It’s quiet around here lately. Sorry. Jamie and I are having our spirits crushed by our #1 summer (now autumn, now winter) project — stripping and repainting the exterior walls on our house — and it’s making me feel overwhelmed by all things home-related at the moment, even my beloved plants. And yet, the chili pepper that lives in our living room is thriving and as cheery as ever. We’ve had two years to get to know each other, and I think I’ve got him figured out.
Back when Jamie and I were living in an apartment, one with no private outdoor area, I made use of the large, north-facing window in our living room and stuck a bunch of plants in front of it. (Apartment gardening!) I potted a few chili seedlings — at the time, if you wanted anything other than medium-hot Thai chilies, you had to grow them yourself — and they thrived in that mini-hothouse environment. I was growing chilies year-round! Yay!
And then I got Texas Pete, my habanero chili. He came home as a weeny, bug-eaten sprout two years ago during an end-of-summer clearance sale, and he’s grown quite a lot since then, surviving the move and a couple of re-pots. A chili plant can live for years in the right environment, and I’ve learned a few things about successfully growing chili peppers.
WHAT YOU NEED FOR INDOOR CHILI PEPPERS:
- Light and consistent, warm temperatures. I was pretty confident about growing chilis when we moved into our house… and then watched in horror as every chili plant either died or failed to thrive outdoors over the past two summers. Turns out they don’t like our hot-and-cold summers; they just want consistent warmth. If they’re indoors, they need a window with all the direct sun you can throw at it.
- Food and water. Chilies are thirsty plants, but they’re also fairly resilient if you don’t feed or water them straight away. (They’ll also let you know when they’re lacking either, whether from wilted leaves or discolouration.) I mixed a healthy amount of water-retaining crystals into the potting mix, and I’ll give the plant a sprinkle of Osmocote slow-release fertiliser once or twice a year.
- Comfortable pots. I learned this the hard way: chilies don’t like to be under-potted or over-potted. They have dense, water-sucking rootballs that leave them thirsty if their pot is too small, and if the pot is too big, too much water will sit in the bottom and make the plant susceptible to root rot. Texas Pete has been repotted twice in two years; if water seems to disappear as soon as it’s poured in, it might be time to upgrade its pot.
- The occasional hard trim. Chilies do well with a haircut every so often. My habanero has bushy, unwieldy growth that needs a trim every now and again, and the best time to cut it back is in early spring, before its main flush of growth.
- If indoors: hand pollination. I use a small paintbrush sometimes for getting chili flowers to set fruit. It makes me so happy to see bitty peppers!
This corner of our living room faces north-west, so I sometimes put other house plants here when I want them to get an extra boost. The snake plant living in Don Draper’s ashtray survives in darker aspects just fine, but I left it here for a few weeks and there’s a little pup popping up at the base. Awww.
Sidenote: my scented candles have been getting some use lately. I like earthy scents, and that Paddywax tobacco-patchouli candle is heaven. (The other tins are coffee and potpourri-scented.) And yeah, those wood-slice coasters are the twee-est thing, but they’re absorbent so I like them.
That birch tree already has much fewer leaves on it than when I took these photos. Texas Pete already lives the pampered indoor lifestyle, but I’m sure he’s extra-relieved to be indoors right about now. I got you, buddy!