Peppers (both hot and sweet) and Eggplants are two crops from the Solanaceae family that have similar seed starting characteristics and are generally started around the same time. They are both frost sensitive annuals which require a fairly long and hot growing season. For this reason, they are starting indoors under controlled conditions and then transplanted into the garden as small plants once the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has passed. This article will take you through the easy steps to starting your own pepper and eggplant seeds. Starting your own seeds gives you access to many varieties and is very economical. However, if you miss the seed starting window, or run into difficulties, you can always buy ready grown transplants from gardening centers nearer to planting time in your area.
- Peppers and Eggplants are slow to germinate and slow to grow.
- Peppers and Eggplants require warm soil to germinate.
- Peppers and Eggplants are planted outside after all danger of frost.
- Ideal seed starting time for Peppers and Eggplants is 6-8 weeks before your last frost.
Don’t know your last frost date? Find it HERE.
Percentage of Normal Seedlings Produced at Different Temperatures* **
The first number is the germination rate as a percentage. Numbers in ( ) are the days to seedling emergence. Numbers in red equal optimal daytime soil temperature for maximum production in the shortest time.
* The above data was taken from a report published in the mid-1980’s. Author, affiliation, and publisher are not known.
** The above table was derived from experimental data. Certain logical inconsistencies exist due to crop failure or to bad batches of seed (note the low eggplant germination). They do not interfere with the overall interpretation.
Five Steps to Happy Seeds
Step One: Good Quality Soil
Below is an experiment we did with mixing different ratios of vermicompost (worm castings) with normal potting soil and monitoring the results. The pictures are from a Collard variety called Vates, but based on the results I now do a 10% mix of vermicompost with all my seed starts. It can help prevent damping off (a fungal disease), increase vigor and potentially even affect germination.
Even if you don’t use vermicompost, you want to start with a high quality potting soil for starting seedlings.
Step Two: Clean Containers
Step Three: Sow the Seeds
- Plant 3-6 seeds per section of a 4-pack (1-2 if you’re using smaller plugs). I sow more seeds the older the seeds are because germination rates drop over time. However be prepared to thin seedlings out if all your seeds germinate because we only want one healthy plant per section, not four competing plants.
- Pepper and Eggplant seeds want to be planted about 1/4″ deep. I achieve this by pressing the seeds into the soil and then sprinkling a thin top layer of soil to cover to the right depth.
- This isn’t an exact science, you don’t need a ruler or to spend all day fretting. Remember, seeds are pretty amazing.
- Make sure you label the pots with the seed variety – you will not remember what is what if you don’t!
Step Four: Water and Cover
Seeds require water and temperature to germinate (and oxygen, so don’t drown them..). During germination they definitely don’t want to dry out. I cover mine with a damp paper towel to retain moisture, you can also cover with plastic lids to trap in moisture and keep them warm (like a mini greenhouse). I have my four packs in a tray which I can add water too without disturbing the seedlings, the water will wick up through the soil and encourage root development.
Step Five: Keep Warm and Moist
I use a heating pad to keep temperature sensitive seeds like peppers and eggplants warm, but sometimes the heat of a grow light can be sufficient or just a stable indoor room temperature (it may just take a little longer – see the chart above). The seeds don’t require light until they have germinated, but you’ll want to be ready to provide good light once they do. Ideally we’ll expose our pepper and eggplant seeds to 16hrs a day of full spectrum light. This is something a sunny window cannot provide in winter.
Specific Cultivation of Pepper Seeds
Sow pepper seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. Plant seed 1/4-1/2″ deep in 3-4″ pots. Optimal soil temperature for germination is 65-85°F and seeds will not germinate below 55°F. Seeds will sprout in 8-25 days.
Transplant outdoors 2-3 weeks after the last frost, when the soil has warmed. Black plastic or row covers can help speed up soil warming and plant growth. Mature plants should be spaced 18-24″ apart in rows 2 -3′ apart. Pepper plants tend to be self-supportive, but taller varieties and those with large, heavy fruit may need to be staked.
Specific Cultivation of Eggplant Seeds
Sow eggplant seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost date. Optimal soil temperature for germination is 75-90°F.
Sow seeds 1/4″ deep. Seeds will sprout in 6-21 days. Harden plants off before transplanting outdoors. Transplant outdoors once the danger of frost has passed and soil temperatures are 60°F and above. Mature plants should be spaced 24″apart.