The Carolina Reaper plant is not a great choice for the new grower. Although media attention has made interest in the Carolina Reaper pepper very high, growing this extremely long season pepper plant can take a lot of planning and consideration.
The Carolina Reaper Plant at a glance
- AKA HP22B, HP22BNH, and The Reaper
- Up to 5 Feet Tall in a single season
- Up to 4 Feet Wide in a single season
- Fruit 1 inch to 3 inch blocked
- 70 to 90 days from transplant to onset of flowers
- Start indoors at least 8 weeks before last frost
Carolina Reaper Plant: Step 1. Planning
For what ever reason, the seed industry has chosen a very misleading way to inform potential customers how long it takes a pepper plant to grow. The Carolina Reaper plant is no exception to this pattern. Its original cultivator lists days till maturity at between 70 and 90. This is industry standard and it is wildly misleading at both ends of a plant’s life cycle.
First off, like many super hot peppers, the Carolina Reaper plant takes much time to germinate. I have seen some seeds not show themselves for as long as a month, so tack 30 days on to that days till maturity. Now we are at 100 – 120 days.
Next, what the seed companies are not fast to tell you is that their days till maturity estimates are from the time of transplant out doors. Practically all of the super hots must be started indoors. If the seed seller says you must start them indoors a month before your last chance of frost, tack on another 30 days to the days to maturity. Now we are at 130 to 150 days till maturity.
Next, we have to consider the word ‘maturity’. The term is most often used to mean the onset of sexual maturity. Not when the plant fruits, but when it is capable of producing fruit. You could have another 90 days or more before you have ripe pepper pods. Some strains might take 120 days or more to fully mature. So now we are at 220 to 250 days between planting a seed and having a fresh and mature Carolina Reaper pepper to eat. That is eight or nine months and I did not mention these are all guestimates based on optimum growing conditions and a very favorable season.
Depending on your particular climate, you may have to start your Carolina Reaper Plant indoors months before you plant to move it outdoors. Please see our general tutorial on Germinating and Starting pepper plants.
Carolina Reaper Plant: Moving Outdoors
Your Carolina Reaper Plants can be moved outdoors once they are about six inches tall, hardened off, and the last danger of frost has passed for your growing season. However, optimum results will occur when daytime temperatures average around 70 degrees and night time temperatures do not dip too far below 50 degrees. Often this is well past the last danger of frost.
The Carolina Reaper plant prefers a soil PH of approximately 6.5 and about 2 inches of water per week. Decreased water during the fruiting period generally increases the capsicum content but decreases pod size and maybe overall production.
The Carolina Reaper plant will begin flowering when night time temperatures dip to between 65 and 80 degrees. Flowers will not set at all if night time temperatures remain above 85 degrees.
Soil & Fertilizer Considerations
The Carolina Reaper plant prefers a soil rich in compost and other materials which assist in holding water. Aged manuer is our preferred fertalizer, but if you must use non-organics you will find it responds well to a 5-10-5 or 10-10-10 fertilizer. It is not a fan of too much nitrogen. With either an organic or a chemical fertilizer program, the soil should be well drained.
Container Vs. In Ground Growing
If container growing, the Carolina Reaper plant demands plenty of room to expand its roots. A three gallon container will allow it to grow and produce pods, but your plant will not be nearly as prolific as it could be. For full size pods, we recommend no smaller than a five gallon container.
If you can plant directly in the ground, you will be much happier with growth and pod production. Additionally, many people believe the flavor of the peppers are tremendously improved when growing as mother nature intended. If grown in the earth, the Carolina Reaper plant prefers to be grown in a ridge and furrow configuration. This is an arrangement where the well tilled soil is raised in the row where you are planting (the ridge) and between rows there is a lower area (furrow) for drainage.
Harvesting Carolina Reaper Peppers
Carolina Reaper peppers will start off green. It is fine to harvest them at this state, but if you allow them to mature threw orange and into a deep red color you will develop more of its full flavor and heat.
Excellent general information on growing chili pepper plants is available from the Chile Pepper Institute.