Germinating Pepper Seeds: 3 Tricks to Get Them to Sprout

Every time I start peppers from seed, I’m reminded of just how fussy chilies can be. I’d love to say that you can just plant seeds and reliably grow pepper plants, but that’s not always the case. Fortunately, ​you can use different techniques that make germinating pepper seeds much easier.

germinating pepper seeds

One of the challenges is that the pepper seed germination time is tricky. Why? Varieties in the Capsicum chinense family, such as 7-Pot Trinidad and Fatalii, are notoriously hard to start. Seed age is another factor.

If growing peppers from seed in a mix isn’t working, this article guides you through more germination methods. I use these techniques if I get a late start on the growing season and when I need to speed up the pepper seed germination time of those slower chili varieties. 

Let’s get started!

Pepper Seed Germination Time

Plan to germinate pepper seeds 8 to 10 weeks before your last date of frost. Pepper seeds typically sprout within 2 weeks, while super hot peppers can take 4 to 6 weeks or more to germinate. Keep the soil temperature between 80° to 90°F (27° to 32°C) to help pepper seeds break dormancy.

​Inspecting Your Seeds

inspecting your seeds
Seeds on right look better than seeds on left

A seed packet usually has ten or more pepper seeds inside. Inspect them all, and don’t plant seeds that are discolored or smaller than the rest.

Before you continue, be sure to plant pepper seeds at the right time. Start by using our tool for when to start pepper seeds indoors to get the dates for your location.

No matter the germination method you choose, I recommend first inspecting and soaking your seeds for the best results. ​

Soften the Seed Shell

soaking pepper seeds

​One of the best things you can when starting seeds is to soak them before planting. Chamomile tea is a common option.

​Soaking weakens the shell (seed coat) so that the seedlings don’t have to work so hard to break through the barrier.

Besides weakening the shell barrier, soaking your seeds in a weak chamomile tea solution also kills off mold spores and other fungal issues that may be present.

​Make the Weak Tea Solution

  1. Brew a cup of chamomile and drink it.
  2. Use the same tea bag to make another cup of tea.
  3. Use that batch to soak your seeds.
  4. Allow your seeds to soak for 24 to 48 hours before planting.

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The Bag Method (Seed Viability Test)

germinating pepper seeds in paper towel
Using Bag Method to Germinate Pepper Seeds in Paper Towels

You can create an effective germination environment for your chile seeds by using the bag method (paper towel method) that includes a towel, ziplock bag, or coffee filter and water. This method also tests for viable seeds, which are living seeds that can grow.

This bag method is ideal for difficult varieties (like hot pepper seeds) that have problems sprouting using the traditional seed starting mix. Some peppers also germinate faster in the bag.

» Related: How to Test Pepper Seed Viability So You Don’t Waste Your Time

  1. Fold a paper towel or coffee filter in quarters and then spray it with water until is damp.
  2. Place your pepper seeds in between the fold.
  3. Position your towel and chili seeds in the ziplock bag. Seal it up.
  4. Place your bag on top of a warm spot, such as a plant heat mat, to achieve the right pepper seed germination temperature of 80° to 90° Fahrenheit (27° to 32° Celsius).
  5. Spray your towel and seeds each day so they absorb water and stay damp.
  6. Check for sprouting seeds. When they germinate, bury them under a light layer of sterile seed starter mix in a seed tray (germination tray). (You won’t need potting soil until transferring your pepper plant to a larger container.)
using paper towel method to germinate pepper seeds
Germinated Pepper Seeds

If you use a paper towel, cut the portion of the towel that has the germinated seedling. You can tear the root if you pull the seedling by hand.

You shouldn’t have to do this with the coffee filter.

Germination Rate

If you plan on starting pepper seeds in bulk, the bag method is a good way to test the germination rate. Add 10 seeds to the paper towel, then count the number of seeds germinating to get your percentage. (In my opinion, 60% or higher is a good success rate.)

» Related: Growing Peppers from Seed

​The Cup Method

A lidded, gelatin cup (around 2 ounces) creates another ideal setting for pepper germination.

(If you prefer to shop in-store, you can usually find them at a party supply or grocery.)

using a gelatin cup to sprout pepper seeds
  1. Dampen a small piece of paper towel and stick it at the bottom of the cup.​
  2. Place your seeds on top of the towel and put the lid on.
  3. Leave the cup on a seedling heat mat, ideally between 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and dampen the towel each day to keep the environment moist.

The Freezer Method

Using a freezer helps mimic the winter conditions your seeds naturally go through outdoors.

​(​Alternately, you can use your refrigerator. I encourage you to experiment to see what works best!)

place your pepper seeds in the freezer to help germinate them
  1. Place your pepper seeds in the​ freezer or refrigerator for two days.
  2. Remove the seeds and position them in a folded-up paper towel.
  3. Dampen the towel with water.
  4. Place the towel on a plate and cover it with a dark bowl.
  5. Situate it on top of a warm area, such as a plant heat mat, that is anywhere between 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. (This temperature helps with breaking dormancy.)
  6. Check your seeds each day and dampen the towel when needed.

Extra Tips for Germinating Pepper Seeds

germinating pepper seedlings in a tray
  • Temperature is extremely important for pepper seed germination. A good range is usually between 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a temperature controller and heat mat set for ideal conditions.
  • Don’t use just one germination method on all of your seeds. Pepper varieties may respond better to one over the other.
  • Make sure the pepper seed towel never dries out. Check it daily!
  • Here’s what to do after germination if you need help taking care of your new pepper seedlings.

What To Do After Your Pepper Seeds Sprout

what to do after seeds sprout

After you have your germinated seeds, planting is done in a few steps:

  1. Use sterilized scissors to cut the portion of towel containing your news seedlings. Do this very carefully so you don’t damage roots in the process.
  2. Bury the seedlings — no more than 1/4″ deep — in your preferred growing media. (For example, seed-starting mix or a peat pot.)
  3. Cover the seedlings with a light layer of growing media in seed starting trays or other small containers with holes in the bottom. Use a humidity dome (or stretch plastic cling wrap and poke holes in the top) to help retain moisture.
  4. Place your seedlings under a ​plant light when plant parts push past the surface of the growing media. You can remove the humidity dome at this time.

» Read More: How to Care for Pepper Seedlings after Seeds Sprout

First time growing peppers from seed?

Learn to grow peppers with my step-by-step, illustrated ebook. It’ll help you skip a lot of beginner mistakes so that you’re more likely to be harvesting chilies during your first season!

Troubleshooting Pepper Seeds That Won’t Sprout

I’ve been there and I know how frustrating that can be! In my experience, here are the usual culprits:

  • Seed Source: Make sure that you purchase from a reputable pepper seed supplier. If you save your own seeds, be sure to harvest peppers that are totally ripe and not in the immature stage.
  • Temperature: Pepper seeds need heat to successfully germinate! (About 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit; 26 to 32 degrees Celsius.) You can use a combination temperature controller and heating mat, if needed, to maintain this range.
  • Water pH Level: Sometimes the pH level is too high or too low. Try using distilled or rainwater. Alternately, let tap water sit out for 24 hours before using it.

Pepper Germination FAQs

How long does it take for pepper seeds to germinate?

Chilies can sprout in as little as a few days, while growing hot pepper plant varieties can take a month or more. Germination depends on factors like pepper variety and growing environment temperature.

What is the best way to germinate pepper seeds?

Pepper seeds need a warm, tropical environment to sprout. This means a temperature range from 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 32 degrees Celsius) is ideal. As for the best way to germinate, whether this is in a paper towel or in soil, it’s hard to say what method is the best for a particular growing environment. It takes experimentation to see what works well for you.

Do pepper seeds need light to germinate?

Pepper seeds sprout in the dark. A grow light is only needed after your peppers germinate and push through the growing media.

Should I soak pepper seeds before planting?

You don’t have to soak pepper seeds before planting, but it does help soften the seed shell for easier germination. If you soak seeds in chamomile tea, it doubles as an anti-fungal treatment prior to planting seeds.

How long does it take for bell peppers to grow from seed?

Like other sweet pepper varieties, bell peppers take 60 to 90 days to mature after transplant (known as days to maturity). When starting bell peppers from seeds, plants typically grow indoors for a couple of months. After you move them outside, that’s when you start counting the bell pepper days to maturity.

What’s Next?

After germinating pepper seeds, be sure to check out the how to grow peppers from seeds guide for a complete walkthrough on how to plant peppers and all the steps that take you through to harvesting chilies.

I wish you success in starting pepper seeds and a fruitful growing season! You may need to try more than one method for seed starting, especially when it comes to stubborn seeds.

germinating pepper seeds

Germinating Pepper Seeds: 3 Options

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 14 days
Total Time: 14 days 5 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Do you have trouble germinating pepper seeds? You're not alone. If soil isn't working, here are three different ways to get your pepper seeds to grow faster.

Materials

Instructions

Soak Pepper Seeds Before Planting To Soften Seed Shell

(Recommended preparation no matter what option you choose.)

  1. Inspect your seeds and choose the best ones to soak. (In other words, don't pick seeds that are discolored or smaller than the rest of the bunch.)
  2. Brew a cup of chamomile tea. Use the same tea bag to make another cup of tea so that you end up with a weak tea solution.
  3. Soak your seeds in the weak tea solution for 24 to 48 hours.

Bag Method (Option 1)

  1. Fold a paper towel or coffee filter in quarters and then spray with water until damp.
  2. Place your pepper seeds in between the fold.
  3. Position your towel and chili seeds in the plastic bag. Seal it up.
  4. Place your bag on top of a seedling heat mat.
  5. Spray your towel and seeds each day to keep the environment damp. This is also when you can check for sprouting seeds.

Cup Method (Option 2)

  1. Dampen a small piece of paper towel and stick it at the bottom of the cup.
  2. Place your seeds on top of the towel and put the lid on.
  3. Leave the cup on top of a seedling heat mat.
  4. Spray the towel each day and check for germinating seeds.

Freezer Method (Option 3)

  1. Place your pepper seeds in the freezer for two days. (You can also use your refrigerator.)
  2. Remove the seeds and place them in a folded-up paper towel.
  3. Spray the towel with water and put it on a plate. Cover the plate with a dark bowl.
  4. Put the plate with bowl on top of a seedling heat mat.
  5. Check your seeds daily and spray the towel to keep everything damp.

Notes

  • The ideal temperature range for germinating pepper seeds is 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. (27 to 32 degrees Celsius.) I recommend using a heating mat and temperature controller set to make sure your growing environment is warm enough.
  • After your seed germinates, use sterilized scissors to carefully cut the portion of towel with the seedling. Bury your seedling (no more than a 1/4" deep) in your preferred growing media.

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AUTHOR

Jenny is the creator of Grow Hot Peppers as well as the writer of the gardening guides and many recipes on this site. She’s been growing peppers and all kinds of veggies for over 10 years. When she’s not writing or gardening, she loves eating spicy foods, hiking and going to the ocean.

2 thoughts on “Germinating Pepper Seeds: 3 Tricks to Get Them to Sprout”

  1. Ziploc bag method germinated seeds best for me with the critical very high temperature environment. Soaking in chamomile tea and plant in coconut coir and adding heat also worked. I didn’t try the other methods.

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