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Growing Chillis in The Northern Territory

Introducing Chillis

Chilli peppers are available in a myriad of colours, shapes, sizes and heat levels. They range from sweet and mild to fiery and can be used and preserved in a variety of ways. They’re an easy crop to grow and their beautiful and prolific fruit make them a rewarding plant to have in the garden.

Chillies thrive in the warm, Top End region and can handle humidity as long as the soil doesn’t become waterlogged. Plant them in a sunny spot with afternoon shade and give them plenty of water and they’ll reward you with an almost constant supply of colourful fruit.

Classic Mistakes

Be sure to provide enough shade. Chillies love warm climates, but direct sun in the afternoon can burn them in the heat of the day, so they need some protection in the afternoon.

Sunlight

Grow in: Full Sun - Partial Sun

Chillies appreciate a little shade in the afternoon to protect them from the worst heat of the day.

Soil Preparation

Prepare your soil with compost and well-rotted manure. The extra organic material will feed your chillies and help with water retention during the dry season. Chillies can develop blossom rot if your soil is low on calcium. Add some bonemeal to your soil to improve the calcium levels. It’ll also help your plants develop strong root systems to support them right through the season.

Chillies need excellent drainage. So, if your garden is prone to waterlogging, then rather grow them in pots or raised beds.

Sowing Seed

Sow seed: April-July
Sowing depth: Simply place the seeds on top of your soil and sprinkle with a very thin layer of compost.

Chillies can be started from seed indoors (or under cover) towards the end of the wet season. Chillies can be tricky to grow from seed, so it’s usually easier to plant seedlings.

Simply place the seeds on top of your soil and sprinkle with a very thin layer of compost. Place them in a warm place (like in top of the fridge) or on a growing mat until the plants are up.

Chillies are hard to germinate if the soil isn’t warm enough, so it’s much easier to start them from seedlings.

Planting

Plant seedlings: May-July

Try to plant bought seedlings as soon as possible after you get them home and remember to give them a good, deep watering to help them settle in. When you plant your seedlings out, add a small amount of organic bone-meal to each hole. Bone-meal gives seedlings a great start and helps them to develop strong root systems which support a healthy plant.

Care

Potted chillies can be moved indoors during monsoon season.

Larger varieties need to be staked. Tomato cages or a simple stick or bamboo pole work well.

Watering

During the dry season, water your chillies regularly and deeply so that the water reaches all along their deep root systems. If they have a good mulch, then a deep watering twice a week should be fine, but if it’s particularly hot and they look thirsty, then water them more often. During the wet season, the challenge is often to keep water away from your plants. Chillies really don’t like waterlogged soil. Pots which can be covered or moved during heavy rains are a good option for chillies is the top end.

Feeding

Feed your plants regularly with compost tea or and organic fertilizer to encourage strong plants and a bumper harvest. An organic tomato fertilizer is also a great option once the flowers start to appear. It helps the plants produce plenty of good-quality fruit. Remember, the heavy rains wash nutrients out of the soil, so your plants will need extra feeding during the wet season.

Mulching

Straw is a great mulch for chillies. It keeps their roots cool, the water in the soil, and, it smothers weeds that will compete for nutrients. Lucerne, pea straw or sugar cane are all good options. Remember to keep topping up your mulch through the season as it breaks done fast in hot weather.

Harvesting

Harvest: 10 to 12 Weeks After Planting

Use gloves! Those chillies can burn. Some varieties twist of easily by hand, but scissors, a knife or secateurs will help with the more stubborn varieties. Remove your gloves as soon as you’re done and take care not to touch your face. Keep picking chillies throughout the summer to encourage higher production. Most chillies can be harvested as soon as they are a decent size. Many varieties start out green and then change to their particular colour as they mature, but chillies can really be eaten at any stage.

Chilli bushes can be really productive! Can easily have too many and if they’re hot, then you’ll struggle to eat large quantities. If you have too many at a time, they can be frozen, dried, made into sauces, pickled.

What to do about White butterfly?

If you see the eggs or caterpillars appear on the plants, remove them by hand. Spraying with horticultural soap will also be helpful.

What to do about Aphids?

Spray with soap spray weekly until the problem is under control. It may be necessary to reapply more often particularly during the wet season.

What to do about Powdery Mildew?

Milk spray or baking soda solution work well and can be sprayed on affected plants.

What to do about Root-Knot Nematodes?

Rotate crops and apply lots of compost. If this is a persistent problem in your garden, nematicides can be applied, but it’s best to try sort the problem out using organic methods first.
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