Our garden is always full of a variety of peppers: green peppers, sweet peppers, hot peppers, you name it. They’re definitely one of our favorite crops to grow. Thankfully, it’s also one of the easiest to save seeds from so we don’t have to buy new seeds every year. If you’ve ever wondered how to save pepper seeds, read on!
Why save pepper seeds?
Saving seeds from peppers is really easy, it can save you money, and it can allow you to reproduce the best, largest peppers from your garden next year! Rather than purchasing new, organic seed from a reputable company every year, you can save your own and grow awesome peppers again.
Peppers are prolific seed producers. Just open one up and you’ll see all the seeds inside! Instead of tossing scraps to the compost, grab a few of those seeds first. You’ll be able to save a substantial amount of seed from a single pepper, but it’s best to save from several peppers to get the most variety of desirable traits. After all, it’s free, and who doesn’t like free seeds?
Whether you’re saving them all for yourself or a seed swap, they’re worth the few extra minutes it takes to grab some and keep them for next year. Let’s discuss how to grab some!
Best time to save seeds from peppers
The most important part of the seed-saving process is to save seeds from mature peppers. This will provide more viable seeds and higher germination rates next year. So how do you know a pepper is mature?
Almost all peppers change color from green to red when fully ripe and mature. Green peppers, for instance, are just immature sweet bell peppers. Other sweet peppers, like banana peppers, will also eventually turn red.
Hot peppers like jalapeños, cayenne pepper, Serrano, and Anaheim peppers will also turn red, or a red-brown color when fully ripe.
Choosing pepper varieties to save from
There are countless varieties of peppers and as I mentioned, we grow quite a few in our home garden each year. All of them are equally easy to save seed from… with a few caveats.
Don’t use hybrid plants
A fairly hard fast rule is to not try to save seed from hybrid plants. This is not because there’s anything inherently wrong with hybrid varieties. It’s simply because hybrid varieties don’t typically “breed true.”
What do I mean by that?
In the simplest terms, hybrid varieties are created by intentionally cross-pollinating, or “mixing” two different plant varieties of the same species together to get desirable traits. This could be anything from disease resistance to production all the way to color and taste and a multitude of other traits.
The seeds of these two plants that were intentionally cross-pollinated are grown and the result is the hybrid. The problem is when saving seeds from those plants, they won’t necessarily produce seed that is the same as the parent plant. While many of these plants will produce viable seed that will germinate, it is impossible to determine what traits the child plant will have.
This brings me to… don’t save seeds from peppers you bought from the grocery store. These plants are very often hybrid peppers and even in the event they aren’t, you don’t know what variety they are.
It’s a good idea to stick with heirloom and/or open-pollinated varieties. These varieties weren’t intentionally cross-pollinated with each other, but rather kept “pure” and produced via natural pollination through pollinators, wind, etc.
How to determine if your plant is hybrid
I know it can sound complicated, but don’t worry. Every single packet of seed you purchase should be clearly labeled and figuring out if a variety is a hybrid is really easy when looking at the packet information.
Hybrid seeds are always denoted with the letter “F” and a number will follow it. F standing for Filial and the number denoting which generation it is. Such as “Abay F1 Sweet Pepper.” This denotes that is the first children of intentional cross-pollination.
Heirloom seeds are typically labeled as such. Note that all heirloom varieties are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated seeds are heirloom. That’s ok. As long as the variety you’re growing is not labeled with the Filial generation, you’re safe to save the seed.
If you’re wanting to save seed from a plant you picked up as a seedling at the nursery, things are a little more complicated, but not impossible.
Many plant seedlings will have a label that says “heirloom” on them if they’re heirloom varieties, but it can be more difficult to determine what it is as many plant labels do not contain the Filial generation even if they are hybrid.
This is why buying from local, small nurseries and farmer’s markets is so important. You’re able to speak directly with the people who grew them and get the information that you need.
Use isolation when saving from multiple types of peppers
Peppers are great because they’re self-pollinating plants. Meaning they don’t have male and female flowers and can pollinate just fine without pollinators unlike some plants like cucumbers.
This doesn’t negate the fact that pollinators can cross-pollinate different species. A bee can hop on your bell pepper and bring that pollen over to your jalapeño and vice versa. If this happens, you’ll likely wind up with a cross of those two pepper varieties instead of the variety you want to save.
So, how do you avoid this from happening?
There are a few different ways you can achieve this, depending on how much space you have and how involved you want to be in the process.
One way is to simply grow a single pepper variety. This will eliminate any possibility of cross-pollination.
Another way, that won’t take up extra space and will still allow you to grow different varieties is to use blossom bags on several flower buds before they open. Once the peppers begin to form, the bags can be removed, but you’ll want to mark those peppers so you know which they are.
And the final way is to separate each variety. This option takes up a lot more space and isn’t practical for many backyard gardeners. To make sure your bell peppers aren’t cross-pollinated with your jalapeños, you’ll want to put a minimum of 300 feet of space between each pepper type.
What is the best way to save pepper seeds?
When selecting the peppers to take seed from, you’ll want to pick the best peppers off of your most vigorous and productive pepper plants to help ensure next year’s plants will be just as vigorous and productive. Be sure the peppers and plants are healthy, disease, and pest-free.
Step1: Choose one or two plants to save one or two peppers from for each variety you want to save and allow the fruit to fully ripen before removing it from the plant. Even letting it wrinkle just a bit before removing them from the plant.
Step 2: Bring your fruit inside and remove the bottom of the pepper with a sharp knife. Gently squeeze the seeds out by rolling the pepper between your hands onto a paper towel, paper plate, or coffee filter. You’ll get a lot of seeds out just by doing this.
Note: be sure to wear gloves if you’re saving seeds from hot peppers!
Step 3: Open up the pepper and gently use a spoon or your fingernails to remove the remaining seeds from the placenta, or pith, of the plant onto the paper towel. Being careful to not break the seeds in half.
Step 4: Lay seeds out in a single layer on paper towels, coffee filters, paper plates, or newspaper and leave them in a dry area out of direct sunlight to dry seeds completely.
It will take about a week for the seeds to fully dry. Every couple of days, move the seeds around a little to be sure both sides of the seeds are drying. Ensure they’re dry before you put them in storage by taking one and seeing if it will snap in half, not bend. If they bend and don’t crack, they’re not dry enough yet.
Tips to save pepper seeds for next year
- Use peppers from strong, vigorous, disease and pest free plants.
- Use only open pollinated or heirloom varieties to save seeds from, not hybrid varieties.
- Don’t save seeds from grocery store peppers.
- Avoid cross-pollination by planting a single variety, spacing pepper varieties out by at least 300′, or using bloom bags.
- Allow fruit to fully ripen and wrinkle a little before trying to save seed from the fruit.
- Wear gloves when working with any hot peppers.
- Stay organized when saving from multiple peppers by clearly labeling everything and doing one variety at a time.
- Allow pepper seeds to fully dry before putting them up for storage to avoid mold and bacterial growth.
How do I store pepper seeds?
Once your seeds are 100% dry, you can store them. Store seeds in a dry, cool place in airtight containers. Lots of folks keep theirs in plastic bags. You can also use seed packets (or even make your own) or glass jars. Be sure you label your packaging complete with variety and the date it was saved.
We keep our seeds in our home in a dark, dry box I bought specifically for seed saving. Each box has its own food-grade desiccant packet to help keep the moisture out of our seeds. Another option is to store your seeds in your refrigerator around 37°F to 40°F.
If you are planning on keeping them stored for a long time, or if you don’t have a very dry place, a food-grade desiccant packet will be your saving grace by keeping all the moisture out.
How long can I save seeds?
As long as you keep the excess moisture away and allow your seeds to fully dry, your seeds should be viable for 2-4 years. Sometimes even longer. If you have some older seed and are unsure, you can always test a few for germination to see if they’re still viable before purchasing new or using a different batch.
After following this tutorial you will have plenty of pepper seeds to use to start seeds next year that you saved money with and harvested yourself.