Backyard Hacks: Pepper Seeds Sprout Quicker

How would we ever garden without peppers? Whether you prefer a crispy pepper, just a little heat from a jalapeno, or a die-hard habanero fan, this is a garden staple (like most nightshades). So when we grow our own peppers from seeds, we want lots of them and fast. The key to that? Germination faster! Sprouting pepper seeds is the very first step in growing this vibrant plant.

However, germinating seeds can be a long and tricky process, especially when the hot seeds are being grown. By understanding how germination works and tweaking our technique to complement it, we'll be able to germinate pepper seeds in no time!

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Germination time of the pepper seeds

Sprouting pepper seeds is fascinating and fun. Source: Rachel Garcia

The germination time depends on the type and condition of the respective seed. While super hot peppers generally take longer to germinate, the germination time for a single variety can vary widely. Here is an example of the germination time of some species so you can get an idea of ​​how much it varies:

Variety of pepper Germination time
paprika 10 days
Cayenne pepper 16-20 days
Jalapeno chilli 2-3 weeks
Habanero pepper 1-5 weeks
Piquillo pepper 2-6 weeks

Since we are very impatient and it can take pepper seeds to germinate for a month or more, we will learn how to germinate pepper seeds faster.

Germination 101

If we are to germinate pepper seeds quickly, we need to understand what we are doing. Fortunately, you don't have to be a botanist to learn how seeds sprout. Here's what you need to know.

Anatomy of the pepper

Let's start with a little quicker pepper anatomy. Assuming you've cooked with a bell pepper before, you know that hundreds of small, flat seeds are clustered around a pale, tapered center. This structure is called the pith or placenta and contains the capsaicin glands, which are responsible for your classic chilli heat. In fact, you will find that hotter peppers have more placenta in relation to the pericarp (pepper meat).

Pepper seeds differ in appearance depending on the species, but are generally round with a small, pointed tip (similar to tomato seeds). The outside of the seed, the testa, protects the embryo inside and must be intact for the seed to be viable. The embryo itself is designed to break through the testa during germination and grow into a pepper seedling. Right now it's safe and healthy in the testa, wrapped in the endosperm.


Pepper plants have evolved to anticipate a cold season, so their seeds will dormant after development. During this time the embryo simply waits until the conditions for germination are optimal (after all, it only gets one shot!). In the case of peppers, dormancy (and viability) takes anywhere from 6 weeks to a few years. However, there have been cases where pepper seeds germinated immediately after harvest, before the dormant phase could begin.

Break through hibernation

In order for the resting phase to end, the embryo needs a signal that the external conditions are favorable for germination. Pepper seeds are temperature dependent. When the soil is warm enough (ideally 85 ° F) germination can begin. Many studies have been done to force the end of the resting period, which we'll get into in a moment.

Heat is not enough to germinate a seed. Remember that the embryo is surrounded by a hard shell and cannot break out on its own. In nature, the testa is softened by water or broken up by animals or the elements. Since pepper testas are thin, it is usually soaked in water (no layering required).


Pepper seeds can germinate in a few days or up to several weeks, depending on the variety and method. After germination, the embryo grows out of its immature state and becomes a seedling that pushes its way through the garden soil and unfolds its cotyledons for the first taste of sunlight. Until the seedling begins photosynthesis, it lives on the starch stored in the endosperm.

Chop the germination

Cross section of viable pepper seedsYou can clearly see all parts of this viable pepper seed. Source: Rachel Garcia

Now that we understand the basics of germination, we can work to make it faster and more successful. There are some strategies out there so let's take it step by step.

Use viable seeds

You won't get anywhere if your pepper seeds aren't viable. To be considered viable, a seed must be able to germinate and produce a healthy seedling. Seeds are still considered viable when dormant because the potential is still there.

Much research has been done to produce viable seeds. Agriculture needs seeds with a high survival rate to be efficient. In one study, researchers took x-rays of pepper seeds to compare differences in seed anatomy with germination rates. The x-rays of the pepper seeds showed how much space there was between the inner wall and the embryo / endosperm. Seeds with a larger amount of free space had a lower rate of germination and a higher rate of abnormalities. However, seeds with no free space also had a high rate of abnormalities, presumably caused by cracks in the cotyledon area. The sweet spot was determined to be just under 2.7% of the free space within the seed. With this new understanding of seeds, researchers should be able to grow more seeds with high viability.

Since we home gardeners do not have the equipment to X-ray our seeds, we must rely on other methods to test viability. The only way to know if a particular seed will germinate is to try it out. However, if you plan to grow bell peppers in bulk, you can end up wasting a lot of time and resources when most of the seeds are duds. What we can do is test a sample of the seeds you want to grow, watch the rate of germination, and decide if it is worth investing in the rest.

An easy way to tell if seeds are viable is to do this Soaking. Just soak a few seeds in a bowl of water for 1-2 days. The viable seeds take up water and eventually sink to the bottom of the bowl. Once they are submerged, you can remove and plant them right away. Not only will they be more secure in their viability, but they will germinate faster too!

The soak test tells you the seeds can absorb water, but not whether they can actually germinate. To be sure, you must a Paper towel test. With the paper towel method, the seeds actually sprout. It will take longer, however, and there is no guarantee that the seedlings will transplant well. This is a good method when you have old seeds that may have lost their power.

Take a random sample of your seeds (we recommend 10) and spread them evenly on a damp paper towel. Fold the paper towel over, press it flat and seal it in a ziplock bag. Put the plastic bag in a warm, dark place. After a few days, look in the paper towel to see if any pepper seeds have sprouted. Depending on the strain, this can take a few days to a few weeks, so be patient. After the usual germination time of your pepper variety, pay attention to how many seeds germinate in the plastic bag. Calculate the success rate and decide whether it is worth sowing the rest of the seeds. Personally, I would aim for a germination rate of at least 60-80%.

Store seeds properly

Now that you know they are viable, you'll want to properly store your hot pepper seeds until you are ready to use them. How we store them is basically the opposite of how we germinate them: cold and dry. Store your pepper seeds in an airtight container indoors. The seeds need to be as dry as possible, so adding a desiccant such as silica gel or powdered milk wrapped in a thin cloth is recommended.

Maintain a constant floor temperature for your pepper seeds indoors – between 35 and 50 ° F. The refrigerator or an attached garage in winter usually falls within this range.

Early rest

If you buy your seed packets in the spring or store your harvested seeds over the winter, you usually don't have to worry about breaking the dormancy; the pepper seeds follow their natural schedule. However, if you want to plant pepper seeds right after the pepper harvest, or if you want to speed up the germination process, this section is for you.

As mentioned earlier, dormancy is the seed's way of protecting itself from the winter elements. To break the dormant period, we need to get the seed to think that a nice, warm spring has come. Water, warmth, and light are the keys to breaking the pepper dormancy. Indeed it is Water-based viability tests we have just discussed double dormant methods! To further encourage germination and try to disinfect the seed, some gardeners swap the water for chamomile tea, sodium hypochlorite, or even a very mild bleach and water solution. If you are using chemicals to germinate seeds, soak the seeds for just a few hours, dilute the chemicals, and follow all safety instructions on the packaging.

The pepper plant is originally tropical, so its seed awaits one warm floor temperature from 70-90 ° F. After soaking and planting, immediately start heating the soil. A seedling heat mat is ideal because you can monitor and control the temperature. However, if you don't have one, place the seed tray in a warm place, such as a bathroom. B. on the refrigerator or near a heater opening.

Plant properly

The rule of thumb for planting depth is twice as deep as the diameter of the seed. For most pepper seeds, this is about ¼ inch deep. The seed starting mix should already be damp when you plant the seeds.

Pepper seeds need to be constantly moist, but never mushy. The tried and tested method here is a seed starter tray that is filled with a few centimeters of seed starting soil. This potting soil holds water while the excess is drained off. It's also fine-grained to match the tiny pepper seeds. The seed trays are just the right size for seedlings and are easy to maneuver with a heating mat or grow lights. They're also easy to transplant when you're ready to take the seeds outside for them to produce fruit.

Many gardeners grow peppers hydroponically, so the seed can definitely be germinated in a soilless medium. To accommodate such small seeds, we recommend one with a fine texture (the pepper plants can always be transplanted later). The most popular soilless medium is coconut coconut, which has excellent drainage.

Cross section of non-viable pepper seedsA non-viable pepper seed lacks a large and defined embryo to develop. Source: Rachel Garcia

Common germination problems

There's nothing more frustrating about gardening than doing all of your research, planting carefully, and having nothing to show. Sometimes these seeds just won't sprout! Let's look at some of the most common reasons you might not see pepper seedlings.

The usual suspect is this the seed is too cold. Remember that bell peppers come from a tropical setting and need a warm area to germinate. Also, many hot peppers require more heat than bell peppers and have an ideal temperature range of 85-90 ° F. If not heated, the seeds do not know that conditions are safe for pepper seedlings and remain dormant. Seedling heating mats are critical to pepper seed germination – they are well worth the investment.

Pepper plants need a warm climate, but the seeds suffer when they get too hot. Make sure the heating mat and floor are never above 90 ° F. If this were the case, the seeds could be damaged and lose moisture. To avoid excessive heat, keep the seeds indoors out of full sun and don't use growing lights until they have germinated.

Since they are so small Pepper seeds dry out quickly. If you don't keep the soil moist after planting, especially in dry weather, the seeds can quickly lose their viability. You may need to water the seeds daily or add a mini greenhouse lid or moisture dome to the seed tray to lock in moisture (this will also keep the area warm).

You don't want them to dry out, but you don't want yours either Pepper seeds too wet. Plants need oxygen to survive, and overhydration deprives the soil of it. To avoid overwatering, spray the soil with a spray bottle instead of using a watering can. You can also water from the bottom up by soaking the bowl in a few inches of water for about 10 minutes.

We try to germinate pepper seeds quickly, but sometimes You can't rush nature. Some seeds take a month or more to germinate, so don't give up until then. You should prepare for seed germination at least a month or two before transplanting so you are not in a rush.

frequently asked Questions

Pepper seedlingsA selection of young pepper seedlings, both hot and mild. Source: Julie

Q: How long does it take for a pepper seed to germinate?

A: It depends on the species, but pepper seeds can take anywhere from a week to over a month to germinate. In general, hot peppers germinate faster than mild ones.

Q: Do pepper seeds need light or dark to germinate?

A: Sprout pepper seeds in the dark. They are used to this as they are usually planted underground.

Q: Should I soak pepper seeds before planting?

A: Absolutely! Soak your pepper seeds in warm water to break the dormant phase and speed up germination.

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