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Jul 26, 2012 09:31 AM

Habanero peppers - are they always slow to fruit?

I have a bunch of peppers growing on my deck and in my garden plot; all have fruited and been harvested except those slowpoke habaneros. I've got jalapenos, baby bells, serrano, poblano, fish, hungarian wax, and several whose ancestory is unknown.

I've never grown habaneros before so I wonder if this is normal or if they need something I'm not providing? I'm in the DC area.

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  1. I've never grown habaneros or the other higher scoville rated chiles personally, but everything that I've seen, discussed, researched, and read points to them always taking their sweet time to develop. It makes sense, as I know many people who overwinter their special chile plants to get an earlier jump on the next years crop, so they don't have to wait so long.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Novelli

      Thanks for the info. A follow up question, though. When you say overwinter, do you mean this year's mature plant will last for another season? Or sow seeds in the fall and overwinter those? I do have access to a greenhouse for a couple of special plants. To date, I've been putting a couple of mature geraniums in there and then bring them out in the spring.

      1. re: tcamp

        Correct! This year's plant will last for another season, and possibly many more seasons, if taken well care of.
        I have 4 chile plants in the ground that have stayed viable and productive for 4 years in a row now (I live in SoCal so there's no worries of frost).

        You can do exactly as you said. Once the season ends, you can take those plants (the potted ones), and keep them in a greenhouse or bring indoors as sort of a climate control, and to avoid any exposure to frost. Keep them in a sunny spot and then put them back out after your last frost date. You'll get some good pickin's earlier in the year, and even more later in the summer.

    2. Novelli's points are excellent.

      I've grown habeneros in the past and found that they didn't hit their stride unless the summer is really warm. They will be later than other hot varieties.

      I've also overwintered both hot and Bell varieties by potting them up, bringing them indoors by mid October, and setting the plants back out the next May. Since space is precious in my garden I have resorted to growing my peppers in big pots.

      My record for a single overwintered plant has been about 5 years. The first time I decided to overwinter a pepper, just for the sake of grins and giggles, I grew a hot pepper (Thai) in a shady portion of the garden with unimproved soil. It looked like a stick and was covered with aphids. It produced no fruits. I potted it up, brought it indoors, and spent the winter battling aphids. The next May, I re-potted it with fresh potting soil and organic fertilizer. The rest is history, so to speak.

      Overwintering them indoors is necessary in all but the mildest winter climates. Here are some of the tricks I employ to overwinter the plants successfully. Keep in mind that I am in Oregon, and you may have to adjust your timing for DC.

      1) Before the first frost -and while temps are slightly warm- dig the pepper plant out of the ground.
      2) Give the roots a slight pruning. Give the plant a slight pruning.
      3) Put the plant in a big pot and fill it up with fresh potting soil. Shake off as much soil as possible. Then fill it up with the new potting soil. Do not add fertilizer.This will greatly reduce the chance of disease and insects taking over during the winter. Avoid garden soil and compost.
      4) Water thoroughly, let sit for a day in a shady spot, and then bring indoors. My plants spend the winter by a southern facing window.
      5) You may get a few peppers during the winter. They may not be very piquant. On the other hand, I remove any blossoms to insure that the plant is hibernating. When the plant goes back outside next spring, its "urge" to blossom is great.
      6) Don't over water during the winter. This promotes disease and fungus gnats.
      7) Monitor the plants for fungus gnats and aphids. Yellow sticky traps and restrained watering will keep the fungus gnat population down. Insecticidal soap will cure the aphids.
      8) Along about mid April, I then prepare for the upcoming season. I prune off any branches or leaves that have died. I'll give the plant gradual exposure to the great outdoors.
      9) At the beginning of May, I re-pot the pepper again with fresh potting soil and a cup of organic fertilizer. Since it is going outdoors, you can add compost as well.
      10) The plant is hardened off, it has new, fresh soil, and everything seems to have a green light. Not so fast. I live in Oregon, where spring seems to revert to winter. I'll place a wall-o-water over the plant (if it fits), or wrap some row cover around it, or place the pot inside a tent covered with visqueen. When our night time temps finally reach the 50's, I'll bring the plant out to the great outdoors. (You could grow the pepper underneath a visqueen cloche all summer if you live in a cool area, but I wouldn't recommend this for DC.)
      11) The plant now needs regular watering. A midsummer feeding of organic fertilizer is appreciated. At this point, sit back and await the harvest.
      12) Repeat the cycle.

      2 Replies
      1. re: farrago

        Thanks much for the details. My two habaneros are already in pots so I will definately overwinter them in the greenhouse. Peppers generally are one of my most successful crops so I probably won't bother overwintering the other varieties at this point as space is very limited. It is for sure plenty hot here this summer and fairly dry too so the peppers are lovin' life.

        I don't know why I figured they were annuals that would last one season only...

        1. re: tcamp

          "I don't know why I figured they were annuals that would last one season only..."

          They can last a very long time, up to 10 years or longer. In climates without frost they can become very large and tree-like depending on the variety. When they get older they start to lose vigor at some point and spider mites or some other pest will finally overwhelm them and take them out.

      2. Yes, they take a long time--I think usually around 100 days to maturity. They also need a lot of sun and warmth for maximum production.

        Different varieties of peppers will have different temperature tolerances when it comes to overwintering. In my area, it gets a bit cold in the winter (35F average lowest temperature). My pepper plants usually get too big to overwinter indoors. Most of them die outside, but I've had three serrano pepper plants that have lasted five years. They are still productive today.

        1 Reply
        1. re: raytamsgv

          It doesn't really matter how big they get since you can prune them to a much smaller size to bring indoors. You can hack away and the plant will grow back just fine. I overwintered a pretty large naga morich from last year that I dug up from the ground. It was about 5' tall with a canopy with a diameter of about 6', it produced hundreds of peppers last year. Around late September I dug it up, cut it down to about 9 inches tall leaving about 4-5 main branches and a few leaves, trimmed the root ball back to about grapefruit size, untangled all the tangled roots and put it in potting mix in a 1 gallon pot. I overwintered about 11 or 12 peppers last year. If you overwinter, be prepared to fight aphids and fungus gnats. Pyrethrins will wipe out the aphids and there are dunks for the fungus gnats, the fungus gnats don't do a lot of damage they're just annoying.

          Habaneros are a little slower than annuums (jalapeno, poblano, bell, serrano, etc.), especially at the beginning, but not by that much. They grow pretty quickly once they get going and can easily produce a lot of peppers in a decently long growing season. I don't bother overwintering them, but I start them about 3 weeks before annuums.

          The ones I overwinter are usually super hots which usually take about a month longer than habaneros, wild types like chiltepines that really get productive year 2 and on, and pubescens (rocotos, manzanos) which are very difficult to get to produce more than a few peppers the first year. The pubescens don't like hot temperatures either which makes them really hard to get to produce well here (Indiana).

          Serranos are definitely one of the most cold-tolerant peppers. They always produce long into the cold temperatures and are always the last plants to die. They usually don't die here until sometime in November weeks or even a month after the others have died.

        2. This is my first year from growing habs and the plant is covered with green pods but they are now starting to turn orange. I was very surprised that the plant has stayed low and spreads more then growing upright.

          This is also the first year that I have tried to grow ghost peppers and that plant is proving to be a horticultural prima-donna. The seeds took forever to sprout and the early growth was very slow. I have it in a southern exposure so it gets plenty of light but evidently it doesn't want as much as it is getting because I have been forced to build a shade cover of burlap around it to prevent it from wilting in the mid-wafter noon heat. I'm in zone 6A so its not exactly Texas. I have not seen a single flower yet but I'm hoping for at least 1 before September.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Kelli2006

            The short, bushy growth pattern of habaneros are normal for that species (capsicum chinense), as opposed to the annuums which grow up more than out.

            Which are you referring to when you say "ghost pepper?" Bhut jolokias are a little on the finicky side, but bih jolokia and especially naga morich are much easier to grow. Naga morich are less picky about conditions, faster growing, more productive, faster to maturity, and have less pollination issues, with the same heat and flavor as bhut jolokias. Bhut jolokias always germinate very quickly for me (7-12 days for most of them), but they're very sensitive to fertilizer burn, experience a high level of flower drop, and take a very long time to maturity. You might want to try naga morich which have basically the same growth patterns as habaneros except that they get larger.

            Is your plant in a pot or in the ground? They can handle full sun and high temperatures just fine as long as the roots are healthy, the root zone temperatures aren't extremely high, and they have adequate water. You're in the same zone as I, you shouldn't need to provide any shade. These plants come from places much hotter than where we live. It sounds like there is some kind of issue with the roots.

          2. Whew, finally getting some decent habaneros on my plants. Not quite ready to harvest them yet but the waiting was easier thanks to the feedback I got to my OP.

            1 Reply