Chile pepper seeds are notorious for being a challenge to germinate. Even if we are
successful getting the seeds to come up, the pitfalls associated with developing hardy
plants after germination can be just as tricky. But, there are some well established
techniques that can improve our chances of good germination and of developing
healthy seedlings ready for the container or for the garden. The Internet and print
publications are full of advice (some good and some not so good) on these topics. Also,
most of us will know at least one or two seasoned growers who can guide us along the
right path with advice on what has worked for them. The information here is what
works for me. Be your own judge of how to germinate seeds and develop good
seedlings. If you do anything I've mentioned here and it doesn't work for you, don't
come moaning and groaning back to me. This is just what works for me.
One of the first considerations it to try and make sure you are working with viable
seeds to begin with. Get your seeds from a reputable vendor. Once in hand, I generally
look over the seeds themselves to try and assess their condition. If you have enough
on hand, you can do some testing to see whether or not the seed is viable. I am always
concerned when I see seed stored in one of those small ziplock plastic packets. Even
though the seeds are dormant, I believe they need a bit of air from time to time.
I try and use a good starter mix (my favorite is Miracle-Gro® Seed Starting Potting Mix)
and small (3 oz) plastic bathroom cups for starting seeds. I plant two to five seeds per
cup when using these small ones. And using 3 oz cups allows me to get a bunch of
them into my germinators. The cups need drainage holes in them. I melt the holes with
a soldering iron. I try to involve both the bottom and the sides with the hole since the
cups seem to drain better that way. Your starter mix should be dampened a bit before
you put it into the cups. If you put it into the cups totally dry, it seems to be difficult to
work with and difficult to get wet after you plant. Put it into a bucket or something and
whisk it around with some water to get it good and damp before putting it in the cups.
Plant only one type of chile pepper at a time and mark your cups carefully. It doesn't
take long to get mixed up otherwise and there is really no reason for that.
Fill the cup nearly up with seed starting mix, drop the seen in and cover with 1/4" of
mix. Or, you can make a little hole for the seed with a wood pencil (just 1/4" or so) and
drop the seed in. Firm the mix over the seeds. Then, wet the starting soil thoroughly.
Depending on how you cover the cups in your germinator, this may or may not be all the
water that the cups will need until the germination is complete.
The single most important factor in this is to maintain a proper balance of warmth,
ventilation and soil dampness until germination. Too much water and/or not enough
ventilation will prevent germination due to fungus, mold and rot. Too much ventilation
and/or not enough water will cause the soil to dry too much to support germination.
Too much warmth or too little warmth will prevent germination.
Place the cups with seeds in them into your germinator tray. As you can see below, I
like to put a layer of styrofoam beneath the heat mat to insure that the heat energy
goes up into my germinator and not down to or through the surface below. I use an
electronic thermostat with a sensor probe as shown below and I set it at 80°F.
Water them in good and continue to water (from the bottom) as needed (but again,
don't keep them soggy). Keep them under the light and adjust so that lamps stay 2
to 4 inches above foliage. This will depend on the wattage of the lamps so use
judgment. As the seedlings develop, one thing to look for is aphids. These can be
managed using a soap spray solution as mentioned HERE.
Using these methods, it takes approximately eight weeks from the time the seed is
planted until your seedling is ready for transplantation. This will vary by variety and
BIG MIKE BROWN Back to Chiles Page
Once these fellows begin to get some size, it's time to move on to larger containers.
Plastic beer cups are the norm and I make sure they have four to six good drainage
holes at the bottom and side. Use a quality potting mix this time. I like Miracle-Gro
Moisture Control Potting Mix.
It is too early for fertilizer at this point. I wait until the seedlings develop the second
set of true leaves (not counting the cotyledons) before I fertilize at all. I water the
seedlings from the bottom by putting a small amount of water in a cup (same size as
the one they are in but with no holes) and placing the seedling cup into it. The starting
mix and seedling will draw up the water that they need. I check this daily. Keep the
starter mix damp but not waterlogged.
Once I move the seedlings out of the germinator, I keep a fan blowing a gentle breeze
across them 24 hours a day. The grow light itself stays on 18 hours a day. The
movement of air by the fan is important to strengthen the stems and it also helps to
prevent the formation of fungus and other nasties. In addition to providing energy from
photosynthesis, the early transition to the grow light also seems to help prevent the
seedlings from becoming leggy. I keep it only a few inches (2 to 4 inches) above the
seedling. Remember, Newton's (or Hooke's depending on who you believe came up
with it) inverse-square law applies to your grow light too! The light energy that is
twice as far from the source is spread over four times the area and thus provides only
one-fourth the intensity.
I put a clear humidity dome with some small vent holes over the cups.
How long it will take for your seeds to germinate? This will very greatly. Some may
germinate in 7 or 8 days. Some will take 2 or 3 weeks. Some will take longer. Some of
course will never germinate. It seems that the superhot varieties take longer to
germinate. When chile pepper seeds come up, you will see two initial cotyledons (they
look like leaves but they aren't true leaves), one on either side of the stem as shown in
the middle picture below. In addition to containing a substantial storehouse of
embryonic food for the new seedling until it develops a root system, the cotyledons
also serve an important early role in the process of photosynthesis. Accordingly, after
the plants come up, I immediately move them from the germinator and get them under
a grow light.