One important aspect to growing strong and productive peppers plants is to mind the correct re-potting stages.
My seedlings have now spent inbetween four to six weeks in their 3-inch starter pots under artificial light and as you can see in the picture above, space is now running out in the growbox. So for the oldest of the plants it’s about time to move on into bigger pots with a bit of a different soil-mix than before.
In the following, I’ll be taking you step-by-step through the hows and whys of re-potting, using a Fatalii White seedling as an example.
During their time in the starter pots, the plants’ entire mission is to build up the organs that will support their vital functions. So in order to allow themselves to draw nutrients from the soil, they need to grow roots. And since light is their primary source of energy, the plants need to put out foliage so as to enable photosynthesis.
Once they have produced their fifth pair of leaves and are going for the sixth, it’s usually a good time to pot on. Another tell-tale sign of that point would be the fact that the roots are growing out of the drainage holes in the bottoms of the starter pots.
The height of the plants on the other hand isn’t much of a good hint when it comes to potting on. Whether the plants shoot up or stay stout depends very much on the light conditions in their early lives as well as on the variety one is growing. While most of the chinenses, for example, show sturdy growing habits, a lot of the annuums and baccatums tend to grow in height much quicker.
Once what you can see above the soil looks like the plant is ready for the next potting stage, you first need to carefully remove it from the starter pot. If the plant is reluctant to come out, avoid force by any means – you might damage the roots which is never a good thing. Instead, gently squeeze the outside walls of the pot while holding it upside down (secure the plant with your other hand so it doesn’t fall onto the ground). This will make the plant slide out nicely.
What you’re looking for now is a nice compact rootball. The one in the picture above is acceptable but it could be even lusher. The more the roots have permeated the soil, the better the quality of the rootball.
This is also the point where it becomes obvious why minding re-potting stages is important for ending up with strong and productive adult plants. If you put your seedlings into bigger pots from scratch, they will continue to grow roots until all the space in the pot has been used up. During that time, they will put less energy into above-soil growth, so you will see your plants grow much slower. They might catch up later in the season. But since here in Berlin the season is pretty much over in October already, this would diminish the chances of a good harvest.
The starter-soil used for raising the seedlings for the first few weeks after germination was very fluffy and poor in nutrients. This facilitates permeating the soil for the roots and prevents the baby plants from burning by overfeeding. Now that the plants are a bit bigger and have grown their vital organs, it’s a good idea to step up the nutrient content in the soil while keeping it rather loose and fluffy.
For the first re-potting stage I use a soil-mix of three components: 3 parts potting soil, 3 parts starter soil, 1 part earthworm castings.
The potting soil will supply the plants with nutrients, while the starter soil with its high amount of perlite will be keeping the mix fluffy. The earthworm castings act as a natural long-time fertiliser that will encourage microbiotic life in the soil, which in turn will facilitate the plants’ nutrient-uptake.
Mix up the three components thoroughly so you end up with a homogenous soil-blend as you can see in the picture above. This is best done by the use of a fork.
While the starter pots had a volume of about 0.25 liters, the ones for the first re-potting stage are around one liter. This will be enough space for the plants to grow steadily above and below the soil for the next six weeks before it’s time for them to move on into bigger pots (3 to five liters) again.
Put about an inch of the soil-mix into the pot, then place the plant into it and fill up the empty spaces with the rest of the soil-mix. Ideally, you want the plant to be buried in the soil deep enough so the first pair of leaves is about one centimeter above the ground.
Give the plant a good watering so the entire soil is soaked properly once. Let all the excess water run out through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot so you end up with a fully moisterized soil that’s not dripping wet. If you’ve got the chance, you can supply the plant with some more artificial light now. Here in Berlin, though, the amount of natural light in mid March – while not abundant – is still sufficient for hot pepper plants to keep growing.
So all that’s left to do now is to put the re-potted plant onto a bright window-sill and wait for the weather to get warm and sunny enough in order to re-pot again and put the plants out onto the balcony.