Using Seed Starting Trays to Plant Hot Pepper Seeds

A popular alternative to the Double Cup Method especially for larger gardens, is using seed starting trays and pots. Although they are more expensive (and much more work), you can fit more seeds per sq. ft. which allows you to control the environment much more easily. For example, utilizing a 200-cell seed starting tray you can control the humidity for all 200 seedlings and you will only need one heating mat.

You will first need to start your seeds in small cell trays and then transplant them into larger starter pots shortly after they germinate. Starter pots come in all shapes and sizes, but I prefer the 3.5″ pots since you can fit 18 of these inside one “1020” tray. (They’re called “1020” trays because they measure roughly 10″ x 20″.)

Materials For Growing Pepper Plants in Trays

  • You will need a seed starting tray, the bottom tray, and a humidity dome. You can buy them separately, or in kits. These 12-cell tray kits are pretty popular. I’m currently using this Bootstrap Farmer kit which features a 200-cell tray, 1020 tray, and dome. Bootstrap Farmer makes incredible products that will last a lifetime! If you decide to purchase your trays separately, make sure the seed starting trays are designed to fit inside a 1020 tray.
  • 3.5″ starter pots. These pots are what I use. They are very strong and will last many seasons.
  • 1020 Trays. You can fit 18 of the 3.5″ starter pots in a 1020 tray. Also from Bootstrap Farmer. They’re super strong.
  • Soil. Suggestions below.
  • Stakes. I like these at Home Depot or these on Amazon. Wooden popsicle sticks tend to absorb water and get moldy.
  • Seeds. You do have seeds right?
  • (optional) Gallon pump sprayer. Make sure the end nozzle can be removed.

The Best Soil For Hot Pepper Plants

I recently did a study comparing FoxFarm’s Ocean Forest vs Happy Frog soils (among others) and the results might shock you! I won’t spoil the surprise, but I discovered that these soils do not require fertilizer (while they are indoors)! That’s right, no need to spend time and money on fertilizing your plants indoors. This is a HUGE benefit that (in my opinion) definitely justifies the price. I was also able to germinate seeds in these soils too.

Happy Frog is a little cheaper than Ocean Forest but either will do. Or you can do a mix of both! For Long Islanders, check out Agway in Mt. Sinai.

Other Soil Options

I used ProMix in 2021 with good results. I did need to fertilize however. You can also make your own soil by mixing some organic compost or potting soil with a little bit of perlite. I like to get a 5lb bucket and fill it 3/4 with compost and add about a solo cup of perlite. Perlite helps with water drainage. If you use straight compost it will compact and water will not flow through. And if you use too much perlite the water will flow through the dirt too quickly 🙂 I stay away from top soil since it is far too dense and tends to harden.

How to Start Pepper Seeds in Trays

The size of your seed starting tray depends on how many plants you intend to grow. As you probably already know, hot pepper seeds can be somewhat unpredictable when it comes to germinating. I recommend planting 3 or more seeds (minimum) for each plant to ensure germination, since waiting around for 3 weeks will cut into your season if nothing grows and you need to start over.

In the video below, I’m using a 200-cell seed starting tray and since the holes are very small I plant only 2 seeds per cell in multiple cells. For example, if I want to guarantee that I will have 5 habanero plants, I will plant 10 holes with 2 seeds each totaling 20 seeds.

If both seeds germinate in the cell I will transplant both seedlings into the larger 3.5″ starter pot. This doubles my changes that at least one will survive the transplant. Later I will pick the best seedling and clip the other one.

For smaller seed starting trays where the holes are larger, like the 12-cell tray mentioned above, you could plant 6-10 seeds of the same type in each cell. After they germinate you could then separate the seedlings and plant each one into their own pot.

*Video Updates

*I don’t think the Jiffy Seed Starting mixture is necessary. I was able to germinate directly in Ocean Forest and Happy Frog with very good results!

-updated 3/28/22

Best Temperature For Hot Pepper Seeds

Put them in the warmest room of your house. Hot pepper seeds germinate best when the soil temp is between 65-95 degrees, 80 being the optimal soil temperature. You can use a meat thermometer to check the temp (remember to wash it afterwards :). You can also use these heat mats to raise temps by 10-15 degrees if you need the extra warmth.

Watering Hot Pepper Seeds

Check on the seedlings once a day. Make sure the soil has not dried out. Make sure it is moist, not wet. Moist! I use a spray bottle (or even a turkey baster). I reuse an empty gallon (milk, iced tea) jug, fill it with tap water, and let it sit for 24 hours uncovered to allow the chlorine to evaporate and the water to come to room temperature. I adjust the water to a PH of 6.5.*

*Adjusting the PH of the water isn’t really necessary for plants that will live inside for only 2 months, but I do it because I’m a nerd. Once the plants go outside I let nature take over.

Do Hot Pepper Seeds Need Light?

They don’t need light until they start to sprout. When they do sprout you will need to start giving them light asap or else they will get tall and “leggy”.

How Long Do Hot Pepper Seeds Take To Germinate?

In optimal conditions you can expect germination in about a week or so. Superhots, like the Carolina Reaper can take around 2 weeks (and some up to 4 weeks!) so be patient. It’s very exciting to see the little sprouts emerge from the soil (right?). Typically for me, if I do not see sprouts in 10 days I will start another tray as a backup. You don’t want to wait too long in case you screwed something up since starting over at this point is going to take away from your growing season.

page updated 3/28/22