How to grow peppers from seed

title of article and logo on image of basket full of peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant

When you think of starting a vegetable garden, you probably think of a sunny spring day. But for those looking to start their vegetables from seeds, you’ll need to start planning now. Peppers are a great plant to start inside and grow from seeds because if you wait to start them outdoors, you’ll likely not have any vegetables to harvest in the summer. 

When you should start your peppers depends on the zone you live in, what type of pepper you are planting, and how soon you want to harvest. 

Planting zones and final frost dates

Figuring out which planting zone you live and garden in is important because it will help you determine which plants will grow best in your garden. Understanding frost dates is also important because you’ll generally want to plant your pepper seeds indoors about 8 weeks before your final frost date. 

Locate your planting zone here

Find your final frost date here

Remember that final frost dates are predictions so watching the weather in the spring will still be important before you actually bring your plants outside. 

Choose which peppers to grow from seed

If you live in a colder zone, you’ll want to look for seeds that state they are “widely adapted” or “cold tolerant”. Look on the back of your seed packet for descriptions and recommended zones for planting. And, as always, plant peppers you can look forward to cooking and eating.

picture of basket full of the following vegetables: eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers. Includes gypsy, Jimmy Nardello, jalapeno, and poblano peppers.
Basket of harvested vegetables: eggplant, poblano peppers, mini sweet peppers, Jimmy Nardelo peppers, gypsy peppers, jalapeno peppers, and tomatoes.

Sweet peppers

Peppers get hotter (spicier) the longer they grown so sweet peppers can generally be started later in the winter/spring than hot peppers. Generally, think 6-8 weeks before planting. For example, in Iowa, where we have our final frost usually early in may, you might start sweet pepper seeds indoors in March. 

Types of sweet peppers

  • Gypsy
  • Bell
  • Mini
  • Shishito
  • Jimmy Nardelo
  • Banana
  • Poblano
  • Anaheim

Hot peppers

Hot peppers take a little longer to ripen and “heat up”. Plant hot pepper seeds a few weeks before you start sweet pepper seeds. Around 8-10 weeks before you plan to plant them outdoors is generally recommended. 

Types of hot peppers

  • Jalapeno
  • Cayenne
  • Habanero
  • Ghost
  • Tabasco
  • Serrano

What you’ll need:

You don’t need a lot of equipment to grow peppers from seed. Here’s a list of what you’ll need to get started.

  • Containers: flats, compostable egg cartons, or small pots
  • Vegetable garden soil
  • Watering pot
  • Heat mats (recommended but not required if your home is kept warmer than 70 degrees Fahrenheit) 
  • Grow light
  • Space to keep your plants 

How to grow peppers from seed:

  1. Fill your containers with soil.
  2. Plant seeds 1/4th inch deep in each container.
  3. Keep your soil temperature around 70 degrees Fahrenheit or slightly warmer. Use the warming mat, if needed.
  4. Place grow light over seedlings at least 8 hours/day.
  5. Thin your seedlings once they are big enough to provide a few leaves.
  6. Pinch off any flowers that grow until you are about a week out from transplanting outdoors.  
  7. When your plants reach about 4-5 inches tall, reduce how often you water them.
  8. Occasionally brush your hand over the stems or run a fan in the room they are in to help strengthen the stems.  
  9. Gradually start to expose them to sunlight when you are about 1-2 weeks away from transplanting them outdoors. Bring them indoors if it will be below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Growing peppers from seed can be a fun project to keep you busy through the end of winter. If you feel up to the challenge, enjoy watching your seedlings grow! If all else fails, you can always buy established plants from your local garden center in the spring so try to enjoy the process and hope for the best! 

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