June - Potting On Seedlings and Young Plants

The mechanics of transplanting seedlings and ‘potting on’ young chile plants is always a hot topic on chile forums and a source of concern to new growers in particular. Although one false move can lead to disaster, the process is relatively simple and if you follow a couple of general rules you won’t go far wrong.

All plants or more specifically their roots need sufficient room to grow strong and healthy. However transplanting seedlings too soon can cause transplant shock and ultimately bring death to your little darlings. Too late and growth can become stunted resulting in miniaturised or weak plants and ultimately less chile pods.

When to pot on seedlings:
Chile seedlings produce sets of leaves in pairs. The first set of leaves are called the seed leaves, the next set are the first true set of leaves. Once your seedlings have developed several sets of true leaves you will need to prick them out and transplant them into a larger pot to give them more room to grow.

I tend to ‘pot on’ seedlings when they have at least two sets of true leaves, any earlier and the root systems tend to be too fragile and seedlings can quickly die from root disturbance / transplant shock. When transplanting seedlings (and potting on plants) do so in the evening or on a cloudy day. This reduces the chance of the plant getting scalded by the sun and gives roots the chance to settle into their new environment rather than battling to suck up nutrients and water to maintain the plant during periods of intense heat.

Carefully prick out your seedlings (using a dibber or an old plastic plant label) and try to retain as much of the soil around the roots as possible to minimise root disturbance. If you aren't disturbing the soil around the roots they have no reason to even know they have been replanted and therefore unlike to suffer from transplant shock!

Always lift seedlings by their leaves, not their stems. Damaged leaves can be replaced; a damaged stem is normally terminal.

Fill the new pot completely with your soil mix (2 parts compost, 1 part vermiculite and 1 part perlite is a good mix) and then make a hole in the middle of the soil that's slightly bigger than the original root ball. Try not to compact the soil too much as this can inhibit root development. Chiles are from the same family as Tomatoes (the Solanaceae or Nightshade family) and like their genetic cousins they will make new roots, (although not to the same extent) along buried stems. So rather than disposing of leggy/spindly seedlings, try transplanting them deeper so that their stems are covered by the soil up to the base of the bottom cluster of leaves.

Lightly cover with soil and gently water them in. Don’t panic if seedlings wilt or leave curl up at this stage. This is quite common and providing the soil is not soaked and the roots damaged, they will recover in a few hours.

Do not be tempted to pot on seedlings and young plants into too big a pot too soon - another common source of premature chile death! I normally progress slowly through 4 pot sizes starting with small 9cm pots before moving up through 13cm, 20cm and finally onto 28cm (or 10 litre) pots for the larger varieties like Aji and Habanero. Wait until the root system begins to show through the bottom of the pot before moving them into larger pots. Plants ripe for potting on often dry out quickly and show signs of wilting.

In general, the larger the final pot, the larger the final plant although local growing conditions, the soil medium and the variety transplanted will also influence the final plant size. When potting plants into their final pots, mix in a small amount of fish, blood and bone fertiliser in to the soil mix to encourage root development and vegetative growth.

Black Plastic or Terracotta Plant Pots?

Chile peppers love heat and growth (through warming of the soil) is greatly encouraged by using black plastic plant pots. Although they don’t look as nice as an aged terracotta pot, they are a hell of a lot cheaper to buy and also maintain soil moisture better during the long summer months. If you decide to use terracotta pots, covering the soil surface with a handful of gravel will help retain soil moisture. Sharp, angular gravel with a handful of crushed eggshells thrown in is also an excellent slug deterrent!

One final word - heardening off
Whether your planning to grow your seedlings in pots or in the ground, you will need to get them ready for the outside world. Seedlings and plants raised indoors will need to be acclimatised to the outside conditions. You can do this by moving young plants outside for a few hours each day (after the danger of frost had passed) gradually increasing their time outside. Take care not to place young plants in direct sunlight or in areas exposed to strong breezes. Young leaves and stems need time to develop and are particularly vulnerable to sun scald and wind damage.

June - and there off!!!

Its amazing what a bit of sun can do. After a long, very wet and depressing May, the slugs have retreated and the sun has arrived. After spending a few months putting down roots, nearly all of my two hundred of so plants have been galloping ahead and the first of the pods have appeared. Here are a couple of quick shots.

May - Slugs & Snails... Arrrrh!!!!!!!!!

I woke up this morning to find the wind howling and it pouring with rain (again) and ventured down to the chile house only to be confronted by a scene of utter carnage. Despite my little darlings been locked up safely in the chile house, sheltered from the elements and away from the dangers of next doors prowling cats, an even more devious and savage enemy had infiltrated my defences – the dreaded slugs and snails.

I really hate these little bastards and the local ‘Darlington snails & slugs’ seem to be a particularly cunning, vicious and heartless breed. Despite have hundreds of tender and tasty varieties like Cayenne, Explosive Ember and Bolivian Rainbow to munch on (and I don’t mind loosing a few of them), they always single out the rarer varieties and the ones I’m most looking forward to growing & eating. The battle scene is a sorry tale of woe and amongst those felled with the expertise of a lumberjack are three Naga Morich plants, two Aji Omnicolor plants, two out of three Thai oranges and my only Capsicum Flexuosum.

I’m absolutely gutted and this is war!! If you’re having the same problems and want more information on how best to tackle these little sods (and other nasty critters), check out the Chilemans guide to pests & diseases.

May - Rain, rain and more rain

May has also been a poor months for my over wintered and more established plants. Virtually everyday has seen some form of rain whether it is light drizzle or heavy showers. Indeed the local news reported today that the North East of England has seen its second wettest May in the last 50 years – great!!. The lower than average daily temperatures and dull overcast conditions have also done little to stimulate growth and I reckon my plants are at least 4 weeks ‘behind’ previous years. Im not too worried though because I know they will put on a growth spurt when (if) the weather improves. The damp conditions however have encouraged a more serious threat to my little darlings - Slugs and snails.

Even my seedlings & young plants perched high on shelving 5ft above the ground have not been safe. In fact the harder the plants are to reach, the worse the attacks are - Darlington slugs definately like a challenge!!

May - Root Development

May has been a ‘period of consolidation’ for my little chile seedlings. Although nothing appears to be happening on the surface with many of my seedlings developing slowly, I know that most of the action is taking place where the eye cannot see. The size and vigour of your plants will be determined by the health of the root system. Good root development in young plants can be encouraged by using a weak fertiliser solution rich in phosphorus, the ‘P’ of the NPK ratings on the back of fertiliser packets. Although not essential, a weekly light watering with a 10-20-10 solution or a light sprinkling of ammonium sulphate solution will help young plants get off to a good start. However a word of caution, only consider fertilising young plants that have at least half a dozen sets of good sized leaves and don’t use the same watering can that your filled with weed killer last year! Don’t over fertilise plants otherwise you will end up with glorious bushy plants that will not set fruit. Seedlings don’t need fertilising, as there are more than enough nutrients in the seed compost. Applying fertiliser at this critical growth stage is more like to scorch young tender roots rather than stimulate them.

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