Pepper seedlings not thriving

RollingFogFarmMarch 25, 2013

Hoping you guys can help. I started my pepper seedlings a month ago and they are just now putting out their first true set of leaves. Is this a normal growth rate??

Some more info, if it's helpful:
I started many varieties of peppers (sweet and hot) about Feb. 20th. I started them indoors, using Speedling trays and standard plastic seed trays, using shop lights and bulbs marked "for plants and aquariums". I am using Burpee's organic soilless mix, with coir as main ingredient. I have them in a shelving unit with onions and lettuces, so I can't keep the temperature as high as peppers would probably like, but have aimed for an even middle of the road compromise of 68-72 degrees. They were getting 24 hours of light, but I realized my mistake early on (after about a week) and started givin them 12-16 hours of light.

The seeds germinated well, but don't seem to have made much progress in the month they've been growing. They are just now putting out their first set of true leaves. I do (now) know I had been overwatering them, as a lot have turned purple/yellow. I have since corrected this.

I gave a very diluted dose of fish emulsion in their water about a week ago, which made the few I tested it on shrivel up. (Still too concentrated??) A still-more diluted solution was given to them as a foliar spray a few days ago and seems to have worked better.

The seedlings just don't seem to be thriving, some barely growing at all and others ouright dying. Would a seedling heat mat help matters at all? I'm hesitant to drop a lot of money ($22 each + $38 thermostat for each tray???), if it won't help.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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This year is my first year growing peppers from seed, so take this more as experience to help you judge the situation rather than advice.

Like you, I started my peppers around the end of February. They are just now getting their second set of true leaves, so it's apparent that these plants need a lot of time to grow in colder climates. My indoor greenhouse usually stays in the range of 60 to 75 degrees F, sometimes it will get up to 78 on sunny days (near a south facing window).

I think your plants may have been set back a tad by overwatering as you had mentioned, but since you have stopped I think they will recover. My peppers seem to like dry soil... initially I was watering the pot every day to keep the soil moist with no results. Gave up on a few of them and noticed a few days later pepper seedlings growing in practically bone-dry pot. I don't recall reading anything in particular about peppers preferring dry soil, but it seems to have helped in my one experience this year.

Anyway, if I were in your situation, I would just sit back and be patient. I often have to remind myself that plants take time to grow. When I have too much time on my hands to look at them constantly, it's easier for me to almost "make up" problems with the plant and try to make corrections that aren't needed. Not to say that you are "making up" any of the problems you are encountering... I just mean stressing about it too much never does any good.

In any case, I wouldn't bother with buying a heat mat. My wife is also growing the same kind of peppers (same seeds, actually). I used an old strand of Christmas lights in large plastic trays as a heat mat to germinate my seeds. She used nothing. Although my seeds germinated faster, her tray had a much higher rate of germination and better growing plants. We did both planted habaneros, sweet banana, california wonder and a seed pack of random bell mixes. The seed mat helped speed along my germination but it almost certainly wouldn't have a positive effect for seedlings.

Just for reference, the temperature inside my house is usually around mid-upper 60s in the day and high 50s, low 60s at night.

Hope this helps in some form. Sorry if it wasn't exactly expert advice. :)

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 10:10PM
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Thank you! It did help a lot actually, as a point of reference. I searched but couldn't find pictures of what peppers should look like at a month-- exept for one YouTube video of plants that had three sets of true leaves! That got me panicked. (Looked like that was a hydroponic setup, though, so maybe growth rates are differentâ¦or maybe he was exaggerating their age?)

I know what you mean by "making it up"-- just looking so closely that tiny issues start to seem larger than they actually are. I've done the same with the chickens I've raised for the last two years. Those first 6 months, whew! Every little sneeze or ANYTHING that wasn't covered by my books meant an exhaustive Google search. (I've since learned that books don't cover everything, not even all the basics sometimes.) Your comment got me thinking that this is the same thing and that I just need to relax a little.

The peppers sure do seem to like bone dry soil, and seem to also prefer not being super close to the lights. I'm going to try to ignore them more and just let them do their thing.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 2:54AM
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I have had poor germination rates for my plants, including peppers. I hope they germinate late. The one pepper plant that germinated did not put on its first true leaves until over a month after planting.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 6:32AM
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I just started peppers this year for the first time. I'm growing good as hold sweet peppers & golden baby bell peppers. Started them at the same time as my cukes & cherry & reg tomatoes. They are off to a slow start. Most only have 1 set of true leaves. I do leave my lights on 24/7. Do you think this is a problem?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 9:46PM
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As we did not have even a frost this year I have pepper plants that lived thru our winter and are just starting to shoot back up after being cut down to the lowest leaf group. The hot peppers are already blooming but we are to the age where hot foods no longer agree with us. It does look like my bell pepper plant will be providing me peppers this year as it did not do that well last year until too late. Here in zone 8 we usually start from seed in February so they can be set out about 3 months later. But like everyone else the weather decides when we set out our plants. My tomato plants have been out since the middle of February and are just starting to bloom. We have to start our tomatoes as early as possible as by June-July usually our tomatoes no longer produce. Once we get 95 it is all over for many tomato plants.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2013 at 12:16PM
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Hey RollingFogFarm,

Just wondering how your pepper plants are doing. Hopefully, they have recovered and a growing well.

I have been sitting my pepper plants outside for a few hours a day and the growth on them has really taken off. I can't wait to plant these guys!


    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 6:58PM
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A little leggy, as I have many, many plants growing and not enough space or lighting. Still, for being the first pepper plants I've ever grown from seed, I think they look pretty nice. :)

    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 7:01PM
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I should start by saying this is my first year trying peppers from seed.

I am growing: mini bells, mini red bells (two diff traded seed sources), king of the north, peppadew, and Doe..which are all sweets. For hots I'm growing: jalapeno, orange habs, thai orange, and chinese 5 color.

I soaked all my seeds overnight in camomile and then started them in a Park biodome. within a week (with no bottom heating) most of the varieties had visible roots coming out of the seeds (you can peek down into the hole in the park sponge). Within 10 days the jalapenos and mini bells had green sprouts.

So for what thats worth, maybe the camomile is good for getting things going.

The other experiment I did was with using a crock pot to generate bottom heat. I put 3 C of water into the crock pot, covered it with a towel, then put a thick metal tray on top and the biodome on top of that. I put the crock on "warm" (not high or low) and using an air thermometer timed how long it took to get to 90 degrees and how long it took for the time to coast off. On warm it took about an hour to an hour and 20 to get up to 90, then I would shut the crock off, and it would stay warm in the biodome (above 70) for up to 4.5-5 hours afterwards.

Because it all depends a bit on your crock pot and your ambient household temps, its probably worth doing it while keeping an eye on a thermometer if you want to try, and it probably only works if you are doing small scale seed starting, like one tray that needs bottom heat, rather than an industrial set up. But it is cheaper than buying into the heat mats, and after your've timed out your temp cycle you can regulate the crock pot using a $5-10 regular outlet timer (like the type people use to turn lamps off and on when they are away from home) to cycle the crock through on and off to keep temps within the 70-90 range.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 9:48PM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

Too much to read to know my $10 heat mat does peppers, Sorry.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 1:19AM
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