How to Grow Cayenne Pepper

A cluster of cayenne peppers in a gardeners hand

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If you want to add a little bit of spice to your garden, the cayenne pepper plant might be the perfect choice for you. Cayenne peppers (Capsicum annuum) are named for the French Guiana city of Cayenne, and are a member of the nightshade family of Solanaceae.

Commonly referred to as cow horn peppers, guinea spice, aleva or bird peppers, you might be most familiar with these plants in their powdered form of red pepper, which is used as a seasoning in an array of cuisines, as well as medicinally.

They are related to bell peppers, jalapeños and other peppers, but tend to pack just a little bit more punch when it comes to heat. On the Scoville scale, cayenne pepper is rated at 30,000 to 50,000 units, which means it spicy but not so intense that you'll be chugging water after consumption.

These plants also produce flowers that are white to slightly purple in color, and are shaped like a bell.

  Botanical Name   Capsicum annuum
  Common Name  Cayenne pepper
  Plant Type  Perennial/annual
  Mature Size  4-6 inches
Sun Exposure  Full sun
  Soil Type  Moist, well-drained
  Soil pH  Neutral pH
  Bloom Time  Spring/Summer
  Flower Color  White/purple
  Hardiness Zones  3-9
  Native Area  Tropical South/Central America
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

Cayenne Pepper Plant Care

Not surprisingly, cayenne pepper plants will require quite a bit of heat to grow. These mostly perennial plants can be grown as annuals in temperate areas but they grow best in regions that can closely mimic the conditions of their native sub-tropical and tropical regions in South and Central America.

Light

The cayenne pepper plant will grow best when exposed to full sunlight. Both plant positioning and spacing will be critical to ensure the seedlings not only survive but continue to produce peppers throughout the season.

Water

Watering cayenne pepper plants can be a delicate process. They do require moist soil, but they should not be overwatered. If the soil becomes either too dry or too saturated, the plant's foliage can turn yellow.

Soil

Cayenne pepper plants require moist soil with a neutral pH. In order to reduce the growth of weeds and help conserve water, organic mulch and plastic sheeting can be used until the soil has warmed up to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

It's also important to keep the soil's nitrogen levels low, as excessive nitrogen can cause the plants to grow more foliage instead of producing impressive pepper fruits.

Temperature and Humidity

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

Fertilizer

Fertilizers and other soil modifiers can help adjust both the nitrogen and nutrient levels of the soil to help ensure the survival of your cayenne pepper plant.

Pruning

The cayenne pepper can be pruned as needed. Though the peppers can be pulled from the stem, it's recommended to snip the peppers from the plant to help prevent any damage. The fruit will be either partially or fully green and should be stored at 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

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, the seeds can be directly sown into the soil 10 to 14 days before the final frost of the year.

When starting your cayenne pepper plant, however, you'll likely have the most success by planting them indoors or, better yet, in a greenhouse. These plants are rather delicate and cannot tolerate either overly hot or cold conditions.

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

Be sure to 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 care should be taken to minimize the trauma. If you choose to transplant your cayenne peppers prior to the final frost of the season, they can be protected with hot caps, row covers, or black plastic.

Cayenne peppers will be ready to harvest in about 70 to 80 days and will be about four to six inches long when mature. You can continue to harvest the peppers until the first frost of fall.