It can take a lot of patience to grow peppers from seeds. Even in optimal conditions, it can take up to a month for the seeds to germinate.
Why do pepper seeds take so long to germinate?
As a general rule, you should expect your pepper seeds to take at least 1 or 2 weeks to germinate. Hotter varieties of pepper, such as ghost peppers, will likely take closer to 4 weeks to get to the same stage.
If your seeds are particularly old, they will also take a longer period of time to germinate. For the fastest germination time, we recommend using very fresh seeds. If you only have older seeds on hand, we recommend sowing 3 times as many seeds as you think you need.
Peppers need a high level of humidity in order to germinate quickly. Your seed trays are likely to come with a plastic cover or some kind of bag, known as a humidity dome. This helps to trap any moisture in the soil and keeps the plants growing well.
The transparency of the cover allows a decent quantity of light through and into the seedlings.
There are many highly technical seed trays with humidity covers available, but they are not necessary. A simple seedling tray like this one from Amazon will only set you back a few bucks, and will do just as good a job.
As a general rule, it is a good idea to remove the cover once seedlings have appeared above the soil level. This allows for much better ventilation and aeration of the soil, meaning your peppers will be less susceptible to root rot.
In order for your peppers to germinate well, they must be kept at a relatively constant high temperature. This temperature is usually above the internal temperature of most homes and you are likely to need a specialist piece of equipment to maintain this heat.
The ideal temperature for the germination of pepper seeds is between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
This mat from Seedfactor measures 10 by 20 inches, making it an ideal choice for growing a whole batch of peppers at once. It guarantees a constant temperature of between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
At optimal temperatures, pepper seeds have been known to germinate in as little as 4 days to one week. The seed heating mats will provide a constant and gentle heat source from below, measuring the soil temperatures and adjusting the thermal output as required.
All you need to do is place your seed trays on top of the mat and insert the probe into the soil.
If you are growing seeds, you will need a seedling grow light. If you are a gardener already, you likely own one. It is a good idea to put your seeds under the light as soon as you have sown them.
This will encourage them to grow, and provides a little heat from above too.
We all know that plants require oxygen to grow, so this should come as no surprise to any budding gardeners. If you choose to grow them underneath a humidity dome, you will need to lift the cover up periodically to allow fresh oxygen to circulate.
This will also refresh the oxygen content of the soil, meaning the plant growth will be faster and healthier. The seeds do not need a huge amount of oxygen, so until sprouts appear, you can get away with aerating the seed trays once every other day.
Many seed trays will have a vent in the cover. This allows for air to circulate without having to lift the lid and manually enable this process.
Alternatively, a standard desk fan set to low will work well to help the air circulate.
Correct planting medium
Not all soil is created equally. If you are a novice gardener, it can be confusing when you are met with 6 different types of soil in the garden center. In order to give your pepper seeds the best chance of germination, you should purchase a specifically formulated seed starter planting mix.
This organic seed starter mix from Espoma is great. It is formulated to contain the optimal nutrient balance for healthy root growth and can support seedlings in the first stage of their life.
The mix is enhanced with a compound known as Myco-tone which helps the plant uptake more nutrients and water from the soil.
Common ingredients in starter mixes are peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. These all add different qualities to the soil, in particular, helping with drainage and oxygenation.
When the seeds have grown sprouts, you should repot the plants into a different soil mix, with more nutrients.
Some people swear by this method, although we always recommend opting for the methods above first. It is a really good way to figure out the germination percentage of your seeds before you plant them.
Grab a plastic ziplock bag and drop in 20 seeds. Add a slightly dampened paper towel and seal the bag. Place them in an area that gets direct sunlight, and leave them for 3 weeks.
Once this time has elapsed, check on the seeds and see how many of them have sprouted. Whatever the number, multiply by 5 and this gives you a rough idea of your germination percentage.
The cup method
This is a good way to boost your chances of seed germination. You will need a 2 ounce lidded cup, like this one from Amazon. Fold up a piece of kitchen paper and make it slightly damp. Place this at the base of your pot and pop some seeds on the top.
Secure the lid on and place the cup on a seedling heat mat. You should add a little extra water to the paper towel each day to ensure it remains moist.
Should I soak pepper seeds before planting?
People believe that this is beneficial for seed germination as it allows water to penetrate into the center of the seed. This hydrates the seed faster and softens it considerably.
If you are planning on planting your seeds within 12 to 36 hours after soaking, we suggest doing it. If you are more forgetful, you’re probably better off just placing them in damp soil.
Some people will choose to soak their pepper seeds in a weak chamomile tea. Make a cup of chamomile tea and then take the teabag out.
Use the same tea bag to make a second cup - this is what you will use for the seeds. This helps to soften the outer shell of the seed, making it easier for the sprouts to penetrate through.
Using chamomile tea to soak the seeds will also help to kill off any bacteria and fungus on the seed.
What do you do once your seeds have sprouted?
If you have used paper towels as a germination medium, you should cut around the seedling. Sterilize your scissors before you begin cutting and take care to not cut through the root as you do this.
Transfer the seedling to soil, and bury it around one-quarter of an inch deep. Cover the top with a thin layer of soil or other growing medium. Place the seedling underneath a plant light to further encourage growth.