Germinating Pepper Seeds: 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 you can just plant your seeds in seed-starting media and reliably get seedlings, but that’s not always the case.

For one thing, the pepper variety plays a big part in how fast it germinates. Capsicum chinense peppers like the 7-Pot Trinidad and Fatalii, for example, are notorious for being hard to start. Seed age is another factor.

So if sprouting your pepper seeds the traditional way (e.g., in growing media like seed-starting mix)​ isn’t working, this article will help.  ​You can use a couple of techniques that make germinating pepper seeds much easier. These methods are also ideal for speeding up the ​sprouting time of those slower chili varieties.

germinating pepper seeds

​Inspecting Your Seeds

When you get pepper seeds, you’ll generally have 10 or more in the pack. ​Take a close look and don’t plant the seeds that are discolored or smaller than the rest of the bunch.

inspecting pepper seeds before germinating them
The seeds on the left don’t look as good as the ones on the right.

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

Pepper Germination Time

You can germinate pepper seeds about 3 months 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. The key is to keep temperatures between 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit using a plant heat mat.

Soften the Seed Shell

Soaking pepper seeds

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

​Soaking weakens the seed shell 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 any​ bacteria 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 soak for 24 to 48 hours before planting.

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The Bag Method (Seed Viability Test)

You can create an effective germination environment for your chile seeds simply by using a paper towel, ziplock bag or coffee filter and water.

This bag method is ideal for difficult varieties 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 heat mat. An ideal germination temperature is 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Spray your towel and seeds each day with water to keep it damp.
  6. Check for sprouting seeds. When they germinate, bury them under a light layer of sterile potting soil.
pepper seeds on a paper towel

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

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

​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.
  6. Check your seeds each day and dampen the towel when needed.

Extra Tips for Germinating Pepper Seeds

  • 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 best results.
  • Don’t use just one germination method on all of your seeds. Try a few seeds at a time to see what works best for you.
  • Make sure the pepper seed towel never dries out. Check it daily!
germinating pepper seedlings in a tray

What To Do After Your Pepper Seeds Sprout

Congrats! 🙂 You’ve got your germinated seeds so here’s what you do next…

  1. Use sterilized scissors to cut the portion of towel containing your new seedling. Do this very carefully so as not to damage the root in the process.
  2. Bury the seedling — no more than 1/4″ deep — in your preferred growing media. (For example, seed-starting mix or a peat pot.)
  3. Cover the seedling with a light layer of growing media.
  4. Place your seedling under a ​plant light when it has pushed past the growing media and is visible again.

» Related: How to Care for Pepper Seedlings after Seeds Sprout

If you’d like more help starting pepper seeds, be sure to check out The Pepper Seed Starting Guide. This ebook steps you through all of the processes of starting seeds indoors and growing them into healthy, outdoor-ready plants.

Troubleshooting Pepper Seeds That Won’t Sprout

Ugh! 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 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 germinate! (About 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit; 26 to 32 degrees Celsius.) You can use a combination temperature controller and heat 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 do pepper seeds take to germinate?

Chilies can sprout in as little as a few days, while some of the hottest peppers 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?

No, pepper seeds sprout in the dark. Light is needed after your peppers germinate and push through the growing media.

Should I soak pepper seeds before planting?

You don’t have to, but it does help soften the seed shell. If you use chamomile tea to soak your seeds, it can also double as an anti-fungal treatment prior to planting.

I wish you a lot of success in germinating your pepper seeds. Have a wonderful growing season! 🙂

germinating peppers

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 heat 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.

Did you grow this plant?

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And for those of you looking for complete, how-to steps on all indoor growing phases, from ​germinating your seeds to g​etting your seedlings to the point ​where they can safely go outside… Make sure to check out the updated and expanded Pepper Seed Starting Guide. I personally use this resource to ​start my abundant pepper garden each season, and I’m always here to answer questions!

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

  1. not a word about germination temperature in your pepper seed starting/germination tricks..& being a small farmer for the last 30 years, i know a thing or two about starting pepper seeds..they are by far the most difficult..if the germination environment is not warm enough, it doesn’t matter what you do beforehand to the seeds..you’ll NEVER get any seeds to sprout…the,temperature of the sprouting environment is far & away THE #1 most important issue..peppers like it warm during germination & while growing outside as well.. the seeds must be put in a 80-85 degree enviroment[heating pads/mats under starter containers area must if starting indoors 3-4 weeks before they can be transferred outside..I’ve found peppers like their growing soil acidic as well,..adding home made[ 50-50 well composted leaves & grass clippings] to the peppers 2-3 times during growing & production period,can & will double pepper output..

    Reply
    • Research by NMSU on chile germination backs up what Gary stated. Temperature is really, really far more important than this article makes it seem.

      Reply
      • Next time you two should try reading the article:

        “Temperature is extremely important for germination. A good range is usually between 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.”

        Reply
        • You seriously think I didn’t read that? Notice how it’s under “Extra Tips”? It should be tip 0. I had a heat mat with Chile seeds and a table with Chile seeds in the same room. All of the ones without heat rotted as seeds, without even sprouting.

        • 80 to 90 degree temperature is common knowledge, and the article includes that tip for every germination method (4 times total).

        • The article has been updated. Originally there was no mention, then there was one, now there are four mentions of temperature.

  2. I’m glad I read the entire article including the extra tips instead of just speed reading and missing important details like the temperature suggestions.

    Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply

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