If you want to add a bit of spice to your garden, the cayenne pepper plant might be the perfect choice. This pepper is a Capsicum annuum cultivar. The species includes many other common pepper varieties, such as bell peppers, serrano peppers, and jalapeños. Bushy plants have smooth elliptical green leaves and small white star-shaped flowers. Cayenne peppers are categorized as medium heat. They measure around 4 to 6 inches long and have a tapering shape with a curved tip. They are most commonly a glossy red with a slightly wrinkled texture.
Cayenne pepper plants are frost-tender perennials that are commonly grown as annuals in cold climates. They should be planted in the spring and have a fairly quick growth rate. Note that the fruits, leaves, and seeds of cayenne peppers are technically toxic to people due to the capsaicin compounds.
|Common Name||Cayenne pepper|
|Botanical Name||Capsicum annuum 'Cayenne'|
|Plant Type||Perennial, vegetable|
|Size||1–4 ft. tall, 1–2 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||South America, Central America|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people|
How to Plant Cayenne Peppers
When to Plant
Plant your cayenne peppers in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. It’s best if the temperature is reliably above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Seeds can be started indoors approximately eight to 10 weeks prior to your area’s projected last spring frost date.
Selecting a Planting Site
Pick a sunny spot with well-drained soil for your peppers. Make sure they won’t be near any larger plants that will leaf out and shade them. Also, select a location that hasn't been used by other members of the Solanaceae family, such as tomatoes or potatoes, in several years. Diseases that target the family can linger in the soil. Container growth is also an option if you don't have a suitable garden site.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Space plants around 1 to 2 feet apart. Seeds should be planted around 1/4 inch deep, and nursery plants should be situated at the same depth that they were growing in their nursery container. Heavy-producing varieties might need stakes or another support structure to prevent them from toppling over once the fruits appear.
Cayenne Pepper Plant Care
This plant does best when exposed to full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. Too little sun can result in limited flower and fruit production.
Cayenne pepper plants require organically rich, moist, well-drained soil. A slightly acidic to neutral soil pH is best. More acidic soil can produce peppers that are spicier than normal.
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 foliage can turn yellow and the plant can struggle. Give your plant a deep watering when the top 1 to 2 inches of soil have dried out. 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 and moderate humidity. It 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.
It’s ideal to mix compost into the soil at the time of planting, especially if you don’t have organically rich soil. You also can use an organic commercial vegetable fertilizer that’s low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions. Too much nitrogen can promote more foliage than fruit growth.
Cayenne pepper plants are self-pollinating, assisted by wind and insects in the garden. They also can cross-pollinate with other pepper varieties.
Types of Cayenne Peppers
Breeders have created different cayenne pepper varieties that range in appearance and taste, including:
- Red Ember: The plants of this variety produce heavy yields of especially large peppers.
- Dragon: As the name suggests, these peppers are both large and quite hot.
- Sweet Cayenne: This is a milder pepper that works well in a variety of recipes.
- Purple Cayenne: These peppers transition from green to purple as they mature, though their flavor is similar to a typical red cayenne pepper.
Cayenne Peppers vs. Jalapeños
Cayenne and jalapeño peppers technically are of the same species. Consequently, they have similar growing requirements. But it’s fairly simple to tell them apart. Cayenne peppers are usually red and narrower than the typically green jalapeño. Cayenne peppers also are around 10 times hotter than jalapeños.
Harvesting Cayenne Peppers
Cayenne peppers are usually ready to harvest anywhere from 70 to 100 days after planting. Ripe peppers will generally be red, stretch around 4 to 6 inches long (depending on the variety), have a waxy skin, and be firm to the touch. Harvest as soon as the peppers reach this point. Overripe specimens that are soft won't be edible. However, you can eat the peppers while they're still green; they just won't have such an intense or developed flavor.
Although peppers can be pulled from the stem to harvest, it's recommended to use pruners to prevent damaging the whole stem. Leave just a bit of stem on each pepper.
Peppers will keep in the refrigerator for about a week; they also can be frozen for up to a year. Or you can dry them to grind into a powder for seasoning.
How to Grow Cayenne Peppers in Pots
Growing cayenne peppers in pots can be a helpful way to control the plant’s light and soil requirements. And you can move the plant indoors if you’re expecting a cold snap. A 2-gallon container should be a good size for a single plant. Make sure it has adequate drainage holes. Plus, unglazed clay is a good material, as it will allow excess soil moisture to evaporate through its walls.
If you’re growing your cayenne pepper plant as an annual, pruning generally won’t be necessary. Just be sure to trim off any damaged or diseased stems promptly. However, if you’re growing a perennial plant, cut it back to around 6 inches above the soil in the fall. This will help to promote healthy, bushy new growth in the spring.
Propagating Cayenne Peppers
It’s possible to propagate a cayenne pepper plant through stem cuttings. Not only is this an inexpensive way to get a new plant, but it also will allow you to create duplicates of plants with especially good flavor or production. The best time to take a cutting is in the late spring or early summer. Here’s how:
- Use sterile pruners to trim off a healthy piece of stem that’s around 4 to 6 inches long, cutting at a 45-degree angle above a leaf node. Remove any leaves on the lower half of the stem.
- Dip the cut end in rooting hormone.
- Plant the lower half of the cutting in a small container filled with moist soilless potting mix.
- Put the container in a warm spot with bright, indirect light. Continue to keep the potting mix moist but not soggy.
- Roots should form in a couple weeks. If you can gently tug on the stem and feel resistance, then you’ll know roots are present. After that, harden off the plant and the cutting is ready for transplanting.
How to Grow Cayenne Peppers From Seed
Cayenne pepper seeds germinate best when the soil is above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. In cooler climates, that often means starting them in containers indoors to get a jump on the growing season.
Just slightly press the seeds into a container filled with moist seed-starting mix. Put the container in a warm spot with bright, indirect light. Consider using a heat mat to keep the soil at approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the potting mix moist but never waterlogged. You should see germination in around two to three weeks, though some varieties can take longer.
Potting and Repotting Cayenne Peppers
Use a quality organic vegetable potting mix for potting cayenne peppers. Make sure it is organically rich and well-draining.
If you're growing your plant as an annual, you shouldn't need to repot it as long as you've picked a container that will accommodate its mature size. Perennial plants also shouldn't outgrow the container that fits their mature size. But they can benefit from having their potting mix refreshed every year or two.
If you’re growing your plant as an annual, you can simply remove it from your garden after frost has damaged or killed it. Prune perennials close to the ground, and cut back on watering for the winter. The soil shouldn’t fully dry out, but it also doesn’t need to be consistently moist.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Pests that tend to be problematic for other members of the nightshade family (such as tomatoes) also can afflict cayenne peppers. They include aphids, mites, pepper hornworms, pill bugs, and leafminers. These can be removed by spraying them with a garden hose spray or using a natural insecticidal soap.
Fungal diseases, including leaf spot, fusarium wilt, and anthracnose, also can occasionally be a problem, especially in humid conditions. Proper spacing, good soil drainage, and watering at the plant base all can help to minimize the chances of disease.
Are cayenne peppers easy to grow?
Cayenne peppers have a moderate difficulty level to grow. It's important to get their environmental conditions right—especially the warmth and light. And you must ensure that the soil isn't too dry or waterlogged.
How long does it take to grow cayenne peppers?
Cayenne peppers typically take around three months after planting to produce harvestable fruits. They should continue to produce as long as the weather remains warm.
Do cayenne peppers come back every year?
Cayenne peppers are perennial plants in warm climates. However, most gardeners grow them as annuals and replace them with new plants each year.