Saving Seeds from Pepper Plants

Seeds in Cut Pepper
Once a pepper has fully ripened, seeds are viable and can be saved for future planting

Collecting your own pepper seeds not only provides an abundance of seeds for free, but it can also be an exciting way to expand your hobby. Want new pepper varieties to grow? Simply pick up a few ripened pods at a farmers market or trade your extra seeds with another grower.

Going a step further, peppers can easily be cross-pollinated to produce hybrid seeds. Plants from those seeds can then be self-pollinated (or crossed again) to form new seeds, and plants with a potentially wide array of unexpected (and sometimes desirable) characteristics. From there, plants can be selectively bred to capture, and intensify, desirable traits – creating whole new varieties of peppers.

Keeping a couple things in mind, saving seeds for growing pepper plants is super simple.

Managing Pollination

When the goal is to produce offspring plants with traits similar to the parent plant (usually the case), you'll want to provide isolation to ensure self-pollination. When close together, wind or insects can easily transfer pollen from nearby pepper plants and cross-pollinate the target plant, which can cause hybridization. This readily happens with pepper plants in close proximity – even when the plants are two different varieties.

If the plants are in pots, moving the target plant away from the others is usually easiest. How far apart? The farther the better – more distance means cross-pollination is less likely, but not impossible. Every doubling of the distance provides four times the separation from an area perspective. For near certainty, plants can be temporarily isolated in a screen room, or in the house.

Pepper Pods in Blender
A nylon sock and twisty-tie used to isolate F1 peach hybrid flowers for self-pollination (2018)

If relocating the plant isn't doable, then using a nylon sock or sachet bag to isolate a portion of a branch can likely get the job done. While it might not provide 100% protection against wind carried pollen, it'll keep the insects out. That should be enough to put the odds in your favor.

In either case, isolation should be performed prior to the flower bud(s) opening. When flowers open, gently tapping on the branch can assist in self-pollination. Once fruit starts to form, fruit stems can be marked with a twisty-tie and the plant returned to its normal spot, or any netting can be removed.

On the other hand, some growers want cross-pollination and will manually cross their plants to create hybrids – many times, in hope of finding new strains for selective breeding. Interested growers can check out those links for more information.

Allow Peppers to Fully Ripen

Peppers need to finish ripening before picking to ensure their seeds are fully formed. A pepper is ripe when it completely changes to its final color. Most peppers start as green, but then change to a red, orange, yellow or ivory color when fully ripened. Some peppers will change to an intermediate color, or colors, before arriving at their ripened color. If unsure, check the internet to research the ripened color for a desired pepper.

Choose Healthy Peppers

When selecting peppers for seed harvesting, choose healthy peppers from healthy plants. Avoid diseased plants or fruit that's rotted or eaten. It's possible for diseases, or undesirable plant characteristics, to be passed from seeds to the next generation of plants.

Separating the Seeds by Hand

Once picked, use a sharp knife to remove as much pulp and fruit from the seeds as possible. Wear gloves! Touching hot peppers while cutting can be very painful when hands touch other parts of the body – pain can last for 30 minutes or more. Also consider wearing safety glasses, as it’s possible while separating for a seed to get flung up into an eye – this actually did happen to us, and the pain was extreme.

If you're looking to harvest a significant amount of seeds from the same pepper variety, consider using a blender. It's definitely a time saver when collecting seeds from more than a few pods.

Drying and Storing the Seeds

Dried Pepper Seeds
Dried datil pepper seeds ready for storage

After extraction, put seeds on a paper towel or into a small cup to let them dry. When dry, usually in 24-72 hours, you can package the seeds for storage. Again, gloves are recommended – even pepper seeds several years old can have skin irritating capsaicinoid residue.

We place our seeds in small paper or plastic sampling cups, using one cup per seed variety (baggies and envelopes also work). We stack the cups and add an empty cup to the top to enclose. We then use a strip of masking tape around the tower of cups to keep it intact when laid on its side.

It's best to store seeds in the refrigerator to keep them in a dormant state. Seeds should be removed from the refrigerator 24 hours, or more, prior to planting.

Collecting Seeds in Bulk with a Blender

Pepper Pods in Blender
Pepper pods in blender, ready for separating seeds

Collecting seeds by hand is time consuming, meticulous and potentially painful work. Even with care and patience, complete removal of the fruit and pulp to produce clean seeds is a challenge. Throw in the need for gloves, and potentially safety glasses, and collecting seeds by hand for anything more than a few peppers is a project.

With a variable speed blender, it's easy to quickly collect a large quantity of clean pepper seeds.

  1. Open windows! If you're taking seeds from very hot peppers, then you may also want a fan and a breathing mask. Pepper vapors will go airborne, and for the hotter varieties, this can make breathing quite uncomfortable.
  2. Add pepper pods to blender, stem and all.
  3. Fill the blender 1/3 full with water and make sure cover is snug.
  4. Use blender to separate pepper flesh and immature seeds from the good seeds.
    1. Pulse blender on slowest speed for 2-10 seconds a few times. The peppers will gradually get chopped into smaller pieces, releasing the seeds. The pepper flesh and immature seeds will tend to float to the top, while the good seeds collect on the bottom.
    2. Use the high-intensity spray setting on your kitchen sprayer to add water by spraying the water jet into the top layer of chopped peppers. This will help to free more seeds. Do this a few times.
    3. Return blender cover for a secure fit and pulse blender a few times on its lowest setting.
    4. Pepper Seeds Ready for Cleaning
      Pepper seeds are ready for cleaning when water turns mostly clear
    5. Tap side of blender to free up good seeds that may be stuck toward the top. There will still be plenty of seeds at the top mixed in with the chopped peppers. That's OK, most are likely immature.
    6. Pour off top layer of floating pepper fragments and immature seeds into sink. Use drain mesh or paper towel to capture for composting, if desired.
    7. Spray water jet into seeds and pepper fragments to help separate, while filling blender back to 1/3 full. Repeat blending process until water becomes mostly clear with few pepper fragments and seeds floating to the top.
  5. Pour water, floating seeds, and pepper fragments from blender to leave only a small amount of water and the good seeds at the bottom for cleaning.
    1. Use the water jet to vigorously spray the seeds. No need to pulse the blender anymore.
    2. Let seeds settle, then pour off the floating pepper fragments and most of the water.
    3. Repeat water jet sprayig and settling a few times until seeds are mostly clean. A few pepper fragments mixed in with the good seeds is OK. When dry, left over pepper fragments will shrink to almost nothing.
    Cleaned Pepper Seeds
    Cleaned pepper seeds taken from blender and set aside on napkin for drying
  6. Pour water and seeds from blender into a fine-mesh strainer to capture the seeds. Rinse and drain blender a few times to get all seeds into the strainer.
  7. Place strainer on napkin to dry. Gently shake strainer periodically over the next couple of days to expedite drying.
  8. It's also a good idea to rinse the blender thoroughly and then fill with water and let it soak for a couple of hours to help remove capsaicinoid oils.
  9. Allow seeds to fully dry before storing. With large amounts of seeds, this could take up to three days.

Additional Resources