There are so many questions about growing a Cayenne pepper plant it makes things confusing. And what’s with Cayenne peppers taking forever to ripen? Here are all my growing notes from over the years so you can use them to get a big haul of chilies! 🌶 These seven steps cover everything you need to know and then some.
Like growing Jalapenos, I think of Cayenne peppers as a gateway into gardening. It’s a popular variety that makes seasonings like Cayenne pepper powder, dry rubs, and hot sauce — these can all come from your homegrown chillies!
Fortunately, the Cayenne pepper plant is an easier variety to grow. Cayenne seeds don’t take as long to germinate, they grow well in containers, and you can usually get 10 to 30 ripe pods at a time.
So let’s go into the backstory of this pepper and how to grow Cayenne pepper plants in pots during each plant stage.
CAYENNE PEPPER FACTS:
|Common Varieties:||Long Slim Cayenne pepper, Purple Cayenne, Dragon Cayenne, Golden Cayenne, Ring-O-Fire Cayenne|
|Capsicum Species:||Capsicum annuum|
|Scoville Heat Units (SHU):||30,000 to 50,000 SHU|
|Days To Harvest:||70 to 100 days after transplant|
|Size:||4 to 5 inch (10 to 13 cm) long pods; up to ~4 feet (~1.2 m) tall plants|
|Flavor:||hot, earthy, peppery|
|Culinary Uses:||Cayenne powder, hot sauce, pepper flakes, sauces, Mexican cuisine|
About Cayenne Peppers
Like many chillies, the Cayenne pepper originated in South America specifically in French Guiana [source]. Today, Cayenne peppers are typically dehydrated and ground into chili powder to give color and heat to food.
You might wonder what the differences are between red pepper and Cayenne pepper – are they the same thing?
Red pepper (usually in powder form) contains hot red chillies like Cayenne. But these powders have the potential to include other varieties too.
As for planting, Cayenne pepper plants grow well in garden zones 4 to 11. Timing is very important (more on that later).
And here’s an interesting fact: the Cayenne pepper is part of the same plant species – Capsicum annuum – as the Bell pepper. Quite a heat difference!
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Cayenne Pepper Varieties
Part of the fun in growing peppers is that you get to pick the variety you want. Here are different types of Cayenne peppers that come in many colors and heat levels.
- Purple Cayenne Pepper (seeds): This rare variety has the typical heat of a Cayenne and turns a dark purple color before maturing to bright red. You can eat purple Cayennes or use them as an ornamental plant.
- Long Thin Cayenne Pepper (seeds): Here’s a thinner Cayenne heirloom variety with average heat that matures to red. Ideal for making pepper powders and flakes.
- Golden Cayenne Pepper (seeds): Ripening from pale green to golden yellow and finally red, this variety has a smoother skin, smoky flavor, and average heat. Perfect for using fresh in Cajun and Creole dishes or dehydrating.
- Dragon Cayenne Pepper (seeds): This cross between the Thai pepper (50,000 to 100,000 SHUs) and Cayenne is a hot hybrid variety that produces shorter red peppers. A great addition to Asian or Mexican dishes!
- Sweet Cayenne Pepper (seeds): This hybrid variety matures to a crimson red and has all the Cayenne flavors with zero heat. Enjoy these sweet peppers in salads, or grind them into non-spicy chili powder.
When To Plant Cayenne Peppers
When starting Cayenne seeds, pick a date at least eight to 10 weeks before your last expected frost. This schedule gives seeds time to germinate, and pepper plants can grow in the ideal warmer temperature and sunlight.
Growing Cayenne Pepper Plants In 7 Steps
Growing Cayenne peppers takes around five to six months (starting from seeds). Here’s what to do during each plant stage, from starting seeds indoors to transplanting seedlings outside.
- Fill the cells of your tray with moistened seed starting mix, then add 2 to 3 Cayenne pepper seeds to each cell. Lightly cover the seeds with the mix, cover your tray with the humidity dome (lid), and put the tray on the heat mat for the ideal 80° to 90°F (27° to 32°C) temperature.
- Watch for germination – this generally takes up to 2 weeks for Cayenne peppers. After your seeds sprout, remove the lid, and put your tray of pepper seedlings under the grow light. (You don’t need the heat mat anymore.)
- Start fertilizing your Cayenne seedlings after they grow the first set of true leaves (the ones that come after the initial seed leaves). Use a ¼ strength fertilizer for pepper plants at this stage.
- Transplant pepper seedlings (pot up) when your Cayenne plants are about 2 inches tall and have at least two sets of true leaves (about 3 to 4 weeks after germination). Fill the small 3 to 4-inch containers with potting soil and add one plant per pot.
- Start hardening pepper plants when night temperatures are consistently above 55°F (13°C) to prepare for life outdoors. Also, make sure there’s no more threat of frost.
- Move your Cayenne plants to their final containers (at least 5-gallon size), and water the root zones of the plants to help them settle in. Optional: add a ½ strength fertilizer to the potting mix.
- Position your pepper plants in a spot where they can get 8 hours of full sun. After flowering, Cayenne peppers start forming within a couple of weeks, and ripe fruit is ready within two months.
- For seedlings, start watering peppers from the bottom when the mix gets dry. (Usually every couple of days.) Mature Cayenne pepper plants may need water once a week, but the schedule depends on your growing environment.
- Check your grow light instructions to make sure it's positioned at the right height above your Cayenne seedlings.
- Optional: remove any flowers that develop on your Cayenne plants while growing indoors. Here's more on pepper plant flowers and why you might want to pinch the early ones off.
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FoxFarm Liquid Nutrient Trio Soil Formula: Big Bloom, Grow Big, Tiger Bloom (Pack of 3-16 oz Bottles) + Twin Canaries Chart
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The Pepper Seed-Starting Guide
pots vs ground
Do peppers grow better in pots or ground?
Fortunately, a chili pepper plant can thrive in either setup. If you have the choice, in-ground gardening offers advantages like potentially larger plants and less watering. (Assuming your soil is in good condition.) Growing in pots gives you flexibility if you have a smaller space, and you can move containers to sunnier spots and away from harsh weather if needed.
Caring For Cayenne Pepper Plants
As your pepper plants grow outdoors, you’ll likely have questions about ongoing care. Watering, sun, plant issues (and more) – these answers are below.
It’s best to leave pepper plants on the dry side and follow a watering schedule based on your growing environment. For potted plants, you can watch for wilting leaves, stick your finger in the top 2 inches of soil to feel for moisture or pick up your container after watering to get a sense of the weight.
To water – assuming you don’t use soaker hoses or drip irrigation – you can run a hose over the root zone until water comes out the bottom of the pots. Start watering peppers one day a week (evenings or early morning), and adjust this frequency as needed.
Chili peppers grow well with fertilizer that contains the primary macronutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) – as well as secondary nutrients that produce healthy plants. Macronutrients power different plant stages — nitrogen supports leafy growth, phosphorus helps with flowers and fruit, and potassium helps plants fight disease [source].
Some gardeners use a fertilizer with an even NPK rating throughout the growing season. In my experience, it’s better to have fertilizers higher in the nutrient that your plants need at the time.
I like FoxFarm’s trio of fertilizers that support each plant stage (cuts out the guesswork). Another favorite is Neptune’s Harvest, but you’ll need to add secondary nutrients like calcium and magnesium (Cal-Mag) for the best pepper plant growth.
During the growing season, you can prune the lower leaves and branches (the ones sitting on the soil) to help maximize airflow and keep them away from pests like slugs and snails.
If you want your Cayennes peppers to come back every year (they can!), you’ll do a more severe pruning when you start overwintering pepper plants. This process involves cutting back branches, leaves, and picking any remaining peppers at the end of the season.
Pepper plants love warmer daytime temperatures between 70° to 85°F (21° to 29°C). When it gets to over 90°F (32°C), you can expect plants to stop growing and start dropping flowers.
hot weather tip
It gets insanely hot where I live, with months of triple-digit weather. I use a shade cloth to give my plants relief during the hottest part of the day — that helps!
Cayenne plants (like other peppers) are self-pollinating with insects and wind, helping this process along.
Cross-pollination can occur if you grow other pepper varieties nearby. This means you can potentially grow hybrids if you save seeds from Cayenne plants that aren’t isolated.
Aphids, hornworms, spider mites, and leaf miners are some pests that go after pepper plants. Use insecticidal soap for soft-bodied insects and Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) for larger pests like hornworms and moths.
Speaking of hornworms (pictured), check your plants regularly so you can hand pick them off. These pests can eat a huge amount in a short period of time!
What else? Water! Spray pepper leaves (tops and bottoms) in the evenings to help knock off the bugs.
And depending on the pest, you may need other remedies besides the ones mentioned. That’s why I created The Chile Plant Hospital as a quick reference on what to do when common pests, diseases, and other problems happen.
Need help keeping pepper plants healthy?
Learn to treat common pests, vitamin deficiencies, and other pepper plant problems with this illustrated ebook. It’ll help you take action before things get out of hand!
Here are two common questions (with answers) about Cayenne pepper plants.
- Cayenne Peppers Not Turning Red: Cayennes can take up to 100 days to grow harvestable pods after planting outside. More specifically, it can take a month or more for Cayenne peppers to ripen red after the fruit starts to form (depending on the weather).
- Cayenne Peppers Flowering But No Fruit: Pepper fruit is less likely to form when day temperatures are higher than 85°F (29°C) and lower than 60°F (16°C) at night. Inadequate pollination can also be the problem: give your plants a gentle shake, or rub your finger in the middle of the flowers to help spread pollen.
Harvesting Cayenne Peppers
Cayenne peppers are ready to pick about 70 to 100 days after planting outside when they’re a few inches long and red.
So: Is it ok to pick green Cayenne peppers?
Yes, you can harvest Cayenne peppers that aren’t ripe, but they’ll be milder and slightly bitter with a more vegetable-like taste. You can also leave green Cayennes in a warm, indoor spot to see if they turn red after a few days.
» Read More: When to Pick Cayenne Peppers
Using Cayenne Peppers
With your fresh chillies in hand, here’s what to do with Cayenne peppers and how to store them.
Fresh Cayenne peppers are delicious for making hot sauce and in foods like fajitas, stir frys, salsas, and chili. And the thin walls of these peppers make them perfect for drying and grinding into red pepper flakes and powders – add them to dry rubs, seasoning meats, soups, curries, and anywhere else you’d like a fiery kick.
Besides drying your peppers, you can store Cayenne peppers in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or freeze them for up to eight months.
Cayenne Pepper Benefits
The Cayenne pepper plant produces chilies that are a great source of antioxidants — they are particularly rich in vitamins A, B6, E, and C [source]. Overall, Cayenne pepper health benefits include improving circulation, lowering cholesterol, helping digestion, and being a potential anti-cancer agent.
Like most peppers, Cayennes have capsaicin (what makes peppers hot), which helps with problems like inflammation and pain management when applied topically. Here’s something else: a capsaicin-rich diet has the potential to aid in cognitive disabilities like Alzheimer’s disease.
Cayenne Pepper Plant FAQs
I hope you enjoy growing Cayenne pepper plants. Remember, it can take up to 100 days to start harvesting Cayenne peppers after planting them outdoors – the wait is worth it!
If you enjoyed this tutorial, check out our ultimate guide to growing peppers for more in-depth instruction on growing all kinds of chilies.