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Germinating Chilli Seeds

It’s that time of year when I’m starting to get some chilli seeds planted ready for the season ahead. I’ve had a few requests from readers to describe the best way t germinate chilli seeds so I thought i’d put together a small guide.

Too many chilli seeds

The Wet Tissue Method

I have found this to be the quickest method of germinating chilli seeds though it does involve an extra step in the process when compared to planting seeds straight into compost.

First of all here is what you’ll need:

  • a large sandwich/freezer bag
  • some kitchen tissue paper
  • a shallow tray/lid
  • a water mister

All you need to do it double up a piece of kitchen roll and spray with a mister until well moistened then lay it flat on the lid/tray. Next carefully place your seeds on the wet paper spacing them about 2cm apart before placing another wet layer of tissue on the top. Gently firm down and place the whole lot inside the sandwich bag and seal tightly to keep the moisture in.

Next you need to place the bag somewhere warm to aid the germination. Ideally an airing cupboard would do or somewhere with a constant trickle of heat such as on an old CRT computer monitor or  on top of a fridge freezer (the elements at the back give off heat).

Germinating Chilli Seeds

Open up the bag every day and check the seeds for signs of growth. Initially you should notice the seeds bulge slightly (as a result of absorbing moisture) before starting to sprout from the pointed end of the seed. Once most of the seeds have begun to sprout you should move them into a fine potting compost. Be careful when handling the seeds at this stage as they are incredibly delicate. I use an old fine paint brush to move the seeds around as opposed to pinching them between my fingers and causing damage.

The Regular Compost Method

Choose a fine potting compost and sieve it into either seed cells or a regular seed tray. Level off and spray with water to moisten the soil and leave for 5 minutes for the moisture to soak in. Next add the seeds to the tray (if you want to be precise add them with the pointed end down) in small lines leaving at least 5cm between seeds. In the shot below i’ve used a celled seed tray.

Planting Chilli Seeds

Next sieve another 1cm of compost over the top and spray again with the mister to moisten the compost. Avoid adding too much moisture as this can pull the seeds down too deep in the compost, impeding germination.

Next you need to cover the seed tray to help keep the moisture in. Some seed trays come with a plastic lid or if you have a propagator place the seed tray in there, if not a large plastic bag will do the job fine. Just remember to remove the bag as soon at the seeds sprout so the light can get to them. All you need to do now is place the seed tray somewhere warm and check daily for moisture levels and germinating seeds.

Ready to germinate

The Heated Compost Method

This method combines the best of the above two methods. First you follow the regular compost method then you either place the seed tray in a heated propagator or as I do use my little cheat to speed up germination.

The main benefit here it that by using a heat mat or a heated propagator you are delivering a constant supply of heat to the seeds at exactly the right temperature required for germination to occur.  Heated propagators have been coming down in price in recent years and can now be picked up quite cheaply.

Chilli Seed Germination Tips

Constant Temperature

The seeds will germinate much quicker if they are kept in an environment with a constant temperature. Whether this is in an airing cupboard, on top of a freezer or in a heated propagator it really doesn’t matter as long the the temperature is constant 24 hours a day. Windowsill are often poor places as while the daytime temperatures are often warm, at night temperatures can plummet thanks to poor insulation and cold drafts. Aim for a constant temperature of between 26-32 degrees Celsius (80-90 Fahrenheit).


No matter where your seeds are you’ll need to keep checking them at least daily to ensure they do not dry out. Without moisture our seeds will not germinate. Avoid water logging the seeds by using a fine mister to moisten as opposed to pouring water onto the seeds.

Label Your Seeds

If you’re anything like me you always end up planting way to many chilli seeds each year and lose track of which plants are which come the spring when the seedlings transform into young plants and get potted on. As boring as it is take the time to label your seeds as you plant them and pot them on to ensure you always know what variety your plants are. Also it can be useful to com[pare germination rates of different varieties once the seedling sprout.

Avoid fungus

While it is crucial to keep the seeds moist while waiting for them to germinate it is possible to keep them too wet and have fungus or disease set in. To avoid this i often mix in a little vermiculite with my compost to help aid drainage and nutrient retention in the soil.

Use Good Quality Seeds

Always buy your seeds from a reputable dealer (avoid ebay, I’ve always had good success with Thompson & Morgan but any reputable seed supplier should do) and try not to keep seeds for too long before using them. When storing seeds store them in a labeled zip lock bag inside a sealed container. Ideally put the container in a cool dark place (in a shed is ideal).

Don’t Plant Seeds Too Close

Aim to leave at least 5cm between seeds when planting, ideally about 10cm if possible. The more space you leave the less chance the roots will become intertwined and damaged when you pot the seedlings on in a few weeks time. Another great way to avoid this is to use seed trays with individual cell units in which you plant 1 seed per unit (see the picture above).

5 comments… add one
  • Ian February 9, 2012, 7:55 pm

    I’m doing the wet tissue method this year as last year i had poor germination in my “heated propigator” (just noticed this year, it only heats about the middle third of the thing!).
    But a question – how do i know when they’re germinated and ready to plant out? Do you have any photo’s of a germinated seed by any chance?


    • The Chilli King February 10, 2012, 9:58 am

      Ian – Your best bet is to check the seed twice a day. After a while (so long as you keep them moist) you should notice the seeds start to swell. Eventually if you look carefully you’ll notice one or two start to sprout out of the seed casing. Unfortunately I don’t have any pics but you’ll know when it happens. At this point plant up all of the seeds very carefully to avoid damaging them. Good luck!

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