Most chilli seeds take roughly about 2 to 6 weeks to germinate (the ones taking the longest being the superhots), so adding the time for the plant to grow and bear fruit, the best time of year to start is January/February. However from February to mid March for the faster growing types such as most of the Capsium annuums should be fine.

To get your Chilli Babies growing there are really two important factors, equipment and warmth. Ideally chilli seeds should be kept at the optimum temperature of 25 degrees Celsius it is possible to germinate chilli seeds in colder temperatures, they just take longer and the germination rate will most probably be reduced. If you don’t have a propagator then you can always use alternatives such as putting a tray of planted chilli seeds in your airing cupboard, in a heated room or even on the kitchen window sill!

Heated propagators are still the best way to quick-start chilli seeds. The seed should be sown onto a fine-grade seed compost and covered to a depth of 6mm. Prior to sowing the seed we suggest warming the compost to at least 21°C and watered so that it does not dry out. Germination does take time but can take place in the dark. Once the first seedling has emerged, however, they must be exposed to light to prevent spindly growth.

Pricking out

Once the stems of your chilli seedlings have reached a height of about 5 cm and have acquired their 2nd set of leaves or true-leaves as they are also called they will need transferring. 

You need to take great care when pricking out the seedlings, ensuring no damage is done to the plant including the roots. Don’t hold them by their stem or growing tip as both are easily crushed.  Instead we recommend that you use a pencil, a dibber or even an ice lolly stick to lever them out. Lift them out with as much root and moist compost as possible.

Remember the young plants need to be regularly watered, and once the nutrients are used up, they should be given a complete liquid fertiliser. Ensure that the compost temperature matches the air temperature, so any water and liquid feed given to the plants must not be too cold.

The plants will be ready for transplanting to their final growing place when the roots have filled the pot without being pot bound; this ideally will also be when the first flower bud has formed. 

Growing on 

Chillies grow best in a protected environment such as in tunnels, greenhouses and conservatories. Even a sunny windowsill (preferably South facing) in the house can produce good results with small-statured varieties. 

Transplanting into unheated structures, however, must be timed to avoid extremes of cold weather likely to occur early in the growing season. 

If planting directly into a raised bed then we suggest that the plants should be spaced 45–60cm apart in single or double rows. You could however use growbags or compost-filled pots as an alternative to planting in the ground. If pots are used, they should be at least 22cm in diameter for larger varieties, though smaller pots will do for short and compact varieties.