Gardening is one of the most rewarding hobbies out there. Here at Pepper Geek, we love growing peppers, starting in the middle of winter and catering to our plants through to late summer.
However, getting healthy plants and big pepper harvests comes from attentive care throughout the season. One of the most important processes is transplanting the young pepper seedlings to larger pots.
In this article, we’ll share our process on how to transplant pepper plants. It is very simple, but timing and method are important to avoid damaging your plants or slowing down growth. Let’s get started!
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- What is transplanting?
- When to transplant peppers
- What you’ll need
- Step-by-step instructions
- Why not move straight to full-sized pots?
How To Transplant Pepper Seedlings (Video):
What Is Transplanting
Transplanting is the process of moving a plant from a small-sized container to a larger one. This allows the plant to continue to grow a larger root system along with new leafy growth. Without transplanting, your plants cannot reach their full potential.
Keeping started plants in tiny seedling cells for too long can cause a number of problems. The main issue is that the roots have nowhere to expand and grow.
This means that the root system will become entangled, or ‘root bound,’ making a later transplanting more shocking and disruptive to the plant’s health. This is why it is important to get the timing of your transplant right.
Another problem that can arise from not transplanting is stunted foliar (leafy) growth. Without transplanting, your pepper plants will likely grow tall and leggy without many full leaves.
Stunted growth is caused by the root system’s inability to uptake the nutrients required to fuel a larger plant. This is why the size of your final planter will determine the maximum size of your pepper plant.
When To Transplant Pepper Seedlings
We start our seeds in small seed cell trays, 6 plants per tray. About 3-4 weeks after sprouting, pepper seedlings should be ready to move into larger pots. After the plants begin to produce their 3rd set of true leaves, they are ready to be transplanted.
Timing of potting-up can vary based on the variety of pepper. Learn when to plant pepper seeds here.
For example, hotter peppers tend to grow slower, meaning the root systems may not develop as quickly as bell peppers or jalapenos. If your plants seem too small by week 4, give them an extra week before moving them into larger pots.
Tip: If you’re not sure if your plants are ready, peak at the root system by gently loosening the plant from the seed cell. If you can see a strong root ball with white roots all the way to the very bottom, your plant is ready to be transplanted. Ideally, you want to transplant before the roots start to coil.
Items You’ll Need For Transplanting
Transplanting is almost as simple as it sounds. You have your timing right, now all you need are a few items to ensure success. We’ve listed the items we use for transplanting our pepper plants, and where you can buy them online.
1. Pots (3 Inch) – Amazon
These are the perfect size-up from seedling trays. They allow significantly more soil and retain water for much longer. They also fit nicely in seed starting trays. You can go larger if you want to move directly into your final pot, but we recommend gradually increasing the size of your pot until the plant is well established.
If you’re looking for larger pots, we use these on Amazon – we love them!
2. Pruning Shears – Amazon
Pruning shears are used to cut away any additional sprouts at the base of their stem. Each seed cell should have just one plant. We have heard of some gardeners allowing multiple plants to compete in close proximity, but we have yet to experiment with this. We recommend just one plant per pot.
Note: You’ll also want pruning shears if you plan to top off your peppers. Learn more about pruning here.
3. Potting Soil – Amazon or Home Depot
After your seedlings have grown for 3-4 weeks, they are ready to handle nutrient-rich potting soil. The fertilizer is necessary for pepper plants to develop healthy foliage and structure. If your plants have any nutrient deficiencies, you will notice abnormal characteristics. These often include yellowing leaves or curling leaves on pepper plants.
Other household items needed:
- Gloves (optional)
How To Transplant Pepper Plants
So you’re ready to transplant! Now it is time to take the steps to get it done. We prefer to get this all done in one go, but it can be back-breaking if you don’t have the right space for it.
What Is a Rootball? This is just the root system of your plant, the part of the plant that is below the soil surface.
How To Transplant Pepper Plants (Steps):
- Get the required items.
Make sure you have enough larger pots (we use 3-inch pots when transplanting seedlings) and potting soil.
- Label new pots.
Organization is key! Don’t lose track of which plants are which. Use tape or a permanent marker to label each new pot with the plant variety.
- Prepare a work station.
Transplanting pepper plants is messy. Ideally, you should work outdoors. If you don’t have an outdoor space, put down some cardboard or newspaper to save your floors from a dirty mess. This can also be hard on the back if you have a lot of plants, so consider spreading out the work over multiple days.
- Pre-moisten soil
Start with a small amount of water and work the soil over to moisten evenly. Add water until it is just moist but not soaking wet! It should slightly stick together but not feel muddy. If it gets too wet, add more soil.
Tip: Use gloves to avoid dirty fingernails.
- Fill 3-inch pots with ~1 inch of soil.
- Gently remove plants from seed trays.
Loosen the plant by gently squeezing the seed cell on all sides. The plant can then easily be removed from the cell by turning the tray upside down and holding the plant by the base of the stem. Be careful not to squeeze the stem too hard.
- Roll the root ball to loosen the roots.
If the roots appear to be tangled or rootbound, gently roll the roots in your hand to loosen them slightly. This will allow the plants to more easily transition to the new soil.
- Place the plants in new pots and surround them with soil.
Allow the soil to surround the rootball naturally, filling in empty spots. Fill the pots to about 1cm from the top. Don’t let any of the plant’s leaves to rest in the soil. If they are in the soil, they can contract bacterial disease – remove some soil to avoid this.
- Gently pack down the soil and top off.
Pack the soil gently with your fingers to ensure that there is good contact with the rootball. Top off with soil to keep the pots full.
- Water lightly.
To ensure each plant has a healthy transition, water lightly. This will join the old soil with the new and begin delivering nutrients to the roots.
- Prune any additional plants.
If multiple seedlings sprouted in any of your seed cells, prune away the weaker looking plant with pruning shears.
When Do I Move Peppers Into Large Pots?
One question we see a lot is, “Why not just move the seedlings into a large container?” There are a few reasons that we gradually increase the size of the container for the plants.
One reason to keep the young plants in appropriately sized pots is to save space. We grow many different pepper varieties each year (usually 50+ plants), and if we put each seedling into a 5 gallon pot, we would run out of indoor space before the weather was warm enough!
However, this doesn’t apply to all growers. If you only have 1 or 2 pepper plants to worry about, you may wonder if you can simply put the seedling-sized plants into their final pots right away. There is one other important reason that we would not recommend it.
When your pepper plants are small, they don’t drink too much water. However, a 5 gallon pot of soil will hold a lot of water that your plant is not yet large enough to use.
Without a large enough plant living in that soil to uptake the water, most of it will simply sit in the container. This moist environment in the unused soil is the perfect environment for other things to develop, such as mold and unwanted fungus. Not good!
By moving the seedlings into slightly larger pots, they will grow more quickly, and use the water within their pots more efficiently. The same is true for planting seeds – if you plant directly in a large pot of soil, the plants tend to grow more slowly.
The next step will be hardening off your pepper plants to acclimate them to the outdoor elements. Beyond this, your peppers will be on their way to producing harvests!
We hope this guide helps you learn how to transplant pepper plants this year! Don’t hesitate to ask questions or reach out with any suggestions. Happy growing, Pepper Geeks!