Growing habanero orange peppers from seeds

Habanero Orange is also known as Capsicum Chinense “Habanero Orange” and is generally regarded as one of the hottest and spiciest chili pepper varieties in the world. 

This particular Habanero pepper is recorded to produce fruits ranging between 150 000 and 325 000 on the Scoville scale. And trust us, this is really hot.

Mild peppers and chillies score about 100 (one hundred) SHU on the Scoville scale. Already at 3000 SHU or so it is generally recommended to wear gloves and treat fruits with great care and avoid touching your face when handling the fruit. Do be careful should you decide to grow any chillies or peppers with intense heat.

So why consider growing habanero-type chilies and peppers?

If habanero peppers are so hot, why not grow milder peppers and chilies like the Padron pepper, Cayenne peppers, or even the Jamaican Bell pepper instead? We would still get some heat but not that intense heat and strength.

For us the answer is easy. Growing habanero peppers is all about the deep and layered heat the peppers can deliver to any dish or marinade.

Habanero orange peppers and their beautiful colouring
Habanero orange peppers are great for pepper mixes and salsas with jalapenos and Cayennes

I find habanero peppers too hot to eat on their own from the plant. But they are great to pickle and use in spreads, salsas, and hot or cold salads.

Or why not chop them up, add boiling hot water, mix in a food processor and add to a marinade or stew for a warm, deep, and hot flavor profile.

And this is exactly why we love growing habanero peppers. They do add something unique.

Growing habanero peppers from seed

We start growing habanero plants from seed in January / February every year. And the reason is quite simple, chilies and peppers – much like tomatoes – need time to grow and develop.  

If you can, we recommend you plant your seeds 8-10 weeks before the anticipated last frost. 

But only if you can provide heat for the habanero seeds to germinate and light for the seedling to develop and grow strong.

You see, habanero seeds are not easy to germinate. And the reason I don’t find them easy to germinate is that they do have extra needs.

Germinating habanero seeds and temperature

Place your pots on a surface with a temperature between 20-25 degrees Celsius / 68 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit for successful germination.

Placing pots on a refrigerator or other kitchen appliance that generates heat can work. Another alternative is to buy a heat mat from an online retailer. 

But you do want the heat to come from below.

And generally speaking, unless you live in a tropical climate it is difficult to generate this type of heat in January without making some kind of arrangements. 

Habanero pepper seedlings need light to develop

Habanero seeds are planted shallow (½ cm / ¼ inch) but we do cover them. 

But as soon as the seeds sprout you need to provide light for the seedlings to develop into strong and compact plants.

Habanero pepper seedlings growing strong given light and correct temperature
Habanero pepper seedlings

And no, natural light is not enough at this time of year.  

Habanero seeds germinate and sprout in 1-3 weeks. We place the young seedlings under grow lights for at least 12 hours per day as soon as they show green growth.

But what if we do not have heated surfaces and extra lights?

You have two options if you are not able to provide heat for germination and light for the seedlings to develop.

You can of course sow your seeds anyway. Chances are that your seeds will still germinate but it will take longer so any time won by planting early will be lost. And even though your seedlings will grow leggy you will most likely have some plants that develop into more compact plants.

Or you just wait for the weather to warm up and plant your seeds a bit later. Here in zone 7, we can often plant indoors in mid-march without the need for extra light and heat. 

Common questions about growing habanero peppers from seed

Are habanero peppers easy to grow from seeds?

Habanero pepper seeds are not easy to start from seeds when planted early in the year. 

Habanero seeds need a warm temperature to germinate and the seedlings need extra light as soon as the seeds sprout. So no, they are not easy to grow from seed.

But then again, you could say that habanero peppers are easy to grow from seeds as long as you provide heat and extra light. Or if you just wait and plant your seeds when the weather heats up.

How long do habanero pepper seeds take to germinate?

Habanero pepper seeds germinate in 1-5 weeks. Factors like temperature and whether you pre-soak your seeds or not before planting will affect the time needed for seeds to germinate.

Habanero pepper fruits grown from seed ripening on plant
Ripening habanero pepper fruits

I have had habanero seeds germinate in as little as 9 days when placed on a window sill right above room heaters.

Should habanero pepper seeds be soaked before planting?

If you soak your seeds before planting you will experience faster germination. Place the seeds in a cup with room temperature water. You can leave the seeds to soak overnight.  Plant seeds when they are properly soaked and sink to the bottom of the cup.

How deep to plant habanero pepper seeds?

Plant habanero pepper seeds shallow  (½ cm / ¼ inch deep) and only cover them with a light layer of potting soil mix.

Do I need heat mats and grow lights to start habaneros early in the year?

No, you can start habaneros from seed by thinking outside the box.

Instead of a heat mat you can place the pots on a refrigerator or other appliance that generates heat. Or why not, as we have done in the past, place the pots in a window sill right above a radiator or room heater? 

As for light you can buy inexpensive light bulbs that will help your plants develop. Try to get a high Lumen per Watt ratio when you buy your light. Anything close to a 100 Lumen per Watt is great. 

Lumen measures the brightness of the light as it is visible to the human eye. Another way to say brightness of light is to simply say that Lumen is a measurement of the total amount of light we can see. And a stronger light is not necessarily brighter by default.

Also, if possible get LED lights as they emit less heat and therefore allow you to place the lights closer to your plants. 

Growing habanero peppers from seed

Habanero peppers are best planted early in the year to have time to develop fruits when grown in non-tropical zones.

We plant habanero seeds as early as January / February as we have access to heated growing surfaces and grow lights.

Materials and equipment needed:

1. Habanero seeds: Always use fresh quality seeds and pre-soak your seeds up to 24 hours before planting. 

2. Potting soil mix: Habanero seeds need a potting soil mix that retains moisture and drains well.

3. A pot or seed tray with dome or cover: Use a pot or seed tray with drain holes and make sure to cover seeds when planted.

4. Heated surface: For successful germination you are looking for a temperature of 20-25 degrees Celsius / 68 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit. You want the heat to radiate from below. 

5. Extra light: When seeds sprout, place pots under extra light to develop strong and compact seedlings.

How to start habanero peppers from seeds

1. Fill pots with potting soil mix: Fill pots with your potting soil mix. If the potting soil is not pre-watered and moist, place pots in a container to bottom water the soil. 

2. Place seeds in pots: Place one seed per pot and cover with a light layer of potting soil mix. Keep in mind that you are looking to plant ½ cm deep (¼ inch) when covering the seeds. 

3. Place under cover: Place the pots under a cover or a dome on a surface that is heated to 20-25 degrees Celsius / 68 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit. 

4. Keep moist: Make sure you keep the soil moist but not soaking wet. Make sure to add or increase air circulation if excessive condensation forms on the inside of your cover.

5. Extra light when seeds sprout: Seeds will germinate in 1-5 weeks depending on external factors like seed quality, watering and temperature. When you see green sprouts add extra lights for a minimum of 10 hours per day. Place grow lights 1-2 inches away from plants but further away if the lights give off heat you can feel with your hand. 

6. Water and transplant: Keep a close eye on the developing seedlings to make sure they grow strong and compact. Check your lighting if the seedlings grow leggy or start leaning to one side. When the seedlings develop their third set of true leaves they are ready to be transplanted into a slightly larger pot.

7. Transplant peppers several times: Habanero pepper plants will benefit from being transplanted several times and each time to a slightly larger pot. The root system of the habanero plant will grow until it reaches the less moist soil towards the edge of the pot. When this drier soil is reached the roots will stop growing in that direction, and instead focus on growing new and healthy branching roots.

8. Hardening off and moving outdoors: You can start to harden off your habanero plants when the temperature outside is above 10 degrees Celsius (50 F) and there is no longer any risk of frost. Start by exposing the plants to the outdoors for a couple of hours per day. Then gradually increase the time over a period of 1-2 weeks. Avoid direct sunlight and wind during the first couple of days.

Harvesting Habanero peppers

We wait as long as possible before we harvest our Habanero peppers. This is however not necessarily true for all peppers where we for example often harvest our Padron peppers for tapas before full maturity.

You can however harvest your habanero pepper plants when the fruits are green and firm or wait until they reach their full level of maturity – often signaled by a vibrant red or orange color.

If your habanero peppers are mature, simply grab the pepper with your fingers and push it back towards the branch for the fruit to break cleanly off the stem. 

When peppers are harvested earlier (green) it is safer to use a sharp knife or a pair of scissors to avoid hurting the plant. 

Our top 7 Habanero pepper care tips

The following 7 habanero pepper care tips will help you grow healthier plants with more fruits.

1. Mulching your habanero pepper plants

Mulch with straw, hay or fresh grass clippings to help retain soil moisture. Mulching will also create a layer between soil and plant protecting against soil based pests and insects.

Mulching with fresh grass clippings will also provide nitrogen rich nutrients as the mulch decomposes and help improve the soil.

2. Fertilize along the lines of small dosed and more often

We feed our pepper plants throughout the growing season. We use smaller doses and fertilize once a week when we water the plants.

Peppers respond better to continuous feeding using small doses compared to just giving one or two larger feedings at random intervals.

We start mid-March with a high-nitrogen fertilizer and then switch to a lower nitrogen fertilizer when the plants enter the flowering stage. 

3. Peppers need a lot of water

Peppers need a lot of water and at the height of summer you may even have to water morning and evening. 

But this does not mean that peppers will tolerate soil that is soaking wet. Peppers want soil to be most – not wet. Pay attention to pepper leaves turning yellow as it can be a first sign of overwatering.

Ideally, bottom water your plants thoroughly and then wait until the top of the soil is dry before you water again. But do not let the plant dry out completely. 

4. Habaneros like it warm, but not too hot

Peppers like warm weather and hot temperatures. But not too hot.

Never place habanero peppers closer than 30 cm / 1 foot from a window exposed to direct sunlight and avoid temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 F).

5. Pinch first flowers

I will start by stating that not everyone agrees with this tip. But to get more fruits we always pinch the first couple of flowers.

6. Use enough soil for habanero plants to thrive

If possible plant one mature pepper plant per pot and calculate a minimum of 12 liters / 3 gallons of soil per plant.

Later, to help with pollination, you can place the pots close together.

7. Support your pepper plants

Pepper plants should be supported and this is also true for pepper plants that grow bushy. The plants need support when they set fruits and trust me, you don’t want your pots falling over. 

Why not consider companion planting to give your pepper plants the support they need as they grow and develop?

Habanero peppers pests and diseases

Aphids do love the leaves of pepper and chilli plants. We use organic Neem oil mixed with water and as always early detection is key.

Spray your plants with the solution early morning or late afternoon but never when the plant is exposed to direct sunlight.

Also, be on the lookout for yellow leaves on your habanero pepper plants as it can indicate an infestation of aphids.

How to store habanero peppers

Habanero peppers are ideal to pickle, freeze, dry or use for making hot sauces and marinades.

We freeze whole peppers placed in containers or freezer bags. When we need habanero peppers we simply cut off the piece we need and place the rest back in the freezer. This is an ideal way to store especially very hot peppers and chillis like the habanero.

Another fun way to use habanero peppers is to mix fresh habanero peppers with salt and then to grind it using a pestle and mortar. This habanero pepper salt is ideal to use in cooking but also as a condiment or as a seasoning of food and salads.

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.