Chili plants are slow to get going, so start pepper plants indoors a few weeks earlier than tomatoes. Here are chili pepper seed-starting tips from the National Garden Bureau:
- Sow seeds about 8 to 12 weeks before the last frost date.
- Sow several seeds / inch deep in 2-to 3-inch containers such as peat pots filled with lightly moistened seed-starting mix.
- Water well and place the pots in a well-lighted, warm area (80ºF to 85ºF) such as under fluorescent lights.
- To prevent the seedlings from damping off, keep the soil damp but not wet, and provide good air circulation around the plants.
- Feed the seedlings with half-strength water-soluble nitrogen fertilizer every two weeks. When seedlings are about two inches tall, thin to one plant per pot by cutting out the smaller ones.
- Once the plants are about 5 inches tall and the nighttime temperatures are above 60ºF, harden the plants off by placing them outdoors for longer periods of time each day.
- After two weeks, plant them in the garden. Peppers need full sun, rich soil (amended with compost, well-rotted manure, or leaf mold) and good drainage. Allow 2 feet between plants.
- If the peppers are starting to produce flower buds, pinch them off and continue to do this for one to two weeks weeks; this forces the plants to put their energy into growing leaves and roots. Mulch with 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch to slow weed growth and maintain soil moisture.
- Stake varieties that grow taller than 2 feet.
- Keep the plants lightly moist, but not soggy.
- Pull any weeds if they appear. Feed the plants with an all-purpose water-soluble fertilizer about six weeks after transplanting and again if the plants start to look pale or the leaves are small.
- Most chili peppers start out green, then turn yellow, orange, red, or brown when fully ripe. Havest when peppers feel firm and get a glossy sheen.
Photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau