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How to Grow Peppers from Seeds – The Complete Guide

How to Grow Peppers from Seeds

Whether it’s the flavor of a bell pepper or the fiery heat of a chili pepper, nothing beats knowing how to grow peppers from seed. It allows you to try a bunch of different kinds at home, and use them while cooking in the kitchen.

Choosing which peppers to grow, and which seed to buy is an important part of the process. You not only want peppers that will do well under the conditions found in your summertime garden — especially the length of the season — you also want peppers suited to your taste.

Finding just the right peppers for your growing conditions and palate takes some study and experience. But luckily, this guide is designed to help you every step of the way to learn exactly how to grow peppers from seeds easily and efficiently.

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Why Grow Peppers from Seeds?

Lots of gardeners I know don’t bother growing their own pepper starts. Buying established nursery starts makes it easy to control the timing of putting the plants in your garden as well as eliminating the work of potting seeds yourself. But the problem is selection.

Even though nurseries have begun offering more varieties of pepper starts — hot and sweet — they’re still just a trifle compared to the many varieties available to those willing to grow their own starts.

The bigger the selection the more chance you’ll have matching seeds to your growing conditions and taste. And growing a variety of peppers, maybe one or two plants of each you’ve chosen, allows you to address the various tolerances to pepper heat that will exist among your friends and family members.

Starting your own seed indoors also assures that no chemicals were used to encourage quick germination and no growth regulators were used to manipulate the plants while waiting for sale. Then there are those of us who actually enjoy and look forward to starting our own seeds — of all kinds.

Young Pepper Plants

When to Start Pepper Seeds?

Pepper seedlings need a fairly long growing season before they are big enough to produce mature fruit. And so, peppers are usually started indoors six to eight weeks ahead of the last frost date. That means, in some areas, you’ll want to start pepper seeds around Valentine’s day.

In more northern, high-altitude places that might mean tax day. And pepper plants aren’t set out right after the first frost.

Wait until night temperatures climb into the 50s and soil temperature at a depth of one or two inches approaches 70 degrees. Sure, you can put them in the ground earlier — people in some cooler areas may have to — but pepper plants will grow sluggishly until conditions improve.

Another thing to remember when you’re calculating when to start your plants. Peppers are slow to germinate. They’ll take three or four weeks — even as much as six weeks — to show themselves.

So, if you don’t live in a warm climate, you should start pepper seeds indoors instead of sowing them directly outside.

You can aid the process by supplying the right conditions. A heat mat that keeps your potting soil up near 80 degrees is ideal. But if you start them in a cool basement or some similar place, be prepared to wait.

Which Pepper Variety to Pick When Growing from Seeds?

The first thing to do — if you haven’t already done it — is to choose the pepper varieties you want to grow, again, picked with your growing conditions and tastes in mind.

We’ve always favored a selection of sweet peppers, milder peppers like Hungarians and banana peppers that need a relatively shorter (75 – 80 days) period to mature as well as cayenne peppers (80 days) and even some of the more exotic habaneros and super hot peppers (as many as 110 days).

Ornamental peppers are also a good choice, especially if you can eat them. But then, we think all peppers, with their varied shapes and colors, are ornamental.

A bowl of red, green, and yellow peppers

How to Sow Pepper Seeds

At 70 to 80 degrees F, the majority of pepper seeds sprout in about a week, though germination varies by pepper variety and can be patchy. Hot peppers can be difficult to work with, while chilies are easier to work with.

The process can be sped up by placing the seeds between a damp paper towel, in a plastic bag with a zipper, and in a warm spot.

A word of caution for those wanting to plant hot pepper seeds such as ghost peppers or Carolina reaper: make sure you’re careful in the way you handle the seeds. Wear gloves while handling them since capsicum oils can get on your hands and cause discomfort.

You’ll see some growers recommending a seedling heat mat or divided seed trays to start pepper plants. But we recommend you plant seeds in individual cow or peat pots that you can later set right into the garden.

Peppers don’t like having their roots disturbed and the less transplanting and messing with your little plants the better. We’ve seen recommendations to start seed in a jiffy or other peat-type plugs because they help control moisture.

We think a CowPot with good potting soil or starting mixture will do the job of controlling moisture and prevent us from having to transplant.

How to Care for Pepper Seedlings

Once your seedlings emerge, give them light. A sunny window sill, especially in March, won’t do the trick. T5 fluorescent grow lights are a good choice but other, higher-output bulbs will also work. If using fluorescents, bring the bulbs as close to your seedlings as possible. This will prevent them from getting leggy.

When true leaves appear, it is time to begin fertilizing. But hold off on giving them the full dose right away. Start with a low dose and gradually increase the strength as they grow.

We recommend using an organic compost solution or compost tea if you’re making your own compost at home. Alternatively, you could use a plant starter fertilizer.

So it’s May Day and your seedling are looking good and ready but the weather is still too cool, and a danger of frost still exists (that never happens in places like Montana, does it?).

You can “hold” your plants by removing the heat mat and generally providing cooler temperatures. Yes, you can reduce the light, too; but not by much. Reducing the light your plants get by even a couple of hours a day might send the wrong signal and encourage blossoming (you see this on nursery plants all the time).

How to Plant Pepper Seedlings

Be sure to harden off plants before planting them in the garden. A little extra help, especially in cooler climates, from a cloche or other covering, will encourage your plants to grow like it’s the dog days of summer even if it’s cool June.

Peppers thrive in full sun and well-draining, moist (but not wet) soil. Soil that has the right amount of both sand and loam will drain well and warm up quickly.

When working with dense clay, it is especially important to incorporate a lot of organic matter (compost, for example) into the soil.

Depending on the variety, space the seedlings 12 to 18 inches apart. The ideal spacing for the specific variety will be specified on the seed packet.

Avoid planting peppers in the same spot where you grew tomatoes, potatoes, or eggplants, as this increases the risk of disease spreading to your peppers.

Slow, deep watering promotes root system growth. Allowing pepper plants to wilt reduces yield and quality of the fruit. Watering infrequently also makes pepper susceptible to blossom-end rot.

How to Harvest Peppers Grown from Seeds

The common bell pepper, for example, is harvested while still immature and eaten green, even though it will develop into a red, purple, orange, or yellow pepper when fully mature.

Harvesting chile peppers is possible at any time, but they are at their peak of flavor when they reach full maturity.

Try one pepper first; if it still tastes green, let it ripen for about a week before trying another pepper to get the right level of ripeness and flavor. That’s when it’s ready to harvest!

Common Pests and Diseases for Pepper Plants

Keep an eye on your pepper plants to make sure no diseases or insects, such as aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies, take over.

Aphids are insects that feed on plant sap and spread diseases. As they eat plant leaves, they make honeydew, which attracts ants and other insects and can also lead to black sooty mold infecting your plants.

Many problems can be avoided by providing your plants with adequate airflow, fertilizing on a regular basis, using mulch, and blasting the undersides of leaves with water in the evenings.

But to make things easier for you, we have complete guides to controlling aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites that you can check out.

Have any tricks for starting peppers indoors? Have a favorite variety of pepper that just does great in your area? Let us know.

 

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2 Responses to “How to Grow Peppers from Seeds – The Complete Guide”

  1. draftmama on January 20th, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    We start our peppers indoors under lights in December – and we now have Ancho, Anaheim, Stocky Red Roaster, Corno de Toro Rosso, Serrano, Jalapeno and King of the North already up and thriving. Even in Montana we always get a bumper crop of peppers because we get them started so early!

    • Rikko on May 6th, 2016 at 8:42 am #

      How do I keep the plants under my new grow lights from growing so tall and spindly (peppers)? When do I transplant them and in how seep of containers? Thanks so much!

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