Growing Peppers From Seed

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.

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213 Responses to Growing Peppers From Seed

  1. larry smith says:

    thanks for the info. i have grown habeneros but this is my first years for butch t’s. my plants are about 18 inches tall and have alot of buds. we are going through a bit of a drought but the peppers seem to be thriving. i’m glad you mentioned about overwatering.

  2. pepperseed says:

    Glad to help Larry. I’ve found peppers really prefer to be dry. I’m amazed how long I can without watering them, especially after they really take root in the garden. Once they start wilting I give them a nice long drink and they do great.

    • Tammy says:

      Thank You for all the great info. I really appreciate your knowledge. I have a 9-10″ Bhut Jolokia-Ghost Chile plant, which I grew from seeds. I planted them back on Feb. 6th, it’s in a pot indoors. My problem is never know how much water to provide it and the leaves always seem droopy. It is not a husky looking plant, the stems and leaves are very delicate, then as it’s grown, it keeps dropping the lower leaves. What am I doing wrong? About how long does it take to produce peppers? Thank You, in advance, for your time and efforts in this matter.

      • Norm says:

        Tammy: You still have it indoors? Are you in a cool climate? I live north of Seattle and gave up on growing some peppers because I don’t have a hoop house or effective tunnel for them….too cool for some peppers here. Regarding your situation; there is not enough info for a good diagnosis, but it sounds like the plant is too wet. Are the leaves curling? If so, up or down? Are the leaves yellowing and falling off from the bottom up? (It is normal for pepper plants to lose some lower leaves as they age). Is the whole plant wilting, or does it start from the top or the bottom? Is the plant getting some air movement during the day, or is it in still air all the time? Many people say this pepper is more delicate than others, and has less margin or forgiveness if conditions aren’t right. Some call it a “moderately difficult” or “advanced gardener” pepper, so you have been more successful than many to this point! But there could be other factors.

        1. This pepper can get 4′ tall — is your pot big enough?
        2. It needs hot weather; never below 65 at night, and not over 95 daytime; best is around 85 degrees. It likes it a little cooler at night, but nice and warm during the day. My temp swings out here can go from 75 daytime to 50 nighttime; a lot of peppers don’t like that!! My daytime highs are too low for this pepper and night time temps are much too low. The swings of temp, and rain, are too much for them.
        3. It needs full sun. Unless you are in a location with 100+ temps day after day, then they might do with a some afternoon (mid to late) shade.
        4. They like moderate water, but do not like standing with wet roots; best to have a fast draining soil and water often (I know, counter intuitive with the “water deep” folks). Drip is a good way to go. Just don’t over water! That may be your issue. You can get a moisture probe from a nursery for very little money — it may look and feel dry in the top inch or two but could be soaking wet at 4 inches and below!
        5. Peppers, up to bloom/fruit, are heavy feeders. If you have fast draining soil you may need to give some liquid fertilizers more often. But, don’t overdo the N (nitrogen); just make sure it is available for the pepper.

        If you are growing these indoors in a small pot with 6 or less hours of light and air conditioning, you won’t get very far for producing any fruit. Good luck! Oh…if you have a Master Gardener clinic close to you (generally at a county extension office), they could look at it for you (take it to them). It is a free service.

      • Andrew says:

        If anyone has any pepper pods they would like to send me I’d gladly return the favor!

  3. James Davis says:

    Thanks for the info, we returned right at 80% germination, but I fear we may have planted them too early, it is august 12 and flowering is in process as we speak, I live in North Central Indiana so we share common season temperatures with a few variances in weather conditions im sure. My question is how long between flowering a fruit cycle. Do we have a good shot at getting some hot peppers yet this year? If so about when can I expect them.

  4. pepperseed says:

    Hey James, you should start seeing fruit a week or two after flowering. What kind of peppers are you growing?

    • Chhean Mieying says:

      Hi all
      I really want to know about the cycle of pepper plant from seeds until can harvest.
      Anyone can share me?

      • pepperseed says:

        @cheap it depends on the pepper. Super hots tend to take longer, 120 – 180 days from seed to rip pods is not unusual.

  5. Barry Bertolet says:

    What potting mix should I transplant my Butch T’s into. They just emerged and have their two leaves. Also is there a site that tells you how to transplant them? Its my first shot a growing them. Also I am growing them indoors seed-finish.

  6. pepperseed says:

    Hey Barry, I use Pro Mix.

  7. Summer says:

    Thank you for posting this! I am new to gardening and this is the first year I have ever started anything from seed and the info here is incredibly useful. I have started a few pots of jalapeno and regular bell peppers and while everything else (herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach) has already started to sprout, I’ve had no action from the peppers. I started them indoors about a week and a half ago, putting them outside during the day and bringing them in at night (daytime temps here in Tennessee have been running in the mid-seventies, but dropping to about mid-fifties at night, and the last frost isn’t until mid-April). I’m going to try watering them less than the other plants and keeping them warm and see if that will do the trick.

    • pepperseed says:

      Hi Summer,

      Happy to have helped. Peppers can be slow to sprout, I have some this year that have taken up to a month. I think my jalapenos took 12 – 15 days. Keep em’ warm and give them time and they should pop through the dirt soon 🙂

  8. john says:

    Glad I found this post… though it might be a bit late for some of my little sprouts.
    I have my seedlings under a fluorescent light and over a plug in oil radiator. I am in fear of maybe over watering a few of the little ones (with a spray bottle 5 sprays). I have a few Serranos and early Jalapenos that were the first up (about 1″) and I resprayed only to find them wilted and in a state of non recovery. I am hoping that the other seeds planted with them will come up and I won’t make the same mistake.
    When they are this vulnerable size, what are the signs of needing water, just wait for a slight wilt in the leaves, the stems or???

    • pepperseed says:

      Hi John,

      You mention having the seedlings on a radiator…make sure it’s not too hot. Temps that are too high can kill seedlings off pretty quick.

      My rule of thumb for watering pepper seedlings is to wait until the soil is completely dried out. If it’s moist all the seedlings will be fine, too much water and you can end up with dampening off…perhaps that’s what happened to your seedlings this time?

  9. MUNSCH says:

    I planted 13 Scorpians, within 4 days only the front row (5) became visible. One took off with two leaves right away. I “thought” at that point the warm sun room (90) would be a treat. Fail! All five stopped doing anything and the other 8 have not shown up yet. The best one is barely standing or alive for all I know. Question: Should I be patient for the other 8 to break the surface or do you believe I’ve killed them all (It’s been 9 days total). I’ve brought them back to their heating pad and put the top back on their planter but I’m just wondering if I should just resow with the seeds I stored in the refrigerator.
    Thanks

    • pepperseed says:

      Munsch,

      Super hots can take up to 30 days to sprout so it’s ok to be patient. Did you sprout them inside and them move them outside into the sun room? If so that can kill them quick…if you sprout them inside you need to introduce them to the sun slowly, maybe 1 – 3 hours of partial sun for a few days gradually increasing.

      90+ degrees is pretty hot for seedlings too. All my sprouts come up in temps in the 60’s and 70’s and then gradually move the areas of the house where it’s in the 80’s. My plants never see antying close to 90 degrees until mid summer when they have already been outside for a at least 4 – 6 weeks and are pretty good size.

      • MUNSCH says:

        Thanks. Yes, I sprouted them inside last week, what was interesting was that only the front row started to sprout.
        As long as you don’t believe the un-sprouted ones could be ruined I will not dump them and I will also from now on leave them inside under the lights and on their warm happy pad for quite a bit longer. Only 3 of my Ghosts last year out of 13 made it. Actually 2, it was my first time growing and I thought #1 was a weed and plucked it….DOH!
        Thanks!

  10. Michele says:

    My husband and I are growing the moruga scorpion and purple ghost pepper this year. We are experienced gardeners who like to try new things and we have grown other varieties of hot peppers in the past. We started the seeds indoors in March with the help of a heat mat and had sprouts within 3-4 days. We were considering growing them in our sunroom when they are ready. Our sunroom reaches 90-100 temps in the middle of Summer. Do the morugas and ghosts do best with the real high heat or can they be grown in 80 degree temps? My husband was wondering what PH level is ideal for them and if it’s possible to grow them hyroponically in rockwool? Would they prefer sandy soil?

    • pepperseed says:

      Hi Michele,

      Sorry to be the one to tell you that you’ll be disappointed with the “purple ghost”. The pepper will not look anything like real ghost peppers (some say they are not even hot) and they will ripen to red.

      In terms of your growing conditions temps in the 80’s are fine, sunroom temps may be a little on the high side especially if they are consistently hot. You’ll want a ph around 7 and some sand in the soil (for drainage) is ok too. Good luck with your grow!

      • Michele says:

        Thank for the reply and info. The Morugas are really the ones we are excited about. We bought the purple ghost pepper seeds before we knew about the Morugas. We’ve decided to grow half hydroponically and half in soil.

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