Growing Hot Peppers 101
Growing your own hot peppers from seed is a rewarding experience. The selection of hot peppers available at your local supermarket is limited, but there are a ton of terrific pepper varieties available to you when starting from seed.
It's a blast in the dead of winter to plan out your garden and order tried and true seeds. We're all addicted to trying out new and exciting variations, and it’s an enjoyable experience to grow different varieties and learn more about them. The possibilities are nearly endless, and it all starts by planting a seed!
What are the Pepper Seed Germination Steps for the Soil and Tray Method?
Here's what you'll need for successful pepper seed germination:
- Seed Starting Soil Mix of Choice (note that seed starting mix is different than potting soil. It's lighter, airier characteristics make it ideal for seed germination.)
- Seed Germination Tray, Humidity Dome, Heat Mat, Temperature Controller, & Plant Light
- Plant Labels
- #2 Pencil
Gloves (this is optional, but if you're dealing with super-hot peppers hot oil may still be on the seed)
Follow the steps below to set your pepper seeds up for successful germination:
Pre-saturate your seed starting soil mix. This can be achieved by mixing your seed starting mix and water in a bucket or tub prior to filling your seed cell insert. Or, you can fill your seed cells up fully with dry seed starting mix then add about 6 cups of water to the watertight base tray prior to placing the seed cell insert into the tray.
*Whichever method you use, the key is to ensure the seed starting mix is fully saturated prior to planting your seed.
- Make a ¼-inch hole in the center of each seed starting cell. A #2 pencil eraser is a great tool for making these holes.
Place your seed into the ¼-inch hole and cover gently with soil. Don't forget to label each variety as you plant!
Depending on how many cells and seed varieties you have, you can plant up to 4 seeds of the same variety per cell. This helps ensures successful germination of each variety you have, but when multiple seeds in a single cell germinate, you'll eventually have to thin them out.
- Place your seedling heat mat under the bottom of your base tray and place your humidity trapping dome on top. For best results, we recommend setting your temperature controller between 75 and 80 degrees.
Place your plant light above the seed starting tray and turn on. Refer to the plant light manufacturers' specific instructions for the optimal distance your light should be from the seed tray. In general, this will be 6-12 inches, but it all depends on the type of light being used. Plant light should remain on for 14 to 16 hours per day. Adding a timer to your plant light is a great way to ensure a consistent light schedule.
Special Note ** We include easy-to-follow germination instructions with every seed order. Some seeds, especially the super hots, can be a bit tricky to germinate. We're aware that there might be other ways to get your seeds to sprout, but if you decide to try a different method than the one we suggest, please understand that we can't guarantee successful germination, and we won't be able to provide replacements.
Ongoing Steps for Pepper Seed Germination
Check on your seeds daily to ensure the soil remains moist but not soaked. After the initial pre-soaking they likely won't need water for several days.
When additional water is needed, it's best to carefully lift the seed cell insert and pour a few inches of water into the base tray, allowing the soil in the cells to wick up the water. If the top of the soil still appears dry after a few hours you can also mist the top of the soil with a spray bottle.
Some seed varieties can be finicky and difficult to germinate. Be patient as hot pepper varieties can take 4 to 6 weeks to germinate. Others can show up in 7 to 10 days. It all depends on temperature, moisture, soil, and pepper variety.
Once at least 50% or more of seeds germinate, you can remove the humidity dome. Note that once the dome is removed, the soil will start to dry out quicker than it did when on. At this time, it is beneficial to direct a small fan towards your seedlings to provide gentle airflow that will strengthen seedling stems.
If seedling stems appear to be growing weak and flimsy (AKA "leggy") you should move your grow light closer to the seedlings. If seedling leaves begin turning a dark purple or black color, your light should be moved higher.
If multiple seedlings emerge in a single seed cell, you'll need to remove all but the healthiest seedling to prevent overcrowding and root tangling.
Pepper seeds contain all the nutrients they need for healthy initial growth. There is no need to fertilize your seedlings until they develop 4 to 6 "true leaves" and are several inches tall. At this point, you can begin using fertilizer at quarter-strength, slowly increasing fertilizer strength as they grow. Yellowing leaves is a sign that plants are lacking fertilizer, but note that yellowing can also occur when plants are being overwatered.
Once you have healthy seedlings with at least 6 true leaves, you're ready to move on to the hardening-off and transplanting stage.