Add more than a bit of spice to your garden with ghost pepper plants (bhut jolokia). Native to India, ghost peppers are hybrid chili peppers that are over 200 times hotter than jalapeños. Bhut jolokia means Bhutanese pepper; however, due to a translation mistake, the pepper was Westernized and called "ghost pepper" since "bhut" had sounded similar to the Assamese word for "ghost."
The plants have green stems and foliage. The peppers typically come in red, though they also can be orange, yellow, or chocolate. They stretch roughly 2 to 4 inches long. Ghost pepper plants are perennial in zones 8 to 11 but can be grown as annuals in cooler climates. They can be started indoors in the spring and planted outdoors when temperatures reach at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. These plants are very slow-growing and need 120 days or more from planting to maturity.
|Botanical Name||Capsicum chinense|
|Common Names||Ghost pepper, ghost chili pepper, ghost chili, bhut jolokia, naga jolokia|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||2–4 feet tall, 2–3 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Loamy, moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic (6 to 6.8)|
|Hardiness Zones||8–11 (USDA)|
How to Plant Ghost Peppers
The ghost pepper is a relatively difficult plant to grow due to its requirements for high temperatures and humidity. It grows best in conditions similar to those of its native habitat in Northeast India, which experiences several months of intense heat and humidity during the summer. In North America, these conditions are often hard to replicate outdoors, so many gardeners choose to grow ghost peppers in controlled greenhouse spaces.
Also sensitive to changes in their environment and easily susceptible to shock, ghost pepper plants require a strict care regimen. But when grown properly, they can be bountiful plants. A healthy ghost pepper plant can produce up to 100 peppers.
You can start with ghost pepper seeds germinated indoors or purchased plants. Transplant outdoors after all risk of frost has passed; these plants are very frost-sensitive. Space the plants 2 to 3 feet apart.
Ghost Pepper Care
During their four- to five-month growing period, the plants require consistently hot, bright, direct sunlight. When growing them indoors, supplementing natural light with grow lights is required. They should receive at least six hours of full sun on most days.
Loamy, well-drained soil is best for ghost pepper plants. When growing in containers, ensuring that the potting medium drains well is of utmost importance. When growing in the garden, add some organic matter, such as compost, into the soil at the beginning of the growing season, especially if the soil is sandy.
A good rule of thumb is to wait for the top 2 inches of soil to dry before watering ghost pepper plants. Aim to maintain a regular watering schedule, as inconsistent watering can shock the plants.
Temperature and Humidity
Ghost pepper plants are extremely particular about their temperature and humidity conditions. They must have a growing season of longer than three months in temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity. Four to five months of extreme heat and humidity is ideal. Rapid temperature changes and cold periods can cause ghost pepper plants to drop their flowers or fail to thrive. For these reasons, ghost pepper plants typically do best in greenhouses, where the heat and humidity are easier to maintain than outdoors.
Fertilize ghost pepper plants immediately after planting, and then twice more throughout the growing season, using a balanced fertilizer. Although it might be tempting, do not fertilize ghost pepper plants more often than that, as they are very sensitive to overfeeding.
Harvesting Ghost Peppers
As ghost peppers ripen they typically will turn from green to red. A bright red color and slight wrinkling of the skin are signs that they have reached full maturity. They can be harvested at any stage of development, if desired, but are spiciest when fully mature. This is because the compound responsible for the spice in ghost peppers, capsaicin, increases in concentration until the peppers reach full maturity.
Always wear protective apparel when harvesting ghost peppers, and be careful to avoid touching your eyes or skin after handling the hot chilis. They can cause burning or stinging via skin contact. Gloves and long sleeves are recommended when handling ghost peppers.
How to Grow Ghost Peppers in Pots
Select a pot that’s at least a foot wide and deep to give the plant’s roots plenty of room. Use a quality organic potting mix that drains well. And make sure the pot has ample drainage holes. If the pot has a saucer, always be sure to promptly empty it if it collects water. You'll likely have to water a container plant more often than plants grown in the ground. But make sure the soil is never waterlogged.
How to Grow Ghost Peppers From Seed
Ghost pepper seeds take about 35 days to germinate in moist, warm soil kept between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Before planting, soak the seeds in hydrogen peroxide for one minute to increase germination success. Due to the demands for heat and moisture to germinate, ghost pepper seeds are most easily started indoors and grow readily in greenhouse conditions. Use full-sun fluorescent grow lights to maintain temperatures when starting them indoors.
Common Pests & Diseases
Ghost pepper plants are susceptible to a number of common pests and diseases when grown both outdoors and indoors. Some of the pests most likely to afflict a ghost pepper plant include aphids, spider mites, slugs, snails, and thrips. Common bacterial and fungal diseases include anthracnose, bacterial leaf spot, powdery mildew, and pepper mosaic. The best way to keep a ghost pepper plant healthy is to conduct regular inspections of the plant and catch any issues early. Treat problems with organic methods to maintain the edibility of the peppers.