Peppers come in all shapes, sizes, flavors, and levels of hotness. They are so useful and fun to grow. They can be a challenge for gardeners in cooler climates. In USDA hardiness zones 9 and up, peppers may be grown as perennials. Colder zones will need to grow them as annuals and most of those zones will need to start seedlings indoors.
Starting Seeds Indoors
Peppers seed starting checklist:
- Soak for 2-8 hours to speed germination
- Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep
- Moisten soil before planting to make things easier
In USDA zones 8 and below, starting pepper seedlings indoors gives you a headstart on the season and allows the plant more time to bear fruit. A well-draining organic potting mixture is a great seed starting medium. If you are concerned about your mixture not draining well, add vermiculite to aid in drainage.
Avoid ammonia-based fertilizers in the potting mix or in the garden, the excess nitrogen can cause blossom rot in peppers. Peppers are light feeders so a soil that has been amended with compost should provide plenty of nutrients.
Plant your pepper seeds in 4-inch pots. Keep them at germination temperatures between 70-80°F (21-26°C) either by controlling the room temperature or applying bottom heat to the tray itself. As soon as sprouts appear, move them under simple fluorescent lights.
Seedlings don’t need fancy full spectrum lights. Hang some fluorescent shop lights within a few inches of the seedlings. It helps to have the lights on a raise and lower system so you can raise them as the seedlings grow.
Peppers seedlings need lots of moisture at the roots but don’t like wet foliage. Bottom water them to avoid seedlings damping off. To bottom water, put your 4-inch pots inside a garden tray that does not drain. Pour your water into the lower tray and allow the pots to soak it up from the bottom.
Transplant your seedlings once all danger of frost has passed and the weather has warmed to a consistent daytime temperature of 60°F (15°C). Typically seedlings are about 7 weeks old when transplanted. They may have buds forming but ideally no flowers. Find your ideal transplant date on the calendar and count seven weeks backward for your perfect seed starting date.
Before transplanting them they need to be hardened off. They are not yet used to drastic temperature changes and direct sunlight, so gradually introduce these things. Drop their daytime temperature to 60-65°F (15-18°C) for a week before moving outside. During this week begin to introduce direct sunlight in gradually increasing amounts.
Leave them outside for a 1/2 hour the first day and gradually increase this exposure until they show no signs of wilting underneath direct sunlight. This transition could take up to three weeks.