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A Complete Guide to Growing Peppers from Seed in Cool Climates

Updated: Jan 8

Growing Peppers

Peppers are a staple in many meals, and can be expensive to buy in the store. These are great reasons to grow peppers from seed in your garden or in a pot on your deck! In my experience, I have found pepper plants germinate and grow easily. Growing peppers in the zone 3 climate does, however, come with a few challenges. Whether you want to grow a pepper from seed for the first time, or you grow many peppers on the regular you will want to check out the tips below.

King of the North pepper plant in a garden in Zone 3 Calgary Alberta
Beautiful King of the North Peppers grown in my unheated greenhouse in zone 3

Common Problems with Growing Peppers

Firstly, be forewarned that aphids may just show up on your pepper plants. For this reason, you may want grow them in an area away from your other plants. If you plan to grow peppers you may want to stock up on Safer's Soap or neem oil to treat aphids just in case.

Most bell peppers, especially red, yellow, and orange ones, generally require a relatively long growing season. Coloured peppers are most often green prior to turning red, orange or yellow - making it easier to grow green peppers than the other colors. This is because you are not needing white as much time to fully ripen. It is not impossible to grow coloured bell peppers in zone 3, but it can be a challenge. You are particularly reliant on how warm your season ends up being. You will want to look for the warmest area you have available for growing peppers. A greenhouse is ideal, but it is certainly possible to grow them outdoors as well.

If you are a beginner gardener, I suggest starting with these easy to grow veggies. But if you are looking for a bit more of a challenge, definitely try growing peppers from seed. Try starting out with hot pepper varieties such as chilies or jalapeños and move to bell peppers from there. Try these following tips to help you succeed!

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Pepper Varieties to Grow in Cool Climates

When selecting pepper seeds to grow, look for varieties that have the fewest days to maturity. King of the North is a popular option for zone 3, with just 70 days to maturity. (Keep in mind that the listed "days to maturity" sometimes count from the time you transplant your seedling outdoors, not from the suggested time to start the seeds indoors. This number can be deceiving if you are not careful.) Other pepper varieties to grow in zone 3 include Jalapenos, Anaheim and California Wonder.

When to Plant Pepper Seeds Indoors

In order to successfully grow a pepper from seed in cool climates it is necessary to start your pepper seed indoors anywhere from the end of January to February 21st. Some choose to start their hot peppers a few weeks before the bell peppers. I personally have much more success growing hot peppers than maturing bell peppers and start mine at the same time.

How to Grow a Pepper from Seed

Plant pepper seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in a seed starting soil mix. Place in a warm area. Seeds should germinate in 10 - 21 days. Peppers prefer soil to be kept moist. Check out How to Grow Plants from Seed for more tips on soil, grow lights and pots.

Removing pepper blossoms that appear indoors prior to transplanting allows plants to have more strength to adapt better once transplanted. They can focus on developing root systems once transplanted rather than putting their energy into blossoming just yet.

Pepper seedlings in a plant tray growing indoors in zone 3 Calgary Alberta
Young pepper plants grown from seed

Pruning Pepper Plants

"Topping" your peppers (by pruning off the upper section) a few weeks prior to transplant will give you a bushier plant. Topping peppers is slightly controversial as some say this is where the blossoms form. I have experimented with topping vs not topping and personally felt I ended up with more peppers on the plants I had topped. Two options, slightly different approaches. Neither is necessarily better than the other. Try experimenting!

Hardening off Pepper Seedlings

It is very important to carefully harden off your pepper seedlings before transplanting them outdoors. Follow these step-by-step instructions on how to harden off seedlings.

When to Transplant Pepper Plants

Transplant your pepper seedlings growing indoors into a larger container when the plants are as tall as the pot they are in is deep, or when the soil dries out in less than a day. I like to use a 6 inch diameter pot for my peppers when transplanting at this point.

Transplant or move your peppers permanently outdoors only after all risk of frost has past. If at this point your night temperatures are not warmer than 12 degrees Celsius and you do not have a greenhouse to grow them in, I suggest using some sort of cloche or poly cover for the first two weeks, or until night temperatures are greater than 12 degrees. In some areas it does not routinely get this warm in the evening until farther into summer. Aim for a minimum low of 10 degrees overnight temperature.

Pepper seedlings grown by someone gardening in Calgary Alberta, zone 3.
Peppers ready to be transplanted

Try Growing Peppers in Pots

Using pots for growing peppers is a great option, as the soil in pots tends to get warmer during the day than soil in a garden and pots can easily be moved back into the house or a heated garage when nights are still cool. Because peppers prefer heat and warm roots, select a black or dark colored pot to grow your peppers in. Aim to have a pot that is 1 to 1.5 times as deep as your pepper is expected to grow tall. (ie. If you your seed package states 24" tall, plant it in a pot 24" to 36" inches deep.) A benefit of selecting a deeper pot is better water retention. Deep pots are always better than wider shallow pots.

Growing Peppers In a Greenhouse

A greenhouse is beneficial for growing heat loving peppers in cool climates. If you already own a greenhouse, peppers (along with tomatoes and cucumbers) are a great choice for growing inside your greenhouse. Again, keep an eye out for aphids on your pepper plants.

Can Peppers Grow Indoors?

If you have a grow light in your home, yes, peppers can be grown indoors! Pepper plants are a perennial in warmer climates and can also be brought inside from outdoors in the fall, although they often bring outdoor pests with them. For this reason, you may want to consider allowing your pepper plants to go into a dormant state by removing the leaves and cutting them back, then keeping it somewhere like a cool garage.

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Bell pepper plant growing in a pot

How to grow peppers from seeds pin

Growing pepper plants from seed pin


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