If your pepper seeds are not germinating, you are probably frustrated and impatient to start growing your plants. I did some research to find out why pepper seeds fail to germinate, and what you can do to solve the problem.
So, why are your pepper seeds not germinating? Pepper seeds will fail to germinate if temperatures are too below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius). Pepper seeds will also fail to germinate if they dry out. Older pepper seeds may germinate poorly, or not at all. Some hotter varieties of peppers can take a few weeks to germinate, so be patient if you think the temperature and moisture levels are correct.
Luckily, there are some steps you can take to ensure that you get a higher germination rate and faster seed germination for your peppers. Let’s go over some of these, along with ways to help your pepper plants grow better once they have germinated.
Why Are Your Pepper Seeds Not Germinating?
As mentioned above, pepper seeds will fail to germinate if temperatures get too low. Temperatures lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) will slow down germination, or prevent it entirely. Any seeds that do germinate at lower temperatures will develop into smaller, weaker plants.
Pepper seeds prefer a temperature of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 27 degrees Celsius) for ideal germination. A temperature much higher than this can also be a danger to seed germination, if the heat causes the seeds to dry out.
The reason is that pepper seeds need moisture to germinate. Even short periods of drying out can harm or kill pepper seeds. You can use a humidity dome to help keep pepper seeds moist. For more information, check out my article on humidity domes.
Older pepper seeds may fail to germinate at all. If they do germinate, it will be at lower rates than newer pepper seeds. For more information, check out my article on how long seeds last.
Remember that pepper seeds also need light to germinate. So, plant them in soil where they will get plenty of sun, or if you are growing them indoors, put them near a window or under a grow light.
Most pepper seeds will take between 1 to 3 weeks to germinate, depending on temperature, moisture, light, and age of the seeds. Also, remember that hotter varieties will generally take longer to germinate.
Why to Start Your Pepper Seeds Early
Starting your pepper seeds early can help you to achieve better germinate rates. Why not wait until temperatures rise and the soil outside gets warmer?
The answer is that late spring frosts or early fall frosts can cut your growing season short. Late spring frosts can stunt or kill pepper seeds or seedlings, and early fall frosts can damage or destroy mature plants or peppers.
For more information, check out this tool from the Old Farmer’s Almanac on frost dates by zip code.
Once you know the last frost dates in the spring for your location, you can work backwards and start your pepper seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks early. This will allow you to get a longer growing season without risking loss of your seeds or plants to frost.
You can start seeds indoors in a gardening tray, found online or at garden centers. You can also use flat, shallow containers such as ones you might find at the grocery store.
Once your pepper seeds germinate and grow into seedlings, you can think about transplanting them outdoors (provided the danger of frost has passed!) Generally, you will want nighttime temperatures to be over 60 degrees Fahrenheit before you put pepper plants outside.
However, if your pepper plants are still small, you can plant them in the soil and cover each one with a cloche. A cloche is a small plastic or glass container that keeps plants warm.
It can also help to protect them from bugs. When the pepper plants get larger, you can use row covers to protect them from the cold.
Another alternative is to put pepper seedlings in a cold frame or a greenhouse to wait out the colder days and nights. Just remember to close the greenhouse door before a cold night, and to open the door before a hot sunny day, or else you might damage or lose your plants.
For more information, check out my article on how to protect plants from cold and frost.
How to Help Pepper Seeds to Germinate Faster
There are several steps you can take to help your pepper plants to germinate faster by giving them the ideal conditions for growth. Let’s review some of those methods.
Soak the Seeds
Pepper seeds need to absorb water before they can begin to germinate. If the weather is dry, you will need to water frequently. If temperatures are cold, germination will be even slower.
If you soak the pepper seeds before planting them, you can shave off some time to germination. When pepper seeds are soaked before planting, they get a chance to absorb the water they need to germinate, thus giving them a head start.
One option is to soak the seeds in water for 1 to 2 days. If you leave them in water much longer than this, you run the risk of getting rotten seeds.
Another option is to wet a paper towel until it is damp, and then wrap the pepper seeds in the paper towel. Then, put the whole thing in a plastic bag and seal it. Leave the bag on your counter in the sun.
This second method will give the seeds moisture and heat, both of which are necessary for faster germination. Make sure not to let the paper towel dry out, or you can lose the seeds! If necessary, spray some extra water into the bag to keep the paper towel moist.
If you see your seeds starting to sprout a bit, you will know that they are ready to plant (you don’t need to wait that long, though). At that point, you can either plant the seeds in the garden, or in a tray indoors to wait out the last frosts of the season.
Use Newer, Younger Seeds
We talked about how the variety of pepper plant can affect time to germination: hotter peppers generally take longer to germinate. The age of seeds can also affect time to germination and germination rate.
Seeds that are more than 1 to 2 years old will have a lower germination rate (a lower percentage of seeds planted will sprout and grow into peppers). If the seeds are old enough, you may not get any peppers at all.
It is probably fine to use leftover seeds from last season, but going past that will lower your germination rate and speed more than you would like.
Choose the Right Time to Plant
Soil temperature has a huge impact on germination rate and time to germination. Planting too early can leave pepper seeds or seedlings susceptible to a hard frost. Planting too late can subject them to an early fall frost.
As mentioned above, checking the last frost dates and working backwards can help you to determine when to start seeds indoors, or when to plant outdoors. The snow should be gone from the ground, and the soil should be completely thawed before you think of planting peppers in your garden.
Before you plant in the soil outdoors, check the weather forecast. If you see an unseasonably cold stretch of weather, hold off on planting, or keep your seedlings indoors a little longer.
Use Proper Seed Spacing and Depth
If your pepper seeds are planted too shallow or too deep, they may germinate slowly, or not at all. The ideal depth is ¼ to ½ inch for pepper seeds.
The seeds or seedlings should be spaced 18 to 24 inches (1.5 to 2 feet) apart. This spacing will give the pepper plants enough room to avoid competing with one another as they grow.
Finally, plant peppers with the rows spaced 24 to 36 inches (2 to 3 feet) apart. This will give you enough room for working the soil, watering and fertilizing your plants, weeding, and harvesting.
Water Your Peppers Properly
Pepper seed will only germinate and grow properly if the soil has enough moisture. After planting your pepper seeds, keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged.
One good rule is to feel into the soil a few inches with your hands each day. If it feels a little dry, then you can water again. One possible exception is when a big rainstorm is coming (check the weather forecast!)
After pepper plants are established, it is best to water in the morning, when temperatures are cooler and the sun is not at its brightest. This will allow the water to soak into the soil before it can evaporate.
If you think you have a problem with dry soil, check out my article on how to treat dry soil.
How to Help Your Peppers to Grow Better After Germination
Even if your pepper seeds germinate well, you still need to take care of them properly so that you can get a bountiful harvest of peppers. Here are a few ways to do this.
Enrich Your Garden Soil
This is something to do before the growing season starts. Adding compost or manure to your garden soil has two benefits.
First, it replaces nutrients that your plants used for last year’s growth. Second, it replaces organic material, which allows the soil to stay moist in dry weather, while also draining well in wet weather.
You can also add fertilizer or other additives, such as lime or Epsom salt, to your garden to supplement nutrients that your plants need to grow.
However, make sure to get a soil test before you add anything to your soil. You don’t want to end up with an excessive amount of any nutrients.
For instance, too much nitrogen can prevent flowering, and too much magnesium can prevent plants from absorbing calcium. For more information, check out my article on over fertilizing your plants and my article on low-nitrogen fertilizers.
For more information, check out my article on how to do a soil test for your garden.
Adjust Soil pH
Pepper plants (and all other plants) will grow their best when the soil pH is within an ideal range. The ideal pH range varies by plant, but most will do well between 5.5 and 6.5 (slightly acidic).
A soil test (mentioned earlier) can help you to determine your soil pH. If your soil pH is too low (acidic), you can add lime (calcium carbonate) to raise it. If your soil pH is too high (basic or alkaline), you can add sulfur to lower it.
By now, you should have a good idea of why your pepper seeds are not germinating, along with some ideas about how to solve the problem.
I hope this article was helpful. If you have any questions or advice of your own for germinating pepper seeds, please leave a comment below.