If you grow any of our Hot Pepper Seeds, Super Hot Pepper Seeds, Sweet Pepper Seeds, or any of our 100 chile seeds from around the world, you have likely have encountered “helmet heads.” These are seedlings that start to germinate but fail to break open the pepper seed shell, so they get stuck inside and have what we call a “helmet head.”
Helmet heads in pepper seedlings is common when the humidity is low, and it also just happens sometimes to some seeds. To prevent helmet heads, you can increase humidity with a clear dome over the seedlings (removing once they've successfully sprouted leaves). Humidity and warmth is key for softening the seed shell enough for the pepper seedling cotyledons to push it open. Most of the time they will be able to successfully do this themselves, but you can help them along by making sure the humidity is high. You can also mist or use a finger to drop a droplet of water on the seed head to help it soften the seed casing.
Here are some different ways people handle helmet heads in pepper seedlings:
“If your seedling won't shed shell, increase the humidity with a growing cover over the helmet head seedlings, you can even use recycled clear cups or fast food container lids. In the past I would have tried to pull the seed head off, but I've killed a few that way, and I have pretty steady hands.”
“I touch a drop of water to them with my fingers, and sometimes I will even press them gently on the sides to try to open it, or gently cut a little slit in the seam with an Xacto blade to help them along if the water droplet trick doesn't work. It's best to do this when the seed is moist.”
“Get water on your finger to wet the seed shell it may take several times the seed should come off on it’s own. If not a finger nail clipper on JUST the edge of the seed. Be careful not to knick the seedling!”
“If you have a small clear cup you can mist water in the cup and place it over your seedling. Let the dome create a more humid climate around the seedling, which will soften the helmet and help it come off.”
To sum it up:
The main thing we suggest to prevent helmet heads and/or help helmet heads hatch is to increase humidity by misting or covering with a clear growing dome, cup or clear glass or plastic lids. It's also good to keep pepper seeds nice and warm between 80-90˚ F when germinating, as this will increase germination rates and speed up the process. A seedling heat mat is useful as most people don't keep their homes at 80˚ F! And don't worry, most of the time, the seedling will push through and break open the seed shell on it's own, especially if the humidity is high and the seed casing is moist.
IMPORTANT NOTE ON PEPPER SEEDLINGS:
Remove Cover once Pepper Seedlings have Sprouted:
Once your pepper seedlings have sprouted, you do not want to keep them covered as this will prevent any airflow which could cause damping off of your seedlings, a deathly ailment where they wither up and die. We recommend good air circulation, as well as gentle brush with your hands (yes, you can pet your pepper seedlings!)
We also recommend that once sprouted, you don't overwater the seedlings. Overwatering is one of the most common problems that people have with their peppers. Often, you will see yellow leaves on your pepper plants if you are overwatering them. Make to sure to let the growing medium dry out slightly between watering, as peppers hate soggy feet and will slowly suffer and drown if the soil is constantly wet.
Thinning Pepper Seedlings:
Also to note, shown in these pictures above there are many seedlings that have more than one sprouted. We will thin these, and we like to gently pluck these extra seedlings out and transplant into their own pod/container, because no pepper seedling goes unloved! :)