Guide to growing cayenne peppers from seeds (with video)

Growing cayenne peppers or “long slim chillies” have quickly become a habit for us. And with a respectable 40000 on the Scoville scale this chilli pepper does pack a punch.

We harvest some cayenne peppers (Capsicum annuum) when they are green for salsas and cold sauces, but mostly we let them mature to their full red colour. Ripe cayenne peppers are vibrant red and they should, like any other hot peppers, always be handled with care.

It is of course up to you if you feel that a 40000 SHU (Scoville Heat Unit) variety of cayenne pepper should be labelled as strong. For reference, the Habanero pepper and Scotch bonnet pepper is placed in the 100 000 – 350 000 SHU range, ghost peppers clock in at about one million SHU whereas the common Bell pepper is placed in the 0 – 100 range on the Scoville scale [1].

How to grow cayenne pepper long slim from seeds

Watch this video on YouTube.
Start cayenne pepper plants from seeds with our proven method

Cayenne peppers need a long time to grow and develop and in most non-tropical grow zones this means starting the seeds indoors.

Here in zone 7 we start our pepper seeds indoors in February (even though I for some reason like to say January or February).

Follow the steps below for a proven way of growing cayenne peppers from seed at home.

1. Use a soil that holds moisture and drains well

You want a potting soil mix with a smooth and loose structure that will hold moisture but also drain well. If you buy a commercial blend make sure that the mix is meant for seeds and seedlings. 

At this stage you do not want “bits and pieces” of organic material or high levels of fertilizer in your potting soil. You want a smooth mix where it will be easy for the seed to make full contact with the soil. 

The seed holds all the energy needed to germinate.

We mix perlite into our potting soil mixes to ensure that the potting soil will drain well. Overwatering does happen, and if it does, good drainage can help you save your plants from root rot. 

Water your soil to get a moist, but not wet the soil. Do the “soil-ball test” where you make a soil ball using your hands. 

You should be able to make a ball (much like a snowball), but the ball should crumble when you touch it with your fingers.

If the soil is too compact, add more perlite or coarse sand. Should the soil be too loose, add more potting soil and adjust the water level accordingly.

2. Fill seed tray with soil

We use seed trays with plastic domes but you can of course use regular starter pots as well.

Before you fill your pots or seed, read the instructions on the seed packet. Some cayenne pepper varieties should be planted shallow whereas others need light to germinate.

  • If your variety of cayenne pepper should be planted on the soil surface, fill the pots all the way up.
  • But if, on the other hand, your seeds should be planted shallow but covered, fill the pot leaving enough space to fill up and cover the seeds.

The variety we are planting for this article needs to be covered with a thin layer of potting soil mix (about 5 mm or 1/4″) and we fill our seed trays accordingly.

Firm soil gently using your fingers but do not press too hard. 

3. Place seeds in pots

Place anything from 1 to 3 seeds per pot or cell. 

Note that I write “place” and not “plant”. Do not press the seed into the soil. Place the seed on the surface and if needed, cover it with soil.

The cayenne pepper variety we grow is planted shallow so we cover it with a light sprinkling of potting mix.

4. Mist soil with water and cover

Use a spray bottle to mist the surface of the soil. Do not water again. We already watered when we mixed the potting mix earlier in step 1.

Mist the surface of the soil to create moisture and we cover the pots with a dome or plastic wrap. Make sure that air can circulate by making a few holes in the plastic cover. 

If you are using a seed tray with a covering dome there should be adequate circulation built into the design. But do check and verify to be on the safe side.

Place seeds in a warm place to germinate. You are looking to generate a heat of 20-25 degrees Celsius / 68-77 degrees Fahrenheit.

And remember, you want the heat to come from below as you want to warm up the soil to help the seeds germinate. Using a heat mat is a great alternative.

The warmth from below will heat the soil and help create a mini greenhouse inside your covered pot.

Or use the very popular technique where pots are placed in a plastic bag and then put on top of a refrigerator or other heat generating appliance. Again, you do not need the air surrounding the covered pot to be warm.

If your seeds need light to germinate, place pots on a sunny window sill or even better under a grow light for a minimum of 12 hours per day.

Seeds can take several weeks to germinate but do not give up. And remember, hot peppers like habaneros and ghost peppers tend to take longer to germinate, sprout and develop. 

5. Keep soil moist – but don’t overwater

This is where it is so easy to go wrong and water too much. If you can see condensation forming on the inside of your cover, you know the growing environment is moist.

If your pots dry out, use bottom watering to moisten the potting mix. But do not let the pots sit in water for hours. Let the pots soak up what they need and then pour out any left over water. 

For smaller cells and pots it is often enough to use a spray bottle and mist the soil.

6. Remove cover and place under light

When seeds sprout, remove cover and place in a slightly cooler environment of 18-20 degrees Celsius / 64-68 degrees Fahrenheit with plenty of light.

For us in zone 7 this means using grow lights as there is not enough natural sunlight in February/March. 

This also means that if we do not want to use grow lights, we have to plant our chilli pepper seeds mid-March rather than January/February. And it is better to plant in March with good access to natural light than to plant earlier in the year with bad lighting. 

Place lights 3-5 cm / 1-2 inches from your plants and adjust the lights to keep that same distance as the seedlings grow. 

Do however be aware of the level of heat your lights generate. I use LED grow lights that generate very little heat to allow me to keep lights close to my plants. But with more traditional lights, heat can be a factor and you need to be careful not to scorch or burn your plants. 

7. Transplant seedlings when they are large enough to handle

Cayenne pepper seedlings ready for transplanting to bigger pot
Transplant ready cayenne pepper seedlings

You can transplant pepper seedlings when you see at least two sets of true leaves.

Other indicators to look for are a strong and compact looking seedling plants and signs of a healthy root system.

Increase pot size gradually and be gentle as you remove the seedling from its original container.

Always ensure that the soil is moist before you attempt to remove the plant.

I find it helpful to use a dibble or wooden stick to loosen the soil from the container and then gently squeeze the container to get as much soil as possible transferred. 

Peppers develop long roots which is why it is important to transfer as much soil as possible. Do not pull the seedling, try to "scoop it out" to get the whole root system if possible.

Transplant the seedling into a fertile compost rich soil and water thoroughly to help the seedling get established in its new growing environment.

When the plant is transplanted, place it back under your grow light. Also, be prepared to transplant several times as your plant develops and grows.

When the seedling is established you should start feeding it a liquid fertiliser on a weekly basis. Follow the instructions on the label. We always start with a lower dosage and work our way up to the recommended dosage. 

8. Moving plants outdoors

CAyenne peppers growing on plant
Cayenne peppers growing outdoors

When there is no longer risk of frost and the temperature is above 15 degrees Celsius / 59 degrees Fahrenheit you can move your plants outdoors.

But before moving your pepper plants outdoors, you need to harden your plants by gradually exposing them to the outdoors growing environment.

Start by moving your pepper plants outdoors for a couple of hours. Avoid direct sunlight and locations exposed to wind. Increase time spent outdoors gradually over a week or so while also increasing exposure to sunlight. 

We place our cayenne pepper plants in grow bags that we make ourselves. Each grow bag is made to hold about 20 liter / 5 gallons and is easy to move. 

Can peppers get too hot?

At the end of the day it is all about personal preference. And for many people chilli peppers can get too hot to be used in cooking.

When I say too hot I mean when the heat becomes more of a novelty factor than about adding a desirable dimension to your cooking. 

But do not worry, there are plenty of peppers that have attitude without being “too hot”. Two of our absolute favourites are Padron peppers and Jamaican bell peppers but I would like to add Cayenne peppers to this category.

If you ask me, Cayenne peppers are not too hot to be used for cooking dishes that need a bit of heat or for marinades, spice mixes and dry rubs. Read on to learn how to use them to suit your need for flavor.

Why you should choose to grow Cayenne peppers

There are oh so many reasons why growing cayenne peppers is a good idea. Here I will list my top 3 as it should be enough to convince anyone.

1. Cayenne pepper plant varieties are suitable for all levels of gardeners

Peppers are not necessarily difficult to grow but they do require a long growing season and this can be tricky in non-tropical growing zones. 

For us, cayenne pepper seeds are always keen to germinate and start growing. And even though we also grow habaneros, ghost peppers, Padron peppers, Jamaican Bell peppers and Jalapenos, Cayenne peppers are among the more forgiving of the bunch.

2. The high yielding cayenne pepper plant 

Cayenne pepper plants will yield a plentiful harvest as long as you remember to water, help with pollination and feed the plant. 

And as you will see in this article this is not a lot of work for the harvest you will yield. 

3. Cayenne chilli peppers offer a full range of flavour and heat

We love our strong habaneros and ghost peppers. And who can resist the gamble of the Padron pepper where 1 out of every 5 to 10 peppers is quite strong.

But still, if I could only choose one pepper, I would be growing Cayenne peppers. And the reason is simply that the Cayenne pepper is so versatile.

Use the whole chilli with seeds and all for a strong and potent heat in your cooking. Or harvest the seeds for planting and use the remaining pepper for a fruitier and smoother taste.

Cayenne peppers offer you a full range of heat and flavors and it all comes down to how you use it.

Top 5 care tips for Cayenne peppers

1. Cayenne peppers like it warm – but not too hot

Pepper plants grow well in a warm environment with full sun. But this does not mean that they like extreme heat. 

Do not place your pepper plants too close to a window exposed to direct sunlight or in an environment hotter than 30 degrees Celsius / 86 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Pepper plants will drop flowers and often get stressed when placed in extreme heat.

2. Help pollinate your pepper plants

Pepper plants are self pollinating but from my experience they do, much like tomatoes, benefit from a helping hand. Companion planting for peppers is a great way to attract beneficial insects to help with pollination as well as deterring pests and diseases.

3. Do not let pepper plants dry out

Generally speaking, a mild dry out is better than constant (over)watering. But this does not mean that you should let your pepper plants dry out completely.

Growing peppers in grow bags help control moisture as they are made from breathable material. I try to let the top layer of soil (2 cm / 1 inch) dry out lightly before watering my pepper plants. 

4. Continuously feed when watering

Pepper plants respond well to being fed nutrients regularly. Start feeding your plants when your seedlings are established after their first transplant to a bigger pot.

Always follow the label instructions. To be on the safe side we always use half the recommended dosage when we start feeding our pepper plants. 

5. Use good seeds, pre-germinate or over-plant 

Pepper plants can take weeks to germinate and sprout. And before we see those first green leaves all we can do is wait.

And if seeds don’t sprout we have lost the benefit of starting early to give our plants the long growing season they need.

So, as the headline suggests I recommend you: 

1. Use good seeds
I mean good seeds as in fresh seeds from a reputable source

2. Pre-germinate seeds
Always pre-germinate if you use last year’s leftover seeds. Chances are that at least some of the seeds will germinate, but you are likely to experience a lower germination rate. 

3. If in doubt, overplant
When I for example harvest seeds from store bought peppers and chillies I always scatter seeds in plastic containers that I place in plastic bags to germinate. Even though the germination rate can be good, planting too many seeds takes any uncertainty out of the picture.

How to harvest and store cayenne peppers

Cayenne pepper fruits can be harvested green or red. And as always, when handling any chilis or peppers, do be careful when you handle the fruits. 

I always use gloves and wear glasses when handling hot peppers. If you handle hot peppers and then touch your face, eyes or other parts of your body it can cause serious irritation and problems. 

To harvest cayenne peppers, simply use a sharp pair of scissors to remove the pepper from the plant. 

Drying peppers after harvest
Drying peppers for later use

I prefer to dry or freeze cayenne peppers that are not used immediately for hot sauces and salsas. 

To dry peppers, cut them up and place them on a plate in a warm and dark spot with good air circulation.

Freezing cayenne peppers is as easy as cutting portion size pieces to be placed in freezer bags or containers. When using frozen peppers, make sure you cut or chop them when they are frozen as they are more difficult to handle when they are thawed.

Cayenne peppers mid May (started from seed in February)
Cayenne peppers plants started from seed in February (photo taken mid-May).
Not yet ripe green cayenne peppers on plant
You can also harvest cayenne peppers green for a milder and less intense flavour
  1. [1] 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.