Like the past few seasons, I started growing all my peppers from seed and indoors. Most of the peppers I grow have to be started from seed – you can’t buy them anywhere (plants or pods) and surely can’t find them locally (I’m in Northern Illinois). They also have to be started indoors. Growing peppers indoors for the first few months is required in my part of the country because of the long growing cycles needed. Most of the hot peppers I grow take a minimum of 120 days to produce ripe pods, most take more than 150 days.
Tips for Growing Peppers from Seed
I wish I could say that I follow all of this advice but I don’t. I’ve found that peppers are very resilient and despite my best efforts to prevent growth they thrive anyways:-) I would also add that these are just tips/guidelines…many pepper growers do things differently with great results. In no particular order of importance….
1 When it comes to growing peppers, less is more. I’ve read countless threads and blogs where people describe problems with their pepper plants and very often it’s because they are doing too much. Over fertilizing, over watering, tinkering with the soil, re-potting again and again, etc. You have to remember that in the wild peppers just fall to the ground and the next season the seeds grow. Not saying you should take that approach to your peppers just highlighting the fact that nature has a pretty basic process that works well. Don’t over think it when it comes to peppers – you don’t need to spend a lot of money buying all kinds of fertilizers and high end soils. My peppers spend the first 6 – 10 weeks of their lives in your basic red solo cup typically in MG potting soil.
2 For the most part, tap water is just fine. I’ve read all sort of claims that you need to buy water or use heavily filtered water to get seeds to sprout / successfully grow peppers. BS. Unless your tap water is really, really bad – like undrinkable for humans – it’s fine for growing peppers. Save your money, no need to buy water for pepper growing. Rainwater is great if you can collect and store it. All I have ever used is unfiltered tap water and I’ve never had any water related problems when it comes to growing peppers.
3 Pepper seeds germinate best between 75 and 85 degrees. There are quite a few different ways to germinate peppers seeds – in wet paper towels, in baggies, in dirt, etc. Regardless of how you choose to germinate your seeds temp is important and you’ll want to aim for a consistent 75 – 85 degree range. Temperatures in that range really speed germination. That said, I just fill solo cups with MG potting soil and bury seeds about 1/2 inch deep. I germinate everything in my basement where the temps float between 60 and 65 degrees. I typically get 80% germination but it takes a lot longer due to the lower temps…25+ days is not at all unusual for hot pepper seeds germinating in lower temperatures.
4 Start hot pepper seeds early. The biggest mistake I made during my first season growing hot peppers was that I started way to late. Last frost/plant out in my part of the country is May 15th. My first year I didn’t start my seeds until mid April and most of them had not even sprouted by plant out time. That year 90% of my peppers will still on the plants and far from being ripe by the time the season changed and temperatures started dropping below freezing. It goes without saying I was not happy about throwing away 90% of my peppers and that has never happened again. Here’s a good place to determine when it’s safe to plant out in your area. You can use this info to determine when to start your seeds. Depending on the type of pepper you’re growing you’ll want to start seeds indoors anywhere from 8 – 12 weeks before your plant out date.
5 Give them light! The moment your pepper seeds poke through the dirt they need light and lots of it. If you plan to move your plants outside when it’s warm enough you don’t need fancy or expensive lights, basic florescent lights will do just fine. Get a florescent fixture or two and keep the lights 2 – 3 inches off the tops of your plants. Give your pepper sprouts 24/7 light for the first 4 – 5 weeks then switch them to a 16/8 cycle, also 7 days a week.
6 Keep the air moving. Probably the most common threat to young seedlings is dampening off. Having a fan come on a few times a day (just set it with a timer) is a great way to keep the air moving and helps prevent dampening off.
7 Don’t water until pepper plants start to wilt. Over watering contributes dampening off and other nasties. After your plants start growing don’t water them until the wilt. Even if the soil is bone dry don’t water until the plant actually starts to wilt. Peppers just don’t need that much water.
8 Drainage is key. Pepper plants hate “wet feet”. Make sure your pots or whatever you have your peppers planted in has great drainage. For example I start my plants in solo cups and drill 4 – 5 good size holes in the bottom of each cup. If you have poor drainage it can lead to root rot.
9 While indoors, pinch off any buds. Until you move your plants outside it’s a good idea to pinch off any buds before they form into flowers. You don’t want your plants using energy on buds/flowers while they are inside, you want them using energy on growing leaves and roots. Pinching off the buds will force the plant to focus it’s energy while it’s still inside and trust me, once outside and the conditions are right it will start to bud/flower again.
I’ll update this post from time to time with other tips or suggestions for growing peppers from seed. If you have any suggestions, questions or comments please feel free to leave them in the comment section below.