Scotch bonnet peppers are one of the classical hot peppers. And pepper-heads love to grow them for the taste and, honestly, the bragging rights.
Kidding aside, Scotch bonnets are hot yet flavorful and can be grown in a pot, container or grow bag.
And as long as you the basics right, you are in for a real treat.
Growing hot peppers is viewed as difficult by many home gardeners. This is a truth that requires modification.
If you learn nothing else from this guide, remember that it is the first 6-8 weeks that pose the real challenge.
Get your seeds to germinate and get past that first pot-up into a nursery pot, and you should be good to go.
Quick summary: Start your scotch bonnet seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost. Scotch bonnet seeds need light to germinate, place seeds on top of your seed starting mix and cover them with a thin layer of vermiculite. Cover the pot but ensure good air circulation and place the pot on a warm surface with good access to light. Keep the pot moist and remove the cover when you see the first leaves. Pot up seedlings when you see at least two sets of true leaves. Move plant outdoors when the minimum daily temperature is above 15 deg. Celsius / 59 deg. Fahrenheit.
- It all starts with your seeds
- How and when to start your scotch bonnet seeds
- Caring for the pepper seedlings
- Caring for the scotch bonnet pepper plant
- Scotch bonnets and pests
- Harvesting scotch bonnet peppers
- Using scotch bonnet peppers
- Characteristics of Scotch Bonnet Peppers
- Frequently Asked Questions
It all starts with your seeds
Choose quality seeds from a reputable vendor. And then, check to see if the seeds are viable before you plant.
What do you mean by quality seeds, you ask?
Choose a vendor with a good reputation and ideally specialized in peppers. Hot peppers tend to come in packages with only a handful of seeds why quality matters. We need most, if not all, of that handful of seeds to germinate.
When you buy online, you are often buying blindly. This is where recommendations and reviews come into play, but depending on where you live, using local vendors may make more sense.
When I can inspect the seeds before I buy, I look for:
- Information on seed packet: Look for the date seeds were packed, the expected germination rate, the number of seeds in the packet, and the expected germination time.
- Size and uniformity: Here, I look for seeds of similar size and shape. From experience, larger seeds perform better than tiny seeds.
- Damage or discoloration: Inspect seeds for visible damage or tears and seeds that are dark or oddly colored. I look for seeds that are yellow or light brown in color.
Confused about hybrid vs. heirloom seeds? Hybrid seeds are developed by crossing two different varieties of peppers and often carry the most desirable traits from both varieties. Hybrids often benefit from better disease resistance and higher yields but are not the original. Heirloom seeds are the seeds of the original plant with traits and attributes passed down for generations. Many pepper heads prefer heirloom seeds as they have unique flavors and characteristics.
Checking to see if seeds are viable
Hot peppers like scotch bonnet peppers can take time to germinate. From my experience, it can take 20-30 days for seeds to germinate and sprout their first leaves.
And waiting up to 30 days to find out that the seeds were damaged or dead and failed to germinate is no fun.
Pre-germinating the seeds is the best way to ensure you have viable seeds. Learn how to pre-geminate your seeds here: “Pre-germinating seeds for increased efficiency.”
Another more straightforward method is to place your seeds in a glass of water overnight. When you check back the next day, the seeds floating on top are dead or empty and will not germinate.
How and when to start your scotch bonnet seeds
Plant your seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost. Peppers take time to develop; if you have space indoors, starting earlier will result in an earlier harvest.
Before moving on to the steps, you must pay attention to Light and Heat.
Scotch Bonnet Pepper seeds require warm soil and light to germinate successfully.
Place the seeds on top of warm soil (26-32 degrees Celsius / 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit), press gently to ensure seed-to-soil contact, add a light sprinkling of vermiculite, cover, and place the seed starting tray under a grow light or another source of light.
Will scotch bonnet seeds germinate without a light source? Honestly, I don’t know. All seed packets I have used state that the seeds require light to germinate. Check your seed packet and follow the instructions.
Step-by-step seed starting instructions:
- Fill the seed starting tray with your pre-moistened seed starting mix
- Place the seed on the surface and press gently to ensure seed-to-soil contact
- Cover the seeds with a light sprinkling of vermiculite (optional)
- Mist the seed starting tray using a spray bottle
- Place the seed starting tray on a heat mat or other warm surface
- Cover the seed starting tray
- Place the seed starting tray under a grow light or another source of light
The vermiculite helps retain soil moisture while allowing light to pass through.
Caring for the pepper seedlings
Your seedlings require 16 hours of light and 8 hours of rest. Use a grow light or place them in a location with good natural light.
Keep soil moist but not wet, and strive to keep an even soil moisture level. Use a spray bottle to mist the seed starting tray.
Lift the cover if you see condensation forming on the inside. Place it back after 10-15 minutes.
Remove the cover and adjust the temperature to 18-22 degrees Celsius / 64-72 degrees Fahrenheit when you see the first leaves sprout.
If you use a soilless seed starting mix, add half the recommended dosage of liquid fertilizer when you see one set of true leaves.
When you see 2-3 sets of true leaves, your seedlings can be transplanted into a larger nursery pot. Use fertile, slightly acidic to neutral potting soil (pH 6.0-7.0) for your nursery pots.
Give the seedlings half the recommended dosage of liquid fertilizer to help them grow and develop.
As the seedlings grow, be prepared to pot them up when you see roots protrude from the drainage holes at the bottom of the nursery pot.
Resist the temptation to pot the seedlings in a large container at once. Large containers need a lot of soil, making it more difficult to control soil moisture.
I pot up my pepper plants 2-3 times before they are finally moved to their final planting location.
Caring for the scotch bonnet pepper plant
After a couple of pot ups, your pepper plants are finally ready to move to their final growing location.
The temperature should be in the low 20s Celsius / low 70s Fahrenheit before you start planning to move your plants outdoors.
Choose a location with full sun but ensure the plant gets some protection during the hottest parts of the day to avoid sun scalding and having to water too often.
Pot, container, or grow bag
I prefer to grow hot peppers in larger-sized DIY grow bags, but you can use any larger-sized container holding a minimum of 20 liters/ 5 gallons of soil.
Pepper plants can also be planted directly in the ground. Give each plant 50 cm / 20 inches of growing space.
Hardening off scotch bonnet plants
Before moving your plants outdoors, they must be hardened off to gradually acclimate to their new growing environment.
The hardening-off process takes about a week; where you start by placing your plants in a shady location for one hour to then gradually increase the time spent outdoors.
Take care to protect the plant from exposure to direct sunlight during the first couple of days.
Fertilizing scotch bonnet peppers
Scotch bonnet plants are hungry feeders and require regular fertilizing to grow and thrive.
Feed your plants a balanced liquid fertilizer with an NPK 10-10-10 weekly. At the initial growth stage, you want high levels of Nitrogen to promote the development of foliage and branches.
As the plant enters the flowering and fruiting stage, switch to fertilizers with higher Potassium and Phosphorus levels to maximize your yield.
Giving too much Nitrogen during the flowering and fruiting stage will result in luch, busky plants with fewer fruits.
Watering scotch bonnet peppers
Scotch bonnet plants are hungry feeders and require regular fertilizing to grow and thrive.
Pepper plants are thirsty, and you do not want the plant to dry out completely.
On the other hand, over-watering will risk suffocating the root system and lead to yellowing leaves and low-yielding, lackluster plants.
Aim to maintain even soil moisture, and do not be afraid to let the top 3 cm / 1 inch of soil dry out slightly.
Insert your finger into the soil, and when it feels dry below the second knuckle, it is safe to water your plants.
Be prepared to water often during hot weather, as mature pepper plants use a lot of water when it is hot.
Staking scotch bonnet peppers
Stake your plants early, before they need it.
Fitting your support early will ensure that the plant grows with your support structure. Fitting support for a mature plant is more challenging, and there is always a risk of damaging the plant.
Pruning main stem
Scotch bonnet plants do not need pruning, but I do remove all leaves and side branches from the bottom 10 cm / 5 inches of my scotch bonnet pepper plants.
This approach is sometimes labeled bottom pruning and reduces the risk of leaves touching the soil with the increased risk of attracting soil-borne pathogens and diseases.
Providing sufficient light and heat
Scotch bonnet pepper plants want full sun to grow and produce a rich yield. Ensure your plants receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. When growing indoors, use grow lights to supplement the natural light.
But do not overexpose your plants to direct sunlight. An ideal location provides full sun in the morning and afternoon but is partially shielded during the hottest times of the day.
Scotch bonnets and pests
Prevention is best, but for me, early detection has been key.
Inspect your plants daily and watch for changes in leaf coloration, distorted or curling leaves, and sticky residue on leaves.
Start by examining the new, fresh growth, which often attracts pests.
I have found ants to be a fantastic indicator of an aphid infestation. Ants milk the aphids for the sugary substance they secrete, and lots of ants are a sure way indication of aphids.
I manually remove most pests and stay at it, but surrender to a homemade solution of water and dish soap or my Neem oil and water spray to control infestations.
You can also buy commercial organic insecticides. Ensure you read, understand, and follow the instructions carefully before treating your plants.
Spray your plants early morning or evening to avoid exposing the treated plants to direct sun during peak sunlight hours.
Harvesting scotch bonnet peppers
Scotch bonnet peppers are ready to be harvested when the whole fruit has changed color.
Some peppers, like bell peppers, can be picked early for a crunchier and more textured fruit. But for hotter peppers like scotch bonnets and Bhut Jolokias, you want the fruit to mature on the plant fully.
When can I harvest the scotch bonnet peppers?
Expect to see fruits after about 120 days. Then the fruits will take about another month to ripen and mature. A fully mature fruit grows to approximately 3-5 cm / 1-2 inches in size.
If you are starting peppers from seed: It will take up to 4 months from starting your seeds until you can harvest mature scotch bonnet peppers.
If you buy seedlings from a local nursery: Plants will need approximately 120 days to produce ripe and mature fruits ready for harvesting.
Drying, freezing, and storing peppers
Always wear gloves when harvesting hot peppers like scotch bonnets, and avoid touching your skin, face, and eyes.
Cut the peppers from the stem using sharp garden scissors, leaving about 3 cm / 1 inch of stem attached to the harvested pepper.
Leaving part of the stem intact is especially useful if you dry your peppers in a dry, well-ventilated area. Tie the stem to a string, hang them up, and later store the dry peppers in an airtight container for later use.
You can also use a dehydrator or speed up the process using your oven on low heat.
I like to freeze my peppers whole. Harvest the peppers, dry them with a clean cloth, place them in a freezer bag, and place them in the freezer. This way we have access to fresh peppers all year long.
Using scotch bonnet peppers
Always use hot peppers like scotch bonnets responsibly in recipes. You may love the hot taste, but we all have different tolerance levels for heat.
Scotch bonnet peppers are known for their intense heat level, so use them sparingly in recipes.
If you are new to cooking with hot peppers, start with a small amount and then gradually increase to your desired level of spiciness. Remember, you can always add more heat as needed.
It is only your imagination that will limit your use of scotch bonnet peppers. Use for jerk chicken, stews, soups, hot sauces, rubs, oven-baked vegetables, and sauces. The fruity yet spicy flavor is traditionally associated with authentic Caribbean dishes, but be brave and experiment responsibly.
Characteristics of Scotch Bonnet Peppers
Scotch bonnet peppers come in different varieties and colors, where red, yellow, orange, and brown are most common.
My favorite is the traditional red “Capsicum chinense” which always delivers a nice punch and flavor profile.
Heat and Spice Levels
Scotch bonnet peppers rated between 100,000 and 350,000 on the Scoville scale.
The level of heart your peppers will deliver depends on many factors, including temperature, watering, overall growing conditions, and when you harvest the fruits.
If you follow this guide and allow your fruits to mature on the plant, you will harvest fiery hot scotch bonnets.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take for peppers to grow from seed to harvest?
From my experience, it takes approximately4 months for scotch bonnet peppers to develop from seed to harvest.
How many peppers does a scotch bonnet plant produce?
On average, one scotch bonnet plant can produce 25-50 peppers, depending on growing conditions and the general level of care the plant receives.
Can you grow scotch bonnets outside?
Yes, in warmer climates, you can grow Scotch bonnet plants outside.
For me, in zone 7, I start all plants indoors and then grow some indoors and others in greenhouses.
Can I grow scotch bonnet peppers in pots?
Yes, scotch bonnets grow well in pots, containers, and grow bags if you give the plant good drainage and a minimum of 20 liters / 5 gallons of soil.