Growing peppers from seed can be a challenge but, armed with knowledge and persistence, even the most beginner gardener can successfully grow a great variety of peppers.
When to Start Pepper Seeds
Start seeds at least 10 and preferably 12-14 weeks (if you live in a northern climate with a shorter growing season) before the last frost date for your area.
Germinating Pepper Seeds
Pepper seeds need moisture, a fairly warm temperature, air, and light for best germination. When choosing a soil make sure it is light and well draining (not “potting soil”) to be sure the pepper roots get get both air and water. A good choice for starting pepper seeds is a commercial peat-lite type seed starting soil directly from a newly opened bag (to be sure that the soil is weed free). Peat-based soils contain a live bacteria that helps to prevent mold growth. Chile seeds germinate at soil temperatures of 75° – 90°F (20° – 35°C) with 85°F (30°C) being ideal. You can use a heating pad or an old electric blanket combined with an pocket thermometer, Electric Soil Warming Cables or “plant propagation mats” found in nurseries and hardware stores.
Soak Seeds BEFORE Planting
Soaking your seeds before planting will help soften the seed hull. An easy way to soak the seed is to place the seeds in a small sieve and dip it into a cup or bowl of warm water. If any seeds float, dab them with your finger to break the surface tension. Some believe that the “floaters” generally do not germinate as well and/or produce stunted plants. Allow the seeds to soak overnight. (NOTE: this is the “true” organic gardening technique. Some gardeners prefer to soak their seeds in a chemical mix. If you are looking for that technique you will have to search elsewhere as we only promote organic techniques.) After rinsing your seeds, place them on several layers of paper towels to absorb the extra moisture. You are now ready to plant your seeds!
Plant Pepper Seeds
There are a variety of different seed starting containers commercially available. Some that are recommended specifically for starting pepper seeds are the: Gro-Packs, Styrofoam 40-cell trays from A. P. Systems, Peat Pellets or Peat Pots. Regardless of what container you choose to use you will need to tightly cover them, either with saran wrap or a fitted clear plastic dome. Covering after watering will create a “hothouse” environment- ideal for pepper seed germination! The seeds are set on the surface of the soil (the soil should be MOIST not too wet), one per cell and sprinkled with another light coat of potting medium, then given a light mist of water from a hand pump sprayer. Cover tray with the saran wrap or clear plastic dome and set on heating mat/blanket or other warm place like on top of your refrigerator.
Do not set a domed flat in direct sun! It can cook the seeds.
Remove the dome once to every other day to let fresh air get to the seeds and mist spray the soil if needed. Some chile seeds take a long time to germinate (70-90 days or more) , but they should do so using these instructions. So don’t give up! Once the seedlings are up, remove the plastic dome cover, but do not let the soil dry out. If the seedlings are allowed to wilt, they may not die, but their growth will be set back.
Transplant Pepper Seedlings
Seedlings should be transplanted to a 3 or 4 inch pot as soon as the first true leaves are fully unfolded, and the second pair of true leaves is just beginning to develop. About two weeks before you plan to transplant your seedlings to the garden you should begin “hardening off” (exposing the seedling to more sunlight and wind). No matter what type of pepper you grow, they like the weather hot. Transplant pepper seedlings outdoors after the last chance of frost has past. If the weather is still cool, delay transplanting a few days, and keep them in a coldframe, indoors or next to the house.
Peppers should be spaced 18-24 inches apart, in rows 24 to 36 inches apart. This spacing may vary somewhat by variety.
Pepper plants prefer moist soil. Avoid wet soil. Water regularly in the hot, dry summer months.
Add mulch around the peppers to keep down weeds, and to retain moisture.