Gardening How-to Articles

Growing Chile Peppers Indoors

It's a challenge to grow chile peppers indoors. Like tomatoes, they need an environment that's warmer and brighter than most homes. However, growing chiles indoors is a worthwhile project if you don't have a garden. The best indoor environment for chiles is a greenhouse, of course, but you can also grow them with some success under lights.

An indoor pepper plant will probably never grow as large as one planted outside, and the fruits will most likely be a bit smaller. Selecting plants that grow well in containers will give you the best shot at a good indoor chile crop. The best chiles to grow indoors are the ornamental and smaller hot chiles that are often grown outdoors as container plants. Some chile varieties that grow well indoors and in containers are piqu'ns, chiltepins, habaneros, and Thai peppers (see "Encyclopedia of Chiles").

These small plants have a long growing season. They fruit and flower for a longer period than short-season chiles, so you will have a greater chance of harvesting fruits from them. The small chiles grow to 6 to 12 inches in height with an equal diameter. Since the peppers stand out prominently above the foliage, these plants make colorful and decorative houseplants. These chiles can be very pungent.

Growing requirements for these smaller, long-season peppers are the same as for other chiles. Outdoors in the southwestern United States where they grow best, chiles like hot daytime temperatures—80° to 90°F plus—and warm nighttime temperatures of about 70°F. To succeed with chile peppers, your home or greenhouse temperatures should be within 20°F of this optimum range. Artificial light, such as a fluorescent tube, placed 3 inches above the plants will raise the temperature by about 10°F. A heat mat beneath the plants will also provide warmth.

Keep the Chiles Coming

If you have been growing chiles outdoors in the garden and want to prolong the harvest season, try digging some of the smaller ornamental peppers, potting them, and bringing them indoors. If you have the space and the desire, try to keep some going all year long.

They will have a tendency to slow down during the winter months and may lose some leaves and turn a pale green, but do not overfertilize them. Let them rest, consider cutting them back if they get leggy, and look for new growth in the spring.

The most important factor in growing chiles is light. Just to survive they need at least six hours of bright sunlight a day (southern exposure is best for this) and about eight hours of indirect light (from eastern or western exposure). If you are growing peppers on a windowsill and they appear to be just hanging on, supplement their natural light with artificial light. If you can put your indoor chile plants outside on a porch, balcony, or deck for the summer season, this will benefit them enormously.

If you are using only artificial light, your chiles will need 16 hours of light a day, so you might want to place them in an out-of-the-way corner, a closet, or the basement. The plants do need some rest, so it's a good idea to set the lights on a timer that turns the lights on and off automatically. You don't have to buy fancy growlights—common fluorescent fixtures with either ordinary cool white or warm white tubes will do. The size and number of fixtures will depend on how many plants you want to grow. You can hang the lights from a ceiling or shelf, or under a work table. Attach chains to the fixtures so that you can easily raise and lower them. Place the lights about 3 inches above the plants and raise them as the plants grow taller, maintaining that 3-inch distance from the plants.

As your chiles grow in their containers, you may have to transplant them more than once. A 10- to 12-inch pot will probably be large enough to grow a small plant to maturity. For larger chiles use a 16- to 18-inch pot. Be sure that your pots have adequate drainage; you'll need a saucer, underliner, or tray on which to place the pots.

Commercial soilless mixes of spaghnum peat or composted bark combined with equal parts of vermiculite or perlite are good for growing chiles. Water the chiles well when you transplant them into a new pot. As they grow, be careful not to overwater them. Keep the plants on the slightly damp to dry side; the medium will turn a lighter color as it dries out. Feed your chiles every three weeks, or according to the fertilizer manufacturer's directions. Kelp and fish emulsion are good organic fertilizers, and granular or concentrated liquids that are mixed with water are widely available and work well.

Chiles will start to mature about 10 to 12 weeks after you have transplanted them and will continue to bear fruit for several months. Harvest them when the fruits are shiny and bright green or beginning to turn yellow, orange, or red, depending on the variety. If your chiles appear to be under attack by bugs or pathogens, consult "Disorders, Pests, and Diseases of Chiles."

Susan Belsinger is a food writer and photographer.


  • Sherrie April 28, 2021

    I didn’t prune my Thai chili birds eye plant and it was very cold this past winter so the plant only grew one main stem that is really tall and forks to two top stems. I don’t see any nodes that are going to grow leaves on the 16” plant. What can I do now that it’s already one year old, on its second season of growing and leggy? I want more leaves to Sirius on the 15” of bare trunk.

  • Giuliana de Winter March 7, 2021

    My two sweet pepper plants, now six months old, were doing beautifully. They have sixteen peppers between them, with eight already a bright orange. In the last few days, however, six of the orange peppers (five on one plant and one on the other) are shriveled up, no longer firm and shiny. What could be causing this and is there any chance of reviving them? What can be done to prevent the others from the same fate? Would be most grateful for any help. Thank you very much.

  • Ben January 15, 2021

    I may be late to the party but….Yes! You must manually pollinate. Pepper plants are able to self pollinate but especially with indoor plants the flowers can fail to self pollinate. They don’t experience the same entropy (wind, insects, etc.) as outdoor plants that will allow the pollen to transfer. You really don’t have to be gentle about it either, just rub your finger in each flower. You will know you have done it right when you see “Cheeto dust” on your finger tip.

  • Frederick October 23, 2017

    In response to previous comments: It sounds like you didn’t pollinate the blossoms; just use a damp artist paintbrush to transfer pollen manually.

  • Ruth September 21, 2017

    My habaneros had hundreds of blossoms too and no fruit at all.

  • Lisa April 10, 2016

    My red Thai chili pepper plant bears hundreds of flowers, but they keep falling off one after another and bear almost no fruit. What’s wrong and what should I do about that? Many thanks! Love your articles, very helpful.

Submit a Comment

Please keep your comments relevant to this article. Comments are moderated and will be posted after BBG staff review. Your email address is required; it will not be displayed, but may be needed to confirm your comments.

Image, top of page: Elizabeth Peters