Add more than a little spice to your garden this year with ghost pepper plants (Bhut jolokia). Native to northeast India, ghost peppers are hybrid chili peppers that have a Scoville rating of 1,001,304, over 200 times hotter than jalapenos. In 2007, the ghost pepper was named the hottest pepper in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records, but it has since been succeeded by the Infinity Chili and the Carolina Reaper.
Ghost pepper plants are perennial in zones 8 to 11 and can be grown as annuals in climates with long growing seasons or grown anywhere indoors, although this is challenging. They can be started indoors and planted outdoors when temperatures reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit. These plants are very slow-growing and need 120 days or more from planting to maturity.
|Botanical Name||Bhut jolokia|
|Common Name||Ghost pepper, ghost chili pepper, ghost chili, naga jolokia|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||2 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic (6.0 to 6.8)|
|Hardiness Zones||8 to 11|
How to Plant Ghost Pepper Plants
The ghost pepper is a relatively difficult pepper to grow due to its requirements for high temperature and humidity. It grows best in conditions similar to that of its native habitat, 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 conditions indoors or in a greenhouse space.
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 start with 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 Plant Care
Ghost pepper plants need plenty of bright, direct sunlight. During their four- to five- month growing period, the plants require consistently hot, bright sunlight. When growing them indoors, supplementing natural light with grow lights is required.
Loamy, well-drained soil is best for ghost pepper plants. If growing in containers, ensuring the potting medium is well-draining is of utmost importance. When growing in the garden, add some organic matter into the soil at the beginning of the growing season, especially if the soil is sandy.
As a good rule of thumb, wait for the top 2 inches of soil to dry before watering ghost pepper plants. Adjust the frequency as needed to fit the conditions to maintain a regular schedule. 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 high 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 may be tempting, do not fertilize ghost pepper plants more often than that, as they are very sensitive to over-feeding.
As ghost peppers ripen they 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 face or skin after handling the hot chilis. Gloves and long sleeves are recommended when handling ghost peppers.
How to Grow Ghost Pepper Plants 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 temperature and humidity when started indoors.
Common Pests and Diseases
Ghost pepper plants are susceptible to a number of common pests and diseases when grown outdoors and when grown 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, among others. The best way to keep a ghost pepper plant healthy is to conduct regular inspections of the plant and catch any infestations early.