It might be difficult to start thinking about the outdoor garden since it still looks very much like winter. There are plants we grow outside, however, that must be given a head start if they are going to be productive during the summer because of our short growing season. Peppers are good candidates for seeding indoors because they take a long time to bear fruit from their seedling date.
Yes, you can purchase plants from your local greenhouse, but the number of varieties available is usually quite limited and because I prefer certain kinds, I start my own pepper plants from seed. Bell pepper seeds should be planted indoors anywhere from eight to 10 weeks before the plants are transplanted outside. Hot peppers are slower growing so they need to be planted about 12 weeks ahead of time. What this means is that March is pepper-planting time for us on the Prairies.
Peppers are a warm-weather crop and do not fare very well if planted outdoors before air temperatures are consistently warm. I don’t usually transplant mine outside until early June. If you use protective coverings, you can push up the date by a week or so, but the plants will deteriorate if subjected to a prolonged cold spell. Determine you planting-out date and count back the required number of weeks to determine your seedling dates.
Pepper seeds should be planted in a good-quality, sterile, soilless mix. Soak the seeds for a few hours — until they sink in a container of water — and cover the seeds lightly with some of the planting mix. I plant my seeds in one tray rather than in individual pots simply to save space. Either method will work as long as the soil is not allowed to dry out during the germination process.
One reason that the seeds must be planted so early is that pepper seeds are slow to germinate — although warm temperatures will hasten the process. Peppers germinate well in a light garden where the lights add heat, but I also have germinated them on top of the fridge — another “hot spot” in the house. If you are growing more than one variety, label the containers.
The seedlings must be given lots of light immediately upon germination. When they have two pairs of true leaves, transplant the seedlings into individual pots. I have used four-inch pots but those really deep two-inch cell packs also work well. Be sure to handle the seedlings by their leaves and not their stems to avoid injuring the delicate stem structure. Water in the freshly transplanted seedlings and keep the soil moist. Fertilize with a 20-20-20 soluble fertilizer every week.
I always put my pepper plants out in my cold frame in late spring but I am careful to protect them from cold snaps by using a heater. I get sturdier transplants by growing them in a cold frame where the plants get full sun.