How to Grow Thai Dragon Peppers, an Heirloom Vegetable
All peppers originated in Central and South America. After European colonization, peppers and other native American plants were spread around the world where local people bred them to suit their own cuisines. The hot peppers known as chili peppers were brought to Southeast Asia from the New World by Spanish and Portuguese colonists and traders in the 16th and 17th centuries.
What are Thai Dragon Peppers?
Thai Dragon peppers (Capsicum annuum) are an heirloom chili pepper dating from the nineteenth century. They are hotter than jalapeno peppers which are rated 2,500 to 5,000 units on the Scoville Scale. Thai Dragons are 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville units. They are not as hot as Habanero peppers which can reach 325,000 Scoville units.
The Scoville Scale measures pepper hotness by measuring the amount of capsaicin in each kind of pepper. Capaicin is what causes the heat in the fruit.
The plants are compact, 15 to 18 inches tall and 12 to 16 inches wide, perfect for a container. I grow mine in the top of a strawberry pot. The fruit grows upwards rather than hanging down. It starts out green then matures to bright red. A single plant can yield up to 200 3-inch peppers. The fruit can be used fresh or dried.
How to Grow Thai Dragon Peppers
Thai dragon peppers need rich, well-drained soil. Work some compost into the soil before planting them. Aim for a pH level of 6.2 to 7.0. A soil test will help you to amend your soil properly to achieve the ideal nutrient levels and pH. Plant your pepper plants 3 to 4 feet apart in rows that are 6 – 10 feet apart. I like to add a ring of Epsom salts around my peppers when I plant them. Epsom salts provide magnesium which is necessary for plants to set fruit. You also might like to add a stake to your plants to support them as they grow. The weight of the fruit can bend or even break the stems.
Keep your plants consistently watered throughout the growing season. A thick layer of mulch will help to keep the soil moist as well as prevent weed seeds from germinating and competing with your peppers for sunlight, water and nutrients.
These peppers are tropical plants. Even mild cold will negatively affect them. Temperatures below 55⁰F will slow the plant growth and turn the leaves yellow. If a light frost is forecast, protect your plants with a blanket thrown over them.
They have a long growing season, 70 to 80 days, so you may need to start your seeds indoors.
How to Grow Thai Dragon Peppers From Seed
Start your indoors 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date. Plant the seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep. A heat mat will help warm the soil. The soil temperature should be 75⁰F to 90⁰F for germination which should happen within 2 to 6 weeks. Cool soil will delay germination. Keep the soil moist but not soaking wet. You can transplant your seedlings into your garden when the outdoor soil temperature is above 60⁰F. In my NJ zone 6 garden, I transplant my tropical seedlings outdoors at the end of May/beginning of June. Due to the cool May nights, it takes that long for the soil to warm. seeds
How to Harvest Thai Dragon Peppers
Thai dragon peppers are ready to harvest when the fruit has turned bright red. Always harvest your peppers with pruners or a sharp knife. Cut them from the branch leaving a small nub of the stem intact on the fruit like you would on a pumpkin. Pulling the fruit from the plants can result in breaking the stems which will eventually cause the fruit to rot. Pulling can also break the branch. The fewer branches your plants have, the fewer peppers you will get.
How to Store Thai Dragon Peppers
Store the freshly harvested fruit with the stem intact for up to a week in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. Be sure to use the fresh peppers within one week for the best taste and hotness. You can also freeze your peppers. It is not necessary to blanche them before freezing. I put mine in a plastic freezer bag and then into my freezer for use over the winter.
Alternatively, the fruit can be dried by hanging the branches upside down with the fruit attached. Store your dried fruit in a cool dark place. Dried fruit will keep for up to 6 months before it starts to lose flavor and heat.
© 2016 Caren White