ABOUT THE PLANT
Description: Habanero pepper is a fiery chile with a sweet, fruity, somewhat floral flavor. The pods are about 1 ½-2” long and 1 ½ " wide, boxy looking, usually orange or red. It is prized for its level of heat, 200,000 – 350,000 SHU.
Origin: Peppers originate in South and Central America. The Habanero, which translates to mean "from Havana," are thought to have come from Cuba. There are various peppers of the chinense species such as the Habanero, which are grown throughout the Caribbean islands.
Usage: A favorite for hot sauces, spicy salsas, and imparting heat and flavor into many dishes. Also popular for making hot pepper jelly.
Interesting facts: The Carolina Reaper pepper has an average measure of 1,641,183 Scoville Heat Units and is considered the hottest pepper in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
HOW TO GROW
General requirements: The requirements to consider are temperature, light, soil, water, and nutrients.
Peppers like heat and will thrive between 60 and 80 °F. However, too much warmer, and they will fail to flower and set fruit. Most peppers will drop their blooms when daytime temperatures get much above 90/ in combination with night temperatures above 75 degrees F. Above 95 ° F stops the plant from growing. Shading during the hottest part of summer can help.
They love the sunshine, so they need at least six to eight hours daily.
The soil should be a well-drained, fertile, sandy loam with a slightly acidic pH of between 6.2 and 7.0. Enrich it with several inches of organic matter, compost, or aged animal manure mixed into the upper 4-8 inches of soil before planting. Minerals and micronutrients are also important, including phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Peppers do best when watered slowly and deeply. Water your plants early in the morning before the sun gets too hot. Always water at the base of the plant. Drip irrigation would be ideal. Mulching around the plants will conserve soil moisture. Keep the soil moist but never soggy.
Mix a continuous-release, balanced, or 5-10-10 fertilizer into the soil when you first transplant them into the garden. To encourage leaf production, pinch back growing tips. This will help shade the developing fruits and prevents sun-scald in hot summers. When they start to flower, side dress with more continuous-release fertilizer. Another thing to consider is support for the plants. The weight of many heavy fruits can break branches of the plant or even topple the plant, so they will need some extra support. Use a tomato cage set directly into the pot or garden at the time of planting to avoid disturbing roots later. In addition to the cage, you could use stakes, trellises, or fencing for more support.
In the garden: You will need to live in a warm climate and have a long growing season in order to plant pepper seeds directly in the ground. Unfortunately, pepper plants cannot tolerate frost, so wait until a few weeks after the last spring frost to plant seeds. Check to see that the soil temperature is at least 65 °F. Because the plants didn't have a 6–8-week indoor jump start, direct sowing will lead to a later harvest. Direct sow seeds ¼ inch deep, 1 foot apart in rows 3 feet apart. When seedlings are 4 inches high, gently thin them to 2 feet apart and transplant the thinnings. Always keep the soil moist but not soggy.
In containers: To grow peppers in containers, you will need a pot with good drainage at least 12 inches in diameter and 12 inches high for dwarf varieties. For other varieties, the bigger the container, the better. They will need high-quality potting soil and receive plenty of sun, water, and fertilizer. Some potting mixes do have fertilizer mixed in, but those nutrients leach out quickly due to more frequent watering. As noted above, supplemental feeding with a balanced continuous-release fertilizer will be required. Sow two or three seeds per container, and when they have grown 4 inches, remove all but one. Transplant the ones you removed. A good rule for containers is to water until water runs freely from the bottom.
Transplanting: About 6-8 weeks before the average last frost date in your area, start seeds indoors. Sow the seeds in flats, cells, or 4- inch peat pots. Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep in a seed starting mix and keep the soil evenly moist and warm until germination. Indoor temperatures should be at least 70 °F. Use a heat mat if possible. After the seeds have germinated, take them off the heat mat and move the seedlings to a bright window or under grow lights for 16 hours daily. Start applying a balanced liquid fertilizer once every two weeks at half strength, after the first set of true leaves appears. From the flats or cells, move individual seedlings to 4-inch peat pots and let them grow to 4-6 inches. Whether they will be transplanted into an outside container or the garden, the same general requirements as noted above apply. Make sure nighttime temperatures are consistently 55 degrees F or higher. Before transplanting, harden off the plants by placing them outdoors for a few hours, increasing the time by a couple of hours each day until they can stay out overnight. At planting time, add a balanced, slow-release fertilizer to the planting hole along with a handful of bone meal (or 2 Tbls crushed eggshells) which will help to prevent blossom end rot. Place the plant, peat pot and all, in the hole so that the plant stem is about an inch deeper than it was. This will allow more roots to develop along the buried stem. After planting, mulch the soil surface with 1-2 inches of organic matter such as straw, shredded bark, or leaves which will help retain moisture and suppress weeds.
Fruits: Fruit can be picked once it is firm and has reached the desired size; however, the sweetness can increase dramatically as the fruit ripens. Do not pull them off the plant when you are ready to start picking the peppers. Instead, cut them from the plant with a sharp knife or scissors. This will help encourage the rest of the plant to continue thriving without harming the parts that stay behind. To store them and preserve their freshness, seal them in a bag in the freezer or refrigerator. You can also keep them in the produce section of your refrigerator without the bag. On average, peppers will last one to two weeks in the fridge.
Seeds: Decide from which peppers you are going to save the seeds. Let them remain on the plant until they become entirely ripe and begin to wrinkle. Then pick them and remove the seeds. Remove any damaged or discolored seeds, then spread them out on paper towels or newspaper to dry. Put them in a warm area out of direct sunlight. Mix the seeds around every couple of days to ensure the bottom layer is drying. It may take a week or more to ensure the seeds are dry enough. Dry seeds will be quite brittle. Store the seeds in a cool, dark, dry area. Store them in airtight plastic bags or a Tupperware-type container.
Common name: Habanero, Scotch Bonnet
Latin name: Capsicum chinense
Growth habit: Upright herbaceous bush
Life cycle: annual
USDA Zones: 3-12
Seeds per ounce: about 4500