How to Grow Ghost Peppers

Ghost pepper plant with small red and green peppers hanging beneath leaves

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Add more than a bit of spice to the pepper plants in your garden with ghost pepper plants (Bhut jolokia). Native to India, ghost peppers are a hybrid of the species Capsicum chinense and Capsicum frutescens. They are over 200 times hotter than jalapeños.

The plants have green stems and foliage. The peppers typically come in red, though they also can be orange, yellow, or chocolate. And they stretch roughly 2 to 4 inches long. A healthy ghost pepper plant can produce up to 100 peppers. Ghost pepper plants are perennial in zones 8 to 11 but can be grown as annuals in cooler climates. They are very slow-growing peppers, requiring around 120 days or more to mature, and they should be planted in the spring.

Common Name Ghost pepper, ghost chili
Botanical Name Bhut jolokia, Capsicum chinense × Capsicum frutescens
Family Solanaceae
Plant Type Herbaceous, perennial
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)
Bloom Time Summer
Hardiness Zones 8–11 (USDA)
Native Area Asia

How to Plant Ghost Peppers

When to Plant

Because ghost peppers require such a long growing season, it's best to start seeds indoors around eight to 12 weeks before your area’s last spring frost date. They can be planted outside once the nighttime temperatures are reliably above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Selecting a Planting Site

The planting site should get lots of sun and have well-draining soil. Container growth is also an option. High and consistent temperatures and humidity also are essential for healthy growth. Ghost peppers don't like fluctuations in their environment, which is why many gardeners opt to grow them in controlled greenhouse spaces. 

Spacing, Depth, and Support

Plant seeds around 1/4 inch deep, and situate nursery plants at the same depth they were in their previous container. Space the plants 2 to 3 feet apart. You might need to stake your plants to prevent the stems from breaking when they're heavy with peppers, especially if your plants are exposed to strong winds.

Ghost Pepper Plant Care

Light

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.

Soil

Loamy, well-drained soil with a slightly acidic soil pH is best for ghost pepper plants. Add some organic matter, such as compost, into the soil at the beginning of the growing season, especially if the soil is sandy.

Water

A good rule of thumb is to wait for the top two 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 to produce a crop of fruit. 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.

Fertilizer

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.

Pollination

Ghost pepper plants are self-pollinators with the help of animals and the wind.

Ghost pepper plant with green and small red peppers hanging

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Ghost pepper plant with small green pepper

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Ghost Peppers vs. Habaneros

Ghost peppers and habaneros are closely related. However, ghost peppers are slightly larger than habaneros and are significantly hotter. Plus, habaneros have a slightly fruity taste while heat dominates the flavor of ghost peppers

Harvesting Ghost Peppers

As ghost peppers ripen, they typically will turn from green to red. Bright red color and slight wrinkling of the skin are signs that they have reached full maturity. Reaching maturity will take between 120 and 150 days on average. They can be harvested at any stage of development if desired, but they 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. Cut peppers off the plant with a knife or pruners, leaving around an inch of stem. They can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week in plastic. They also can be dried. 

How to Grow Ghost Peppers in Pots

Growing ghost peppers in pots is a good option in case you need to move the plants indoors to protect them from an unexpected cold snap. Select a pot that’s at least a foot wide and deep per plant to give the roots plenty of room. And make sure the pot has ample drainage holes. Unglazed clay is a good container material to allow excess soil moisture to evaporate through its walls. If the pot has a saucer, 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.

Pruning

Pinching back the stem tips as ghost pepper plants grow is recommended to encourage bushier growth, but it is not essential.

Propagating Ghost Peppers

Ghost pepper plants can be propagated via stem cuttings, though this is not always successful. Still, it is an inexpensive way to essentially clone a plant that is particularly vigorous or otherwise preferable. The best time to take a cutting is in the late spring to early summer when the plant is actively growing and before it is producing fruit. Here's how:

  1. Cut a 4- to 6-inch piece of healthy stem. 
  2. Remove the foliage on the lower half of the stem, as well as any flower buds. 
  3. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone, and then plant it in moist soilless potting mix. 
  4. Keep the cutting in a bright, warm spot, and maintain a moist but not soggy growing medium. Roots should start to form in about three weeks.

How to Grow Ghost Peppers From Seed

Ghost pepper seeds can take three weeks or longer to germinate. Before planting, soak seeds in hydrogen peroxide for a minute to increase germination success. Then, plant them in a moist seed-starting mix that is between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It's critical to keep the temperature and moisture level consistent. Use full-sun fluorescent grow lights to maintain temperatures when starting seeds indoors.

Potting and Repotting Ghost Peppers

When potting ghost pepper plants, ensuring that the growing medium drains well is of utmost importance. Use a quality organic potting mix. Aim to use a pot that will accommodate the plant's full size right from the start, so you don't have to disturb it by repotting.

Overwintering

Unless you have a climate-controlled greenhouse, it is very difficult to maintain the right amount of heat, humidity, and light for ghost pepper plants over the winter. This is why many gardeners treat the plant as an annual outside of its growing zones.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Ghost pepper plants are susceptible to several 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 and catch issues early. Treat problems with organic methods to maintain the edibility of the peppers.

FAQ
  • Are ghost peppers easy to grow?

    Ghost pepper plants can be tricky to grow. They need consistent levels of high heat and humidity.

  • How long does it take to grow ghost peppers?

    Ghost peppers take around four months from planting to maturity on average.

  • Do ghost peppers come back every year?

    Ghost peppers are perennial in hot, humid climates. But in other areas, they are often treated as an annual.

Article Sources
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  1. Ghost pepper production. University of Florida