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Virtually all cultivated peppers are C.annuum, and I've had a lot of success growing these from seed. (I also usually buy 3-4 plants locally each year but selection is usually very limited)

I soak my seeds using a salt petre solution before sowing. This is recommended particularly for those that are harder to germinate (eg. chiltepins). Here in North Texas I usually get a small crop before the height of summer, and then the main crop September-November. All are grown outside, full afternoon sun. I used to use containers a lot, but I'm finding raised beds produce much bigger plants - probably due to water and root space.

Anyway, this is the second year that I have tried to grow C.frutescens varieties. Last year I tried Tabasco and Twilight. This year just Tabasco. Both years I've had poor germination rates (5 out 50 seeds this year). Plants never grew very big last year. This year they are definitely a lot smaller than the Anchos and Gypsies which were sown on the same day.

How can I improve their growth (with a view to more fruit in Autumn), and how can I improve the germination rate?

  • Potassium will hinder germination of many species, starter fertilizer for near-seed application with many crops has no K. C. Annuum tend to sprout without any treatment other than normal dry storage. Years since I sprouted Tabasco but I recall having 80%+ germination with basic even moisture and 70-80f in nursery trays with covers and indirect lighting. No seed treatments (though its possible the seed house could have treated them). Some species have improved sprouting with a soak followed by air drying several days before planting, activates some enzymes for faster in-field germination. – Max Power Apr 2 at 8:55
  • Salt Petre was recommended by the nursery PepperGal (who specialize in pepper seeds - maybe a 100 varieties in their catalog). They recommend soaking pepper seeds before planting. – winwaed Apr 28 at 13:37
  • So, I found the problem with K in starter fertilizer is actually less to do with the K and more to do with general cation concentration when applying fertilizer-level quantities near seeds/seedlings. This presoak with KNO3 is actually called halo-priming and is usually followed by a rinse and re-drying before sowing. – Max Power May 3 at 23:30
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    Plain water priming is common but usually with a substrate or equipment that slows or otherwise controls absorption total and rate, the goal is to hydrate enough to start the enzymes but stop before dessication tolerance is lost. re-dried seeds are then planted with normal seeding equipment. Germination basically has a head start by a few days. Calcium chloride and calcium nitrate are also used for halo-priming, most research I have seen in halo priming is regarding increased salt tolerance of the final plant. Then some use gibberellic acid [ga3] priming to help break dormancy of some seeds. – Max Power May 3 at 23:43
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To improve germination, you might try an indoor start for the sake of control. Although I'm guessing North Texas is a pretty ideal place to grow peppers, hot housing the seeds and metering the light and water can aid you.

  • Rainfall may play a part in your problem (probably not unless you're near a soot mill), as would many tap waters. However it is remarkable how big an assistance distilling your water beforehand can have on sprouting and the quality of the plant (i.e. bottle water in jugs at your house from the tap; let sit a few days then use to water plants).

Further: To improve pollination, add some more flowery plants, ground cover, or vines around them. Basically get better seeds capable of germination by recruiting bees and birds with better looking flora. Containers will produce smaller plants and fruits and harvests. Also you can add coffee grounds at the plant's foot to increase acidity (which supposedly improves the heartiness of the plant an fruits).

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  • I think you are confusing germination and pollination? I'm having trouble getting the seeds to start (and then to grow). I note your previous comment about peppers liking acidity. Previously coffee grounds have gone in the compost, but this year I have been putting a lot directly around the pepper plants - perhaps that is why the others (all C.Annuum) are doing particularly well this year!? The tabascoes have also received coffee grounds though. – winwaed Jun 8 '11 at 22:29
  • @Win Absolutely right; was reading on the bus, thought you were having trouble with pollination. Will edit... – mfg Jun 8 '11 at 23:12
  • Thanks. I'm not so sure about the water. Natural rainwater is slightly acidic. During germination they would have received tap water (probably slightly alkali but this should have been neutralised/buffered by the potting compost), then rain water for April/May, and now that it is early summer, I'm having to water them from the tap again. Those jugs will not change the water pH although they should remove any bacteria or sediment. – winwaed Jun 9 '11 at 0:30
  • @winwaed a good idea to deal with germinating when using chlorinated tap water, with an inside start, is to keep the next 6 or so half gallon milk jugs or reserve some other water carrying vessel for use chlorine-distilling the water. Basically, if you cycle through half your bottles one day, refill and push to the back, the ones moved forward (which will have sat for a day) will have the chlorine evaporate from the water in that time – mfg Mar 23 '12 at 16:10

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