Growing Carolina Reaper Peppers: A Fiery Adventure

If you’re a fan of scorching hot food and you find that supermarket hot sauces just don’t cut it anymore, why not take matters into your own hands and grow your own hot peppers? In this article, I’ll guide you through the exciting journey of growing Carolina Reapers in your very own backyard. Get ready to experience the thrill of cultivating the world’s hottest peppers!

Where Do Carolina Reapers Come From?

You might be wondering where these exotic superhot peppers originate from. Are they imported from faraway lands and brought to the US on ships and planes? Surprisingly, that’s not the case at all. In fact, the Carolina Reaper was originally created right here in the United States by a passionate pepper enthusiast named Ed Currie.

Legend has it that Ed Currie, the owner of PuckerButt Pepper Company, dedicated himself to breeding a new superhot pepper variety back in 2007. He crossed a Pakistani Naga pepper with a Caribbean hot pepper called La Soufrière. The result was the Carolina Reaper, which was unveiled in 2012 and quickly claimed the title of the world’s hottest pepper. Today, PuckerButt grows over 100,000 Carolina Reaper plants annually to meet the growing demand.

How Spicy Are Carolina Reapers?

If you’re a lover of spicy food, Carolina Reapers will provide you with an unforgettable taste experience. These peppers boast an incredibly high concentration of capsaicin, the compound that gives peppers their heat. In fact, Carolina Reapers surpass other superhot peppers like the ghost pepper in terms of spiciness.

On the Scoville heat unit (SHU) scale, Carolina Reapers average around 1.64 million SHU (compared to the 3,000-8,000 SHU of a typical jalapeno). While other similarly spicy peppers, such as the 7 Pot Primo, have emerged, the Carolina Reaper still holds the record as the officially recognized hottest pepper in the world.

How To Grow Carolina Reapers

While most pepper varieties are fairly easy to grow, Carolina Reapers have a few unique requirements. The journey from seed to harvest can take up to five months, so patience is essential. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you successfully grow Carolina Reapers:

Planting Seeds and Germination

Since Carolina Reapers are less commonly found than other garden peppers, you’ll likely need to grow your plants from seeds. You can obtain high-quality seeds directly from PuckerButt or other reputable seed suppliers.

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To ensure a successful start, it’s crucial to determine the right time to plant your Carolina Reaper seeds. These peppers require a longer growing season compared to milder varieties like jalapenos. As a general rule, start your Carolina Reaper seeds indoors about 8-10 weeks before your region’s last frost date. If you live in a colder climate (Zone 4 or lower), you may need to start even earlier to allow enough time for growth.

Germinating Carolina Reapers

As your start date approaches, gather all the necessary supplies for germinating your Carolina Reaper seeds. You’ll need seedling cells, trays, seed starter mix, nitrile gloves, water, a spray bottle, and a seed heating mat (optional but highly recommended).

Here’s a step-by-step guide to successfully germinate your Carolina Reaper seeds:

  1. Pre-moisten the seed starter mix by mixing it with filtered water. The mix is ready when it sticks together when squeezed but doesn’t drip water.
  2. Fill the seed cells with the prepared mix, compressing it gently with your fingers. The cells should be filled to the top.
  3. Place 1-2 Carolina Reaper seeds on the surface of the soil in each cell. Planting multiple seeds increases the chances of successful germination.
  4. Push each seed about 1/4″ deep into the soil using a pencil tip.
  5. Moisten the seeds by spritzing the soil with a spray bottle. Keep the seeds hydrated until they sprout.
  6. Cover the planted seed cells with a humidity dome or a similar cover to prevent excessive evaporation.
  7. Place the seed trays in a warm spot with temperatures between 80-90°F. A seed heating mat can help maintain the ideal soil temperature.
  8. Fan out the trays daily and monitor for sprouts, which should appear within 7-10 days.
  9. Keep the seeds moist by spritzing the soil every 1-2 days, being careful not to let them dry out.

After your seeds sprout, it’s essential to provide them with the necessary care. Make sure you have the supplies and knowledge for the next phase of growth.


Once your Carolina Reaper seeds have sprouted, it’s time to provide them with light. LED grow lights are highly recommended for their efficiency and affordability, as they run cool and silent. Position the lights about 15-18 inches above the leaves of your seedlings, ensuring they receive 14-16 hours of light per day.

Fertilizing the seedlings is crucial for healthy growth. If you used a seed starter mix without added nutrients, start fertilizing the seedlings about one week after sprouting. Use a water-soluble fertilizer at a quarter of the recommended strength to avoid burning the foliage.

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Watering the seedlings is important to maintain healthy growth. Bottom watering is recommended for young plants by filling a reservoir with water and submerging the seed cells. Alternatively, you can top-water but be cautious not to damage the delicate stems. Always allow excess water to drain away from the roots for optimum oxygen flow.

Transplanting and Moving Outside

When your Carolina Reaper seedlings outgrow their seedling cells, it’s time to transplant them into larger pots. Transplanting helps provide the plants with more space to grow and develop a healthy root system. Typically, we transplant pepper seedlings twice, moving them from small pots to eventually their final growing place.

Timing is crucial when transplanting peppers to avoid root binding. The first transplant should occur two to three weeks after the seedlings sprout. Make sure the plants have received sufficient light, water, and nutrition to develop a robust root system.

If the outdoor weather is still too cold for permanent placement, continue to care for your plants indoors until it’s safe to move them outside. Hardening off your seedlings is vital to gradually acclimate them to outdoor conditions, including wind, precipitation, and direct sunlight.

Once your plants are ready for permanent outdoor placement, choose a container that provides ample space for their growth. A container with a capacity of 5-7 gallons is recommended for a bountiful harvest of Carolina Reaper peppers. If you have limited space, a smaller pot can be used, but it may affect overall yields.

Select a location that offers full sun, as peppers thrive in sunny conditions. However, Carolina Reapers can tolerate less light, although it may result in a smaller harvest. If you live in a very hot climate, provide some afternoon shade to protect your plants from intense sunlight. Avoid super windy areas or stake the plants from the beginning to prevent damage.

When the outdoor temperatures remain above 55°F at night, it’s safe to move your Carolina Reapers outside permanently. This usually occurs two to three weeks after the last frost date. However, it’s advisable to introduce the plants outside a few weeks earlier, gradually increasing their exposure to outdoor elements to avoid transplant shock.

Fertilizing and Watering Carolina Reapers

Once your plants establish themselves outdoors, it’s time to focus on fertilizing and watering them properly to promote healthy growth and abundant yields. Watering requirements can vary depending on factors like plant size, temperature, and wind conditions. It’s best to check the soil moisture by weight or by digging a few inches into the soil.

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Regarding fertilizing, you can choose between slow-release and water-soluble fertilizers. Slow-release fertilizer is often included in potting soil, but it’s recommended to feed the plants with organic slow-release fertilizer at least twice during the season. Water-soluble fertilizer is great for correcting nutrient deficiencies and can be applied when needed.

Staking, Mulching, and Pruning

To ensure the health and stability of your Carolina Reaper plants, it’s advisable to stake them from an early age. This provides support against strong winds and prevents potential damage. Mulching is another beneficial technique to reduce weed growth and improve water retention in the soil. Straw, grass clippings, woodchips, or black plastic can be used as mulch.

Pruning is optional but can help prevent soil splashing onto lower leaves. Various pruning techniques exist for peppers, so consider learning more about them to optimize plant health and productivity.

Harvesting Carolina Reapers

After months of care and anticipation, your Carolina Reapers will finally start to form and ripen. Harvesting them at the right time is crucial to maximize their heat and flavor. As a general rule, only pick Carolina Reapers after they have turned red. While unripe peppers are edible, fully ripe ones offer the most intense heat and flavor.

When harvesting, be cautious not to break the skin of the peppers, as the spicy juices can cause skin burns. It’s advisable to wear gloves and harvest by the stem rather than the fruit itself.

What To Do With Carolina Reapers?

Now that you’ve successfully grown Carolina Reapers, it’s time to put them to use! Here are a few exciting ideas for utilizing your homegrown peppers:

  • Make homemade hot sauce by fermenting your Carolina Reapers into a flavorful mash and adding other ingredients to create your signature fire sauce.
  • Dehydrate the peppers to make a super spicy substitute for cayenne pepper powder.
  • Freeze the peppers in vacuum-sealed bags for future use in hot sauces or other culinary creations.

Congratulations! You’ve embarked on a fiery adventure by growing Carolina Reaper peppers. We’d love to hear about your gardening journey and any additional tips you may have. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and savor the intense heat and flavor of your homegrown Carolina Reapers!

Ames Farm Center