How Chilli seeds germinate

The journey of a seed to seedling

There are few things as impressive as planting a Chilli seed and then watching it burst into life. Seed germination is one of nature’s wonders. It is fascinating. However, it is not something that just occurs. Instead, nature has built all sorts of checks and balances into the process. This is how Chilli seeds germinate:

In the first place, a period of dormancy must have been experienced. This dormancy is a period when a seed stays inactive. It “sleeps” even though conditions may be optimal. Nature does this to avoid seeds germinating in unfavourable conditions. It also wants to ensure that seedling has reached the right maturity for germination

After this condition has been met, other requirements need to be fulfilled. For example, the quality of the seed must be good; moisture levels must be right; the soil temperature must meet the seeds expectations; oxygen should be available, and all the inhibitors that prevent a seed from germinating will need to have been washed away.

Nature has pre-programmed the seed that all (or most) of these conditions need to be met for successful germination. Unfortunately, nature is not kind to seeds. With so many boxes that need to be checked out in the wild, a Chilli plant can produce thousands of seeds in the expectation that only a handful will germinate. The going is made so challenging that this is all the plant can hope for. As a result, the chances of a seed germinating in the wild are pretty slim.

However, with seeds started at home, the odds are reversed. We can emulate the conditions seeds might have faced in the wild, and provide the ideal growing conditions for germination. Indeed, the possibility of a seed failing when started under these ideal conditions becomes the exception rather than the norm.

Life of a domestic Chilli

Tracking the journey

To track a seed’s journey in a domestic growing environment, let’s create a scenario. Let’s say the seed was from a pod I grew in my back garden. I had a good season and a good harvest. I picked the ripe Chillies pods, used what I wanted for cooking, and saved the rest for next season. When I saved the seeds, I removed them from their pods and dried them in tissue paper. I then stored them in a cool dark place, or maybe even in a refrigerator.

Come the start of a Chilli growing season, I select a seed or two as being of a variety (among other types) I want to grow for the season. I had kept the seed in a refrigerator, so all was good and well. The seed had already received its stratification. I now soak the seed in some Camomile tea. If the seed had not already been in the refrigerator, I would have placed it in one for at least three days before I began soaking it.

The next day (twelve hours later), I sow the seed into an eggshell filled with seed starting mix. I moisten the mix with water, and then move the planted seed into a heated propagator. The temperature is set to achieve a soil temperature of between 26 and 28 degrees Celsius. I now place the dome on the propagator and begin the wait for the seeds to sprout.

Okay, so now all the boxes that needed to be ticked in nature have been dealt with. The seed has been given the right environment to germinate in. It has been kept in the refrigerator to simulate winter. It has then gone through a process equivalent to passing through a bird’s digestive system (i.e., through being soaked in the tea). The soaking in tea has hopefully  also removed the last of any growth inhibitors. The seed is in a warm, moist environment, and the seed starting mix is light. It allows proper aeration, but is also firm enough to provide a strong enough foundation for a seedling to grow in. All this sends all the right signals. The conditions are suitable for the seed to consider germinating

Let’s do this

Time to germinate

But what exactly happens when the seed says okay – let’s do this? To explain this, we first need to look at what a seed contains. It consists of a small baby plant (an embryo), the endosperm, a nutrient store for seeds and cotyledons (baby leaves). These are all encased in a seed coat

When the correct variables are in place, the shell of the seeds will start absorbing water in a process called imbibition. In the process, the embryo begins absorbing moisture and starts swelling. Next, without getting too scientific, after a series of developments in the seed, the seed coating will rupture. This rupturing will coincide with the arrival of a small tail called a radical. The radical will develop and eventually become the main root of the Chili. Its role right now is to provide moisture to the embryo and anchor the seed.

After this, a stem will develop and grow upwards. The stem will eventually break through the surface of the medium the seedling is growing in. The seedling has now germinated. If it finds its environment too dark, it will search for light. If a light source is not readily available, it will stretch its stem to the direction where it senses the light and start growing towards it.

All being equally on the light front. The cotyledons (baby leaves) will start unfurling. Often, they will take the cap of the seed coating with them in their journey upwards. The primary function of the Cotyledon is to provide food to the embryo until it can provide food for itself. It is a food store. At this point, the seedling does not need any nutrition from its surroundings or photosynthesis. That will come later when the first set of true leaves appears

Once the seed cap falls off and the first set of true leaves appears, the plant will start getting energy from photosynthesis. At the same time, the plant’s roots will expand further downwards. The seedling will then begin drawing nutrients from its growing medium. This is why it is essential to pot the seedling into a richer potting mixture. It is also vital at this time to start feeding the seedling some weak concentration fertilizer. Not too much, though. Bear in mind that the plant will also be getting nutrition from the soil. You don’t want over to fertilize


From this point, the seedling is on its way. It needs the correct levels of moisture, light, temperature and fertilization. With all these factors taken care of, it will not be long before the seedlings move on into the next size pots, are hardened off, and take on the role of being young plants. Teenagers, if you will. Within a few months, these teenagers will reach maturity, start producing flowers, and set fruit. From there, the cycle starts all over again


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