Transplanting pepper plants (potting up) is when you move seedlings to larger pots so they can continue growing. This process happens at least twice — indoors and outside. You’ll learn the why, when and how of potting up pepper seedlings in this step-by-step guide.
The thought of moving your plants can be nerve-wracking, especially if you just spent lots of time growing peppers from seed. That’s how I felt circa 2009, and now I’m going to share everything I’ve learned since then.
But first, what happens if you don’t transfer pepper plants to bigger pots? You’ll get what’s known as “root-bound” plants. Essentially, roots become a tangled knot, growth slows way down and you won’t have healthy chillies.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, you’re probably wondering when it’s time to move your plants.
Check out the sections below for all the steps on how to transplant pepper plants indoors and into the garden.
When Can I Transplant Pepper Plants?
You can transplant pepper seedlings for the first time about 3 to 4 weeks after they germinate. At this stage, pepper seedlings are generally around two inches tall with four or more true leaves. (It’s also time to feed your seedlings if you’re not already doing this.)
» Related: When to Fertilize Pepper Seedlings
Knowing when to transplant bell pepper seedlings to bigger pots can be tricky. Bell peppers (and other large pepper varieties) won’t always have two sets of true leaves at this stage. Instead, check for roots poking through the bottom of the cell tray or current pot (see image below). You can transfer your seedlings when roots have grown down the length of the container.
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What You’ll Need
When starting peppers from seed, you’ll transfer your plants indoors and again when they go outside. Below, are the supplies for both processes.
- Fish emulsion fertilizer (or fertilizer for vegetables)
- 5-gallon or larger container
- Optional: Compost
- Plant Label Alternatives: You can use tape and a marker to label your pepper plant pots.
- Indoor Container Alternative: Solo cups (16 oz) work great as a seedling’s first “pot.” Just make sure to poke holes in the bottom of the cup for drainage.
- Outdoor Container Alternative: If you’re short on outdoor space, you can use a space-saving container like an EarthBox. The original model holds up to six pepper plants in a 29-inch by 14-inch area.
Transplanting Pepper Plants Indoors Step By Step
Now that your pepper seedlings are ready for transplant, here’s how to move them to bigger pots indoors.
- Water your seedlings so that the mix doesn’t fall apart when you move your plants.
- Moisten the potting mix so that it’s damp and not dripping wet. (You should be able to make a ball with the mix and it holds its shape.)
- Fill your pots with the mix so that it’s about 75% full. Label your plant containers.
- Make a deep hole in the center to make room for the pepper seedling. (This should be a big enough space so that you can position your plant without crushing its roots.)
- Gently squeeze the bottom of your insert or container to push the seedling up and out. (If possible, turn the container upside-down to help.) You can also run the handle of a spoon along the outside edge of the mix and then make an upward scooping motion to move the seedling out.
- Grasp the sides of the mix — gently — and position the seedling in the new pot. Lightly tamp down the soil to help your plant make contact with its new environment.
- Fill the remaining space in the pot with more mix. You can bury the seedling up to the cotyledons or the first set of true leaves for a deeper planting.
- Water the mix lightly on top or use a spray bottle to help your seedling settle in. Take care not to spray the leaves or stems with water.
» Related: Bottom Watering Plants in Pots
- Bugs can be a problem when transplanting peppers indoors because potting soil usually contains insect eggs. Here’s how you can prevent gnats before they become a nuisance.
- If you’re potting up leggy pepper plants, bury them up to the first set of true leaves so that part of the stem is underneath the soil. Note: Only do this deeper planting when pepper seedlings are in the green stage and not after the plant stem has turned woody (lignified) when the stem can rot.
- You may need to transfer your pepper seedlings more than once while indoors. (It depends on how long they’ll be inside.) If you see roots growing through the bottom or the pepper’s growth seems stunted, transfer your plants to a larger pot like a 6 or 8-inch container.
How Big Should Pepper Plants Be Before Transplanting Outside?
Pepper plants are usually a few inches tall when they are ready to go outside. They’ll typically be at this height after your plants have been growing indoors for 2 to 3 months. Before going outdoors, harden off your pepper plants and make sure the last threat of frost has passed.
How To Transplant Peppers Into The Garden
You can safely move your pepper plants outdoors after they’ve been hardened off and nighttime temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). Here’s how to transplant peppers outside.
- Add potting mix to the container leaving the top 2 inches empty. Water the mix as you go so that it’s hydrated, but not dripping wet.
- Follow the fertilizer instructions to add it to your mix.
- Create a hole in the center of the mix so that it can fit your plant up to its bottom set of leaves. (Optionally, drop some compost in this hole.)
- Place your pepper plant in the hole and fill it in with the mix so that it’s level around your plant. (You can also add more compost to the top so it acts as a mulch.)
- Water around the root zone to help your pepper plant settle in.
- Place your pot in a spot where it can get at least 8 hours of sun a day.
- Continue to water when your plant gets dry (the leaves start drooping). Run a hose over the top layer of soil until you see water coming out of the bottom of the pot.
- Continue to feed your plant by following the instructions on the bottle. Here are some more tips for fertilizing pepper plants.
- When transplanting pepper plants to bigger pots, it’s best to do this on a mild, cloud-covered day because it makes for a smoother transition.
- If you’re planting your peppers in an EarthBox, be sure to follow the specific fertilizing and watering instructions for this growing system.
Pepper Transplant Shock
When moving peppers to new pots, they might experience stress known as “transplant shock.” Some signs of pepper transplant shock are wilting and sagging. This shock happens when plant roots are disturbed, and it can show up in 15 minutes or so.
You can prevent transplant shock by taking care not to disturb the roots during the move. In other words, don’t push or press the plant in the new pot because that compresses the roots. After the transfer, it helps to lightly water the top of the soil to help the roots settle in.
To fix transplant shock, you can gently remove the plant from the new pot and create a wider, deeper space in the new container. Place the seedling back, add more mix and then lightly water the top.
- If roots are tangled at the bottom (rootbound), you can gently tease apart the roots with your fingers before transplanting.
- It may take a day or two for pepper plants to show signs of recovery.
- Pepper plants can also experience transplant shock if they’re not hardened off before going outside. Put your plants in the shade to recover, or bring them back inside if a frost is coming.
FAQs On Transplanting Peppers
Hopefully, you’ll find transplanting pepper plants a bit easier after going through these steps.
If you haven’t already done so, the next step is toughen up your plants. Check back for the “hardening off pepper plants” guide that explains how to prepare your chillies for living outside during the growing season.
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