Growing chilli: plant care guide

Add a little fire to your food garden with a chilli plant. It’s not just a food plant, it can become a collectable obsession, too!

What you need to know about a chilli plant

Name: chilli, chilli pepper (Capsicum species, mainly Capsicum annum, C. chinense and C. frutescens)

Plant type: small to medium shrub, perennial, short-lived. Sometimes treated as a long-season annual.

Height: 30cm to 2m+ with variety

Foliage: generally dark green, shiny, sometimes lightly hairy, oval-shaped with a smooth edge and a distinct extended point.

Climate: tropical, sub-tropical, warm temperate and as a warm season annual in cool temperate.

Soil: free-draining quality garden soil or potting mix. Doesn’t grow well in heavy clay, damp or wet soils.

Position: best heat and flavour of fruit comes from full sun, but will tolerate some shade. Avoid windy positions.

Flowering and fruiting: flowers across summer, fruit follows.

Feeding: controlled-release fertiliser at planting time or annually.

Watering: keep reliably moist, but never wet, while actively growing and fruit is developing.

Chilli Plant

Appearance and characteristics of a chilli plant

Chillies are fascinating plants. They are thought to have been harvested and used as a flavouring since 7500 BCE or earlier. Today, thanks to the incredible hybridisation and selection that has taken place across all those millennia, there is a huge, some say countless, number of varieties, from naturally occurring forms to colourful ornamental hybrids, from mild and sweet tasting to mind- and mouth-blowingly spicy. All of the readily available chilli varieties are very easy to grow and quite trouble-free. In fact, you’ll likely get a great crop without even trying!

The chilli plant is a multi-branched, semi-woody small shrub. Its form is generally rounded, often down to ground level, but older plants may have a definite central trunk and a more vase-like shape, or a distinct canopy. Under ideal conditions some varieties will live for four years or more.When happy and healthy, the canopy of foliage will all but obscure the framework of branches.

A chilli plant makes a very handsome garden specimen. It has deep green glossy or semi-glossy foliage and a neat form. When in flower it will be dusted all over with tiny white blooms and then look awesome when covered in colourful fruit. The fruit is most often green, ageing to various shades of red once ripe, but there are whites that age to purple, browns and vibrant oranges and yellows.

Some of the smaller varieties have been hybridised as neat, compact potted plants for use as table centrepieces.

Chillies make great ornamental plants, but the temptation to have a bite can be too great for some kids. If children are old enough to understand, make sure they know not to eat them, otherwise position the plants out of reach of little fingers.

Uses for a chilli plant

A chilli plant can be grown for a variety of uses, including:

  • A must-have addition to the herb or vegie garden
  • A great ornamental plant
  • Varieties suitable for gardens and pots

Many collectable varieties, some with incredibly intense heat.

How to plant and grow a chilli

Full sun will bring the best performance from your chilli plant, and your chillies will have the best flavour. Chilli will grow in part sun, but it can become a little leggy or stretched.

Ideally, chilli likes a warm, sheltered position, especially if grown in cooler regions. Its branches are quite brittle and its leaves are easily torn, so it needs wind protection.

It will be happy in most garden soils, or sandy soils with added organic matter. However, it will not grow well in heavy clay soil, and will probably die in soil that stays wet for any period of time.

In pots, use a premium organic potting mix or a blend for herbs and vegies. Avoid putting a saucer under the pot; water regularly instead.

Planting tips

Chilli can be planted straight into regular garden soil, but will benefit from some well-     

          composted manure or compost being blended through at planting time.

Sandy soils should be improved with the addition of quality compost or manure.

Add a controlled-release fertiliser at planting time.

Caring for chilli plants

Regular applications of a suitable organic or seaweed-based liquid product will help keep soil active and the plant flourishing. Ensure you remove the fruit of the chilli plant as it starts to ripen. Regular picking can stimulate a second flush of flowering and fruiting.

Pruning your chilli plant

At the start of the growing season or with newly planted plants, lightly tip prune new growth to encourage bushiness. This is more important if your plants are in a shady spot. In autumn, after the last fruit of the season has been picked and the plant is dropping leaves, you can prune the plant back quite hard. Trim back spindly and leggy branches, leaving a nice open framework with an even branching pattern.

Diseases and pests affecting chilli plants

Chilli has very few pest and disease problems. Aphids may attack new growth, and fruit fly may sting ripening fruit.

How to grow chillies from seeds

  • Chilli is generally grown from seed, as plants grow quite true to form.
  • Collect and dry seeds from last season’s chillies.
  • In very early spring, spread the seeds across tray of seed-raising mix and cover lightly with mix.
  • Keep the tray in a warm position and keep the seed mix moist.
  • Hotter chillies require warmer conditions to germinate (20˚C or warmer), so you may need a mini-greenhouse with a warming mat underneath. Once seedlings arise, avoid over watering, as they are prone to rotting.
  • Pinch out the centre of seedlings as they develop to encourage side-branching and bushiness.

How to grow chillies from cuttings

  • Take cuttings from new growth tips in early spring.
  • Dip in a striking gel and place in pots of propagating mix in a warm location. They should strike readily.

If you like this then try

How to start a herb garden: mix and match your flavour options with a herb garden.
Ginger: this must-have Asian flavouring can make an excellent garden or potted plant.
Coriander: with its sharp and spicy aroma and flavour, coriander is a food garden must-have.

Start planting today

Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing!

How to build a garden bed 05:37

Planting & Growing How to build a garden bed Transform your outdoor area by learning how to build a garden bed. It’s easy to do, just follow our step-by-step guide.

variety of indoor plants

Planting & Growing Discover 12 plants that are the best for indoors Striking foliage and stunning colour isn’t just reserved for the garden. There’s a wide variety of indoor plants you can use to bring colour and life to your home explains Bunnings Greenlife buyer Katrina Gatt.

Person planting spinach 03:11

Planting & Growing How to grow vegetables Watch our step-by-step guide and find out everything you need to know about how to grow fresh vegetables in your garden.

Person trimming the hedge with battery shears 01:28

Planting & Growing How to trim hedges Hedges are an excellent way to add shape to your garden. Here are a couple of tips to effectively trim and maintain a hedge.

Person putting on protective edging on the raised garden bed 01:38

Planting & Growing How to build a raised garden bed Building a raised garden bed is a simple project you can do yourself. Learn how to build a raised garden bed with this guide from Bunnings Warehouse.

Person adding compost and manure to the soil 02:01

Planting & Growing How to improve sandy soil Good soil is the foundation for any healthy garden. We can show you how to improve sandy soil to retain more nutrients and water.

succulents 02:01

Planting & Growing How to plant and care for succulents Succulents come in a huge range of colours, shapes and sizes, will grow just about anywhere and don’t need much looking after, making them a plant that’s perfect for even the most novice gardener. If you’re new to succulents, here are some tips from...

Person cutting the corrugated edging 03:08

Planting & Growing How to install garden edging Garden edging can help to make your garden beds look neat and tidy. We’ll show you how to install plastic or corrugated garden edging around your garden.

hydrangea

Planting & Growing How to create an allergy-friendly garden If you suffer from hay fever or other allergies, then being out in the garden can, at times, be less than enjoyable. But there are some steps you can take to create an allergy-friendly garden so you can spend more time gardening and less time sneezi...

pot

Planters How to choose the right plant pot Pots are a great way to add colour, interest or texture to your outdoor space. Tuscan Path’s Elaine Foster shares her top tips on how to choose the perfect pot.

sunflower

Planting & Growing How to plant and care for sunflowers Sunflowers are a great way to add colour to your garden, and they’re easy to grow and care for. Bunnings Greenlife buyer Katie explains the basics of how to grow sunflowers and shares some tips on how to care for them.

orchid

Planting & Growing How to care for orchids Orchids are a low-maintenance flower that can be grown indoors or outside in a protected location. And, with a little care, they will provide you with lots of colour.

paint

Guides & Projects How to upcycle almost any piece of furniture with paint Rather than throwing out old household items, you can restore them with paint. It’s a quick, easy and affordable way to give anything from furniture to fences a new lease on life. Learn how to paint and prepare different surfaces to get the finish y...

DIY balcony and courtyard garden

Planters D.I.Y. balcony and courtyard garden Even if your outdoor space is limited to a balcony or courtyard, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on having a garden. The team at Tuscan Path, who have been supplying pots to the Australian marketplace for over 40 years, share some ideas on how ...

 kitchen benchtop materials

Benchtops & Cabinets A guide to kitchen benchtop materials The perfect benchtop will add style to any kitchen. It’ll also see the most action, so choosing the right benchtop for your kitchen – and budget – is an important decision explains Bunnings Kitchen Designer Ben Carey.

Top of the content