70° F (21° C) for almost the entire time. Younger plants are more resistant to the cold, but they will grow leggy and sparse if nighttime temperatures drop too much, which will in turn stress the plant. It can take a long time to grow ghost peppers, usually between five and nine months, and there is a distinct chance in some areas that the plants will not mature within the normal growing season.

Many gardeners choose to grow ghost peppers indoors. To do so, the plants require constant heat and a humidity level of at least 70 percent for as much time as possible. They also need at least eight hours of sunlight from a full-spectrum bulb. The plants tend to require more space to root than other peppers, so using oversized pots can help to keep the plant happy. Fertilizer can be used, but it should be balanced, because adding too much nitrogen to the soil can make the plant grow bushy leaves but produce very little fruit.

A ghost pepper plant might produce blossoms but not produce any pods. This can be because ghost peppers are not easily pollinated. The only solutions to this are to pollinate the blossoms by hand or to try to introduce pollinators to the area. Should all the stages needed to grow ghost peppers go well, then there should be a fair amount of fruit produced at the end of the season. An important thing to remember is to not handle the peppers with bare hands when harvesting, because there is a chance some of the capsicum can get onto the hands, causing burning wherever it is spread.

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Discussion Comments
By anon998336 — On May 17, 2017

Sprinkle black pepper liberally around your garden. It works to prevent cats and dogs straying into back gardens. Perhaps it will repel squirrels as well.

By Grivusangel — On Apr 29, 2014

What I'd really like to know is will planting ghost peppers or hot peppers in general help keep the squirrels out of the yard? Seems like a nibble on a ghost pepper would discourage them.

I wish the squirrels would find another yard.

By Wisedly33 — On Apr 28, 2014

I doubt we in the Southeast would have too much trouble growing these things. It's reliably hot and humid in the summer. Folks in Louisiana could probably raise a bumper crop. I suspect the hot pepper growers down there are developing a ghost pepper hot sauce, even as we speak.

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