Keep chillies growing strongly by giving them the best possible conditions to form flowers and then fruit to set your tastebuds on fire this autumn.
The staff at West Dean Gardens in Chichester are past masters on the subject of chillies: they grow over 300 varieties, and their annual Chilli Fiesta takes place this week (see www.westdean.org.uk for more details). Among their top tips for growing your hot stuff to perfection are:
Give them plenty of heat and light: a minimum of 15°C and as bright a spot as possible are essentials for success. Keep your chillies in the greenhouse to maximise your chances.
Sow early in February, in a heated propagator set to 25°C. This gives them the long season they need to mature and produce fruit.
Pinch out seedlings at about 20cm tall to encourage branching – a stake might also be necessary, particularly for larger-fruited varieties.
Don't be too kind: wait till the compost is dry to the touch before watering, and feed once a week but only after flowers have started to form.
Recommended varieties for beginners include 'Hungarian Hot Wax' and 'Numex Twilight' – you'll find a huge range of chillies on sale in our garden centre.