Germinating Capsicums: Tips for Australian Gardeners

Germinating Capsicums: Tips for Australian Gardeners

Every garden and gardener is different, and so we all experience our share of challenges when it comes to growing plants. Capsicums, the group of plants that includes all peppers, have always been an easy sow and grow for me, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t raise questions for others. 

Some folks have been saying they’re having a bit of difficulty getting their capsicums started, so I did a bit of digging (in the metaphorical sense) and lit upon some interesting facts about capsicums, plus some of the slightly more obvious ones that first came to mind when faced with the question of how to overcome difficulty in germinating Capsicums

So, without further ado, let’s get under the skins of these sweet or spicy favorites with our findings on how to germinate capsicums successfully. 

Soil Temperature and Capsicums

If you’re growing capsicums because you like it hot, well so do they! These sultry beauties need a soil temperature above 21C to germinate. That’s pretty hot, and since most of us aren’t the proud owners of soil thermometers, you might just want to get a feel for this using a meat thermometer. 

If you’re just looking for a broad guideline, here are some interesting facts about soil temperature. Believe it or not, soil can actually be warmer than air. But that may not be so during the early spring. The thing is, soil absorbs heat slowly and holds it well, so it takes a while for soil temperatures to rise after a chilly winter. However, it’s pretty safe to say that once the summer gets underway, soil temperatures are generally higher than air temperatures. 

Without a cooking thermometer or a real soil thermometer to help you, you will have to play it by ear, waiting for a time when the daytime temperatures are fairly reliably around or above 21 degrees. Of course, this isn’t super-scientific, but it’ll do for an educated guess. 

If you’d like to start chillies and sweet peppers early, you may need to provide bottom heat – nurseries do this with hot water pipes or heating wires, but I’ve seen some simple heating pads intended for enthusiastic home gardeners who want to heat a bit of soil, and some of the simpler systems are pretty cheap. 

Water: Not too Often or too Much

“Too much” water is a term I don’t quite like. To clarify, when watering, water properly. The term “too much water” refers to frequency rather than amount. If the soil is constantly soggy, you can expect your seeds to rot, or the emerging root doesn’t get enough oxygen and it rots. The end result is the same: no emergence of the seed. It would be lovely to be able to tell you just how often to water, but that depends on so many variables that it can’t really be done. 

The best way to get the balance right is to feel the soil. If it feels like a squeezed-out sponge, it’s just right. On hot days, you may find that the surface looks dry, but there’s moisture just below. Get to know your medium and your conditions. When you do water, the soil should be thoroughly wet, and good drainage ensures that it doesn’t stay that way for too long. Beware finely sifted media and very peaty media – they hold water, and sometimes they do this just a bit too well. 

While we’re talking water, there is, of course, the cardinal sin of letting germinating seeds dry out completely. Needless to say, that’s the end of them!

Patience

As excited as we are about our Capsicums, it’s no surprise that many a gardener finds their sprouting time of 3 weeks and sometimes a bit more to be a little slow. It’s certainly slower than most other veg!

Growth tends to be slow at first too. Provide liquid feeds, but don’t expect very rapid growth, especially not just at first. Capsicums seem to sulk a little early on, only picking up momentum later on. 

Whichever way you look at it, patience is the name of the game. Hang in there! Your patience will be rewarded. 

Old or Poorly Stored Seed

If you’ve been saving your seed for a long time, the germination percentage will progressively drop. Of course, seed merchants are sometimes guilty of holding their stock for too long, which is why we only order limited quantities from conscientious suppliers each season, ordering fresh stock in time for each spring and summer sowing. It can be hard to gauge demand, but we’d rather sell out than end up with surplus that gets too old.

If you’re sowing seed you harvested yourself, be sure to store them in a dry, airtight container (not plastic) and label the jar with the date of harvesting so that you can be sure your stock doesn’t get too old. 

Is it Difficult to Grow Capsicums?

As with so many things plant-related, the correct answer to this question is “that depends.” Broadly speaking, however, capsicums aren’t particularly difficult. Give them well-draining soil, good nutrition, adequate water, the correct sowing depth, and ensure that they get the warm temperatures they require. With these basics taken care of, germinating your capsicums should be easy, and growing them will be rewarding.  

6 thoughts on “Germinating Capsicums: Tips for Australian Gardeners

  1. Andrea
    . says:

    I have no problems germinating apsicums in Brisbane but I often don’t get full size fruit b4 it seems to rot. This happens even when they are still green. I have a much better harvest from my chillies. What could be the problem? They are not over watered and they are in full sun.

    • Andrea
      Dan R. says:

      Hi

      It sounds like this could be blossom end rot. This usually occurs if the plants can’t get enough calcium. Calcium absorption will be poor if there is not enough moisture in the soil, if there is not enough calcium in the soil or if there is too much other fertilizer that is impacting the plants ability to absorb calcium. As you plants seem to be watered well my thought is that the soil is lacking calcium. To increase calcium you can blend some eggshells and put them around the plants. You can also dilute some epsom salts and do a foliar fertilization. Next Autumn it may also be useful to add some lime to the soil.

      At this stage you can’t really save the fruits that are already rotting so I would take them off. I tend to find that the hot peppers are harder to get going but once they are fruiting they seem to be more resistant to most problems and a bit more resilient to poor soil conditions than capsicums.

      Dan

    • Andrea
      Dan R. says:

      Hi

      It sounds like this could be blossom end rot. This usually occurs if the plants can’t get enough calcium. Calcium absorption will be poor if there is not enough moisture in the soil, if there is not enough calcium in the soil or if there is too much other fertilizer that is impacting the plants ability to absorb calcium. As you plants seem to be watered well my thought is that the soil is lacking calcium. To increase calcium you can blend some eggshells and put them around the plants. You can also dilute some epsom salts and do a foliar fertilization. Next Autumn it may also be useful to add some lime to the soil.

      At this stage you can’t really save the fruits that are already rotting so I would take them off. I tend to find that the hot peppers are harder to get going but once they are fruiting they seem to be more resistant to most problems and a bit more resilient to poor soil conditions than capcicums.

      Dan

    • Andrea
      . says:

      Fellow Brisbane capsicum grower. While it could be blossom end rot as others have mentioned, I’d hazard a guess that it’s the QLD fruit fly. They love chili and capsicums. Net the plant, or bag each fruit. Any rotten ones, open up and have a good look,checking for signs of the fruit flys larvae (little maggots). Destroy any damage fruit, bagging it up before dumping it.

    • Andrea
      Dan R. says:

      Hi

      It’s fine to germinate the Capsicum in a greenhouse and is actually an advantage in cool climates because the added heat you get in winter and early spring encourages plants to grow faster. You will need to make sure that you use heat mats when starting the seeds in order to get the soil temps above 20 deg. Greenhouses tend to loose heat quickly at night and will often be just as cold as the outside which is too cold to get Capsicums to germinate readily. If it’s going to be a freezing night you should protenct the plants by covering them with something like row cover or landscape fabric. (Just cover them for the night and take it off in the morning.) I tend to start my capsicum on heat mats in July and then grow them in a garage under lights. I will then repot them and move them outside under cover from late September before planting out in late October.

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