Cultivating food in cold climates can be incredibly frustrating. The growing season is shorter than in other locales, and weather can be unpredictable. This combination is especially frustrating for people who love hot peppers!
Fortunately, there’s a workaround for this.
How Can You Grow Hot Peppers in Cold Climates?
Since spicy Capsicum varieties thrive in hot climates, plants often fail to thrive in USDA Zones 5 and below or in areas with cool or short summers.
The key is to grow cultivars that have been cultivated in similar conditions.
In all the gardening courses I’ve taken (and taught), a key factor for growing successfully is choosing plants that are suited to one’s local climate. The best option is to grow species that are native to that region. Alternatively, choose species that thrive in similar conditions.
Basically, if you live in Zones 3 or 4, choose plants that grow well in those Zones. These don’t need to be native to your area, however. Do some research to discover where these zones are located worldwide. Then find out which varieties have been cultivated there.
I’ll use my own property as an example here for the sake of ease. Currently, I’m in Zone 4b, in Quebec’s Laurentian mountains (Laurentides). My local climate is temperate, cool, and quite damp. It’s surrounded by woodlands, and the soil is fairly acidic and loamy.
Plants Thrive in Similar Growing Zones
When I began planning my garden, I found out that there are several other locations around the world with similar growing conditions.
In the USA, Zone 4 locations include most of the northern and middle states, down to Colorado and eastwards to New England. It also includes the southernmost tip of Alaska.
Globally, it includes parts of Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, North Korea, and parts of the Andes mountains in Argentina and Peru.
As such, I try to get seeds for cultivars that either originated in these locales or have been adapted to grow well there.
Alternatively, if you’re growing in an area with a short growing season, then you can also choose fast-maturing varieties. These will ripen earlier than their standard cousins, thus ensuring full maturity within the warm days you have available to you.
For best results, start your seeds indoors well ahead of time, as mentioned below.
The Best Hot Peppers for Colder Climates
These cultivars are ideal for colder zones, as they tolerate cool temperatures well. If you plan to grow any of these, start your seeds indoors a good 8 to 12 weeks before your last frost date. Then harden them gently by exposing them to outdoor temperatures daily.
Finally, transplant them outside as soon as they’re mature enough to withstand the wind and potential drafts.
This way, they’ll be able to mature fully before the next frost rolls around.
1. Black Hungarian
These jalapeno-shaped peppers mature in 75 days and are on average around 3 inches long. They’re about as hot as an average jalapeno, with a sweet aftertaste. While they require full sunlight, they appreciate afternoon shade on the hottest summer days.
2. Aji Rico F1
If you like cayenne peppers, then add this beauty to your list. It also matures to red in about 75 days and has a hot, spicy-sweet, citrusy flavor.
3. Bulgarian Carrot
These peppers are crunchy and hot with a fruity aftertaste. They’re long and spindly (hence their moniker), and mature in 75-80 days. If you have difficulty finding seeds, you can also look for them under the name “Shipkas.”
4. Aji Fantasy
You might not think of Finland as being a hot spot for hot peppers, but you’d be mistaken. The ‘Aji Fantasy’ cultivar is one of the mildest hot peppers on this list, but also one of the tastiest. Its hat-shaped peppers mature to a beautiful lemon-yellow hue in about 80 days.
5. Korean Dark Green
This Korean pepper matures in 80 to 85 days, and is likely the hottest cultivar on this list. The slender, four-inch-long fruits are downright fiery, and you only need a tiny amount to heat up an entire dish.
Use them in your favorite kimchi recipe, or transform them into sauces to add eye-watering deliciousness to any meal.
6. Black-Seeded Manzano
Although this is the longest-maturing pepper on this list at 100 days, it’s included for a reason. They’re from the northernmost regions in the Andes mountains, and do best in temperatures between 45 and 60°F (7 to 15°C).
As a result, they thrive in cooler climates and can even withstand frost.
These peppers also have a startlingly long lifespan. If they’re overwintered properly, they can live up to 15 years! Furthermore, they grow quite tall and can reach above 10 feet in the right conditions.
7. Orange Spice Jalapeno
Orange jalapeno peppers ripen in just 60 days. If you start them indoors a few weeks in advance, you could have ripe peppers in just six weeks or so of summer weather.
They have a fruity, citrusy flavor and aren’t terribly hot.
8. Yellow Bumpy
This habanero ripens in about 80 days and, unlike other extremely hot chiles, does well even in mild climates. They’re also perfectly happy in containers. The fruits look really cool, with a top-like shape.
9. Jimmy Nardello
Maturing in just 75 days, this pepper was bred in southern Italy and brought by immigrants to chilly Connecticut in the last 1800s. It continued to grow well and produce despite the change in climate. That should tell you how adaptable this pepper is.
If any of the peppers you cultivate thrive in your garden, remember to save the seeds! Their offspring will be pretty much guaranteed to do well next year.
Furthermore, remember that you can pot these peppers up and take them indoors for the winter. Then just transplant them outside once the weather warms again. I’ve had a jalapeno pepper going for five years straight now, and it produces more fruit each year.
A colder climate/low-hardiness zone doesn’t have to prevent you from growing the hot peppers you love. Try to grow outside whenever possible, but remember that there are other options too.
If things just don’t thrive outdoors because of unpredictable weather, then grow them inside instead!
Rig up a small greenhouse or grow your plants on the sunniest spot in your house. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and delicious hot peppers are well worth the effort.