Peppers are persnickety for sure. NW Edible Life
is my go-to for growing guides, and is based in your area. Erica grows hot and sweet peppers, I believe.
If you really want to get fruit this year, you should plan on starting your seeds indoors, up-potting at least once, and transplanting into the ground when it is nice and warm. Peppers like it hot
, and they are slow to take off when they are growing.
Start your seeds indoors, in small pots. I start mine in the germination cells that are about 1" square, but if you don't mind using the space you can start them in the little 2" nursery pots. The seeds take forever to germinate, and like soil temps between 65F and 90F, depending on the variety. They don't like to be too wet when germinating, but can't be completely dry either. I've tried a few different methods of getting them to germinate in seed trays, and have had mixed luck. Most people online report the best luck using heat mats under the soil trays to get the needed soil temperatures, which is the one thing I haven't really tried yet. Don't waste your money on those cardboard pots that "break down" when you plant them -- I grew the same seedlings side by side in those and regular plastic nursery pots, and the paper ones were awful. Lots of other people like the peat pots too, but I also hate those. To each their own.
Sow one or two seeds per pot, in a loose seed starting mix. Don't tamp it down, just sprinkle it in the pot and mist with a water bottle. It's okay that the soil sinks, you can top it up later. No need to sow them deep, I often just throw mine down on the top of the soil and mist them with a spray bottle so I can stare at them to see if they have germinated.
After germination, it's time to get those babies under lights! Invest in quality seed lighting. Good recommendations on NW Edible. I think I got my first seed starting lights for around $50, so it's not an enormous investment. Put your lights on a timer so your plants get 16 hours of light per day (and 8 hours of darkness).
Once your peppers start growing, they'll put out a couple of seed leaves first (cotyledons) that are long and thin and look nothing like pepper leaves. Next will come the first true leaves. After you have two sets of true leaves, you can feed your peppers with a *very* dilute liquid fertilizer. I usually use fish or kelp meal, diluted to 1/4 of what the package suggests. But you can use other gentle, balanced (5-5-5) fertilizer. If you want, you can set the peppers up with a fan to gently move the air around them. This helps prevent fungal problems and (according to some) creates stronger seedlings.
Your seed lights should be about an inch away from the tops of your plants, that way your growing peppers will get the most lumens. Keep lifting the lights as your peppers grow.
Don't overwater. This is hard. I overwater like crazy. But your plants don't NEED to be constantly wet, though the soil shouldn't ever dry out all the way. I usually mist/gently top water my plants for the first few weeks. I start bottom-watering by pouring water into a tray below the pots instead of over the top of them. Bottom watering lets the seedlings suck up water through their roots as they need it.
Up-potting will need to happen 4-6 weeks after germination. Your seedlings will out-grow those 2" nursery pots. But in a 2" pot they can honestly get pretty big, maybe 10 or 12 true leaves? Up-pot to a 4" pot or a 6" round -- or whatever you have space for. You can also pot them into a standard potting soil. DON'T use "garden soil" sold in bags. It is too strong for your baby plants still. If it's getting sunny outside when you up-pot, you can also start letting your seedlings feel some real sunlight!
You will also need to do something very painful. Something that hurts me every time I do it to my peppers.
You need to pinch off their tops.
It's awful, because you're basically cutting off the top few leaves of your beautiful, magnificent, baby pepper plants. However, by doing this you are stimulating greater branching and bushiness in the pepper. So instead of ending up with one long stem with leaves coming off the side, you'll have a branched plant that has a greater photosynthetic potential and more shoots and buds overall.
I pinch off my plants around 6 true leaves -- or around maybe 4" in height. That way they have enough leaves to capture a lot of light and keep growing, but are still small enough for this to not stress them too much.
Once soil temperatures
outside are above 60F at night
, then you can transplant your peppers outside. I'm not sure when this will be for you. As Marco suggested, you can use season extension techniques to achieve this -- low tunnels or black/clear plastic covering the soil where you intend to plant your peppers can be very helpful. Before you transplant, you must
harden off your plants. This means putting them outside for a couple of hours each day and slowly increasing that time over the course of about a week. I usually start by putting my plants out for 2 hours in the morning, in a sunny spot. The next day I leave them out for 4 hours in the morning. By the end of the week I leave them out overnight, and they live outside until I'm ready to transplant.
Marco made great suggestions about transplant location. Pick a spot with at least 6 hours of sun a day. More is probably better in your area. If you have a sunny, South-facing wall, that's a great microclimate for your peppers. If you put them in pots, I would use a standard potting soil mix. A lot of people like to use "vegetable mix" or "vegetable fertilizer", but most of these fertilizers are too high in nitrogen and too low in potassium (K) and phosphorus (P) for plants to effectively fruit and flower. If you want to fertilize the soil you put your plants in, I suggest just using compost (yard waste compost can usually be bought in bags). Stay away from chicken manure and horse manure. Cow manure can be ok. I have no experience with mushroom compost.
If your peppers are anything like mine in the last five years, they will do nothing for a few weeks after you transplant them. Then they will BURST into growth, and seemingly change overnight. They'll get big and green and amazing.
Then it's just a waiting game for fruit!
Like Marco said, you can grow them as perennials in pots if you have a way to protect them over winter. And then next year, you'll get peppers earlier (and probably more of them!) than anyone else! Pots are also a great way to take advantage of the best microclimates in your yard throughout the season -- you can move your peppers around to the best spots in the yard as the season progresses, and potentially extend your fruiting abilities.
Hope you don't mind the verbal diarrhea -- but I love peppers! And I hope you have a great time growing yours!