Although it is easier to purchase ready to plant transplants, many reasons exist for growing your own pepper plants.
Why Grow Peppers from Seed?
The pepper transplants that I grow at home are healthier, sturdier seedlings than any I could purchase at a nursery. That means they’ll suffer less transplant shock, which often means better production.
I have found that healthy plants are less likely to develop diseases and are less prone to being attacked by insects.
Annual plants that I used to buy from nurseries were available only during a few months out of the year. Therefore, if I want to eat from my garden longer in the season, I had to learn how to grow some of my own. When I grow my own transplants, I usually end up with more plants than I need, so I share or trade with friends or neighbors.
In addition, you’ll be able to time transplants for when you need them, not just when they are available at the nursery. You can time them, so they’ll be just the right age when you’re ready to transplant Seedlings you buy are often root bound which slows down their growth. By growing your own transplants, your plants will have a better start on life and be healthier overall.
I discovered that peppers sown from seed let me choose from a larger number of varieties. A lot of gardening diversity is only available to gardeners who grow from seed!
In addition, things happen. If one of my plants dies, I have a plant available to fill in. I’m able to grow plants indoors that wouldn’t be able to grow outside at that time of the year. Not only can you grow transplants for getting an early start in the season, but you can also grow indoors in air conditioning, cool weather plants that don’t germinate well during the heat of the summer.
Peppers are especially sensitive to the cold and won’t germinate unless temperatures are warm because they are tropical plants. Because I don’t have a greenhouse (yet!) I start my pepper plants indoors. This year I discovered that my heat mat really speeded things up because the plants were kept warm enough to germinate.
The purchased potting soil specifically indicated as seed-starter is good for planting seeds. The seed-starter potting mix has been sterilized so there are no fungal or bacteria that can overcome the young plants. If soil is not sterilized, young plants are especially sensitive to a disease called dampening off. This fungal disease is evident when the young seedlings sprout but suddenly turn to mush and the roots sport white webbing. By sterilizing the soil, the soil no longer can harbor this disease.
This potting soil has a light texture which allows the roots to grow deep. Garden soil is too heavy and may cause plants to rot if it has too much clay or sand, and the soil will not be able to hold the water that the young plants require. A peat and perlite blend gives the average plant its best shot at good root growth. Before putting soil in your pots, dampen the soil so that it has the moisture content of a well-rung-out sponge. You don’t want it too wet. Dampening the soil is best done in a large tub.
How to Plant Peppers
When I fill the pot with soil, I use biodegradable pots that I can bury the pot and all into the soil. You could use commercial pots of various kinds, or you can make your own. If you’re recycling pots from previous seasons, it helps to wash your pots and then soak those pots in a bleach solution for about fifteen minutes.
I put an indentation in the middle of the soil in my pot and drop in my pepper seed. I then cover the seed with soil to the point that soil covers the plant to a depth of two times the length of the seed. When in doubt, I use the depth recommended on the seed package.
Once the seed is covered, I spritz a little water over the top of the soil in the pot then cover the entire pot with some breathable plastic. This will keep the top of the soil from drying out. I have used plastic bags from the grocery store and have had good results. I keep the plastic on the pots until I see the seed leaves or cotyledons appear. These are the first leaves to emerge from the soil when a plant germinates. They are part of the seed’s embryo and provide nutrients to the plant until its true leaves unfurl and begin photosynthesis. Most plants don’t need to be in the light to germinate but make sure to get them under a light as soon as these first leaves appear. Good grow lights are critical to growing healthy pepper plants.
Once the peppers germinate, plants should be either put under grow lights or outside in a greenhouse. Keep them watered and fertilized until ready for transplanting.
When to Transplant Seedlings
I know when my plants are ready for transplanting when I loosen the plants from their containers and the plants hold their shape. If a large amount of soil is not held together by the plant’s roots, my plant doesn’t need to be transplanted yet. However, if the plant holds its shape and the roots are starting to wrap around the outside of the container, I’ll either need to repot the plant into a larger container or plant it directly in the garden.
When replanting into another pot, I fill the new pot up with soil and then take the pot where the seedling is growing plastic pot and all and create a hole in which the pot can fit. Once the hole is created, I sprinkle a little organic fertilizer into the hole (I use dried kelp) and then remove the plant from the pot and place it in the hole. I make sure that it fits so that I don’t need to add any more soil. I then pack the soil around the plant from the top and water from the bottom of the plant. I don’t plant the pepper plant any deeper than it was growing in the original pot.
Before I plant the peppers outdoors, I harden them off like I recommended for the tomato plants in the previous post Healthy Tomato Plants from Seed.
If you want to learn more about growing a home garden, check out my two latest books: