Skip to content

Some like it hot

With snow on the ground and spring several weeks away, I’ve been trying to warm myself up by thinking about hot things. Since this is a gardening column, I’ll focus on hot peppers.
Hot pepper harvest from plants grown in mini-tunnels. Photo by Jackie Bantle

With snow on the ground and spring several weeks away, I’ve been trying to warm myself up by thinking about hot things. Since this is a gardening column, I’ll focus on hot peppers.

Pepper heat is measured in Scoville units (su) and is a measure of the amount of capsaicin. The hot capsaicin that burns your mouth and taste buds will burn all parts of your body that come in contact and make your life extremely uncomfortable for a while. After handling pepper plants and fruit, thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before touching your eyes, blowing your nose or going to the bathroom.

Our growing season is too short to direct seed peppers. However, with transplants planted in late May orearly June (after all chance of frost is past), hot peppers will easily mature before fall. To grow your own pepper transplants, start seedlings in late March. Provide plenty of warmth for germination. After germination, add bright light to the warmth until ready to transplant.

Hot peppers require full sun and heat in the garden. Dig in well-rotted compost or manure to create a rich, fertile site. They require ample water throughout the growing season (one inch of water per week). Plastic mulch on the soil along with a supported cloth crop cover will provide a warm environment for pepper roots and plants, even on cooler days. The cloth cover can be kept on for the entire growing season (lift to weed). Green fruit is mature enough to harvest when it is firm and waxy to the touch. Or leave them on the plant until later in the season when they ripen to orange or red for maximum flavour and heat.

One of my favorite hot peppers is Big Bomb (Stokes Seeds) which is a cherry type that matures to red early in the season, providing medium hot, attractive green or red peppers for your favourite salsa or chili.

If starting your own from seed, there are several hot pepper cultivars that I recommend for the Prairie garden:

Hot Hungarian Wax peppers (5,000 su) are light yellow/green, banana shaped and often confused with sweet banana peppers. [Blazing Banana (T&T Seeds), Inferno (Stokes), Super Hungarian Hot (Stokes) and Hungarian Yellow Hot (Early’s)]

Fresno Chili pepper is milder than jalapeno pepper but similar in shape with thinner walls. Time to maturity is usually shorter than jalapeno peppers. [Flaming Flare (Vesey’s Seeds)]

Jalapeno peppers (5,000 su), most commonly found with nachos and cheese, start out green and mature to red with their best flavour produced in late summer and early fall. Chipotle peppers (slightly hotter than fresh jalapeno peppers) are smoked and dried red jalapeno peppers. [Mucho Nacho (T&T Seeds), Early Jalapeno (Early’s) and El Jefe (William Dam Seeds)]

Serrano peppers (25,000 su) resemble miniature jalapeno peppers (one to 1.5 inches long) and mature from waxy green to orange or red. Usually the smaller the Serrano pepper, the hotter it is. [Serrano Del Sol (T&T Seeds)]

Cayenne peppers (60,000 su) easily mature during our growing season. They are usually five to six inches long and one-third to one inch. in diameter at the stem end. Cayenne peppers are used in Cajun recipes, cayenne pepper and many natural medicines in history known for their healing properties. [Cayenne Long (Early’s), Long Red Cayenne (Stokes), Cayanetta (Vesey’s Seeds) and Ring of Fire (Stokes)]

Thai chili peppers (150,000 su) are used mainly in Thai and other Asian curries. Thai peppers are not more than one inch long and range in color from green to red when fully mature. [Flame Hybrid (William Dam Seeds)]

Habanero and Scotch Bonnet peppers (325,000 to 500,000 su) are small lantern-shaped peppers (one to one and three-quarters inches long) that mature from green to red or orange. They require a long season to mature and should be protected with crop covers and plastic mulch. Scotch Bonnet peppers are typically smaller than habanero peppers and are popular in Caribbean cuisine. [Habanero (Early’s Farm & Garden), Burning Bush Hybrid (T&T Seeds)]

One of the world’s hottest peppers is Ghost Chile (Stokes Seeds). This pepper, originating from India, has a heat rating over 1,000,000 su. Like the habanero and Scotch bonnet peppers, Ghost Chile has a longer growing season than other hot peppers.

If you already grow hot peppers and are looking for some “hotter than h---.”  check out Pepper Joe’s website ( Although located in Maryland, U.S.A., I have ordered seeds from them without any problem with shipping to Canada.

Try growing some hot peppers in your garden or in a pot on your balcony. I guarantee that you will get some “blazing hot” results.

Bantle is a horticulturist living in Saskatoon. This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (;; NEW Check out our Bulletin Board or Calendar for upcoming garden information sessions, workshops and tours.