Grow Bell Peppers from Scraps in 4 Easy Steps
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You’ve got a bell pepper from the produce section in your fridge, or you’ve got some pepper plants growing in your garden.
Now you’re starting to wonder if you can grow bell peppers from scraps.
Yes, you can absolutely take some of those tiny white seeds, dry them out and raise them into thriving, productive pepper plants.
But there’s definitely some knowledge and technique involved, so read on to discover how you can transform those scraps into a future harvest!
Step 1: Collect Your Seeds
Not all seeds are created equal, and collecting certain bell pepper seeds gives you the best chances for success.
Let’s take a look:
Heirloom Vs Hybrid Seeds
Heirloom plants have been pollinated out in the open and have not changed significantly since WWII.
This means that bees, insects, and passing birds have fed from the plant’s flowers or brushed up against them, spreading the pollen to the stamen of the flower and generating seeds.
Also, heirloom plants have maintained their genetic profile almost entirely, meaning that they have not been cross-bred with other varieties.
Heirloom seeds are usually the best type to collect and plant again because they will be most like the parent plants in:
- Fruit or vegetable size
- Production level
Because of their long, reliable history, replanting heirloom seeds produces the best and most predictable outcomes.
On the other hand, hybrid plants are usually cross-bred with another plant or another variety of the same plant to combine the traits of those different plants.
The goal is to produce plants that are not just vigorous or resistant to diseases, but have the best qualities of both parent plants.
There’s a lot of planning and work that goes into creating hybrid plants, so they can be expensive compared to the heirloom varieties. Also (and more importantly for our purposes here) there’s no predicting which traits will come through from hybrid seeds.
So you may end up with peppers that:
- Are an unusual size, shape or color
- Have an off flavor
- Produce no fruit
There’s a great deal of information about saving seeds from heirlooms vs. hybrids. If you’d like to learn more, the University of Minnesota Extension has some great information about this and more.
How to Collect the Best Seeds
You can collect bell pepper seeds both from plants that you’re growing in your own garden or from peppers you’ve purchased.
If you’re collecting homegrown seeds, get your seeds from the strongest plant and the best tasting peppers. This helps ensure you get the desired outcome such as the color and taste that you desire.
Allow the pepper to fully mature on the plant and even start to wrinkle. It’ll be a good couple of weeks extra past the good eating stage on the plant. This ensures mature seeds that will be easier to dry out and prepare for planting.
If you’re working with a bell pepper from the store or the farmer’s market, use a red pepper if possible.
This is because peppers develop a deeper color the longer they stay on the plant, progressing from green to yellow to orange to red. Since a red pepper is the most mature of all the colors, it should have the best seeds for replanting.
Homegrown or purchased, collect your seeds in the same way: Cut your pepper open to expose the seed core, then shake or tap the pepper over a plate or bowl to catch the seeds.
Did you know bell pepper plants can hold up to 200 seeds? That’s a LOT of future bell pepper plants!
Since you’ve got plenty to choose from, don’t be afraid to be choosy.
Look carefully at the seeds you’ve collected. If any are discolored or damaged, throw them out.
Here’s a visual of what to look for:
If you plan to plant your seeds right away, they’re ready to go at this point!
But if you want to store seeds for next spring’s planting, you’ll need to take an extra step.
Which leads to our next point…
Step 2: Dry Your Seeds
Now that you’ve got your seeds, spread them out to dry.
If you’ve got a fine mesh tray or screen handy, that’s your best bet for optimal airflow and fast drying. Something like this works great:
You can also lay your seeds on paper towels or a plate, just be sure to check the seeds often and turn them over every day or two to ensure both sides of the seeds dry evenly.
Place your seeds in the open air to dry, and allow for at least a week for full drying.
Some sources, like Horticulture.com, state that you can use a food dehydrator to dry your seeds. However, the same article also states that temps over 96 degrees F will kill the embryo in the seed.
Most dehydrators have the lowest heat setting at 100 degrees, so it’s probably not worth the risk.
And definitely don’t give in to the temptation to use your oven to speed up the drying process: It gets far too hot and will cook your seeds!
How Can You Tell When Your Seeds are Dry?
It’s critical to make sure the seeds are completely dried out to prevent mildew and early sprouting.
So how do you make sure the seeds are dry enough?
Try the snap test: Snap a seed in half between your fingers. If it’s sufficiently dry, it should snap easily. If it bends, it’s not dry enough yet.
These are dry!
Once you’ve dried out your seeds appropriately, place them in an airtight bag or container and store them in a cool, dark place for up to two years (don’t forget to label them!).
The safest temperature for pepper seeds is 35 degrees – 50 degrees F. This will help ensure seed viability and ensure successful germination and growth once planting time arrives. Your refrigerator is an ideal spot.
Once you’re ready to plant seeds you’ve saved in storage, test a few to make sure they’re still viable. Place them in a glass of water, and check on them after about 15 minutes.
If the seeds stay on the bottom of the glass, they should grow just fine for you. But if they are floating, they probably won’t sprout when planted.
Step 3: Plant Your Seeds
Bell pepper seeds can take up to 2 weeks to germinate, so be patient. I almost gave up on these seeds, but then I finally saw some green popping up about 13 days after planting!
For the best chances for success, you will need the following:
- An indoor area that is pretty warm (between 75o and 80o F)
- A good source of light, such as a grow light or a sunny windowsill.
- You’ll want to start your seeds growing about six or seven weeks before the last frost expected for your area. See National Weather Service for your local frost date information to time transplantation of your seedlings just right.
- Once you’ve planted your seeds in an egg carton or the container of your choice, be sure to keep the soil moist by misting daily.
How to Germinate Bell Pepper Seeds Fast
If you want to speed up the process a bit, here are a few pointers:
- Keep soil warm (between 80o and 90oF) with a heating mat like this one from Amazon.
- Use a high-quality seed starter mix (usually including vermiculite, perlite, and peat moss) like this Burpee variety – it’s biodegradable and organic.
- Increase the humidity by using a greenhouse or humidity dome like this one from Amazon. I’ve also gotten creative and reused a croissant bin from the warehouse store as a mini greenhouse:
Bell pepper seedlings are highly susceptible to transplant shock, so consider starting your seeds in paper egg cartons.
I used this method, and I thought it worked nicely. I planted two seeds per cell, then thinned them to one per cell when they got about 1 inch tall.
Moving to Larger Pots (Still Indoors!)
Once your pepper seedlings have at least one set of true leaves, move them into larger pots to allow for healthy root development.
Here’s where the paperboard egg carton really came in handy. I just tore off individual cups and dampened them with a mister.
Then I made a hole in a large pot, moistened the soil and planted the entire cup. You can see where the edge of the egg cup is sticking up through the soil in this photo:
Especially when it’s wet, the paperboard will break down quickly, allowing the roots to pass through and providing a little extra carbon-based nutrition.
Step 4. Transplant Outdoors
Once the last danger for frost has passed and your seeds have been planted in their larger containers for at least two weeks, you can consider transplanting outside. You can grow bell peppers in pots or in the ground- they do great either way!
I like to wait until the seedlings are at least two or three inches tall and have a couple of layers of leaves before transplanting.
Moving from the controlled indoor conditions to the unpredictable outdoors is a major transition for your plants. So you’ll also need to acclimate your young pepper seedlings to the outdoors slowly.
This process is called hardening off, and it helps your plants build a tolerance for wind and bright sunlight slowly.
Here’s what you’ll need to do in the hardening off stage:
- Take your seedlings outdoors and place them in a spot that’s sheltered from extreme wind and harsh sunlight. Leave them there for a maximum of 1 hour the first day, keeping a watchful eye for signs of stress, like drooping over or leaf discoloration.
- When the hour is up (or before then if you run into any problems), bring them back to your indoor growing area.
- The next day, bring them out for 2 hours, watching for the same signs of stress and bringing them back inside when the time is up.
- Keep increasing your outdoor time until your plants can spend the entire day outdoors with no issues. This will take about a week to 10 days.
- Your seedlings are ready for transplanting in their permanent home!
All peppers are sun-lovers, and your transplanted seedlings will need at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. Make sure you’ve planted them in a sunny spot in your garden. You could also grow your peppers in a pot, as long as it’s at least 6 inches deep.
Choose a location with loose, well-draining soil or fill your pot with potting mix, like this organic option. Dig a hole that’s about 1 inch deeper than the root ball, and press the soil firmly around the main stem.
Surround your new transplants with at least a 1-inch layer of mulch. Mulch will help keep the soil from drying out, which is not good for bell pepper seedlings!
Compost mulch, grass clippings or hardwood chips are all excellent choices.
RELATED: Visit our posts on using compost as mulch and the various types of hardwood mulch to learn more!
Plan on watering your transplanted bell peppers at least once a day until you see new growth. After that, watering once or twice a week should keep them happy.
Why Bell Peppers Deserve a Spot in Your Garden
According to Healthline, bell peppers have quite a few health benefits to offer, including these:
- Rich in multiple vitamins
- High in antioxidants,
- Great source of hydration
- Low in calories
- Low in carbohydrates
Bell peppers are versatile vegetables that you can use in many different dishes. There are green, red, yellow, and orange varieties that can add a great deal of healthy color to your diet.
They’re also rich in history, both as a spice and a food, as outlined in this USDA factsheet.
As for cooking, you can stuff bell peppers with ground beef and rice for a hearty meal, or slice and sautée them for fajitas. You may even want to roast and puree them to add to pasta sauce for a flavor boost.
And of course, bell peppers are also deliciously crunchy when eaten raw.
What’s not to love?
Frequently Asked Questions about Growing Bell Peppers
In conclusion, bell peppers are one of the greatest harvests you’ll have in your garden this summer. And the fact that you can grow completely new plants from leftover scraps makes for an even more satisfying experience.
In fact, if you take the time to harvest seeds, dry them properly and care for new seedlings, you may never need to buy a bell pepper ever again!
Which bell pepper color is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
I have got some seeds from store bought pepper and used the damp kitchen towel and cling bag method. It has been 3 weeks but I haven’t seen any changes (still water droplets inside so it is wet). Understand it is quite cold in NYC currently and I occasionally leave it out on the windowsill, but it will still get cold (cold to touch). Would having the seeds warm and cold kill the seeds?
Hi Bonnie! Yes, I would say you should have seen some signs of life after 3 weeks. It definitely could be the temperature that’s giving you problems; pepper seeds germinate best in temps that are consistently at least 75 degrees F. Even in a chilly room, I’ve found that making a mini greenhouse out of a clear plastic container makes a big difference, especially in a south-facing window. Hope that helps!
So, I read about how the seeds should be dried out, but I didn’t see if you should first wrap them in damp paper towels first. Could you please clarify? Thanks so much!
Hi Janel, that’s a good question. I personally do not use the damp paper towel method- I’ve had good germination just planting directly into the soil. But I know lots of other gardeners who do use the paper towel or some other form of damp sprouting, and they swear by it. So I think it comes down to preference. You might want to try it both ways and see what works best for you! Thanks for reading and asking!