Gardening with Dave Allan: Could we start to grow chillies in our changing climate?

If you already grow peppers, you might want to try something a bit hotter and chillies fit the bill. Climate change is making our Scottish summers a bit drier and warmer and this suits chillies down to the ground. I haven’t been scurrying around keeping my chillies well hydrated, like tomatoes and cucumbers.

So how hot do you fancy? There are so many different varieties available, sold as seed or plants. We all taste things differently: I prefer ‘cool’ chillies but my son likes setting his mouth on fire.

But whatever the variety, the warmer and drier the summer, the hotter the chilli will be.

And some varieties like ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ and ‘De Cayenne’ are fairly mild when green but become hotter as the fruits turn red. Some others vary for no obvious reason.

Will the first bite of ‘Padron’ at a barbecue be sweet and mild or make your eyes water as you rush for cooling water?

We often treat New World perennials as annuals. The chilli that we grow, Capsicum annuum, was first domesticated 7000 years ago in Mexico from a perennial shrub.

These wild chillies grow mostly in the north of Mexico and prefer a temperature range of 20-24C though some do grow in the much colder central highlands.

Given our warming climate, should we now give it a go and try overwintering chillies?

This is being advocated for gardeners in southern England but, frankly, it is a gamble in this country as we never know what the weather will throw at us.

But it might be worth trying if you have a greenhouse where you always keep the temperature above freezing.

This is the time to get started. First pick all the remaining fruits on the plant, even the unripe ones.

These can be ripened in a paper bag in the kitchen, not in the fridge. Removing all the fruits stops the plant investing energy in them and encourages it to become dormant.

Place the pots of chillies at least 30cm apart where they will get maximum light. But keep the temperature fairly constant by placing pots more than 60cm from the glass.

Close to the glass the temperature fluctuates much more widely and this makes a windowsill sill more dodgy than a greenhouse.

Once the nights get colder and the leaves start dropping, prune the plants. Leave the main stem but cut back all the side branches to 10-15cm, completely removing any weak-looking, crossing or touching ones. As ever with pruning, allow good air circulation to prevent fungal diseases.

If you have had the pots in saucers, take these away and then reduce the watering once the leaves fall.

During winter only water when the compost feels dry below the surface.

In the spring, probably some time during March when the weather warms up and feels hopeful, start bringing the plants back to life.

Do this later if, like this year, winter lasts longer.

First repot the plants: however good the growing medium it will have little structure left.

Carefully tip and lift out the chilli plant, put some fresh compost, preferably home-made, in the bottom of the empty pot.

Shake off the loose dry soil from around the roots and place the root ball on top of the fresh compost, packing more fresh compost in to the gaps.

Finish off with a top dressing of fresh compost and start watering.

Once the plant has grown some new leaves start feeding a little and increase the watering and feeding once flower buds form and you should be rewarded with earlier ripe chillies.

Plant of the week

Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’. The leaves are a beautiful shade of aquamarine that provide welcome contrast to autumn’s russet colours. Growing to only about 60cm ‘Elijah Blue’ is suitable for pots as well as well-drained soils.


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The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992