Producing Perfect Pepper Transplants

By Susan Littlefield

Peppers, whether hot or sweet, are not the easiest crop to grow in many parts of the country. They sulk in cold, yet if it gets too hot, with temperatures above 90 degrees F, they may not set fruit. Starting your own transplants from seed can also be tricky.

Fortunately, the folks at Johnny's Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine have had lots of experience growing peppers in a challenging climate, and they share their tips for growing successful pepper transplants on their website. While their advice is targeted at market growers, it contains lots of useful information for home gardeners as well.

Their most important piece of advice -- get your timing right. Your aim is to have your pepper seedlings ready to go into the garden as soon as the soil and air are warm and the danger of frost is past. For most gardeners, this translates to two weeks after the last expected spring frost date for your area. This means starting seeds indoors eight weeks before your set-out date.

Bottom heat is essential for good germination, says Johnny's. With 80-90 degree bottom heat, seeds will germinate in seven to eight days. Without this boost, germination is slower and more erratic, with fewer seeds germinating. If you start your seeds in flats, transplant to individual cells or pots when they get their first set of true leaves. Be sure seedlings don't get rootbound, are regularly fertilized, and let the soil dry out between waterings. And of course, seedlings need adequate light; for most home gardeners this means growing under fluorescent lights. In about eight weeks your peppers will be 6-8 inches tall, possibly with buds but no flowers, ready to be hardened off and set out in the garden, weather permitting.

To read all of their tips for growing successful pepper transplants, go to: Johnny's Selected Seeds.

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