How to Grow Cayenne Pepper

A cluster of cayenne peppers in a gardeners hand

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If you want to add a bit of spice to your garden, the cayenne pepper plant might be the perfect choice. These plants are a Capsicum annuum species cultivar. The species includes many other common pepper varieties, including bell peppers, Serrano peppers, and jalapeños, although the cayenne packs more of a punch when it comes to heat.

The peppers themselves measure around 4-6 inches long, have a long, tapering shape with a curved tip, and are most commonly red. The plants also produce flowers that are white to slightly purple and are shaped like a bell.

These frost-tender perennials can be grown as annuals in temperate areas, but they grow best in warm regions that closely mimic the conditions of their native sub-tropical and tropical regions in South and Central America. They can be planted in spring after any danger of frost has passed, and they usually take around three months to produce a mature harvest.

Botanical Name Capsicum annuum 'Cayenne'
Common Name Cayenne pepper
Plant Type Perennial/annual
Mature Size Pepper: 4-6 inches; plant: up to 4 ft. tall
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Moist, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral pH
Bloom Time Spring/summer
Flower Color White/purple
Hardiness Zones 9-11 (USDA)
Native Area Tropical South and Central America

How to Plant Cayenne Pepper Plants

Positioning and spacing are vitally important for a successful harvest of Cayenne peppers. Space the plants around 24 inches apart (just allowing for light contact), and if the seeds are started indoors, they shouldn't be planted out until a couple of weeks after the last frost and the soil is suitably warmed. Make sure you select a location that hasn't been used by other members of the Solanaceae family, such as tomatoes or potatoes, in several years.

Cayenne Pepper Plant Care

Light

The cayenne pepper plant will grow best when exposed to full sunlight for at least eight hours per day.

Soil

Cayenne pepper plants require moist, well-drained, fertile soil with a neutral pH. More acidic soil can produce peppers that are spicier than normal. If you are unsure, it may be worth conducting a soil pH level test.

Water

Watering cayenne pepper plants can be a delicate process. They do require moist soil, but overwatering is a problem too. If the soil becomes either too dry or too saturated, the plant's foliage can turn yellow. A deep watering every few days at the base of the plant is generally beneficial. Mulching around the plant can be a helpful way to conserve moisture.

Temperature and Humidity

The cayenne pepper plant is a warm-weather species native to tropical regions, and it requires consistently warm temperatures to survive. These plants cannot withstand extremes in temperatures, either heat or cold.

Temperatures consistently below 55 degrees Fahrenheit will result in slow growth and leaf discoloration. Temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit will damage or kill the plants, and nighttime temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit can impact pepper production levels.

Fertilizer

Cayenne peppers will grow well in rich, fertile soil. If your soil is not particularly rich and you plant to use a fertilizer, make sure it isn't one with high nitrogen levels. This will direct energy towards impressive foliar growth rather than fruit production.

cayenne peppers growing
The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy
pulled out shot of cayenne peppers growing
The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy
closeup of a ripe cayenne pepper
The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Harvesting

Cayenne peppers are usually ready to harvest anywhere from 70 to 100 days after planting. Ripe peppers will generally be red, around 4-6 inches long, have a waxy skin, and be firm to the touch. Overripe specimens that are soft will not be edible, and although you can eat the peppers when they are still green, they won't have such a pleasant or intense flavor.

Though the peppers can be pulled from the stem, it's recommended to snip the peppers from the plant to help prevent any damage. This is important because, when well maintained, you can continue to harvest peppers until the first fall frost.

Once picked, your peppers can be kept in the refrigerator. It is best to use them within a week of harvesting to appreciate the best flavor and nutritional value. The peppers can also be dried and ground into a powdered seasoning for use in an array of cuisines.

Growing Cayenne Peppers From Seeds

If you want to grow cayenne peppers in your own garden, and you happen to have a longer growing season and plenty of sun, you can sow the seeds directly into the soil 10 to 14 days before the final frost of the year.

However, when starting your cayenne pepper plant, you'll likely have the most success by planting them indoors or, better yet, in a greenhouse. The seedlings are delicate and cannot tolerate either overly hot or cold conditions.

When starting your plants indoors, place the container in a sunny location in a room that will maintain a temperature of at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The seeds should be planted in light, well-drained soil and usually sprout in about 16 to 20 days.

Plant the growing seedlings into flats spaced a few inches apart or in individual pots, and then allow them to gradually acclimate to outdoor temperatures before transplanting about six to eight weeks later (assuming that all danger of frost has passed).

Transplanting is a shock for cayenne pepper seedlings, so take care to minimize the trauma. If you choose to transplant prior to the final frost of the season, you can protect them with hot caps, row covers, or black plastic.

Common Pests/Diseases

A few pests are attracted to peppers—they also tend to be problematic for other members of the nightshade family (like tomatoes). However, with attentive care, it would be rare for them to impact your harvest significantly. Keep an eye out for aphids, mites, pepper hornworms, pill bugs and leafminers.

Fungal diseases like leaf spot, fusarium wilt, and anthracnose can occasionally be a problem, especially in humid weather conditions. Proper spacing, good soil draining, and watering from the plant base can all help minimize the chances of these diseases becoming an issue.