Starting pepper seeds indoors allows you to get a head start on the growing season, giving your plants ample time to mature and produce an abundant harvest. This is important for longer-season crops, like peppers, that take a while to reach maturity.
Peppers, both sweet and spicy, can be started indoors 6-8 weeks ahead of the last frost date in your area. This is because peppers thrive in warm weather and need sufficient time to germinate and grow before being transplanted outdoors when the temperatures are consistently above 15°C.
Choosing the Right Seeds
When it comes to growing peppers in the UK then, picking the right variety can go a long way to helping you achieve a great harvest.
After trying many different peppers, I have found that smaller peppers do much better than large bell peppers. This is because they have a quicker time to harvest, so they don’t struggle as much with our short seasons.
This doesn’t mean you can’t grow bell peppers, but I have never managed huge harvests, even with a greenhouse and starting the seeds early under lights.
My Chosen Varieties
Aji Dulce – Sweet red long pepper, very productive
Mini Bell Yellow – As the name suggests, you get lots of mini bell peppers
Lemon Dream – Small but productive pepper that produces many long yellow sweet peppers
Planting the Seeds
When growing peppers from seed indoors, it’s important to choose the right containers. A propagator is almost essential, as peppers like really humid conditions to germinate. If you don’t have one then don’t panic, you can make your own by wrapping cling film across the top or making a milk bottle propagator.
Sowing the seeds
I like to sow my pepper seeds on the surface of the compost. I just give them a firm push so they make good contact with the soil and then leave them, I never bury them below the surface.
Creating a Suitable Environment
For successfully growing peppers from seed indoors, creating a suitable environment that meets their specific temperature, lighting, and humidity requirements is crucial.
Peppers thrive in a warm environment, with ideal temperatures ranging between 21 to 27 degrees Celsius. It is important to maintain a consistently warm temperature for optimal germination and growth. To meet this requirement, you may use a heating mat or place the seed trays in a warm room.
I have found that they do just fine in my home which has the thermostat set to 18 celsius throughout spring.
Proper lighting is essential for the healthy growth of pepper plants. They need plenty of light; at least 12-16 hours of sunlight or artificial light per day is recommended.
For optimal growth you need to use grow lights, there just isn’t enough light in the day in spring for peppers even on the sunniest windowsill. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that they will not grow on a sunny windowsill, just that the growth will be sub-optimal.
Caring for Your Growing Seedlings
Thinning and Transplanting
As your pepper seedlings grow, it’s essential to thin them out and transplant them when necessary. When seedlings are about 3 inches (7cm) tall and have a few sets of leaves, it’s time to transplant them into slightly larger pots.
Gently remove the seedlings from their trays or small pots, taking care not to damage their delicate roots, and transfer them to their new containers. Provide each seedling with sufficient space to grow and develop its root system.
Fertilising and Feeding
Many people will tell you that you need to feed your seedlings, but I have never found this to be true with any seedlings I have grown.
Give them good quality compost and they will be just fine up to a limit. Ensure they never outgrow their pot and you shouldn’t need to feed them until they go into your greenhouse.
Monitoring and Preventing Diseases
Keeping your pepper seedlings healthy is crucial for their growth and development. Monitor them regularly for signs of diseases or pests. Watch out for yellowing leaves, stunted growth, and wilting, as these may indicate a problem. Preventative measures like proper air circulation, adequate watering, and good hygiene can minimise the risk of diseases.
Yellow leaves will be the most common issue you will see. This often means they are outgrowing their pot and have used up most of the nutrition in the soil.
Transplanting to the Outdoors
Before transplanting your pepper plants outdoors, hardening them off is essential. This process involves gradually acclimating the plants to outdoor conditions to avoid stress and shock. Begin by placing the plants outside for a few hours daily in a sheltered location, gradually increasing their exposure to sunlight and cooler temperatures over the course of a week.
Selecting a Suitable Location
In the UK most of us need to grow peppers undercover, meaning a greenhouse or polytunnel. We just don’t get enough prolonged heat for them to grow outdoors.
This is not true for everyone, if you live in the south and have a sheltered spot then you might be able to grow them outside, but just know they like lots of sun and lots of heat.
Planting and Care Outdoors
When the risk of frost has passed and the soil has warmed, it’s time to transplant your pepper plants. Gently remove the plants from their pots, being careful not to damage the roots, and place them in the ground.
Water the plants immediately after transplanting, ensuring the soil is thoroughly moistened. Lastly, support the plants, such as stakes or cages, as they grow larger to prevent the branches from breaking under the weight of the peppers.