It can be really frustrating when your pepper plants sprout then refuse to grow, especially when everyone else is showing off their six week old pepper plants that have an abundance of true leaves.

So, what the hell is going on?

Temperature

The colder it is the slower your plants will grow. Sometimes all your plants need is a boost in heat to get them growing. The optimum growing temperature is 24 – 30C (75-85F) and if you don’t have a heat mat or a way to control the temperature then try and find a warm spot for your plants. Make sure it’s somewhere where there aren’t dramatic temperature changes or drafts or anything else that might stress your plants out.

The hotter the chilli the hotter the temperature it likes to be grown at.

Transplant Shock

I’m sure I’m not the only one that plants too many seeds in a pot then tries to move some into other pots when they sprout. Disturbing the plants roots when it’s so young can stress the plant out and cause it to stall it’s growth.

There’s also the possibility that the roots or plant got damaged during the transplanting process.

There isn’t much you can do if your plants in shock except wait for it to recover. Keeping it warm and watered will help speed up it’s recovery.

Over Crowding

If you’re growing multiple plants in the same pot and they’re too close together then they’ll stunt each other while they fight to survive. You need to remove some of the plants either by attempting to repot them or to kill some of them by snipping their stems at the soil line.

Hardening Off

If your plants were started indoors and you tried to harden them off then that could have stunted their growth. Your plants should have a few sets of true leaves before you start the hardening off process and it needs to be done gradually so that your plants have time to adjust to their new growing conditions.

If your plants had a hard time during hardening off then their growth will be stunted while they recover.

Pot Size

While it’s unlikely that your chilli will be pot bound if it’s small, it’s still worth checking. If it is then you’ll need to give it a larger pot which could lead to stunted growth due to transplant shock. On the other hand, not potting it up will keep it’s growth stunted because it doesn’t have space for it’s roots to grow.

While a too big pot isn’t as much of a big deal as a too small pot, it can still cause problems. The larger the pot the harder it is for the centre, where your plants roots are, to stay warm. You could try moving your plant to a warmer spot if you don’t want to downsize it. If not, get it in a smaller pot and be really careful not to disturb the roots so you can try and avoid transplant shock.

Nutrient Burn

Nutrients can be great for plants when they’re given at the right time in the right quantities. If your plant is still small then the nutrients will probably be too strong causing root burn.

The first step to fixing things if you’ve tried to feed your plant is to flush the soil with water to get rid of the remaining nutrients. Give your plant a really thorough watering so that water is coming out of the drainage holes. Let the water run through the plant for a minute or two and it should wash out most of the nutrients.

Put your plant somewhere warm to dry out a bit and water it again once the soil is almost dry.

Over/Underwatering

Small plants are delicate and need to be treated a bit more carefully than a well established plant. They’ll need plenty of water but not so much that they’re constantly wet as that can lead to root rot which will kill your plant. Check that your pots are draining properly. Sometimes the drainage holes can get blocked and water pools in the bottom of the pot where it’ll slowly rot your plants roots.

When my plants are in small seed starting trays I tend to water them whenever they start to look dry as the soil dries out pretty quickly. As they graduate to larger pots I reduce watering to when the top inch of soil is dry.

I prefer watering my plants from the bottom by sticking the pot in a bowl of room temperature water that’s been sitting out for 24 hours (which evaporate off some of the nasty chemicals). Leave the plant in there for about half an hour or until you see the soil start to darken. In my opinion, bottom watering is a more reliable way of making sure that the soil gets wet all the way through than top watering.

Light

If your plant isn’t getting enough light then it could be making it tough for them to grow. But, this ones nice and easy to diagnose. Plants that aren’t getting enough light grow leggy stems or they bend towards a source of light. Try moving them somewhere where brighter and see if that gets them growing again.

If you’re using grow lights then check that they’re close enough to the plants, and the bulb is strong/big enough for the amount of plants you have it over.

Over Compacted Soil

It’s important to press down the soil to create some resistance for the seeds to sprout against so they grow nice and strong. However, compacting the soil too much can prevent the roots from being able to expand which will hinder their growth.

While transplanting can shock your little seedlings if they’ve stopped growing because the soil is too compacted then you might need to bite the bullet and repot them.

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