Germinating / Starting Hot Pepper Seeds

Carolina Reaper Pepper Seeds
Carolina Reaper Pepper Seeds

While we would be thrilled if you would make your seed purchase from our pepper seed collection, their are many fine seed merchants out there.  There are also some merchants who are not all that fine.  When it comes to the rare seeds, there are even unscrupulous types selling simple bell pepper seeds and passing them off as the mythical unicorn pepper of the year.  If they ship from China, chances are they are the faux variety of those mythical unicorn peppers.  Find someone you trust and then develop a relationship over the following years.  If ever you feel dissatisfied or if they are unable to supply the seeds you desire, develop another relationship.  This is supposed to be fun.

First Consideration: Timing

Ghost Pepper Seeds
Ghost Pepper Seeds

The first thing you should consider is timing.  If you are properly equipped with sufficient space, lighting, circulation, and the other demands of large plants you can grow chili from seed to harvest indoors.  But if you are like most, you are starting indoors to fill an outdoor garden when weather permits.

Make no mistake.  In most climates you do have to start them indoors.  We are discussing plants with tropical and semi tropical heritages.  They tend to be very long seasoned compared to other garden plants.  When you read days till maturity, chances are you are reading the number of days from transplant until they are sexually mature.  This number of days is vastly different than the number of days from seed to first harvest.  It will also very dramatically.

Generally, pepper seeds should be started indoors about 10 weeks before weather conditions permit them to be transplanted into outdoor gardens.  Assuming the use of light from windows and low intensity florescent, this timing helps your seedlings to avoid stretching, becoming leggy or developing a root bound situation.

Second Consideration: Time and Temperature

Habanero Pepper Seeds
Habanero Pepper Seeds

If you are like most beginners, your first mistake will be thinking they should sprout quickly.  Pepper seeds and particularly those in the capsicum chinense family which covers most super hots, can take up to five weeks to germinate.  Sometimes even longer.  I have been ready to toss an entire tray of Carolina Reapers and curse a seed merchant at five weeks only to experience excellent germination at six weeks.  I later discovered the Carolina Reaper is notorious for slow germination and seedling growth.

The biggest contributing factor to slow germination seems to be temperature.  For optimum results, one should keep the soil temperature at between 75 and 85 degrees.  Most homes are not kept at these temperatures.  These temperatures are typically accomplished with heating mats which are available where quality horticultural supplies are offered.  Others choose to use incandescent light bulbs aimed at the bottoms of plant trays via various rack systems (heat rises).  Other folk use the heat of a refrigerator or other household appliance which produces heat.  Although it seems counter intuitive, often setting a tray on top of a refrigerator will make a huge difference. Fell the surface to see where it is warm and where it is not.

Soil, Moisture, Depth

I said heat was the biggest contributing factor in slow germination of pepper seeds.  Soil, moisture and planting depth are the biggest contributing factors to no germination of pepper seeds.  Seeds should be sown between 1/8 and 1/4 inch deep in a sterile potting soil mixture.  They should be kept moist, but not wet.  After initial watering, misting the potting soil mixture each day may be sufficient to keep the pepper seeds moist.  Do not over water or you are likely to lead to complete failure due to fungal disease.

Lighting and Location

In the Northern hemisphere, a South facing window will provide the most light.  In the Southern hemisphere, a North facing window will provide the most light.  A window which receives unobstructed sunlight all day is sufficient for the early stages of most seed germination and sometimes even initial plant growth.  However, a simple fluorescent light can go a long way towards improving growth and health of your plants.

Although you can improve results with lighting intended specifically for plant growth, simple cool white florescent are more than sufficient to start a few plants when combined with a fairly sunny window.  These can even be the energy saving compact florescent which fit in household sockets.

Hardening Off

Carolina Reaper Seedling
Carolina Reaper Seedling

Pepper plants that go from indoors to in the ground as soon as the last frost has passed will do poorly if they have not been hardened off.  An oscillating fan in the area they are grown will help this process get a head start.  The gentle breeze helps plants to develop a thicker, stronger stalk and a generally healthier stature.

About a week before they will go into the ground, seedlings should be moved out doors for short but growing periods of time each day when weather permits.  To keep it simple, I like to start with an hour the first day, two the second, three the third and so on for at least a week.

Have fun with Hot Pepper Seeds

The most important part of growing pepper seeds is having fun.  Even if you are planning efforts for your farmers market or other business venture, if you do not have fun you are more likely to fail.

I absolutely love growing hot peppers.  The seeds are so very tiny that remembering what they looked like when planted and looking at a resulting mature plant loaded down with fruit gives a person a sense of magic.

I also love discussing and sharing.  Please consider joining me in the Chili Head forums here at Peppers By Mail.  Lets talk about pepper seeds, germination, or any topic related to hot peppers.

Click here to talk about Hot Peppers in the Hot Pepper Forum