The Secret To Germinate Chili Seeds!

What helps you germinate seeds?
This post is about germinating chili seeds.


The original chilies not only owe their spread to the birds, but they also received the right portion of nitrogen fertilizer from them along the way. And in the intestinal tract, the hard seed coat was softened just enough to favor germination. Ingenious!

The interplay of nature can also be observed in chiltepin, the wild chili variety that most closely resembles the wild original: In its native habitat, the Sonora Desert in Mexico and the neighboring U.S. states of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona, the small red berries are popular with birds. They eat the fruits and then sit down for a siesta in the mesquite trees, the only source of shade in the sheer endless desert region with its merciless sun. And only here in the shade of the trees do the excreted seeds find a little moisture, which they also need to germinate (and later to grow).

Now this germination mechanism has adjusted to this interaction over thousands of years, and here lies the reason why sometimes it is simply not enough to stick a seed in the ground and keep it moist.

Germinate seeds with poop!
Chiltepins are particularly stubborn – even on a heat mat at a constant 30°C, they can take up to four weeks or more to germinate, or do nothing at all. Here’s where it helps to imitate Mother Nature’s trick, and here’s how.

In half a glass of warm water, dissolve about half a teaspoon of guano – the fertilizer that consists of pure bird droppings; you can get it in garden stores. The chili seeds are then soaked overnight in this solution; chemically, the same thing happens as when passing through the bird’s intestinal tract. The seeds are then placed in Jiffy pots or growing soil as usual.

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In this way, we have repeatedly succeeded in germinating both chiltepin seed and its equally hard-to-germinate rare relatives from the Galapagos Islands in less than 10 days, and in growing strong plants from them.

By the way…If mammals such as rodents were to eat the chili peppers, their stomach acid would destroy the seeds. Since this would not have been in the interest of the survival of the species, nature has endowed chilies with the pungent substance capsaicin to protect them from “predators”. Birds don’t mind, but mammals do – well, apart from the chilihead species.

Tea Time! Does black tea help seeds germinate?
Another method of coaxing chili seeds to germinate was first told to us by amateur chili gardener Jason from Florida. We met him through our mutual interest in Galapagos chilies, and his secret tip is black tea. Yep, tea! Here’s how:

Pour a tea bag in a cup, for example Orange Pekoe or regular black tea, it can be the cheapest if you like. When it has steeped for 3-4 minutes, drink the tea. OK, you don’t have to drink it, but it would be a shame. What we need is the bag, it is now infused a second time with almost boiling water. Used this weak tea cooled to room temperature.

Now place a few paper napkins or Kleenex towels on a plate. Put the seed on it and cover it with a few more layers of paper napkins. Now soak the whole thing with the cooled tea broth and put the plate in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, stick the seeds in Jiffy pots or growing soil as usual.

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Even with this method, Jason says various chile varieties take their time to germinate, but he swears that the germination rate is generally considerably higher with the tea method. While we ultimately had success with guano for the hard-to-germinate Galapagos chile, tea infusion helped him with this variety.

In an Internet search, we found a theory that attributes the germination-promoting effect to the flavonoids contained in the tea, but there are just phenomena that science struggles to explain – such as why squid becomes more tender when a cork is added to the water during cooking.

Furthermore, a chamomile tea infusion seems to have a fungicidal (anti-fungal) effect on the seeds, which would benefit the health of the tender seedlings. If the tea stands too long, possibly the opposite would be the case, a germination of the liquid. To contain this helps infusion of boiling water (before putting the chilies, of course, allow to cool).


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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