How to grow ghost peppers from seed (Bhut Jolokia)

Welcome to Nordic Lavender and our tutorial on how to grow Bhut Jolokia ghost peppers from seed. We will be growing two varieties of Bhut Jolokia peppers (Capsicum chinense): Chocolate Bhut Jolokia and the more common regular or red Bhut Jolokia.

Hot peppers like ghost peppers are trickier to germinate and grow than milder and sweeter peppers. In fact, the level of difficulty tends to follow the level of capsaicin [1] or how hot the pepper is according to the Scoville scale [2].

And to give you a frame of reference, the listing below will show you how hot ghost peppers are compared to 7 popular pepper varieties as indicated by their SHU (Scoville Heat Units).

Name of pepperHeat as measured in SHU [2]
Ghost peppers (e.g. Bhut Jolokia)750 000 – 1 500 000 SHU
Habanero peppers100 000 – 350 000 SHU
Cayenne peppers25 000 – 50 000 SHU
Serrano peppers10 000 – 25 000 SHU 
Jamaican Bell pepper14 000 SHU
Jalapeno pepper2500 – 10 000 SHU
Spanish Padron peppers1000 – 8000 SHU
Bell pepper0-100 SHU

5 steps to growing ghost peppers from seeds

The first step of growing ghost peppers is all about planning and preparation. Pepper plants grow slowly and need a long time to develop. And as the plants are not hardy to cold temperatures or frost, you should plan to start your seeds 8-10 weeks before the last frost. 

For us in zone 7, we are often looking at transplanting outdoors in early May, which is why late February or early March would be an ideal time to start our hot pepper plants.

Watch our “How to grow ghost peppers” video tutorial

Or click here to watch on YouTube:
Grow ghost peppers | Start Bhut Jolokia ghost peppers from seed | Hot peppers | NordicLavender.com

1. Potting soil mix for starting ghost pepper seeds

Choose a lean potting soil mix that drains well. We always add perlite (5-10%) or coarse sand for improved drainage as it is key that the soil mix is moist but never wet.

Pre-moisten your potting soil mix by adding water as you mix. You want the potting soil mix to be crumbly without chunks or large bits of organic matter.

Test your soil by making a soil ball with your hands. The soil mix should hold together but crumble easily. 

2. Fill pots with potting mix

Fill pots almost all the way up and press the soil gently with your fingers. Add more potting mix as needed to maintain a level of soil where the pot is almost full.

We use 18 cell seed trays with plastic domes but any smaller-sized starter pot will work.

If you did not pre-moisten your potting mix, you should bottom water your pots before moving on to the next step.

3. Plant Bhut Jolokia ghost pepper seeds

There are many different stratification techniques where seeds are treated to simulate natural conditions that the seeds need to experience before they can germinate.

Placing seeds in the fridge and then removing them to simulate a “spring is here and it is time to germinate” effect and soaking seeds in tea are two techniques used by some gardeners.

Bhut Jolokia seedling grown from seed
A strong ghost pepper seedling started from a seed

All I do is place the seeds in room temperature water for 8 hours before planting. The process also serves as a pre-germination or viable seed test, as dead seeds that float after 8 hours are discarded.

When seeds are soaked, place one pepper seed per pot and cover it with a light layer of potting mix or vermiculite.

Gently press the top of the pot to ensure that there is good contact between the seed and soil.

Mist the pot with water using a spray bottle.

4. Cover and place pots in a warm location

Next, cover the pots to create a moist growing environment and place pots in a warm location.

Covering the seed tray or placing the pots in a plastic bag without sealing them completely works great. But the “warm location” part often causes confusion. You see, warm is not the same as hot

We find that seeds of hotter pepper varieties germinate best with a soil temperature of approximately 24-27 degrees Celsius (75-80 degrees Fahrenheit).

But, remember that hotter is not always better. We have in the past killed pepper seeds when placing pots on a window sill over a piping hot radiator during a cold February. Again, warm is not the same as hot.

And you want the warmth to come from below. You want the soil to be warm and you want the temperature to be consistent. 

The easy solution is of course to use heat mats. Or, why not use the common hack where pots are placed on a kitchen appliance like a refrigerator that generates heat?

Also, if you see a lot of condensation forming inside the cover or plastic bag, make sure to air the pot once a day and check on the water and moisture levels.

Often, excessive condensation is formed when you over-water and the soil is too wet. And this is not good. You want the soil to be evenly moist but not wet.

5. Watch for seeds to germinate and sprout the first leaves

Bhut Jolokia seeds take anything from 2-5 weeks to germinate even under perfect conditions.

When you see the first leaves sprouting, remove the cover and place seedlings in a spot with at least 8 hours of sunlight.

If you do not have a window sill with 8 hours of natural sunlight, use grow lights and increase time to at least 10-12 hours per day.

When seeds have germinated, the pepper plants benefit from a slightly cooler growing environment around 20 degrees Celsius (68 F).

Transplanting ghost pepper seedlings

It is time to transplant your ghost peppers when seedlings are large enough to handle and have at least 4 true leaves (2 pairs). 

As we only plant one seed per pot or seed tray cell there will be a maximum of one seedling per pot. 

Bhut Jolokia ghost pepper plants benefit from being transplanted several times and each time to a slightly larger pot. 

The roots grow until they reach the drier, less moist soil towards the edge of the pot. The drier soil signals the roots to stop growing in that direction, and instead focus on establishing fresh branching roots.

Read our article on When to pot up or transplant peppers (and how)? or watch the video from our Grow Peppers YouTube series of videos.

All hot peppers including habaneros and ghost peppers like Bhut Jolokia must be handled with care and respect. For you as a gardener this means that you need gloves at all times when handling hot peppers. And never touch skin, face, eyes, etc. after handling hot peppers. Also, never give hot peppers to someone without telling them what they are handling and/or eating. 

Why grow extremely hot ghost peppers like Bhut Jolokia?

I have come across 3 types of people that grow hot peppers.

  1. The novelty hot pepper connoisseur
  2. People who actually love hot food
  3. Gardeners who relish the challenge

If we start from the top we have the people who want to grow the hottest pepper available – period. All that matters is that it is the hottest. This is not me.

Then you have the people who actually enjoy hot food. You know, the people who will order a Vindaloo curry where everyone else opts for Tikka Masala or Madras curries. And while I am not into the hottest of dishes, I do have an affinity for spicy and hot flavors with full undertones.

I never eat or use really hot peppers and chilies like ghost peppers or habaneros whole. Instead, I use them to infuse oils or for hot sauces and marinades. I also enjoy hot peppers pickled or dried in mixes with other peppers and spices where they bring a full, rich, and mature dimension. 

And then there are the gardeners who are always up for a challenge. And as hotter peppers want tropical conditions with full sun and humidity they will always pose a challenge for gardeners in non-tropical zones. While I do like a challenge, this does not apply to my decision to grow hot peppers.

Ghost pepper seedling, Bhut Jolokia, grown from seed
A ghost pepper seedling started from a seed at home

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsaicin

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scoville_scale

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants, and garden vegetables. For the past two years, he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.