kitchen garden how-to
Published June 22, 2022 by Nicole Burke

How to Grow Shishito Peppers, the Perfect Plant for Your Kitchen Garden

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shishito peppers

Gardeners of All Skill Levels Can Grow Shishito Peppers

When I say peppers you can grow at home in your kitchen garden, you might first think of either bell peppers or jalapeños.

Well, if you haven’t already become acquainted with shishito peppers, I’d like to introduce you and make my case for shishitos being the perfect peppers to meet every gardener skill level. Then, I’ve got a quick guide to help you grow shishito peppers in your garden. 

Shishito peppers spicy

Shishito Peppers Are the Perfect Size and the Perfect Combination of Hot and Delicious

Peppers are high on many beginner gardeners' to-grow list. And it's easy to see why. Pepper plants are attractive, they don't take up too much room in the. garden, and it's fun to watch the fruits grow and change colors.

The problem is, a lot of people start with bell peppers. If you're a beginner gardener, you might be in for a frustrating experience by starting with this variety. Bell peppers are big and round, which means they have to grow to a pretty nice size before you can harvest them. During the 90 or so days they’re growing, all kinds of things can go wrong, from blossom-end rot to pest pressure. 

On the opposite end of the challenge spectrum are jalapeño peppers. You can get tons of them off of just one plant, they're much more forgiving about over- or under-watering, and because they're smaller, you don't have to wait as long to harvest them. Obviously, not everyone can stomach jalapeño peppers though. 

So we need a pepper that’s somewhere between those two—something that’s easy to grow and flavorful without packing the heat. Enter the shishito pepper. Shishitos have a nice, sweet flavor, and each plant produces tons of them. 

Are shishito peppers hot?

These little peppers from Japan are typically not very spicy at all. Nine out of ten shishito peppers range from 50 to 200 Scoville heat units, which is about 160 times milder than the hottest jalapeño and 12.5 times milder than even the least hot one. With every harvest, however, there can be one rogue shishito that measures as high as 1,000 Scoville heat units, thought that's still considerably less hot than a jalapeño.

So, you're taking a bit of a gamble that you'll bite into a random spicy shishito pepper that you've grown, but it's a pretty low-risk gamble.

shishito peppers hot

How to Grow Shishito Peppers

Season

Peppers grow best in the warm season and have zero frost tolerance. That means you can’t put them outside until the threat of frost has passed. Air on the side of caution and wait at least a week after the last expected freeze in the spring to plant seeds or move a transplant outdoors. If colder temps return, add a floating row cover over your pepper plants to give them some much-needed protection.

You'll need to harvest all of your peppers before the first frost of your next cold season arrives.

For most of you, that makes peppers the perfect plant to grow in the summer. If you have a long warm season, you can start peppers by seed directly in the garden. If, however, you only have a couple months in between your frost dates, it's best to either start your pepper plants by seed indoors or buy a healthy plant from a local grower, farmer, or CSA. Pepper plants take a long time to grow from seed, and by the time you could sow the seeds in your garden after your last frost, you could already have a plant growing indoors, ready to take full advantage of the great outdoors as soon as the weather warms. (Learn more about indoor seed starting here.)

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Space

Peppers are medium-size plants that will grow about two feet tall and span 15 to 18 inches across, so give them a bit of space in the garden (at least one square foot each).

The minimum depth of your raised bed or container should be 12 inches to give the roots plenty of room to dig down deep. If you're growing shishito peppers outside of a raised bed, look for a pot, planter, or grow bag that's at least 12 inches across and that has good drainage holes in the bottom. Peppers really don't want their roots sitting in water for too long. If your selected container doesn't already have holes, you'll need to drill some.

Plants in the nightshade family, like peppers, often grow too tall to hold themselves and need support to prevent falling over during a big storm or heavy wind. I like to either grow my plants close to my obelisk trellis or use garden stakes and twine to hold my plants upright (preferably starting before they get established so the stakes don't disrupt roots). This protects the branches from breaking and ensures you’ll get as much production as possible.

Wherever you're growing your pepper plant, add a 2- to 3-inch layer of fresh compost before planting and make sure to bury the seedling slightly deeper than its crown (where the roots meet the main stem) to help your plant establish a strong root system.

Shop Gardenary's obelisk trellises

Sun

Peppers need long days of sunshine to help them form and mature fruit, so make sure your plant receives a good eight to ten hours of sunlight each day.

shishito peppers growing

How to Care for Growing Shishito Pepper Plants

Your three main tasks while you're waiting for fruits to form will be feeding your hungry pepper plant, maintaining consistent watering, and protecting from pests.

Fertilizer

Give your peppers food by adding a little bit of extra compost around the base of your plants every couple of weeks while they’re starting to grow. 

When you notice the first flowers appear, you can either continue feeding with compost or add an organic fertilizer high in potassium and phosphorus to help the plant form and ripen fruits.

Water

You'll need to water your pepper plants at least every other day or so for the first six to eight weeks after they're transplanted to the garden, unless the weather has been wet. Once they're established, you can switch to one deep watering per week. That's about one inch of water aimed at the roots (never the leaves) per week. If you're growing in a container, you'll most likely need to water more frequently, as the soil will dry out faster.

Protection

Seedlings are particularly vulnerable to pest pressure. Cover your pepper plants with garden mesh draped over hoops for the first couple of weeks after they're transplanted to the garden space. Remove this cover once the plants are established to give pollinators access to the flowers.

Prune your plants regularly to prevent disease, remove pest-affected leaves, and promote more fruit growth.

shishito peppers harvest

How to Harvest Shishito Peppers

Mature shishito peppers are long and slender with thin, slightly wrinkled flesh. Most gardeners prefer to harvest their shishito peppers when they're still green as soon as they're big enough to eat (about 2 to 4 inches long). By harvesting fruits at the first sign of ripeness (before they mature to red), you free up the plant's energy to form new peppers. You'll reduce your overall fruit yield if you leave peppers growing for too long since they drain resources from the plant.

Shishitos are fast-growing peppers. You'll be able to start harvesting green fruit about 60 days after transplanting outdoors, and your plant will continue producing fruits for another 30 to 45 days if conditions stay optimal.

Continue harvesting peppers weekly to encourage more fruit production.

Use a clean pair of pruners or scissors to clip the peppers from the plant. Pulling them with your fingers risks breaking the branch.

Each plant will likely produce around 20 peppers. I've found I need to grow about three plants per person in my household to have shishito peppers on hand for snacking or making appetizers.

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Grow Your Own Shishitos

That’s about all there is to growing tons and tons of shishito peppers right in your own garden.

My favorite way to enjoy shishito peppers is raw, straight from the garden. Because of their thin skin, they're also great for grilling, blistering, roasting, and pan frying. I hope you find delicious culinary uses for this sweet and flavorful pepper because you’re about to be harvesting your own bushel!

Thanks for helping me bring back the kitchen garden, one pepper plant at a time!

How to Grow Shishito Peppers, the Perfect Plant for Your Kitchen Garden