Growing peppers from seed can be a bit challenging for beginners, but it’s actually pretty easy once you learn how. In this post, I am going to show you exactly how to grow peppers from seed, step-by-step, and give you everything you need to be successful!
Peppers (aka capsicum) are one of my all-time favorite vegetables to grow from seeds! My husband loves them too, and we’ve grown tons of different varieties (both hot and sweet) over the years.
In this post, I’m going to focus on exactly how to grow peppers from seed, step-by-step.
I’ll cover everything from the best method to use, when to start, planting instructions, germination time, seedling identification and care, transplanting, fixing common problems, faqs, and more!
Growing Peppers From Seed
This is a general guide to growing peppers from seed, no matter what kind they are. So you can follow these instructions for any type that you want to grow. The steps are the same for all varieties of capsicum seed.
Types Of Pepper Seeds To Grow
One of the things that I love the most about growing pepper seeds is the amazing variety I can find. You can’t get much diversity at the garden center, they usually only carry a handful of different types.
But when you grow peppers from seed, the diversity you can find is awesome! There are so many different kinds to choose from, it’s pretty crazy.
They range anywhere from the mild flavor of bell peppers, to the sweetness of banana peppers, and the medium heat of chilies… all the way up to spicy cayennes, jalapeños, and the super HOT habanero or ghost peppers.
What Do Pepper Seeds Look Like?
I’m sure most people probably already know what pepper plant seeds look like (well, anyone who cooks anyway). But just in case, I will give you a quick description.
They are flat and round, and can be anywhere from white, cream or yellow in color. Oh, and the seeds from hot peppers can contain the same oils that makes the fruit hot. So, be sure to wear gloves when handing them!
I wear contacts, and have had a few bad experiences taking them out of my eyes after handling any part of a hot pepper, including the seeds. Ouch!
Recommended Pepper Seed Starting Methods
Peppers take a long time to grow large enough from seeds to produce mature fruit, and they require a fairly long growing season.
They can also be a bit slow to germinate (some varieties take up to a month!). So, unless you live in a warm climate, I recommend starting pepper seeds indoors, rather than planting them directly into the garden or winter sowing them.
When To Plant Pepper Seeds
The best way to get a good crop is by planting the seeds indoors 8-12 weeks before your average last frost date.
The exact date for when to start pepper seeds depends on where you live. I’m in MN (z4b), and our average last frost is around May 15th. So, I plant them indoors sometime in early March.
Planting Pepper Seeds
Another thing that makes growing peppers from seed easy is that you don’t need to do anything special to prepare them for planting.
No nicking, soaking or cold stratification needed. You can put them straight from the packet into the soil, and they will grow!
How To Plant Pepper Seeds Step-By-Step
You don’t need to buy a ton of expensive equipment to grow peppers from seed, but you will need a few things. You may even have some of this stuff laying around the house. Here’s what you’ll need…
- Seedling flat with a lid
- Seed starting soil or peat pellets
- Heat mat (optional)
- Latex gloves (if planting seeds from hot peppers)
Step 2: Decide how many seeds to use – If you’re using brand new seeds, then you can just plant one per cell/pellet. Otherwise, if they are old or have a low viability rate, then plant 2-3 per cell/pellet.
Step 3: Plant the seeds – The rule of thumb for planting depth is twice as deep as a seed is wide. So plant pepper seeds about a 1/4″ – 1/2″ deep.
To plant them, you can either lay the seeds on top of the soil, then gently push them down. Or you could make the holes first, then drop the seeds in.
Step 4: Cover the seeds with soil – Fill the holes with soil, then gently press it down to make sure the seeds come in contact with the soil. Don’t compact the soil though, just gently press it down.
Step 5: Add water – If the soil is not already wet, then you should add water. It’s best to water from the bottom so you don’t disturb the seeds.
Simply pour it into the tray until it’s just above the drainage holes, or about 1/4 of the height of the pellets. Dump out any excess water that hasn’t been absorbed within 15 minutes.
Step 6: Cover the tray – Place the clear plastic lid on top of the tray to help keep the soil warm, and ensure that it stays moist.
Step 7: Place the tray in a warm spot – If you can, put it on top of a heat mat. That will help speed up germination. Otherwise, place it in the warmest spot you can, or run a space heater nearby. If it’s too cold, it will slow down germination, or the seeds may not grow at all.
Pepper Seed Germination Time
When it comes to growing peppers from seed, you need to be patient. It can take anywhere from one week to almost a month for them to germinate. Some varieties grow faster than others.
If yours are taking forever, then it may be too cold for them. To germinate them faster, put the trays on a heat mat, or over a heater vent. It’s amazing how much faster they germinate when you add bottom heat.
What Do Pepper Seedlings Look Like?
When they first sprout, pepper seedlings will have two leaves that are narrow and pointy. These first two leaves are called the “seed leaves” (or cotyledons, if you want to get super technical).
All of the next leaves that grow after that are called “true leaves”, and those look like tiny pepper leaves. The true leaves will usually start forming within a week or so after the seed leaves have opened up.
Pepper Seedling Care Tips
Once the seeds start to grow, you might wonder what to do next. Yikes! Well don’t worry, cause one of the best things about growing peppers from seed is that the seedlings are super easy to care for.
You can learn all about general seedling care, but here are a few quick tips that are more specific to caring for pepper plant seedlings…
Peppers seedlings need to be watered consistently, but don’t like soggy soil. Allow the very top of the soil to dry out a bit between waterings, but never let it dry out completely.
If you accidentally overwater them, and the soil is soggy, empty all the extra water that’s sitting in the tray. Then, turn a fan on low, and position it to blow over the tray. This will help the saturated soil dry out faster.
If pepper seedlings don’t get enough light, they will start to grow leggy and reach for the nearest window. So, in order to keep them growing thick and compact, it’s best to use a grow light.
Hang a plant grow light a few inches above your seedlings as soon as they germinate, and use an outlet timer to keep it on for 14-16 hours per day. You could make your own system with a shop light fixture and grow light bulbs.
Once the true leaves begin to form, it’s time to start fertilizing. But don’t give them a full strength dose right off the bat. It’s best to use a weak dose at first, and slowly increase the strength as your seedlings get larger.
I also recommend using a natural, organic fertilizer rather than synthetic chemicals. Chemical fertilizers are harsh and can easily burn your baby pepper plants.
I use (and highly recommend) an organic compost solution (or I make my own with compost tea bags) on all of my seedlings. Or you could use a plant start fertilizer that is specially made for seedlings.
Once all (or most) of the seeds in a flat have germinated, it’s time to give them some airflow. You can remove the lids, and run an oscillating fan over them on the low setting.
This will help to strengthen them, and also prevents problems with mold growth in the trays. Plug it into the same timer as your lights, or run it for a shorter period if you prefer.
For the most part, you shouldn’t have to worry about thinning pepper seedlings. However, if you planted more than one per hole, then you’ll need to thin them out.
To do that, find the strongest seedling, and then thin out the weaker ones until there’s only one growing per cell or pellet.
Potting Up Pepper Seedlings
Once your seedlings have started to outgrow the trays, it’s a good idea to pot them up into larger containers to give them plenty of room to grow larger.
Otherwise, you can use small plastic nursery pots (which are reusable). Or even recycled containers like yogurt cups or small milk cartons (just be sure to poke drainage holes in the bottom!).
Transplanting Pepper Seedlings Into The Garden
Once the weather starts to warm up in the spring, we can get pretty antsy to get our seedlings planted into the garden!
But it is essential that you transplant them at the right time, and do it correctly, or all of the hard work you put into growing peppers from seed will be for nothing.
When To Transplant Pepper Seedlings
Pepper plant seedlings hate the cold, and they could be killed if you move them into your garden too early. Even if they do survive the cold, their growth could be stunted by it.
So, it’s best to wait to transplant them until after all chance of frost is gone, and the soil has warmed up. Here in zone 4b, that is usually in early June.
Hardening Off Pepper Seedlings
But wait! Before you can think about planting them into the garden, they must be hardened off first to prepare them for life outdoors.
Since they’re used to living in a warm indoor environment where there is no rain, wind, or direct sun, you need to toughen them up for life in the real world.
To harden them, start by placing them outside in the shade for a few hours a day. Then each day, give them a little more sun and time outside. After a few weeks, they will be ready to stay outside for good.
Where To Plant Pepper Seedlings
Peppers like the heat! They will grow their best when planted in a full sun location. They also perform really well in pots and containers, and would be perfect for patio or deck planters.
Be sure to plant them in fast draining, rich soil that has plenty of organic matter mixed in. You can amend garden soil with compost or worm castings. Or use a high quality container potting soil when planting them in pots.
They also love to be fed throughout the growing season. To start them off right with plenty of nutrients, I like to mix an organic granular fertilizer into the soil before planting out my pepper starts.
Most pepper plants stay pretty compact, and don’t need a lot of room to grow. So, plan to space your seedlings 12-18″ apart in the garden.
Larger varieties may need a bit more room. But pepper plants like to be touching each other a little bit once they get larger, so don’t space them too far apart.
Pepper Seedling Planting Depth
For best results, plant pepper seedlings slightly deeper than they were in the seed tray or pot. Don’t plant them super deep, but about 1/4-1/2″ deeper than they were before.
At minimum, you should plant them at the same depth. And always be sure to plant them deep enough so that all of the roots are buried.
How Long To Grow Peppers From Seed To Harvest
As I mentioned above, peppers need a fairly long growing season to mature. Depending on the type you have, it can take 4-5 months (100-150 days) to grow peppers from seed to harvest.
Some grow much faster than others do. And of course, they will start producing much faster in the ideal conditions. So give them plenty of heat and sun for the quickest results.
Troubleshooting Problems Growing Pepper Seeds
It’s super frustrating when you struggle to grow pepper seeds, especially when you have no idea what’s wrong (or how to fix it!).
You can find out more in my detailed guide for fixing common seedling problems here. But below I have listed a few of the most common things you may struggle with…
- Pepper seeds won’t germinate – Failure to germinate can be caused by a few things, but most likely it’s because you’re using old seeds that are no longer viable. Too much water or not enough heat are also common causes.
- Pepper seedlings falling over – This is caused by a disease called seedling blight (aka: damping off), and it’s from using dirty equipment. Unfortunately there’s nothing you can do to save them once they flop over. But in the future, be sure to clean and disinfect the flats before using them again.
- Leggy seedlings – Lack of light will always cause seedlings to grow tall and leggy. Usually a sunny window will not provide enough light for them, so be sure to get a grow light.
- Seedlings not growing – If your seedlings don’t seem to be getting any bigger, then it’s probably too cold for them. Move them to a warmer location. Overwatering can also slow their growth, so be sure the soil is never saturated.
FAQs About Growing Pepper Seeds
Below I will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about growing peppers from seed. If your question wasn’t answered in this post, then please ask it in the comments below. I’ll be happy to answer it for you as soon as I can.
How many pepper seeds per hole?
When using new or fresh seeds, you can plant one pepper seed per hole. If you’re using old seeds that have a low viability rate, then plant 2-3 per hole. If more than one grows, thin out the weakest once they have 2-3 sets of true leaves.
How deep do you plant pepper seeds?
In general, seeds should be planted twice as deep as they are wide. So plant your pepper seeds 1/4″ – 1/2″ deep.
What is the fastest way to germinate pepper seeds?
By far the fastest way to germinate pepper seeds is heat. They will germinate much, much faster if you add bottom heat, and place them in a warm location.
Can you plant seeds from a pepper?
Yes, as long as they are mature. Small, immature seeds from a pepper that isn’t ripe will not grow.
Do pepper seeds need light to germinate?
No, pepper plant seeds do not need light to germinate. However, the seedlings will start reaching for light right after they start growing. So be sure to turn the light on as soon as you see any green in your flats.
Growing pepper seeds is easy once you get the hang of it. Following this detailed guide will give you the best results. Plus, once you know how, you will be able to grow any type of peppers from seed that you want!
Up next, read all about successful pepper plant care.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by starting your garden from seed, or need someone to show you exactly how to do it all, then you need my online Seed Starting Course. It’s a comprehensive online training with step-by-step videos and support to guide you along every step of the way. Enroll and get started today!
Otherwise, if you just need a quick-start guide to growing seeds indoors, then my Starting Seeds Indoors eBook is the perfect answer.
More About Growing Seeds
- How To Grow Broccoli From Seed: Step-By-Step
- Growing Lettuce From Seed
- How To Grow Carrots From Seed
- Growing Radishes From Seed
- How To Plant Cucumber Seeds: A Step-By-Step Guide
Share your tips for growing peppers from seed in the comments section below.