When it comes to growing seeds indoors, it can take a bit of effort and patience to grow peppers from seed. They can be one of the toughest seeds to germinate and grow into a healthy, thriving pepper plant. Once you learn a few tips and tricks, growing peppers from seed will become a breeze.
There are many types and varieties of pepper plants to grow. An advantage to growing your own peppers from seed is that you have a lot more varieties to choose from vs what your local garden center has to offer. Since there are a lot of different kinds of peppers out there I have created a list for you outlining a few of our favorite hot peppers and sweet peppers.
I suggest investing a little bit of money into a budget-friendly indoor seed starting setup that includes a grow light, seedling heat mat, some seed trays, and a sturdy shelf. We purchased our metal seed starting shelf at Home Depot and we only wish we would have bought it sooner!
Our favorite metal shelf for our seed starting set up!
If you have never heard of a heating mat for starting seeds, I highly recommend them. They warm up through bottom heat just enough for the soil temperature to replicate a warm climate. This increases your pepper seed’s germination rate as well as its germination time.
Since many pepper varieties require a fairly long growing season, giving your heirloom seeds a head start will allow you to grow an abundance of peppers even in colder climates.
These heating mats will increase your pepper seed’s germination rate and time!
Take a look at the back of your seed packet. You should see when the ideal planting date would be for that variety before your last frost date. Generally, it is late winter, about 8-10 weeks before your last frost date.
I like to sow seeds at the end of February for zone 4b but you can start your seeds right up to early April.
I recommend a few supplies to start growing your pepper seeds into healthy seedlings. I have listed all of my recommendations in this post where I go over our seed starting setup.
TIP: You can use recycled containers such as solo cups or other plastic containers. Ensure you punch a hole in the bottom of the container to ensure good drainage.
Step 1: In a large container mix your seed-starting mix with warm water until the soil feels moist to the touch but not soaking wet. Transfer the damp soil to your starter trays or small pots banging the tray on a hard surface a few times to remove any air pockets.
Step 2: A quick rule for seed planting depth is twice as deep as a seed is wide. So plant your pepper seeds about a 1/4″ – 1/2″ deep and gently cover the seed with soil. To plant them your can either place the seed on the soil surface and push it down or make a small hole before dropping the seed in.
Step 3: This step is optional, but to help keep the soil moist during the germination period, add a light layer of vermiculite on top of the soil.
Step 4: For best results, cover your tray with a humidity dome or plastic wrap to keep in the moisture and place it in a warm spot in your home or on a heat mat. If the area is too cool your germination rate will be slower.
To grow peppers from seed, it can take some time due to their longer germination rate. Depending on your pepper variety, most pepper seeds will germinate between 7-21 days. The warmer the area, the faster the germination period.
Keep an eye on your seedlings for sprouting, ensuring they are kept in ideal conditions. If you find that your seeds are not germinating, try moving them to a warmer spot, or they are not viable seeds.
When your seeds germinate you will see a tiny plant pop out of the organic matter with its first leaves. These are called “seed leaves.” Once you can identify the seed leaves, remove the seedling from the heating mat and place them under a grow light in an area that provides enough light for them to grow strong.
Once the seeds start to grow, they will form their second set of leaves. These are called “true leaves” these leaves are what you will probably recognize from a typical pepper plant.
As the plant grows, if the seedling doesn’t get enough light it will become “leggy” this can be identified if the seedlings grow long thin stems and start to reach toward the nearest light source. To avoid this, place the pepper seedlings under a grow light, about 4 inches high, or in a spot that gets full sun.
If you notice your seedlings have become leggy, I have a post that help you save your leggy seedlings.
To maintain a thriving pepper seeding, ensure they are watered regularly. The best way to water seedlings is from the bottom. Do this by placing your seedling tray in a shallow container or sink and let the roots soak up the water from the bottom. Give them enough water that the seedling tray has a bit of weight to it and the top of the soil is moist to the touch.
As I mentioned above, if pepper seedlings don’t get enough light, they will start to grow leggy and reach for the nearest window. So, in order to keep them growing thick and compact, it’s best to use a grow light. Hang a grow light a few inches above the seedlings as soon as they germinate and keep it on for 14-16 hours per day.
Once the plants have established their first set of true leaves, it’s time to start fertilizing. Avoid a full-strength dose at the beginning. Use a weak dose at first, and slowly increase the strength as the plants grow. I suggest using this organic fish fertilizer, by adding it to your watering once a week. I started using this organic fertilizer last year, and it was the best year for our garden!
I started using this organic fertilizer last year, and it was the best year for our garden!
When you are prepping your seeds for germination, a warm and moist environment is best. Once your seedlings grow their true leaves, they require a bit more air circulation to avoid any fungal diseases.
Providing your seedlings with a gentle breeze with a small fan will not only avoid any unwanted fungus, but it will help the seedlings grow strong thick stems! The air from the fan acts as the wind, and it sends a signal to the young plant to start growing thicker and stronger! This helps your pepper plants get ready to be in their permanent home outdoors!
Once your pepper plants have outgrown their seedling trays it is time to plant them in bigger pots! You can tell it is time to pot up your pepper plant by the roots. If you can see roots coming from the bottom of the tray, it is time to pot up. Leaving the pepper plants in a container that is too small can stunt their growth, impacting your pepper yield.
Get a container that is double the size of the seedling cell tray. I like to use recycled nursery pots, you can also use solo cups or old plastic containers.
Fill the larger pot with soil and carefully remove the seedling from its old cell. Place the seedling in the pot and cover it with soil. I like to plant the seedling a little bit deeper to encourage stronger steam and root growth. Give the seedling water to help with transplant shock and place it back under the lights.
In early spring when the weather has warmed up it is time to start getting your pepper plants ready to plant outside in your garden. Before you plant your peppers in the garden you need to prepare them for the outdoor elements. This is called “hardening off.” This is an important step to ensure all of your hard work.
Hardening off seedlings is a critical step in successfully growing seeds indoors, and it’s one that many beginner gardeners miss. Hardening should take between 7-10 days before planting in the garden.
TIP: If you have just recently repotted your pepper plants. Wait about a week or so before the hardening-off process to ensure the plant is recovered and in a healthy state.
On a mildly warm day start by placing your pepper plants outside and avoid any direct sunlight. Watch the movement of the sun and make sure they are watered and aren’t wilting from the heat of the sun. If they start to fade, move them to a more shaded area.
Watch the forecast for any extremely hot weather, high winds, or heavy rain. Your seedlings need to slowly adapt to the weather. Start slowly by starting when the weather is close to what their past environment in the house was. It is best to start hardening off your pepper plants in the early hours of the day when the elements are gentler for the plants.
Plan to leave your seedling out for only a few hours during the first few days. Bring them back indoors under their lights after a few hours.
Slowly increase the number of hours they are outside and slowly introduce them to the sun. Repeat these steps for at least a week while slowly exposing them to the sun, wind, rain, etc.
On the final days, it’s time to leave your plants outside overnight. make sure the nighttime temperatures are above 50°F (10°C). Protect the pepper plants by placing them close to a building. I like to keep our plants on our back deck beside the brick, tucked under the roof.
After hardening off, before planting your pepper plants directly into your garden ensure the risk of frost has passed. Most zones are good to plant in late May to early June.
Begin by spacing your pepper plants out 12-18″ apart in the garden. Larger varieties may require more spacing. Be sure to check the back of your seed package to see what spacing your variety needs.
Dig holes in the garden soil about 1/4-1/2″ deeper than they were before and ensure all of the roots are covered. Give them a good water after planting.
TIP: If for some reason the weather flukes (because it can happen!), and you have a few cold nights, grab some row covers or blankets to protect the young pepper plants from potential frost.
Depending on the variety of pepper plants you are growing, it can take anywhere from 4-5 months (100-150 days) to grow peppers from seed to harvest.
Some grow much quicker than others, most plants will start producing much faster if they are strong and healthy and live in ideal conditions. So give them plenty of heat and sun for the best results.
Yes, you can! Some companies spray their produce with a chemical that stunts the growth of any potential seeds in the pepper. If you would like to grow peppers from seeds from a grocery store pepper, you will have the best luck with organic varieties.
No, pepper seeds do not require light until AFTER they have germinated. All they require is a moist, warm environment to germinate successfully.
The fastest way to germinate pepper seeds is to provide them with the most ideal conditions possible. Using a heat mat, moisture, and a humidity dome will encourage your pepper seeds to germinate quickly.
Yes! We grew peppers in containers for years and had a lot of success! Ensure you are using a big enough pot or grow bag for the variety you are growing.
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