Growing Peppers from Seed to Harvest – The Ultimate Guide

When growing peppers from seed, it can take five or six months to get chillies. Here’s my ultimate guide to the complete growing process, from starting seeds to harvesting mature peppers. 

growing peppers from seed

I started growing peppers over a decade ago, and I remember feeling defeated because either: 1) I couldn’t get my seeds to sprout, or 2) my plants eventually died. That’s why I want to share what I’ve learned so that you can bypass a lot of beginner mistakes.

You can grow peppers from seed in many ways. For clarity, I’ll walk you through how to start pepper seeds indoors and continue growing your plants outside in pots.

Keep reading to get started!

1. Choose Pepper Varieties To Grow

best pepper varieties to grow in pots, medusa pepper
Medusa Is One Of The Best Pepper Varieties To Grow In Pots

You can grow any type of chile that you want when you start seeds at home. By now, you might be wondering, What kind of peppers should I grow?

There is an unlimited number of pepper seeds you can buy. The following chart has examples of popular chile varieties in different categories.

Fastest Growing PeppersBell pepper, Early Jalapeno, Anaheim pepper
Easiest Peppers To GrowCayenne pepper, Jalapeno pepper, Serrano pepper
Sweet PeppersCorno di Toro pepper, Mini Sweet pepper plants, Sweet Banana pepper
Mild PeppersAleppo pepper, Espelette pepper, Poblano pepper
Hot PeppersCarolina Reaper pepper, Ghost pepper, Habanero pepper

» Related: 113 Types of Pepper Plants That Will Make You Want to Grow Today

And, Can you use seeds from a fresh pepper to plant? Yep, but the pepper’s seed type (e.g., heirloom or hybrid) and origin determine what to expect when you grow out your seeds. Use mature peppers for the best chance at harvesting viable seeds.

grow tips

In general, it takes longer to grow hot peppers from seed than it does for sweet varieties. As a rough estimate, you might sprout sweet chilies in a few days, while hot peppers take a couple of weeks to even 100 days to germinate. 


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2. Get Your Growing Supplies

Here’s what you’ll need to start pepper seeds indoors and continue growing them outside in pots.

Seed Starter Kit: The Jump Start seed starter kit comes with everything you need to start seeds indoors: grow tray, seedling insert, lid and (essential) plant heat mat. If you already have some of these items, you won’t need an all-in-one product. Listed below are the individual growing supplies so that you can just get what you need.

PEPPER growing supplies

At a minimum, you’ll need a seed-starting propagator and plant heat mat. (The following products are some of the best sellers on Amazon.)

BOOTSTRAP FARMER SEED STARTER


VIVOSUN HEAT MAT & DIGITAL THERMOSTAT


9GREENBOX 6-CELL SEEDLING STARTER TRAYS
(Alternative to the one-piece seedling tray that comes with most propagators.)

Grow Light: LED and T5 fluorescent grow lights both work well for indoor gardening. You might choose an LED because it’s more energy efficient, while a T5 can be cheaper.

LED GROW LIGHT

This LED light comes in a stand with adjustable legs and lamp. Hanging kit included.

ROOT FARM BROAD SPECTRUM GROW LAMP

T5 FLUORESCENT

This T5 light setup hangs over your seedlings. Available in 2-foot and 4-foot lengths.

HYDROFARM AGROBRITE GROW LIGHT SYSTEM

Note: There are many grow lights that can fit your space and support the number of plants you want to grow. Here’s a link to Amazon’s best sellers in plant lighting for more options.

3. Know When To Start Pepper Seeds

know when to start pepper seeds

Pepper plants need a long, warm growing season. They can’t live in freezing temperatures and you can lose them in a frost. That’s why it’s important to start seeds at the right time.

To get your ideal planting date, find your area’s last expected frost date and then count back 8 to 10 weeks to know when to start pepper seeds. You can use the tool below to get this information automatically.

Pepper Seed Starting Calculator

Enter your zip code or city and state to get your last expected date of frost and the best dates for starting pepper seeds.

Get the last expected frost and pepper planting dates for your area.

Note: Frost dates are just estimates and are not guaranteed to be accurate. Always check your local weather report.

» Related: When to Start Pepper Seeds Indoors (Includes frost date links for multiple countries)

grow tips

  • Give yourself an extra couple of weeks to start super hot pepper seeds. Capsicum chinense varieties like the Scorpion pepper take longer to germinate and harvest.

  • If it’s past your ideal planting time and you still want to give seeds a go, use the paper towel method to go faster.

4. Plant Your Seeds

Carolina Reaper pepper seeds
Carolina Reaper Pepper Seeds

In this section, we’re starting our pepper seeds indoors. Your pepper seedlings are going to be inside for the next 8 to 12 weeks.

Soaking Your Seeds

Soaking pepper seeds before planting softens the seed shell and makes it easier for the roots to push through. You don’t have to do this, but my seeds always sprout better this way.

Soaking pepper seeds
Soaking Pepper Seeds Overnight
  1. Brew a weak cup of chamomile tea and wait for the liquid to cool down to room temperature. (Chamomile is beneficial because it has anti-fungal properties.) Alternatively, you can just pour warm water in a glass. 
  2. Drop the seeds you intend to plant in the cup of tea or water. 
  3. Leave the seeds to soak for 24 to 48 hours.

grow tips

You’ll be sowing three seeds per seedling container so that you have backups in case some of the seeds don’t germinate.

Preventing Gnats

Fungus gnat eggs are usually present in the material (grow media) where you start your plants. If you don’t want tiny black flies all over your home, these steps will help get rid of them.

fungus gnats
Fungus Gnats
  1. Make an organic pesticide solution
  2. Spray the inside of your trays and containers. 
  3. Repeat this spray process every 3 to 4 days over a 10-day period

grow tips

Alternatives (or backups) to the pest spray are yellow sticky traps and cups of apple cider vinegar. Set them around your growing area to help catch the gnats.

Planting In A Seed-Starting Mix                 

You have lots of choices when it comes to the growing media you use to plant your seeds. A seed-starting mix is a reliable way to get seeds started.

planting pepper seeds in seed starting mix
Planting Pepper Seeds In Seed Starting Mix

Supplies Needed:

  1. Moisten the seed-starting mix so that it’s wet but not soggy. (If you squeeze the wet mix in your hand, it shouldn’t be dripping.)
  2. Add the mix to the cells of the seedling tray. The cells should be 75% full. 
  3. Add your plant labels with the pepper names and dates.
  4. Make a little indentation in the center of the mix and drop in three seeds. (The seeds shouldn’t be farther than ¼” away from the top.) Cover the seeds with a light layer of mix.
  5. Optional: Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top of the mix to help prevent surface mold. (This mold looks like a thin, gray film.)
  6. Put the lid on your tray and slide open the vents a little bit to allow for airflow.  Place the tray on top of the plant heat mat. 

grow tips

  • Keep Capsicum chinese peppers separate from other varieties because they take longer to germinate. If you mix them, you’ll have seedlings that need light while your hottest peppers still haven’t sprouted.

  • Use a small fan to help circulate the air in your growing environment. This helps prevent damping-off disease that affects seedlings.

How Often To Water Pepper Seeds

The schedule for watering peppers depends on your environment and the type of mix you’re using. You’ll need to water the seed pots when the mix starts getting dry.

how often to water pepper seeds
Watering Pepper Seeds From The Bottom

The watering frequency is usually every day or every other day. Watch for the top of the mix to turn a lighter color, which lets you know it’s getting dry.

grow tips

Watering from the bottom helps prevent overwatering. When seedlings absorb moisture from below, the top of the mix turns dark when it’s fully hydrated. Be sure to dump out any leftover water.

For reference, I usually water pepper seed pots every 3 days. It usually takes about 15 minutes for the water to reach the top of the mix.

How Long Does It Take Pepper Seeds To Germinate?

It takes about 7 to 21 days for pepper seeds to sprout, while Capsicum chinense varieties can take 6 weeks or more. When growing peppers from seed, use a plant heat mat to provide the right temperature range (80°F to 90°F or 27°C to 32°C) that these seeds need for germination.

5. What To Do After Germinating Seeds

what to do after germinating seeds
Germinating Pepper Seed

When you see those green, upside-down “U” shapes, your pepper seeds have germinated — congratulations! This section covers what you need to do to take care of growing seedlings.

How To Use A Grow Light

After your pepper seedlings are standing upright, they need an indoor light source to keep growing indoors. Here’s how to use your light.

how to use a grow light
T5 Fluorescent Hanging Grow Light

Supplies Needed:

  1. Take your seedlings off of the heat mat and out from under the lid.
  2. Position your plants under your grow light. Check the manufacturer’s instructions to know how far away the light needs to be from your plants. (A T5, for instance, is usually 6 inches high.)
  3. Follow a daily schedule of 16 hours on during the day and 8 hours off at night.

grow tips

  • Use a plant timer if you want your grow light to turn on and off automatically each day.

  • If your seedlings are growing very tall and thin (leggy), move your grow light closer to your plants. Leggy seedlings can easily flop over and not recover.

When To Fertilize Pepper Seedlings

Pepper seeds have enough energy to support the cotyledons (embryonic leaves). When seedlings grow the next set of leaves (true leaves), it’s time to start fertilizing peppers.

when to fertilize pepper seedlings
When To Fertilize Pepper Seedlings

You can start feeding your pepper seedlings by giving them 1/4 strength fertilizer. Fish emulsion or worm castings are ideal choices because they won’t burn your seedlings.

grow tips

  • After your pepper seedlings have at least 3 sets of true leaves, start giving them a foliar feeding for an extra boost. This helps with better uptake of nutrients, strong foliage and greener leaves. 

  • Cut any extra seedlings after they are about 1-inch high. You should end up with one plant per pot.

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

6. Transplant Pepper Seedlings 

transplant pepper seedlings
Moving Pepper Seedlings To Bigger Pots Indoors

Transplanting (potting up) is when you transfer your seedling to a bigger pot so the root system has enough room to keep growing. Pepper seedlings are ready for transplanting when they are at least 2 inches tall and have about four leaves. You can transplant pepper seedlings in 3 to 4-inch containers filled with potting mix while they’re growing indoors.

grow tips

If your seedling wilts after the move, it’s likely going into transplant shock because the roots aren’t getting enough air. Carefully remove the plant, create a deeper and wider space in the pot and then gently transfer your plant back. Watch your seedling for another ½ hour to make sure it’s no longer showing signs of stress.

7. Pinch Off Pepper Flowers

pinch off pepper flowers
Pepper Seedling Flower Buds and Blossom

Pinching pepper plants — specifically the flower buds and flowers — prunes them to grow stronger roots and produce more chilies. To pinch, hold the pepper flower between two fingers and nip it off. Pinch your plants while they’re indoors and stop after they’ve been in their outdoor containers for at least three weeks.

8. Harden Off Plants

harden off plants
Hardening Off Pepper Seedlings In The Sun

When you harden off pepper seedlings, you give them a safe way to get used to outside elements like the sun and wind. If you don’t toughen them up, peppers can suffer from stunted growth, scorched leaves, snapped limbs and they may even die. 

When To Harden Off Peppers:

  • Seedlings are at least 8 weeks old
  • Around 4 inches high
  • Have a few sets of true leaves

Hardening off pepper plants takes about two weeks (inside and outdoors). The first week, you’ll run a small fan on your indoor seedlings for a set period of time. During the second week, you’ll slowly start leaving your plants outdoors.

Here’s a hardening-off process that explains each step in more detail.

9. Transplant Pepper Plants Outside

transplant pepper plants outside, bell pepper plant
Bell Pepper Plant Ready To Move Outside

Pepper plants can move outside when the following is true:

  • Plants are hardened off
  • The last threat of frost has passed (ideally, it’s two weeks past this date)
  • Nighttime temperatures are regularly above 55°F (13°C)

» Use the Pepper Planting Calculator to get the last expected frost and transplanting dates for your location.

After that, you can transfer pepper plants into pots that are at least a 5-gallon size or larger.

grow tips

  • Transfer your pepper plants outside on a day with mild weather to make the move easier on your plants.

  • If you want to conserve outdoor space, you can use a growing system like the Earthbox original. This container measures 29 inches by 13.5 inches and holds up to six chile plants.

10. Harvest Your Peppers

harvest your peppers
Carolina Reaper Pepper Turning Color On The Branch

You can harvest peppers in the immature green stage, when red, or once they’re the mature color for that pepper variety. You’ll also want to look at the pepper’s size. Here are some more tips for understanding how and when to pick peppers


So those are the steps for growing peppers from seed! The following information covers topics that are important for ongoing pepper plant care.

Pepper Plant Care

pepper plant care

Here’s what you need to know to take care of your pepper plants in pots.

Soil

The best potting soil for pepper plants has good airflow, drainage, is fertile and it has a neutral pH level between 6.0 to 6.8. When you’re starting pepper seeds, use a seed-starting mix to give your seeds a lightweight environment where they can easily sprout.

For mature peppers, choose a product like Ocean Forest Potting Soil. A potting mix — different from garden soil — is specifically designed for containers to prevent a compressed, soggy environment in the pot.

Water

How often to water pepper plants depends on your growing materials and local weather. For pepper seedlings, you’ll likely bottom-water them every 1 to 3 days. Mature pepper plants may be watered once a week. 

When watering pepper seedlings, check after 10 minutes or so to see if the soil line is darker (fully watered) because you don’t want your plants to get too wet. (It’s very easy to overwater pepper plants!)

As for how to water pepper plants in pots, you can run a hose over the root zone. Stop when you see water coming out of the bottom of the container. 

not enough water for pepper plants
Signs Of Not Enough Water For Pepper Plants

grow tips

  • Make a note of when you water so you can create a consistent schedule that works for your plants.

  • Water your outdoor pepper plants in the early morning or evening so you don’t get your plant wet when the sun is out. 

Fertilizer

Start fertilizing your pepper plants after the seedlings grow their first set of true leaves. Younger seedlings should get a weekly feeding of ¼ strength fertilizer, while potted pepper plants get ½ strength. 

For more on how and when to feed peppers in pots, along with foliar feeding and other bonus amendments, check out this post on the best fertilizer for pepper plants.

Pests & Disease

Monitor your chile plants to make sure you don’t see diseases or insects like aphids and whiteflies taking over. You can prevent many problems by using control methods like giving your plants good airflow, regularly fertilizing, using mulch and blasting the underside of leaves with water in the evenings.

» Related: The Chile Plant Hospital (Ebook)

Staking

Some pepper plants grow tall or produce heavy fruits like bell peppers. This causes leaning, which can lead to breakage. You can use plant stakes to give your pepper plants support so that they stay upright in their containers.

staking a pepper plant
Staking A Jalapeno Pepper Plant

Common Problems Growing Peppers Indoors

Pepper seedlings can experience problems when growing. The following chart lists some common issues and their fixes.

germination banner

Problem: No Germination

Symptoms: Seeds aren’t sprouting within the expected time frame

Prevention / Remedy: Add a temperature controller to your heat mat to ensure you’re providing a warm enough temperature, or try other germination methods

mold banner

Problem: Mold On Soil

Symptoms: White, fuzzy areas on top of the mix

Prevention / Remedy: Scrape off the mold, sprinkle cinnamon the soil, cut back on watering, run a small fan to provide better air circulation

fungus gnats banner

Problem: Fungus Gnats

Symptoms: Tiny black insects are flying around your plants and growing area

Prevention / Remedy: Spray an organic pesticide, or set up yellow sticky traps and/or small cups of apple cider vinegar in your indoor growing environment

stunted growth banner

Problem: Stunted Growth

Symptoms: Seedlings stop growing

Prevention / Remedy: 1) Indoor temperatures are too low (Cornell University recommends 70°F during the day and 65°F at night), 2) Lack of nutrition: Feed pepper seedlings weekly, 3) Small pot: Transplant seedlings to give roots more room to grow, 4) Fungus gnat larvae: Confirm larvae is in the soil, use Bti to treat soil and spray organic insecticide, 5) Overwatering: Allow soil surface to dry before adding more water

leggy seedlings banner

Problem: Leggy Seedlings

Symptoms: Plants are tall and weak

Prevention / Remedy: Move seedlings closer to the grow light, or take your seedlings off the heat mat and out from under the lid if you haven’t already done so

Growing Peppers From Seed FAQs

What’s Next?

I hope this guide helps you start growing peppers from seed so you can get as much joy from it as I do. 🌶

Be sure to check out the guides on growing peppers in containers. You’ll learn more about watering, fertilizing and other chile growing essentials. 

P.S. Please share this guide if you like it!

growing peppers from seed in containers

How To Grow Peppers from Seed to Harvest

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Active Time: 6 months
Total Time: 6 months 30 minutes
Difficulty: Moderate

Growing peppers from seed gives you the freedom to grow any variety you want. It takes about 6 months to go from seeds to chillies. Here are the main steps for how to grow peppers from seed to harvest.

Materials

Optional Materials

Tools

Optional Tools

Instructions

  1. Buy the pepper varieties you want to grow. Some of the fastest-growing peppers include the Anaheim pepper and Early Jalapeno. The Cayenne pepper and Serrano pepper are some of the easiest peppers to grow. Sweet peppers include Corno di Toro pepper and sweet banana pepper. Mild peppers include Aleppo pepper and Poblano pepper. Hot peppers include the Carolina Reaper and Ghost pepper.
  2. Find the best time to start your pepper seeds indoors. Do this by looking up your area's last expected date of frost and then subtract 8 to 10 weeks to get the ideal timeframe.
  3. Prepare your pepper seeds for planting. Soak seeds for 24 to 48 hours in a cup of weak chamomile tea or water to soften the seed shell.
  4. Sow your seeds in a seed-starting mix. Moisten the mix so that it's damp (not soggy), and fill the cells of your seedling tray so that it's 75% full. Drop 3 seeds in each cell, then cover with a light layer of mix. Put your tray on the heat mat, add the lid and slide open the vents a little bit for airflow.
  5. Watch for germinating pepper seeds, which can be anywhere from 7 to 21 days (superhots can take 6 weeks or more). After seedlings are standing upright, take them off of the heat mat and out from under the lid. Position your plants under the grow light. (see notes on light and fertilization)
  6. Move your pepper seedlings to larger, 3 to 4-inch pots filled with potting mix. Do this when plants are at least 2 inches tall and have about 4 leaves.
  7. Prepare your pepper plants for the outdoors by hardening them off. Do this when seedlings are around 8 weeks old, about 4 inches high and have a few sets of true leaves.
  8. Transplant your pepper plants outside when the last threat of frost has passed and nighttime temperatures are consistently above 55°F (13°C). If you're going to continue growing peppers in pots, transfer them into containers that are at least a 5-gallon size or larger.
  9. Harvest your peppers. You can pick peppers when they are the color of maturity for that variety. Peppers are edible in any growth stage so you can also pick them when green or red.

Notes

  • Plant three seeds per seedling container to give you more chances for germination. If all three seeds sprout, cut two of them off so you end up with one seedling per pot.
  • Water your pepper seeds from the bottom whenever the mix starts getting dry. (Usually every day or every other day.) Mature pepper plants are usually watered once a week, but the frequency depends on your climate
  • Grow lights need to be positioned a certain distance away from the tops of your plants. Check the manufacturer's instructions for the right height.
  • Start fertilizing pepper seedlings when they grow true leaves by giving them a weekly 1/4 strength fertilizer. Give outdoor potted plants usually get 1/2 strength (follow the instructions on the fertilizer bottle.)
  • Add yellow sticky traps to your indoor growing area to help catch insects that may emerge from the growing media.
  • Pinch off pepper flower buds and blossoms while your plants are indoors. Stop pinching after your pepper plants have been outside for at least 3 weeks.
  • Give outdoor pepper plants a sunny location so that they get a 8 hours of sun a day. (If 8 isn't possible, make sure it's no less than 6 hours of sun.)

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