Top Tips for Sowing Chilli Pepper Seeds

Anyone who knows me will know that I love growing chillies (and other crops), and I am obsessed with finding the best tips and tricks for growing the biggest and best crops each year. I am big on experimenting and automation, and I am passionate about sharing my knowledge with others to save you from making the same mistakes I’ve made along the way. So, here are my top tips for sowing chilli pepper seeds.

sowing chilli pepper seeds - pretty chilli plant with colourful fruit

I created a Beginners Guide to Growing Chillies in 2018, and I have been revamping it since 2022.

If you live in the UK, you’ll know that the weather is not ideal for chilli growing, but we can do a few things to optimize the process and maximize our chances of a bountiful harvest at the end of the season. 

How do you Germinate Chilli Seeds?

Many people ask, do I need to soak my seeds before planting them? 

I’ve tried various ways to improve the germination rate of chillies, and I’ve discovered that the best way is to try and replicate what happens in nature as closely as possible. 

So, if left up to nature, how do chillies spread their seeds far and wide?

As we know, most chillies are spicy, they contain capsaicin which burns, and it’s not just you and me that feel it, but other mammals do as well, so if a bear eats a Carolina Reaper, they will not be too pleased.  

Your dogs and cats will also not be delighted if you feed them Carolina Reapers, so please don’t!  

However, birds cannot sense the heat from capsaicin. The capsaicin, which makes chillies hot, does not affect birds whatsoever. Now it’s thought that this is a defence mechanism to help the chilli seeds be transported far and wide. Birds can spread those seeds further than mammals can. 

Birds on a branch

Now let’s consider what happens when a bird eats chillies and the seeds enter its stomach. The bird will fly off, and it’ll poop somewhere. Those seeds will propagate in the soil and become lovely chilli plants. Two things are happening: 

  1. The bird poop is going to give those seeds nutrients to get started. 
  2. The chemical scarification (the seed shell’s softening) happens in the bird’s stomach, allowing oxygen to get inside the seed to help the seed germinate. 

Scarification is very important for older seeds. It’s not so crucial for very fresh seeds, but still, it does help. Regardless of the age of my seeds, I now always follow the same process. 

The good news is that we don’t need the digestive fluids of a bird to be able to do our chemical scarification. But it might surprise you to know that you can get all you need from a nice cup of tea! The tannins found in English breakfast tea or chamomile tea work really well to replicate the process. 

Using Tea for Chemical Scarification Prior to Sowing Chilli Pepper Seeds

You don’t need to use a new tea bag; you can save up old tea bags and place them in a jug. Put some hot water in a jug with the tea bags and let that steep for about half an hour. Once the liquid is at room temperature, we’re ready to start the scarification of our seeds.  

Black tea

Chemical Scarification with Hydrogen Peroxide

You can also use hydrogen peroxide for chemical scarification. You can buy a three per cent strength mix over the counter at a chemist or from amazon. There is an added benefit: if your seeds haven’t been appropriately dried or you’ve sourced seeds and the quality is questionable, hydrogen peroxide will help disinfect those seeds and eliminate any mould. 

You need a 30 to 1 mix for this process, which means 30 parts filtered water and one part hydrogen peroxide.

Tip #1: use gloves or a pair of small tongs! Touching the seeds can result in pain later, and they also tend to stick to your fingers!

I use small shot glasses to soak my seeds in as they’re cheap and reusable. Add as many seeds as you want to plant to the shot glass. You don’t need a lot of liquid, just enough to cover the seeds; you can use a squeezable bottle for ease to dispense the liquid. 

Make sure to label them, I write on the shot glass itself, but you can write a label and stick it on or use a tag and put it next to it. 

Soak the seeds for about 12 hours. I usually leave mine overnight.

Tip #2: to help you get better germination rates, put your seeds inside the fridge for a couple of days before soaking them in the tea. It tricks the seeds into thinking it’s gone through a winter cycle, and it’s now ready for spring when it starts warming up. Spring is when nature says, ‘
hey, we’ve got to start germinating.’

What Compost Should I Use to Sow Chilli Pepper Seeds?

Use good quality compost for germination. Just plain compost; make sure to sieve out any big particles to get a beautiful fine fluffy compost. You can buy compost, especially for seed starting, but it’s far more cost effective to purchase general compost because you can also use it when you pot up your chillies later in the season. 

If you’re planting various seeds, you’ll need a way to keep track of what you’ve planted. If you’re using seed starting trays, mark the rows horizontally and vertically and consider using my SeedsIO platform to record which varieties you’ve planted and where (it’s free).

If your compost has been sitting outside in the cold, let it come up to room temperature before you start planting your seeds.  

How Deep Do I Need to Plant My Chilli Seeds?

Fill your seed tray with compost. Place your seed on top of the soil, one or two per cell. You don’t need to bury the chilli seeds low down. 

Sowing seeds in a seed tray

If you want to ensure the success of that seed cell, planting a couple of seeds will allow you the opportunity to thin out the seedlings at a later stage.

Tip #3: seeds that float in the tea/hydrogen peroxide are not necessarily bad, so don’t throw them away.

The next step is to lightly cover the seeds with some of your compost.  

You can use things like vermiculite or perlite if you want to, but I like to use more of the compost I’ve already used. 

Don’t nudge your seeds into a different seed cell because you’ll be very upset when the chilli you get is not the one you expected!

I pat the compost down lightly, but you don’t have to do this. Just make sure that all your chilli seeds are covered, you don’t want them exposed to the air, and when you water them, you’ll be able to have another look and see whether any have been revealed. 

As an alternative to soil, you could use a coir plug. It’s essentially coconut fibre, you soak it in water, and it expands. You put the seed inside the coir. I don’t like using coir plugs too much. I find that it’s a lot simpler, cheaper and easier to move the seeds around when using soil.

What’s the Best Way to Water my Chilli Seeds?

For the initial watering, just use a spray bottle. Try to get the water to room temperature. You don’t want to use freezing cold water, and don’t use water from the tap if you can help it, as it contains chlorine. If you have to use water from the tap, let it sit in an open container for about an hour to let the chlorine evaporate.  

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not just chlorine in the tap water; there’s something else called chloramine, which does not evaporate. Rainwater is perfect, so if, like me, you can collect rainwater off my greenhouses to use for watering, you’re all set!

Rainwater

If you can see any seeds poking out from the soil once you’ve watered them, just add more soil and make sure that they’re covered over.

Until your plants are outdoors, bottom watering is the best way to water your seeds. Typically you’ll have lights overhead, and if you don’t have lights, you’re going to have some sunshine, and if you’re watering from the top, it can cause a green film of algae on the soil.

Once you’ve settled the top of the soil in the cell using the spray bottle, you can also water from the bottom. You need to ensure that you’ve saturated the soil, so make sure that the water level is above the base. This needs to dry out over the next two or three days. The water will pull up into the soil once watered from the bottom. 

Cover the seed tray with a humidity dome to make sure that you keep the moisture inside. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but your seeds mustn’t dry out at this early stage. Until the seeds germinate, make sure that there’s always moisture in the air but that they’re not wet. Make sure that the humidity dome is on, and open the air vents to ensure the air can get in and out, but it will keep in the humidity. You should start seeing some condensation on the inside of the dome if it’s heating up correctly and if you’ve got enough water in there. At this stage, you do not need any light. 

Looking After Chilli Seeds During Germination

If you’ve got the humidity dome on your seed tray, look underneath every other day to make sure that it’s dry underneath the seed tray and that there’s no standing water. If there is any standing water, do not water them. If it’s dry underneath, then add some more water.  

You can also cover the seed tray with a towel to keep the warmth while the seeds germinate.

Do I Need Certain Temperatures to Germinate Chilli Seeds?

Chillies typically grow in warm conditions, and you’ve got to make sure that your chillies have the best start to life by trying to replicate that warmth. You want to reach around 28 degrees celsius, and for UK growers, that is not something we can offer naturally. 

I use heated propagators, but there are other ways you can heat your trays if you are doing this indoors. It’s a bit easier because you probably already have the heating on.   

Ensure there are no holes in your tray or put the tray inside another without holes. Place it on top of the fridge. Sometimes fridges will be pretty warm on the top, which should be enough to get the temperatures up for your chilli seeds. Satellite boxes can also be quite warm, but take care not to spill water near electrics. 

How Long Do Chilli Seeds Take to Germinate?

Many chillies should start germinating after about a week. Once the first shoots appear, you can expect more to follow in quick succession. 

Remember that super hots, like the Carolina Reaper, 7Pot Primo need a very long season. They can be some of the most challenging to get to produce fruit. In this dedicated article, I’ll describe how I get decent harvests from my super hots

Planting Super Hot Chilli Pepper Seeds: A Comprehensive Guide To Successful Germination And Growth

If you’re a first-time grower, I recommend looking for the super chilli varieties as they’ve been bred to grow easily and provide a good crop. You’ll see results quite quickly with these. 

When Do My Seeds Need Light?

It is one of my favourite things to experience when growing chillies; when you see a little shoot come up, there’ll be cotyledons (small leaves) appearing above the soil. Once the cotyledons appear, I start putting light over my chillies. Learn everything you need to know about grow lights in this article.

Stages of growth seedling

Why are My Seeds Not Germinating?

There could be several reasons for this. It’s possible that the seeds were not planted in the right growing conditions, or that they did not receive enough water. Perhaps they were placed in an area without enough sunlight, such as a dark windowsill. It’s also important to consider the quality of the seeds themselves – if you buy chilli seeds online, make sure they are from a reputable source. 

Chilli seeds love warmth and moisture to sprout and grow well. 

Can I Grow Chillies from the Seeds in My Peppers? 

Yes, you can grow chillies from the seeds in your peppers. Simply save the seeds from ripe peppers, allow them to dry completely, and then plant them in soil. Make sure to keep the soil consistently moist and provide plenty of sunlight for optimal growth. In no time, you’ll have your very own homegrown chillies!

Here’s a useful article on saving seeds: Save Pepper Seeds – How to Harvest Chilli Seeds

Save Pepper Seeds – How to Harvest Chilli Seeds

Conclusion to Sowing Chilli Pepper Seeds

In wrapping up my top tips on chilli seed sowing, we’ve covered a lot of ground, from the importance of replicating natural processes like chemical scarification to the best practices for germinating and nurturing your chilli seeds into thriving plants. The journey from seed to harvest is filled with opportunities for learning and experimentation, and it’s clear that with the right approach and a bit of patience, anyone can achieve a successful chilli crop, even in the less-than-ideal UK climate.

Whether you’re a seasoned grower or a newcomer to the world of chillies, there’s always something new to discover and apply to your gardening practice. By following the tips and techniques outlined in this guide, you’re well on your way to a bountiful chilli harvest.

Don’t forget to take advantage of resources like the SeedsIO platform to track your progress and share your experiences with a community of like-minded enthusiasts. And, of course, keep experimenting with different methods and varieties to find what works best for you and your garden.

Once your seeds have germinated – check out my article on mastering chilli seedling care.

Happy growing, and here’s to a season filled with abundant, healthy chilli plants!

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