If you love hot sauces or salsas, you may think of growing the habanero pepper plant. These spicy chillies may not be available in your area so it’s awesome to be able to grow your own.
But, here’s a common problem:
What if you don’t have a lot of outdoor space to garden?
This is the solution:
Habanero plants do very well in containers. I’ll explain how to use three popular options that hardly take up any space, and how to take care of your pepper plants in these pots.
(I grow A LOT of pepper varieties and habaneros are one of my favorites. One reason is that they have a compact growth habit that can produce a lot of chillies per plant.)
Before we get into the specifics of growing, I want to offer some background on the habanero.
Habanero Pepper Information
The habanero chile pepper is one of the hottest in the Capsicum family.
The unripe fruit is green, though the mature peppers may be red, orange, pink, white or brown. A mature habanero is about 1 to 2 inches long.
Thought to have originated in Cuba, the habaneros are indispensable components in the Yucatán peninsular cuisine. Each year at least 1,500 tons of peppers are harvested there.
Other regions that they are known to grow in include Costa Rica and Belize, as well as US states like California, Texas and Idaho.
Habanero Pepper Varieties
You have a lot of options when it comes to habaneros. Heat level, color and even pod size are all things you select when choosing an habanero variety.
Below is a list of 10 options (just to give you an idea):
- Chocolate Habanero
- Yucatán White Habanero
- Orange Habanero
- Caribbean Red
- Mustard Habanero
- Red Savina
- Big Sun Habanero
- Peach Habanero
- Peruvian White Habanero
- Black Congo
Habanero Scoville Units
The habanero chile pepper is around 100 times hotter than the jalapeno.
The red savina habanero pepper, a cultivar of habanero pepper and once certified as the “World’s hottest spice,” is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Habaneros usually rate between 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units. That’s hot! (If you’re not used to heat, don’t start with this pepper.)
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(You also find these products listed on the Resources page.)
Growing Habanero In Pots
If you have your own pepper seedlings, make sure they are hardened off first before you plant them in pots outside. Otherwise, you can buy an habanero plant for your container.
When it comes to habanero plants (or any chillies for that matter), you’ll want to use at least a 5-gallon container. You can always go higher than this, but don’t use a smaller size if you want your plant to grow well.
Grow only one habanero pepper plant per pot. (I don’t make chillies share a container of this size because they don’t produce as well.)
Below, are three popular container options.
You can typically find these pails at hardware stores and garden centers.
The benefit to using a bucket is that it’s a simple, inexpensive option. The downside is that you’ll need to drill holes in the bottom and around the sides. This gives your habanero plant better airflow, and it allows the pot to drain excess water.
Circumference (5-Gallon): ~ 32 inches
A grow bag is a fabric pot that comes in many different sizes. I usually opt for the 7-gallon or 10-gallon size because I like giving my peppers more room to grow.
The benefit of the grow bag is that it’s breathable and allows for “air pruning” of plant roots. This air pruning prevents roots from becoming “root bound,” and it promotes growth that encourages better uptake of water and nutrients.
Dimensions (7-Gallon): ~ 10.5″ H x 14″ W
An EarthBox is an outdoor container gardening system that has built-in watering. I use an EarthBox Original to grow six pepper plants in that one container.
The benefit of an EarthBox is it really takes the guesswork out of growing. Kits include the watering system and fertilizer so you can just add your plants and go. (They also have kits that include the potting soil too.)
This is an ideal container solution for small-space gardeners because you grow a lot plants in a very small area. I grow six pepper plants in the EarthBox Original, which measures a 29″ long by 13.5″ wide space.
Dimensions (EarthBox Original): 29″ long by 13.5″ wide
Habanero Pepper Plant Care
Here are the basic foundations of growing healthy habaneros in containers.
Use a quality potting soil to ensure you get a mix that supports good airflow and moisture retention. Don’t use garden soil or a mix that isn’t labeled for containers as it will likely be too dense.
Fill your container with the mix and leave a couple of inches empty at the top. Water as you go so that the soil texture isn’t drenched, but you could make a ball with the soil and it would hold it’s shape. (If using an EarthBox, follow the instructions that come with your grow kit.)
Make a hole in the center of the container so that it’s deep enough to accommodate your plant up to it’s lowest set of leaves. Add your habanero plant, and then lightly water the root zone to help it settle in.
Adding Supplements To Soil
Now, it’s time to add fertilizer to your mix. (I recommend this fish and seaweed fertilizer.) Follow the instructions on the bottle for feeding container plants.
Optional: Use compost to help feed the soil during the growing season. You can drop a handful in the planting hole, or add a couple inches to the top layer to act as a mulch for your habanero plant. (Mulch helps keep in the moisture.)
How Much Sun Do Habanero Plants Need?
For the best growth, give your habanero plants at least 8 hours of direct sun a day. (You may be able to do 6 hours, but 8 hours is better.)
Sometimes direct sun can cause sunscald, which looks like beige lesions on the leaves. (I usually see this on newer plants that haven’t been outside too long.)
In that case, move your plants to a shadier spot (if possible), or use a light cover (such as a bed sheet) on those really hot days.
Habanero Plant Watering
Water your habanero plants only when they dry out. Too much hydration can cause the peppers to taste bitter or even die out.
When you’re new to gardening, knowing when to water can be really hard. (As a visual cue, pepper leaves wilt when they’re dry.)
Watering a 5-Gallon Bucket or Grow Bag
Start by picking one day a week to water your containers. Water the top layer of soil until you see the water running out of the bottom of the pot.
(Important: Don’t spray water over parts of your plant, such as leaves and stems, when the sun is out. Water acts like a magnifying glass in the sunshine and the plant can burn.)
After watering, you might want to pick up your container to see what the weight feels like. Some people do this as a way to tell when their containers are dry again.
Watering an EarthBox
The EarthBox has an automatic watering feature that hydrates your plants from the bottom. Simply add water to the fill tube and you’re done.
Feeding Your Habanero Peppers
I use a combination of compost, fish emulsion fertilizer, calcium, phosphorous and epsom salts to keep my chillies growing well. Here’s my pepper fertilization schedule, which describes what I do every season.
How Long Does It Take for Hot Peppers to Grow?
Habaneros and other hot chillies take longer to go from seed to fruit-bearing plant. Personally, I get peppers in about 5 or 6 months. (This is from new habanero plants that I start from seed.)
How Long Do Habanero Plants Live?
The habanero is a perennial plant, which means it can keep going for years. The key is to prepare them for the colder winter months, and to move them indoors where they can safely go dormant.
This preparation process is referred to as “overwintering” or “winterizing.” Here’s a page that explains how to do this.
Problems Growing Habanero Peppers
Various issues can pop up during the growing season. Here are two of the most common problems (with solutions).
Hot Pepper Plant Pests
You’re not growing habaneros to feed the local pests, but apparently they didn’t get the message! The links below help prevent and stop problems.
For more help on dealing with pepper plant pests and disease, be sure to check out The Chile Plant Hospital. This guide helps you diagnose and treat common problems so you can fix your plants immediately.
Habanero Plants Growing Slow?
If your habanero pepper plants seem to come to a halt during the growing season, there are some common reasons why. (Actually, I posed this question to few expert pepper growers and then published a post with their responses.)
Here’s a summary of potential causes:
- Too much water (inappropriate watering)
- Too cold or too hot outside (mine do best in 65F – 85F temps)
- Not enough nutrition (see this post for help)
- pH level of your soil may be inadequate (Peppers like 6.0 to 6.8. Vegetable potting soils are generally adjusted to be neutral and meet this rating.)
- Peppers are root bound. (In other words, the container is too small, which causes the roots to circle around and eventually choke itself off.)
I love growing habanero plants and other chillies in containers because I find it to be a lot less work. It’s also a relief to be able to easily move my plants if they need to be relocated during the grow season.
I hope you found this post helpful. More importantly, I hope it gets you growing no matter your space. 🙂
- 5-Gallon Bucket (If Using)
- 7-Gallon Grow Bag (If Using)
- One plant per bucket or grow bag
- ~ 0.77 cubic feet for 5-Gallon bucket
- ~ 0.87 cubic feet for 7-Gallon grow bag
- Garden Trowel
- Fill your container with potting soil leaving the top 2 inches empty. Lightly water as you go so that if you make a ball with the mix, it holds its shape.
- Add fertilizer by following the instructions on the bottle for feeding container plants.
- Make a hole in the center of the container so that it's deep enough to accommodate your habanero plant up to its lowest set of leaves. (Optional: Drop a handful of compost in this hole.)
- Add your habanero plant to the hole and bury it up to its lowest set of leaves. Level the soil around your plant. (Optional: Add a couple inches of compost to the top layer of soil to act as a mulch.)
- Water the root zone lightly to help your plant settle in it's new home.
- Position your pot in an area that gets at least 8 hours of direct sun a day.
- Continue watering your pepper plant when it gets dry. Start by picking one day a week, and then water the top layer of soil until the water runs out of the bottom of the container.
- Continue to feed your habanero plant by following the instructions on your fertilizer bottle.
- SUN: If your plant gets sunscald (looks like pale lesions on the leaves), move it to a shadier location. Or, use a light cover (like a bedsheet) to protect it on those really hot days.
- WATER: Pepper leaves wilt when the plant is dry. Another way to tell is by using the "weight test." Do this by picking up your container after a fresh watering to get a feel for its weight.
- FERTILIZER: Here's a chile fertilization post you can reference for continued pepper plant care.
CONTINUE READING THE TYPES OF CHILI PEPPERS SERIES:
- Jalapeno Pepper Varieties: Which One Will You Choose?
- Chocolate Habanero Peppers: A Great Source Of Capsaicin
- The Ghost Pepper: Taste All the Colors of the Rainbow
- The Carolina Reaper Is the Hottest Pepper Now, But Who’s Next?
- Where Do the Hottest Peppers In the World Come From?