Propagating Sweet Peppers
March 21, 2015
Did you know that they recently made 2015 Sweet Pepper Year? I don’t know about you, but my garden must have some pepper plants. Not only are they packed with awesome nutrients, peppers are also great tasting. Peppers are easy to grow from seed too, and if you grow heirloom peppers, you’ll be able to save seed for the next year’s crop.
One thing you should know about growing your own bell peppers from seed is that they are super slow to germinate and develop. In some climate zones it’s already too late to start pepper seeds for the backyard climate because of their maddening slow growth rate. In Zone 5 its time to get your seeds going now, but if you live south of there, plan ahead for next year and buy the plants at the garden center if you want to harvest before winter sets in again. Obviously, if you’re going to grow them in an indoor garden, you can start your seeds in any season, but the process is still pretty much the same.
That’s how long it will take from sowing your seed in the germination tray to plants ready to go into the ground outdoors. Turtles move faster! However, sweet peppers germinate faster than hot peppers. Some hot peppers can take up to a month to sprout; they say the hotter they are, the longer it takes. Jalapenos take about 3 weeks, and some sweet peppers will be up in two weeks. They don’t all germinate at the same rate though. Check the days to ripeness – the longer that takes, the slower they will sprout. Usually this rule of thumb applies due to the size of the fruit, but peppers are much smaller and have less meat than something like a winter squash. They’re just slow at everything.
Start them in their own tray. Sharing space with other plants in the humidity dome won’t work. Everything else will be pushing against the top long before your peppers appear above the soil line.
Because of this slow to emerge thing, never use a potting mix that has manure, guano, or worm castings in it. Not because they are a source of fertilizer, but because their bacteria is often fungal, which can wipe out your peppers before they ever get going. Don’t use anything peat-based, including peat pots, because peat is very acidic and peppers need 6.56 pH. Use coir-based mixes only, or thin out the peat by adding 25-30% perlite, and blending well before sowing your pepper seeds. But be forewarned – diehard pepper growers think that there is something in peat moss that inhibits germination with pepper seed.
One thing that is kind of surprising is that you can start peppers or any fruit or veggie plant for outdoor growing in hydroponic starter cubes. The seedlings transplant just as well into larger potting mix containers and your garden soil as they do into a hydroponic system, but you will have to transplant them earlier than with the traditional starter tray cell packs filled with seed starting mix.
1/4 Inch Deep
That’s your seeding depth. Any shallower and your seeds won’t be kept moist enough. Any deeper, and the rate of germination will be much slower, not to mention that planting seeds too deep can sometimes cause a failure to germinate.
Peppers will not sprout well in temperatures below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They need 80-85 degree daytime temperatures and no cooler than 65-70 degrees at night. Buy a seed starting heat mat with a thermometer built in. Block any draft too. Evenly warm temperatures is very important if you’re going to grow peppers from seed.
This isn’t that important during germination, but once you have green tips poking out of the starting mix – you need a grow light. Weak, spindly plants won’t be efficient providers, indoors or outside. Peppers are full sun plants from the very warm climates. You need at least T5 high output fluorescents for the foliage stage of growth kept at 2-4 inches above the leaves. And you want them under lights for a minimum of 12 hours a day, with 14 being even better.
Seeds must always be moist if they are going to sprout, but peppers dislike soggy conditions. They are natives of hot, rather dry places. So be sure the wicking mat in your germination tray never goes dry.
Air movement is also important on the leaves and on the growing media surface. Even before your seedlings emerge it’s recommended that the germination dome be removed and a small fan run for a few hours each day. Peppers are prone to damping off disease, which is a fungus that sets in when air flow is poor. The light breeze will help to keep damping off in check.
Good luck! Have a mighty fine Year of The Pepper 😉
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