A Complete Guide to Growing Shishito Peppers

If you want to learn how to grow shishito peppers in pots, raised beds, or directly in the ground, this thorough growing guide has you covered from seed to harvest.

Close up of a shishito pepper outside in a raised garden bed.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

Mild and flavorful Japanese Shishito peppers have thin skin that soaks up flavors and cooks fast. They are very popular at restaurants, grocery stores, and the farmers market, but they tend to be on the expensive side.

They are also very easy to grow yourself and are a high-yielding pepper plant variety. These small peppers are a great addition to your garden.

Botanical Name: Capsicum annuum

Days to Maturity: 60–75 days from transplanting

Family: Solanaceae

Hardiness: Very frost-sensitive

Annual/Perennial: All peppers are technically perennials but they are mostly grown as annuals to avoid the process of overwintering (see below)

Plant Dimensions: 24″–36″ tall

When to Start Inside: 8 to 10 weeks before transplanting. The ideal soil temperature for germination is 70°–90° Fahrenheit (21°-32° Celsius). Transplant seedlings outside 2 to 4 weeks after your average last frost date, when daytime temperatures are at least 70° Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures are at least 55°Fahrenheit (13° Celsius). 

In mild climates, it may be sown in late summer for a fall/winter crop.

Days to Emerge: 10–25 days

Seed Planting Depth: ¼”

Row Spacing: 24″–36″

Square Foot Gardeners: 1 plant per square foot

Harvesting: Generally harvested when still green, at 2″–4″ long, but can also be left on the plant to mature to red.

Soil Germination Temperature: Shishito (and all pepper) seeds germinate much faster if the soil is kept at 70°-90°Fahrenheit (21°-32° Celsius). At colder temperatures, they may fail to sprout or sprouting will take too long. The longer seeds take to sprout, the more susceptible they are to rot and fungus. Seedling heat mats are highly recommended in maintaining warm soil for peppers. Once germinated, peppers can be grown at air temperatures of 60°Fahrenheit (15° Celsius) at night and 70° Fahrenheit (21° during the day.)

A bowl of cooked green shishito peppers with blistered skins.
Blistered shishito peppers: cook quickly over medium-high heat in olive oil, sprinkle with plenty of sea salt and pepper, add some vinegar. Quick and easy appetizer or snack. Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

Starting Shishito Peppers From Seed

Start seeds 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost date. For the strongest, healthiest seedlings with the best germination rate, it is best to use both a heat matt and a grow light. All peppers need heat and a warm place to flourish, much light, and 6-8 hours of direct sunlight outdoors.

When is my last frost date?

USA

Canada

How To Start Shishito Pepper Seeds

Start 8-10 weeks before last frost date and planting outside.

  • Add seed starting soil mix into your pots/cells/bags.
  • Mist soil so that it is moist but not soaking wet.
  • Plant Shishito pepper seeds at a depth of 1/4 of an inch.
  • If seeds are new, 1-2 seeds per pot will suffice. If seeds are old, plant 3-4 to be on the safe side.
  • Lightly rake over with soil, do not compact or pat down.
  • Place on seedling heat mat.
  • Cover with plastic dome or cling wrap until seedlings sprout and begin to emerge from the soil.
  • Once they emerge (at least half of all planted) remove the dome and keep the seedlings under light. Light is important or you will get leggy, weak plants that may not thrive. I have grow lights and racks for seed starting purposes.
  • The sprouts can be fertilized with a diluted liquid fertilizer when the leaves emerge.
  • Thin seedlings by selecting the strongest plants. The strongest plants will look stout and firm, they will not be leggy.
  • A week before planting outside, the plants must be hardened off to avoid transplant shock. More on that below.
Freshly picked green shishito peppers on the table on top of a burlap sack.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

Harden Off Seedlings

Your Shishito pepper plants should be hardened off a week before moving them outside. Hardening off the plants involves getting them used to the unpredictable, changing conditions outside and helps you avoid transplant shock, which can stunt or kill the plant.

  • Day 1: move seedlings outside and place them in a warm, shady spot free from wind. Bring them inside at night or if the weather changes.
  • Day 2: do the same as above.
  • Day 3: do the same as above.
  • Day 4: choose a partially sunny spot but still bring the seedlings in at night.
  • Day 5: choose an even sunnier spot but still bring the seedlings in at night.
  • Day 6: do the same as above but leave them out overnight. Before leaving them out overnight, choose a spot that will not receive any wind.
  • Day 7: time to transplant into your raised beds, pots, or directly into your garden.

Transplant Into Raised Beds or Ground

A raised bed garden is perfect for growing anything, but shishito peppers do great in beds that are at least 12-inches high and have fertile, well-draining soil.

  • Only plant when all danger of frost has passed.
  • Choose a spot that will receive at least 6-8 hours of full sun daily, a south-facing garden is ideal for shishito peppers.
  • A sheltered spot that does not receive severe winds is always best.
  • Soil must have good drainage.
  • Enrich your soil by topping with compost or aged manure.
  • Space Shishito pepper plants 18-24 inches apart or if you are a square foot gardener, plant 1 plant per square foot in the middle.
  • Bury plants 1/2 inch to 1 inch below where they were in their seedling pots.
  • Water well for the next 3 days but again, keep soil moist, not soaking wet.
  • Keep a watch on your plants and if the weather takes an unpredictable turn for the worst, they must be protected during this fragile time directly after transplanting. A row cover might be a good emergency option.
  • Plants must be staked or caged as they grow.

Transplanting Into Pots or Grow Bags

Shishito plants grow wonderfully in a container garden out in your garden or deck/balcony. Choose large grow bags that are a minimum of 5-gallons in size.

Choose pots that are 12-inches wide and 10-12 inches deep. I prefer terracotta pots but plastic, wood, or stone does the trick too. Make sure there are drainage holes.

The pots should be filled with high-quality soil and compost, approximately at a 2:1 ratio. 

You can add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil, or use a diluted liquid fertilizer over time. The plant should also be offered support like a bamboo stake to help it grow properly. 

A pile of green, harvested shishito peppers.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

Harvesting Shishito Peppers

Shishito peppers are available to harvest much earlier than other types, around 60 to 65 days after they are transplanted.

For the red shishito pepper, wait an extra three weeks to harvest when the color changes.

The peppers should be between two to four inches long and should be picked with scissors to prevent breakage.

The green peppers are crisp and mildly spicy, while the red peppers are much milder and sweeter.

Picking the fruits frequently is a great way to encourage your plant to produce more peppers. If you let all of the peppers mature to red, your yield will be slightly less.

Tips To Increase Yield

Pick them often! This is the most important tip. Your plant will keep producing!

It’s important to weed your plants.

Many weeds are incredibly good at out-competing pepper plants for resources, and this can ruin their yield. Proactively removing weeds will make a huge difference.

Pay attention to your pepper plant’s health and look for common diseases and pests like aphids and blossom end rot. Addressing these issues is so much easier the earlier you catch them.

Green shishito peppers ready to be picked on the plant. They are being grown in pots.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

How Long Do Shishito Peppers Take To Grow?

When growing shishito peppers, there are three important stages: germination and sprouting, post-transplant growth, and ripening.

Generally, shishito peppers should be allowed to germinate, sprout, and grow indoors for around 8 to 10 weeks. Near the end of this timeframe, they also need to be hardened for the outdoors if they will be transplanted.

After the transplant, the peppers grow fruit for around 60 to 65 days or 8 to 9 weeks. After this duration has passed, the crisp green peppers will be ready for harvest.

If you want red peppers, you can allow the peppers to ripen for up to 3 weeks. They will slowly change color and can be harvested at any stage depending on how crisp or sweet you would like the peppers.

Caring For The Peppers

Proper sun, watering, fertilization, stakes and support, and proactively fighting disease in your plants are the most important aspects of care to pay attention to.

Sunlight

Indoors, they should be kept under grow lights with bulbs hanging around 2” above the seedlings and adjusted to stay the same distance as they grow. If they’re kept beside a window, they should be rotated every few days to encourage them to grow straight.

Water

The frequency of watering should depend on factors like rain and soil. For example, sandy soil drains faster than clay soil, and hot weather dries soil faster than cold weather.

During sunny weather with no rain, a good frequency of watering is around once a week for garden peppers and once every day or two for container peppers. Avoid getting water on the plant itself and aim for the soil.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer is an excellent way to improve your pepper yields. A good type of fertilizer to use is slow-release organic fertilizer because the release rate is perfect for your pepper plant and it eliminates the need to keep a fertilization schedule.

If you prefer, you can also use diluted liquid organic fertilizer every three to four weeks.

Staking/Supporter

The pepper plants can get pretty heavy, especially once they start fruiting, and offering proper support is a great way to keep your plants healthy and productive. Shishito pepper plants do especially well when given bamboo stakes or tomato cages.

Common Pepper Problems & Solutions

The most common issues for shishito pepper plants are blossom end rot and aphids. It’s important to read about the full variety of diseases that can occur, but as long as you’re familiar with these two problems, you’ll be able to treat most issues.

Blossom end rot is a disorder in plants that is believed to be caused by stress and calcium deficiency. Watering consistently is the most effective way to reduce stress for your plants and reduce the stress in your plants. You can also mulch the soil with straw or shredded leaves to help hold in moisture.

Aphids are a common type of pest. They’re small, pear-shaped insects that can come in green, brown, and gray colors. They’re known for sucking sap from plants and damaging growth and yield. 

Adding plants that attract helpful insects like ladybugs is the best way to prevent aphid infestations since many of these larger insects are harmless to plants and feed on aphids. If you cannot attract insects to eat the aphids, you can try spraying the plant with water.

Companion Plants For Peppers

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  • beans
  • brassicas
  • fennel

Shishito peppers are easy to grow and a versatile and delicious kitchen ingredient. I definitely recommend adding these little peppers to your garden.

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