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Hot Pepper Growing Tips


Growing Hot Pepper from Seeds

Growing hot pepper from seeds can be enjoyable and sometimes frustrating as the germination can be slow and irregular even when grown under the optimal conditions. Some varieties can take up to 6 weeks and longer to germinate so you must be patient.

The home gardener must understand that varieties come from humid tropical regions and others come from dry desert regions. After years of testing, and by trial and error, we have come up with the best method for growing hot peppers. You should follow the planting instructions below to prevent poor germination, even if you have been growing hot peppers for years using other methods.

Common Mistakes

    * Using potting soil instead of lightweight seed starting mix

    * Over-watering the seeds before they sprout

    * Too low temperature

    * Inadequate ventilation


Type of Pots

The best method is to use plastic cell packs or plastic 4” square pots. If you are reusing the plastic pots from last year, remember to soak the pots in 50% bleach before using them. Do not use peat pots as they tend to absorb and retain too much moisture for growing some types of hot peppers.


Seed Starting Mix

 Use good quality lightweight seed starting material with slow release fertilizer mixed in. We recommend using Fox Farm or Farfard 3B.


Planting Method

 Fill the plastic containers with the seed starting mix. Plant the seeds 1/4" deep, or as a general rule, twice as deep as the size of the seed. Remember if you plant the seeds too deep, they may not sprout and rot. Write on a plastic garden marker the variety name and date, then place it in the cell pack or plastic pot.

 Water the seeds with very hot water. This will speed up the germination process. Then place the pots in an environment where the temperature will remain around 85 degrees. Some hot pepper varieties may not germinate and rot if the temperature is below 85 degrees. A small utility room will do if you do not have an indoor garden stand greenhouse.

 Do not use plastic tray covers when growing hot pepper seeds. They tend to create an environment that is too humid for some hot pepper varieties to germinate. Make sure you have adequate overhead ventilation, as seeds need the proper amount of air (oxygen) to germinate.

 The seeds do not need sunlight to germinate, but once they sprout you need to place them under fluorescent lights for 10 to 16 hours per day. You can reduce the temperature to 70 degrees after they sprout.

 After the seedlings reach 2" tall, water the plants once a week with half concentration of liquid plant fertilizer. This will enhance the growth of the plant and give them a good start. After they reach 3” tall, you can water the plants with full strength liquid plant fertilizer. Keep using the overhead fan to prevent disease.

 Transplant the plants outdoors in the garden or into 5 gallon containers when the plant has reach at least 3-4" tall, (at least 2 weeks after the last frost date), and when the nights stay above 50º F.  Usually in Wisconsin the recommendation is June 1st, but our 2012 weather looks like it is warming up enough to start to go outdoors around (May 19th). 

 Use black landscaping material to protect the plants from weeds and disease. When it rains, sometimes the soil splashes underneath the leaves, which can cause disease. Landscaping material greatly eliminates this problem. It also warms up the soil and retains moisture. To prevent the branches from breaking off with the heavy yields, use round tomato cages, or support with bamboo sticks


 Target levels of Nutrients for Pepper plants



Normal Range



3.5-5.5 %

< 2.0 %


0.35-0.8 %

<0.2 %


3.0-6.0 %

<2.0 %


1.5-3.5 %

< 1.0 %


0.35 – 0.80 %

< 0.30 %


0.37 %



80-200 ppm

< 60 ppm


100-300 ppm

< 20 ppm


40-100 ppm

< 25 ppm


6-20 ppm

< 4 ppm


30-90 ppm

< 20 ppm

*****Note the calcium levels for plants!!  Peppers need a calcium supplement to really flourish!  If the leaves are bubbling up (especially the really hot varieties), the plants are starved of calcium, add a calcium supplement and the leaves will smooth out and grow 2-3 times larger and produce 3X the amount of fruit (CalMag is one option by Botanicare).

Growing Hot Peppers in Containers

 Peppers can be grown all year long in containers. It is suitable for apartment dwellers and gardeners who live in cool regions where the number of growing days are limited. Also if a 2-3 day long early freeze occurs like in 2009 (nighttime temps were ~ 22-24º F), you can move them inside at night. It is best to use 5-gallon containers so the roots do not get too over-crowded. Container Gardening.


Growing Plants Indoors

More and more people are growing plants in containers. It allows you to grow varieties that you otherwise would not be able to grow in short growing season areas, especially some varieties of hot peppers, which have a long growing season. It is perfect for those living in apartments, for those who have small yards, and for the elderly or disabled who still want to enjoy gardening, which otherwise they would not be able to do. Plants can be moved to sheltered areas during harsh weather conditions and brought indoors as the cooler weather arrives. Container gardening also allows you to grow plants all year long indoors or in a greenhouse.


Type of Containers

Use a container that is rust-resistant and one that has holes in the bottom for drainage. We recommend using plastic pots as they are inexpensive, lightweight, durable, easy to clean, and easy to move around. There are plastic containers with handles, which should be used for larger and heavier plants. In hot regions, you should not use black pots as they tend to absorb heat. They can get very hot and may damage the root system.  In Wisconsin this works to our advantage. Light colored containers reflect the heat and keep the roots cool. Use 2 gallon size containers for herbs and small vegetables, 5 gallon size containers for large vegetables, peppers, and short determinate tomato plants, and 10 gallon size containers for the large indeterminate tomato plants. If the plant grows too big for the pot, the roots can become root-bound. If it becomes root-bound, you will need to transplant the plant into a larger pot.


Container Gardening Growing Tips

The gardener needs to be concerned with the type of potting soil to use, the frequency of watering, types and frequency of fertilizing, optimal temperature & humidity, amount of sunlight & artificial light, insect problems, and possible plant diseases.


Type of Potting Mix

We recommend using Fox Farm or Farfard 3B potting mix.  The only difference is the Fox Farm will contain some fertilizer for the plant that will be sufficient for initial growth until it starts to bloom, where as the Farfard potting mix contains no nutrients so you must fertilize the plant throughout its life cycle. Cover the hole at the bottom of containers with screen or black landscaping material before filling it with potting mix. This will keep the potting soil in and keep the slugs and insects out of the container.

Watering Frequency

You should water the plant thoroughly after transplanting into the pot and allow it to drain. More plants die from over-watering than any other reason in container gardening. Household water with fluorine can cause damage to some plants.



 We also recommend using a standard NPK fertilizer and using a Calcium supplement.  There are numerous fertilizers that will work.  The specific nutrient requirements for peppers are listed above, so try to match the fertilizer to these values for maximum pepper production.  Remember that hot peppers planted in containers need more fertilizer than if it was planted in the garden.  Dr. Dave uses only Botanicare organic line of nutrients.

Temperature & Humidity

 Temperatures should be between 65 and 80 degrees depending on the type of plants you intend on growing. Many plants benefit from spending some time outdoors during the summer. Gradually bring the plants outdoor in a partially shaded area before moving them to a full sun area to avoid sunburn. Move the plants indoors to protect them from freezing in the fall. It is important that the humidity is not too high as it could cause disease problems especially when growing in greenhouses. Humidity should be around 40 to 60 percent. Most plants will grow well in the temperature and humidity found in the average home. We do not recommend misting indoor plants continuously, as this can cause disease problems. Use fans for adequate ventilation to prevent this problem.


Sunlight & Artificial Light

 Plants need the proper amount of light to grow. Most need between 10 and 16 hours of light, so use fluorescent lamps if the light is not sufficient, especially during the winter months. Most houseplants will do fine in South facing windows. Do a little research to find out how much light the particular plants you intend on growing. You can also invest in a light meter that will measure the amount of light where you intend on placing the containers.


Insects & Plant Disease

If your plants get infested with insects, use the appropriate insecticide soap sprays, for organic pest control use AzaMax and/or natural predators such as lady bugs. The yellow colored glue traps also help out. Houseplants generally do not have disease problems. Try to avoid misting the plants and over-watering the plants, and use overhead fans. This will reduce the chance of having plant disease. If you noticed that a plant is diseased, remove the infected leaves, and spray with the appropriate fungicide disease sprays.

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