From top: Red, yellow, green bell peppers, "Biker Billy" red and green jalapenos, Hot Lemon heirloom peppers, Caribbean Red habaneros, Jalapenos, and Poblanos.
image by Fern Fisher
Seed catalogs have a wide variety of hot pepper seeds, many that you will not find as transplants in local nurseries. Hot pepper seeds are sometimes even sold in packets of mixed seeds. Mixed hot pepper seeds are a thrifty way to grow a few plants each of several different varieties, but you won't know what kind they are until they mature.
Start your pepper seeds indoors 12 weeks before the last expected frost date in your area. Pepper plants are not difficult to grow from seed. Their origins are tropical, so you will need to try to provide a mini-tropical environment to get your seeds off to a good start.
Starting Seeds Indoors
Wash your planting containers in hot, soapy water and rinse them thoroughly. Clean containers reduce the chance of soil borne diseases. You can use specifically purchased growing flats, or small containers, like egg cartons or yogurt cups you have saved. Make drainage holes in the bottom of your "saved" containers.
Prepare the planting containers. Fill them with moist sterilized potting soil, or use pre-formed peat pellets or pressed cube starters. Plant one pepper seed in each small container. Pepper seeds should be planted about 1/4 inch deep.
Plant one variety of pepper at a time, and label each as you go. Use a permanent pen that is not water soluble; Popsicle sticks are good individual plant markers, or plastic plant labels can be found at garden centers.
Purchased starter flats come with a clear dome lid, or you can cover your own containers with clear plastic wrap to conserve moisture and to create a little greenhouse. Put them in a warm place, at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Gentle bottom heat helps the seeds germinate quickly; some gardeners use an electric plant starter mat to provide heat. Light is not necessary until the seeds have sprouted.
Pepper seeds may take 14 days or longer to germinate. Keep them warm and moist until they sprout. As soon as they are up, give them plenty of bright light from a window or from grow-lights. Plants in a window will lean towards the light, so turn the containers daily to keep them from growing lopsided.
Do not allow the seedlings to dry out between watering. Try to keep the soil evenly moist and never soggy.
Growing Peppers Outdoors
When the soil is warm and there is no risk of frost, transplant your hot pepper seedlings into the prepared garden in full sun. If you plan on saving seeds, you need to separate different varieties of hot peppers with at least 50 feet between varieties. This reduces the chance of cross-pollination and keeps your seed pure.
Mix a shovelful of compost in the planting hole. Set your hot pepper plants in the planting hole at the same depth they were growing in the containers. Some gardeners plant their peppers on a small ridge to avoid soggy soil around the roots. Mulch to control weeds and to help keep soil moisture even.
As your hot pepper plants grow they may need support. Many hot pepper varieties are extremely heavy bearing and they set so many peppers that their branches break from the weight. Support them with stakes or a fence, or use small wire cages as you would for tomatoes.
All parts of hot pepper plants contain capsaicin, including leaves and stems. The entire plant is hot and very unpalatable to insects. You will not need to use insect control.
Keep hot peppers picked as they mature. Hot pepper plants rebloom and keep producing until frost.
About this Author
Fern Fischer is a freelance writer with more than 35 years' experience. Her work has been published in various print and online publications. She specializes in organic gardening, health, rural lifestyle, home and family articles. Fischer also writes about quilting and sewing, and she professionally restores antique quilts to preserve these historical pieces of women's art.