Do you know how to grow peppers from seed? If not, this article might be of interest to you. The article contains 9 steps that will guide you on growing a pepper plant from seed.
In it, you will find information that will help you select the best pepper variety to start from seeds when to start the seeds, fertilizing, and, transplanting among others.
Moreover, by reading this article, you will learn a thing or two on how to care for a pepper plant including; seedling hardening off, overwintering, rejuvenating a dormant pepper plant, and much more.
Sounds compelling right? Let’s dive in!
How to Grow Peppers from Seed & their Maintenance
1. Select pepper varieties that are easy to grow from seeds
Growing pepper from seed usually requires a lot of patience as pepper seeds taking quite some time to germinate. However, there are those pepper varieties that are easy and quick to grow from seeds.
For example, Capsicum annuum such as Thai pepper, jalapeno, Poblano, Anaheim, cayenne and, serrano. Most of the ornamental peppers are also good for starting from seed. All these peppers germinate easily (in about a week) even at low temperatures (between 50oF to75oF) and perform better in a cooler climate.
On the other hand, most chinense species e.g. Scotch bonnet and habaneros germinate slowly and require fairly higher soil temperatures ranging from 75oF-90oF. These peppers usually take about 4 to 6 weeks to sprout.
Note: The germination process can be slow or fast and at times irregular depending on the dormancy of each species.
2. Start your seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date
Assuming that you’ve purchased the pepper seeds already, it’s time to prepare for seeding. The best time to start the seeds is in winter between November and February.
Begin by soaking the seeds in warm water overnight. This helps speed up seed germination by penetrating the seed coat which in turn causes the embryo to plump up.
Then get the seeds into a seed starter like Espoma Organic Seed Starter or jiffy peat pellets first thing in the morning. Most seed starters contain peat moss that’s light in weight and allows air to circulate easily while retaining a uniform amount of moisture.
Pack the starter mix lightly into containers to about ¾ full and place your seeds at an appropriate spacing. Cover the seeds lightly and don’t pat down the soil so that the seedlings can break through easily.
Should you go for jiffy peat pellets, first pour water onto the pellets and give them a few minutes to absorb the water. The pellets expand/ increase in size as they absorb the water. Once the pellets have fully expanded, pull out the mesh at the top and make holes approximately 0.25 inch (1/4 inch) deep.
Place your seeds in the holes and cover lightly with soil. Just like with a seed starter, don’t pat down the soil after covering the seeds.
In addition to the jiffy peat pellets and commercial seed starters, you can prepare a homemade seed starting mix and save a few coins. For instance; take 2 parts peat moss, 1-part perlite, 4 parts compost and, 1-part vermiculite and mix thoroughly in a garden cart.
Or, use compost, coir and, perlite in the ratio of 2:2:1 if you want to go peat-free.
3. Harden off the pepper seedlings before planting them outside
Since you started your seeds indoors, the young plants have gotten used to a controlled environment (no exposure to wind, extreme sunshine or, cold nights). You, therefore, need to train your plants on how to gradually get used to outdoor conditions.
Start to harden off the seedlings at least 2 weeks before you move them outside. The starting time depends on your specific climate.
During the first few days (about 2 to 3 days), keep your seedlings under a shade and avoid wind by all means necessary for about 2 hours. Then take the plants back indoors until the following day.
Once the three days of shade are over, it’s time to expose the seedlings to some sun. Place the plants in the sun for about 10 to 20 minutes each day before bringing them back to the shade. Increase the exposure with the same range every day as you watch out for any sun scalds or drooping leaves and adjust the exposure time accordingly.
As you continue with the process, it’s good to monitor temperature changes. Remember, indoor temperatures are mostly even but, they are more likely to fluctuate outdoors. Just ensure that the temperatures don’t go below 55°F or above 95°F.
After 2 weeks of hardening-off and temperature is above 55°F, it’s time to leave your seedlings outside for a night. In about 2 to 4 weeks later, the seedlings will have fully acclimatized to outdoor conditions. You can hence grow them outside permanently in a garden or containers.
Pro Tip: Fertilize the seedlings at the appropriate time as you proceed with the hardening off process.
4. Transplant the hardened seedlings to their final growing space
Now that the seedlings have fully hardened off, it’s the right time to transplant them. If you plan to move them into pots/containers, use a potting mix that’s well-draining e.g. organic potting mix for peppers & tomatoes.
Fill the pot/ container with the fresh potting mix to about ¾ full and dig a hole that is slightly larger than the plant’s root ball. Hold the plant by the root ball and remove it from the previous container without causing disturbance to the roots.
Roll the root ball gently to loosen the roots and remove the surrounding old growing medium.
Place the plant about an inch deeper than it was grown in the old container. Cover the root ball with the mix and fill the pot to approximately 1 cm from the top.
Pat down the potting mix with your fingers gently such that the root ball is in close contact with the mix and top up to keep the pot full. Finally, water the plant lightly to allow the old medium to bond with the new one and release nutrients to the plants’ roots.
In addition to this, keep your plant at a spot where it gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day and water the plant regularly. However, be careful not to overwater it.
5. Fertilize your pepper plants
There are two main growing stages of pepper i.e. root development and leafy growth stage and, the pod production stage. Each of these stages has different fertilizer requirements whereby, any alterations however small can harm your peppers.
So, let’s look at when and how to fertilize your peppers and, what fertilizer is good, and at what stage of growth.
When you plant your pepper seed, there is no need to use fertilizer because the seed contains the necessary nutrients for germination and up until it grows into a small pepper plant. Nevertheless, mix-in a nitrogen-rich fertilizer to the growing medium/soil during the early growth stage (2 weeks after the seeds have sprouted)
Or, apply a nitrogen-rich, water-soluble fertilizer such as Miracle Grow Performance Organics for the basic as well as the secondary nutrients for a young growing pepper plant.
The high nitrogen levels in these two fertilizers help the plants grow strong with plenty of foliage for energy uptake from the sun. The new green leaves also help generate maximum energy for pod production later on.
Upon reaching the flowering stage, your peppers will need less nitrogen and more potassium and phosphate. E.g. a 5.10.10 fertilizer.
Pro Tip: Use half-strength dosage depending on fertilizer potency in early growth stages as the roots are tender and small. Plus, maintain a consistent fertilizer application schedule to avoid over/under fertilizing.
6. Overwinter your peppers
The majority of gardeners grow almost all types of peppers as annuals. Whereby, they sow, grow, pick, and then throw the plants away into the compost at the end of the season. However, peppers can be grown as perennials and can overwinter to the next year under the right growing conditions.
This not only gives you an instant head start on the new growing season but also shortens the time the plant takes to fruiting. Plus, you pick the fruits for an extended period thus, heavier overall harvest.
Container-grown peppers are good at overwintering because there’s no root disturbance hence low chances for failure as compared to garden-grown peppers. Start by making sure that the plant is healthy and free from pests and diseases.
Then, prune the peppers by making cuts just above each bud with a clean and sharp pruning shear or some secateurs. As fall continues, you might experience stems further dying and, leaves turn yellow and fall off the pepper plant.
This is perfectly normal so, don’t be alarmed. Just prune back to places where the stems are green and in spring, your plant will produce new growth.
Place your overwintered pepper plant on a spot where temperatures are above freezing and light levels are considerably high like on a sunny side of a windowsill.
When it comes to watering an overwintered plant, ensure that the potting mix dries completely before you water the plant and allow excess water to drain freely through the drainage holes.
7. Rejuvenate the Dormant Overwintered Plants
Boost the new growth of the overwintered peppers by repotting them into a fresh potting mix with incorporated compost and a general-purpose organic fertilizer. You should do this about a month and a half before your last frost date.
To do this, scrub off about 5 cm of the previous growing medium from around the root ball and repot the plant. Start to water the plant as soon as you observe the first set of new growth.
With some gradual increase in light and temperature, the plant exhibits faster growth of thicker leaves and branches.
8. Harvest Mature Peppers
Different pepper varieties have different maturity stages. Some change color from green to yellow, orange, purple, or red upon maturity. Chile peppers, for example, can be harvested at any stage but if you want to have the best flavor, you must let them grow to full maturity.
So, pepper maturity and harvesting are matters of individual preferences, especially when you aren’t producing for commercial purposes.
9. Common Pests and Diseases in Pepper
The common insect pests in peppers include cutworms, flea beetles, pepper weevils, and plant bugs like aphids and whiteflies.
All the above insect pests cause damage to the peppers by feeding on the foliage or fruits or, by spreading viral infections.
Common diseases in peppers that you should look out for include; powdery mildew, bacterial leaf spot and, mosaic virus.
That has been how to grow peppers from seed. As you have seen, it’s not that difficult to grow and care for peppers.
In addition to what you have read, here are some extra tips that come in handy when growing and caring for a pepper plant.
- Some peppers have delicate branches that eventually grow heavy with fruits. If this is the case with you, staking or caging would help.
- Encourage your pepper plant to produce a bountiful harvest later on by pinching off the first few blossoms.
- Promote stronger, stockier and, thicker seedlings by providing a light breeze on the peppers using a fan. This also helps prevent seedling damping off.
And that’s how you grow and care for pepper plants.
What is your experience with pepper growing? Let’s know in the comments.