Home gardeners who grow their tomatoes from seed usually get fairly quick results after sowing the seeds indoors. Given the right germinating conditions - a soilless planting mix, good drainage, plenty of light, plenty of warmth - tomato seeds can pop up in 8-10 days.
Pepper seeds are a different story. Why is it some peppers can take weeks to germinate?
"The important thing in getting your (pepper) seeds to germinate is to keep them warm – the soil temperature should be in the 80's", says Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden, a popular seed catalog based in Felton, California. "Germination is very much related to even moisture and warm temperatures. You should see germination within 2 to 3 weeks if it's warm enough. I strongly suggest using bottom heat to achieve the warmth the seeds need – most good nurseries carry good little electric seed starting mats which will keep your seeds at the right temperature to sprout. A local mail order source is Peaceful Valley Farm Supply."
For those who want to comparison shop, another source for heating mats for your pepper seeds: Amazon.
Another trick that some gardeners employ is soaking the pepper seed for a few hours before sowing to soften the seed coat. The value of that is open to debate.
"I have never heard of soaking pepper seed overnight and have never done it in 20 years of running a trial garden," says Shepherd.
On the other hand, Professor Debbie Flower of the American River College Horticulture Department sees the benefits of some "immersion therapy" for pepper seeds. "We soaked our pepper seeds in hydrogen peroxide for 10 minutes," explains Flower. "That's not enough time to scarify (soften or break the seedcoat), or even get them soaked, but enough to kill exterior diseases."
Many sweet pepper varieties will show their initial leaves about two weeks after planting the seeds. But some varieties of peppers take longer to pop up than others. "The hot pepper varieties take longer to germinate, some to three weeks," says Flower.
But if you are experimenting with the really hot pepper varieties, such as the Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper), it could take up to four months, says the Trade Winds Fruit website:
"Chinense species (e.g. Habanero's) generally take longer to germinate than most common peppers. Keep soil warm to very warm (75-90F) for better germination. Do not use acidic soil. Some Chinense peppers, in particular Bhut Jolokia, Naga Morich and related peppers are very slow to germinate, averaging 1-4 months germination time."
By the way, if you are growing the Bhut Jolokia...you're playing with fire. The Ghost Pepper is rated at 850,000 Scoville units of heat. For comparison, the habanero rates 200,000; the Jalapeno is 5,000; the Anaheim equals 1,000. And sweet bell peppers? 0.
|This is as hot as I can stand. The Inferno: 4,000 Scoville Heat Units|
Another factor that can determine the rate of germination of pepper seeds: the pH of your seed starting mix. One of the most common ingredients in most seed starting mixes is peat moss, which is highly acidic, with a pH around 4.0. Pepper heads, including the Horticulture students at American River College, have found quicker germination when Coir (coconut fiber) is substituted for peat moss. Coir has a closer-to-neutral pH: around 6.5. The tests at American River College bear this out after trying Coir in their pepper seed soil mix. "We've had the best germination of peppers ever!" says Flower.
And don't be in a rush to set them out in their permanent garden home. "Pepper seedlings need to be grown out until they have at least several sets of true leaves, and it is at least 55° at night before you plant them out," explains Renee Shepherd. "And they will need a little time to get used to being outdoors, as well."
Here in the Sacramento area, that would be around mid-May. Be patient.