Take a Close Look at Your Seeds
Not all seeds are made equal and it is important to plant only the best seeds to increase your chances of growing a strong and vigorous chilli plants. If you have ample seeds we recommend that you discard seeds that are dis-coloured or smaller than the rest of the pack.
To Soak or Not to Soak
There are mixed opinions as to whether soaking your seeds leads to a better chance of germination. It is however a fact that soaking your seeds will:
- Make the shell casing softer so that it’s easier for the roots to break through.
- Kill any existing bacteria lurking on the shell casing.
A favourite of ours is to soak seeds in a weak chamomile tea solution for 24-48 hrs but to tell the truth we get over 80% germination rate without the extra effort. We do however rely on planting only the best quality seeds and benefiting from living in the Australian tropics.
Also be mindful that seeds that float to the surface when placed in liquid are less likely to be viable – so consider discarding floaters.
When to Plant
Unless you plan to keep your chilli plants indoors and under grow lights Spring is the best time of year to start planting. Depending on what region of the world you live in this will be at different times of the year. In Australia any time after the 1st of September is usually a good time to start planting. If you are really lucky and live in a tropical climate then you may even be able to plant all year round so long as temperatures don’t drop below 20 degree Celsius on a regular basis.
Chilli plants do not do well in cold climates, so if you live in Antarctica(as an extreme example) you will have no other option but to grow indoors under artificial lighting. Snow and frost are guaranteed to kill your plants so in winter you may need to keep them inside or in a hot house.
Your chilli seeds will germinate best when kept at consistent temperatures of between 26 to 32 degrees Celsius. Some people use a heat mat to achieve consistent temperatures and these can be purchased reasonably cheaply on sites like ebay. You must keep seeds moist but not soaking wet during their germination stage.
Techniques of Germination
Seed Starting Mix
Well you may have heard that you can start the germination process of your seeds by a number of methods however we just plant our seeds straight up in a basic seed-starting mix. Seed starting mixes don’t contain any fertilisers and can be purchased from any local nursery garden supplier.
It is important to note that different species and varieties of chilli pepper plants will vary in their germination times. Our experience is that the Chinense varieties take the longest. If you were to average out the expected germination time using a simple seed starter mix you are looking at 10-14 days. Some will lie dormant for weeks so always err on the side of caution before tossing out a batch of planted seeds. A good healthy seed with the right temperature though should generally not take longer than 3 weeks maximum.
Whether you use seedling trays or small pots fill them with about 3/4 full of seed-starting mix. Place seeds on top and then cover the seeds with another light layer of mix so they are no more than 1/4 inch away from the surface. Your chilli seeds struggle to emerge past a thicker layer than this.
The Paper Towel
Some people swear by the paper towel method. This is exactly as its name implies. Simply spray a paper towel with clean water or even cooled down camomile tea until moist. Making sure your squeeze out any excess liquid.
Just place your seeds on the paper towel and fold into quarters or smaller. Put seeds and towel in a sealed plastic bag on a heat mat or on the top of your refrigerator for ideal germination temperatures. Paper towel should stay moist for a couple of days before you should spray again. Check regularly for germination and get ready to transfer to the seedling trays.
As an alternative if you have a plastic cup with a lid you can place your seeds on a moist paper towel at the bottom of the cup.
When removing seeds that have sprouted do NOT rip from paper towel. Instead cut paper towel and transfer complete with seed to your seedling trays. Simply place the seedling on top of the seedling starter mix and cover with a light layer of soil. Again, no more than 1/4 inch away from the top. The emergent seed roots will continue to grow and the paper towel will dissolve away.
Jiffy pellets are another method that you may like to try. Jiffy pellets are a convenient way to get your seeds started and they look like a flat disk when dry. When water is added they expand into a peat pot. You can plant up to three 3 seeds in one pellet ensuring that at least one germinates or that you can choose to keep the strongest plant if they all pop up. You transfer seedlings together with the peat pot to a larger pot when they develop their first set of true leaves.
Caring for Your Seedlings
You may have heard of the term damping off before and this just means your plants are over watered and are at risk of root rot. It is important that you keep your seedlings moist but not soaking wet.
Also never let your seedlings sit in water because this encourages bacteria to develop.
A further warning is that your seedlings can die if the soil is allowed to dry out or they get too much sun after the germination process starts.
Morning sun for about 2-3 hrs a day is sufficient to get your seedlings sun hardened and growing well. Not enough sun will see your seedlings get ‘leggy’ where they grow long stems as they try and reach out for more sunlight.
If you are growing in a colder climate a mini greenhouse more commonly known as seedling propagators may be a good option to ensure good warmth and moisture whilst they start to grow. Make sure your seedlings have a good bit of airflow by using propagators with air vents.
Culling Weak Seedlings
Once your seeds have sprouted and your seedlings are standing upright, it is a good idea to only keep your healthiest specimens as these will produce more chillies in the long run.
After your seedlings start to thrive and have developed their second set of leaves(called true leaves) it is time to pot up into bigger boots. See our Growing Healthy Mature Plants Page if you are ready to learn about Mature Chilli Plant care.
- Try using a soil thermometer if you’re unsure whether the mix is reaching the ideal 26 to 32 degrees Celsius temperature.
- Always make sure your hands, tools and planting containers are clean before sowing pepper seeds to avoid transferring pathogens to the plants.