Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

309 Pepper Seed Starting Tips. What is Coppicing?

February 16, 2024 Fred Hoffman, Debbie Flower Season 5 Episode 11
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
309 Pepper Seed Starting Tips. What is Coppicing?
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

We are at the time of the year to start pepper seeds indoors. Pepper seeds, can be notoriously slow to germinate, sometimes taking up to three weeks. We have tips to speed up pepper seed germination, with a little help from America’s Favorite Retired College Horticulture Professor, Debbie Flower.

Have you heard of coppicing? It’s a drastic pruning technique where some woody plants are cut back, close to ground level to stimulate the growth of vigorous shoots. I happened upon a demonstration of coppicing in a perennial garden recently. What the heck is coppicing? We have the details.

It’s all in Episode 309 of Garden Basics -  Pepper Seed Starting Tips. And Coppicing of woody ornamental plants.

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory, it’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!

Previous episodes, show notes, links, product information, and transcripts at the home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, Transcripts and episode chapters also available at Buzzsprout.

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309 TRANSCRIPT Pepper Seed Starting Tips. Coppicing.


Master Gardener Karen Bjork, Debbie Flower, Farmer Fred

 Farmer Fred  00:00

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. It's made in the USA. Visit slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's

Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot.

Farmer Fred

We are at the time of the year to start pepper seeds indoors. Pepper seeds can be notoriously slow to germinate, sometimes taking up to three weeks. We have tips to speed up pepper seed germination, with a little help from America’s Favorite Retired College Horticulture Professor, Debbie Flower.

Have you heard of coppicing? It’s a drastic pruning technique where some woody plants are cut back, close to ground level to stimulate the growth of vigorous shoots. I happened upon a demonstration of coppicing in a perennial garden recently. What the heck is coppicing? We have the details.

It’s all in Episode 309 of Garden Basics -  Pepper Seed Starting Tips. And, coppicing of woody ornamental plants.

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory, it’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!


Farmer Fred  01:39

We like to answer your questions here on the Garden Basics podcast. You can leave a question with us at You can call or text us the question at 916-292-8964. You can fill out the contact box at You can email it to Fred at Or in the case of Grace and Terry, you yell at the editors of the Lodi News Sentinel newspaper and then they will yell at me. I've been writing a garden column for that paper, since I believe, 1991. And there was a thing in the paper last week that Grace and Terry found and I saw that. I went, “Wow, I've been saying this for like 25 years now and nobody's corrected it, except for Grace and Terry. Well, it's corrected now. Grace and Terry ask, “You wrote in your ‘Things to Do’ section of the garden column that you should start peppers from seed now. Are you speaking of starting in pots in a climate controlled situation? Or to go ahead and sow seeds in the garden?”

You are right Grace and Terry. I left out the word “indoors”. And now I have changed both the copy and my brain, to remind me to say to people, yeah, now's the time to start peppers INDOORS. There are a lot of good reasons to start peppers from seed. And I think the best reason is the wide variety of sweet peppers and hot peppers that you can choose from in seed, versus what you might find at the nursery, either from the seed rack or as plants. 

Debbie Flower

Absolutely true. 

Farmer Fred

Yes, there's just so much more. Now the trick though, is getting those pepper seeds to germinate indoors where it could take them up to three weeks.


Debbie Flower  03:10

Yeah, it can take a very long time for peppers to germinate from seed. 

Farmer Fred

You have ways. 

Debbie Flower

Yeah, when I was teaching, the students would start tomatoes and peppers and other things from seed. And we would come right out the gate, working. We had to work within a semester. And the semester started in about mid-January, mid to the end of January. We would start right out the gate after lab safety and all that stuff,  starting seeds of peppers. Because they do take such a long time to grow to a saleable size and we would have a plant sale and that's the purpose of our starting our tomatoes and peppers from seed. And they took a long time.  And we had limited greenhouse space. So I started researching and I found lots of different possible ways to speed up the germination of peppers. And the one I tried was soaking the pepper seeds in hydrogen peroxide for 10 minutes before planting.


Farmer Fred  04:07

I wouldn't think that would be enough time to crack the seed coat.


Debbie Flower  04:11

It wouldn't crack it necessarily. But it would penetrate it. The purpose of cracking the seed coat is so that water can get inside the seed. Inside a seed is a baby plant, a perfectly formed baby plant. It has a growing bud and and seedling leaves and roots and a source of food to live on until it can get big enough to make food from the the light it's exposed to. But it sits there dormant, until it gets wet. And once it gets wet, chemicals start forming and the action starts to begin. And so getting liquid  inside the seed coat is what's needed to get seed germination started.  Hydrogen peroxide is water plus an oxygen molecule.It’s H2O2, two hydrogen and two oxygen. And why that works to get through the pepper seed, I don't know. But we got very uniform germination of pepper seed and fairly quickly for a pepper.


Farmer Fred  05:12

One thing I would think it would do would be to disinfect those seeds if there was any diseases lurking around.


Debbie Flower  05:18

That's a possibility. But typically, these were seeds that were purchased from reputable seed companies. And I would expect that they did not have disease on the outside, but you never know.


Farmer Fred  05:31

And you never know what variety those seeds are really, as we found out last year when there was a seed faux pas year, sometimes called “jalapeno gate”. I believe that was the phrase  when there was a big mix up. Seeds people had bought, either seeds or plants that were grown from those seeds, that were allegedly jalapenos,  they turned out to be sweet peppers. And then there was a sweet pepper variety that turned out to be all jalapenos.


Debbie Flower  05:52

At  one seed production facility I toured once, they always kept a certain part of the harvest of those seeds and grew them themselves. Of course, by that time, the seeds were packed and sent out for sale. But just so that they knew what they were were truly selling.


Farmer Fred  06:08

I have yet to hear anybody take the blame for that, by the way.


Debbie Flower  06:13

They've been fired.


Farmer Fred  06:14

I don't know. I had a problem with a tomato variety last year. It wasn't what it said it was. It wasn't Gardeners Delight. It was some other cherry tomato, and Gardeners Delight is one of my favorites. Anyway, getting back to  pepper seeds. Yeah, they do need that scarification, it's called. I used  a big word there, which basically just means to scar the coat of the seed and get that water into the inside.


Debbie Flower  06:34



Farmer Fred  06:37

And the other thing that a lot of people agree on, as far as getting those seeds off to a better start, is warm up that soil with a propagation mat, a heating pad.


Debbie Flower  06:45

Right. And yes, that's really crucial. You don't have to heat the whole greenhouse or garage or wherever it is that you're starting the seeds. But the root zone, the soil media that you're using to start the seeds in does need to be warm enough for those seeds to germinate. And it won't be a temperature that you can feel with your hand. They won't feel warm to your hand, but it will be warm enough for the seeds to germinate. 


Farmer Fred  07:11

The heating pad you referred to, even though you can't feel it, the soil could be 80 degrees, which is I think, the ideal temperature for pepper seed germination.


Debbie Flower  07:20

Yes. The other thing to watch when you're using a heating pad under your plant, under the seedlings, is that they will dry out very quickly. And a once a seed germinates, once it gets wet, the chemical action starts. If it dries out, it's dead. And you cannot recover it. So you need to be right on top of all the watering. 


Farmer Fred  07:40

And it can't be forceful water. It can't be from your standard garden watering can, either. And you go to great lengths to make sure that they get drizzled on, very slowly and lightly.


Debbie Flower  07:51

Right. Because if you don’t, the seeds will come flying out of the top of the container. You don't even know it, because they're so small, you can't see them.


Farmer Fred  07:58

Is that a 1000 hole head that you have on your hose end sprayer head?


Debbie Flower  08:05

Yes. And I turn it upside down so the water flies up first and then it comes down like rain. 


Farmer Fred  08:10

And that way the soil and the seeds are not disturbed from their home in the soil.


Debbie Flower  08:15

They do make nozzles that are Misting Nozzles, but I'm too impatient. Misting Nozzles do what they say they do - producing a mist at the end of the hose. But it's so slow. You really want to soak that media and have the water go all the way through the media and out the bottom. That way you know that the air holes have been filled with water and you've got a good saturation of the soil, and then good drainage of the soil. You’ll know if everything's wet. With a misting nozzle, it takes forever. 


Farmer Fred  08:44

But if you're just doing enough for your garden, that isn't that long a process, right?


Debbie Flower  08:50

And maybe other people are more patient than me.


Farmer Fred  08:53

Okay, here's how I got around that. I tried the 1000 hole hose end sprayer head. And that means  I have to drag the hose into the greenhouse, and then water all the plants, but making sure you don't hit anything else, like the space heater for the greenhouse. So I went to the hardware store. And I bought a one gallon pump sprayer, which has an adjustable nozzle with a head that's bent at 45 degrees. And you can turn that head to a stream or a fine spray. And that's what I have in the greenhouse now. It's just this one gallon pump sprayer. I pump it up and start spraying the tops of my little babies and get them evenly moist.


Debbie Flower  09:31

And I hope you’ve written “water only” on the tank.


Farmer Fred  09:34

Well I'm the only one out there. But yeah, you're right, exactly. If you have several sprayers. You want to mark that one “water”. And yeah, you don't want to mix that up. That happened to a nursery, I think it was in Hawaii, where they thought they were spraying water. Turns out they were spraying glyphosate. Yeah, it's heartbreaking. Especially on new babies like that.  So a fine spray of water. get out there and do it regularly. And then I think about the best garden tip that I've learned over the last two years.  Once those little pepper plants, or even the little tomato plants, when those little pepper plants get to be two, three inches tall, once they get maybe two or three sets of true leaves on, I’ll  transplant them into slightly larger containers. So I go from doing something that has maybe a volume of two inches by one inch into a three inch diameter pot. And I let them grow out without keeping the roots cramped. Those roots are now free to grow in a three inch pot until tit's time to move them up to one gallon pots or to plant them out in the garden, which could be eight to 10 weeks later. And that's why you're starting pepper seeds in late January, early February. You want to set them out in May, right? 


Debbie Flower  10:53

Yes, you do want to set them out in May. The soil outdoors also needs to be very warm, not just the seed starting soil.

Farmer Fred  10:59

That’s true for that young plant, as well. Like I said, there's a lot of good pepper varieties to choose from, that you won't find in plant form. And unfortunately, I think in the case of a lot of nurseries, they get some of their best selections of pepper plants and tomato plants way too early in the season. And if you go to the nursery in February, and then all of a sudden you're seeing pepper plants and tomato plants and you think, “I better get these plants because they may not get that variety”. Again, don't plant it in the garden now.


Debbie Flower  11:31

Like you said, put it in the next size pot. Let it grow on in that container. 


Farmer Fred  11:36

Yeah, in a place that's protected from too much direct sun and high wind. And if it's going to be really cold that night, maybe bring it in if it is below 40 degrees.


Debbie Flower  11:45

I would have said, 45 degrees. Bring them in for the night,  bring them inside, which can be a lot of work, you got to be on top of it, bring them in, put them out, bring them in, put them out. When you're looking at types of peppers, some will say, “AAS” on the seed packet or in the catalog. And that stands for All America Selection. There's also flowers that you will see, flower seed packets or sometimes if they're selling the plant, it will say that on the tag as well. And the All America Selection is a flower or vegetable that has been trialed. It's been bred by somebody somewhere. And the judges have decided it is much better than anything else that is out there. And they get that All America Selection designation. And so it is trialed at gardens all over the country, all over the US. I know there's one at Iowa State University, I've seen their AAS selection garden. I've seen one at Clackamas Community College in Oregon. So those are the only two I'm aware of, but they're all over the country. So  it's not just a plant that will do well in your little town, but possibly all over the country. And there is  something about it that is superior to the others of that type. We're talking peppers here. The other peppers that you could choose that are worth having a second look at, are the hybrids, meaning that they were bred from parent plants. And if you save seed from them, three quarters of what you plant will not look like what you had the year before. 


Farmer Fred  13:21

The AAS winners,  like you said, are trialed and judged throughout the country. And they have national winners, but they also have regional winners. Maybe it was the judges in the Midwest who said hey, this did really well here. Well, if they're the only ones then it's a Midwest winner. But there are a lot of national winners. And over the years, when in doubt, choose an AAS winner because you're probably gonna get good results from it. And the peppers I've tried over the years that were AAS winners were Giant Marconi, Gypsy, and Tequila, which is one of my favorites. It's a beautiful, aromatic purple, sweet bell pepper. It is just gorgeous. Cornito Giallo, which is sort of a banana shaped pepper, did really well for me last year. And if you'd like a little bit of heat, some of the AAS winners included Mariachi and Hot Sunset. There was one last year called the San Joaquin, which is the county to the south of us here, noted for its heat.


Debbie Flower  14:18

So the Pepper was noted for its heat as well as the county. 


Farmer Fred  14:20

Yes, and it was correct. And basically, with pepper seed germination, you start off with heat, and then you add light. Once they're up, they need light. So if you're gonna do it indoors, you may want to get an alternate lighting system if you don't have a really sunny window. And the problem with a really sunny window, too, is you're gonna have to keep rotating the plants that grow toward that light, maybe a quarter turn each day.


Debbie Flower  14:45

Right. Having an overhead light system is a good idea. And they need wind. Yeah, they need movement. (Add a gentle wind from a fan for at least 10 minutes a day).


Farmer Fred  14:51

How do you know when peppers are ready to plant outdoors? Let the soil temperature tell you and usually nighttime temperatures should be in what range, about 50 to 55?


Debbie Flower  14:59

Yes, for a pepper, the air temperature at night, should be about that. Night temperatures reflect soil temperatures. 


Farmer Fred  15:07

So those nighttime temperatures have to be steadily above 50.  And I know even here in USDA zone nine, that might not be until May.


Debbie Flower  15:17

Easily. We're so dry that the heat is not held there. Moister places that might, such as Florida, might be able to plant sooner in the year.


Farmer Fred  15:26

And I know there's a lot of people yelling at their phones right now, saying, “What do you mean? I planted my peppers in early April, they're alive!” Barely. They're surviving, they're not thriving. 


Debbie Flower  15:40

And there is some evidence that they will be delayed. Their flowering and fruiting will be delayed if they are in that cold situation in spring for a long time.


Farmer Fred  15:50

All right, so when it comes time to plant these peppers, how deep should you plant them? 


Debbie Flower  15:55

In general, the rule when you plant something from a container into the field is that you should plant it at the same level, or “plant proud”, meaning that some of the media of the container plant is above the level of the field soil. But there are exceptions to that. And peppers are one of those exception. You can bury the stem of a pepper up to a couple of inches deeper than it was in the container. And what will happen is roots will arise from that stem and it will make the plant stronger ultimately.


Farmer Fred  16:24

Do you have to strip off the leaves first?


Debbie Flower  16:26

I don’t. But there are references that say you have to, but I don't. I just leave them on.


Farmer Fred  16:33

So I'll tell you what, folks. You try it your way. Try both ways. see which works best.


Debbie Flower  16:38



Farmer Fred  16:39

There you go. That's how you get peppers going. And mid to late winter is the time to pick out the seeds and start planting. 


Debbie Flower  16:47

Yeahm enjoy those seed catalogs. 

Farmer Fred

Thank you Debbie. 

Debbie Flower

You're welcome Fred.



Farmer Fred  16:53

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Farmer Fred  19:30

It's midwinter here at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, and just like any place that has a lot of plants, sometimes they get overgrown and get out of bounds. Now a lot of us would just say okay, let's trim a little bit here and a little bit there. Let's just get it out of the walkway. Is there a better way to rejuvenate a plant? Yes, there is. It's called coppicing. What the heck is that? That is our question for Karen Bjork, Sacramento County Master Gardener. Coppicing, Karen. You tell us what it is. 


Karen Bjork  20:01

The word “coppicing” means cutting, but it's a certain way of cutting a plant down to either the ground or close to the ground.


Farmer Fred  20:09

So you just leaving what I would call a stump. But you have a more formal name for it.


Karen Bjork  20:14

I do. iI’s a stool would look like a stool.


Farmer Fred  20:18

Yes. What plants take well to that and why would you coppice?


Karen Bjork  20:23

Willows, obviously.


Farmer Fred  20:24

And this plant right here, that we are looking at.


Karen Bjork  20:26

The Lil’ John bottlebrush. And it took really well. About five or six years ago, it was way too wide and way too high. And a couple of Master Gardeners coppiced it, and it looked awful afterwards. We coppiced down to probably  to where the  trunk was maybe two or three inches wide. So it was really bare and ugly. We have about four or five of them. And  they have a lot of hidden buds. And  they're called adventitious buds. And when we coppice, we're taking off the hormone from the tip of the plant that wants it to grow up. And so all these hidden buds are inspired to sprout. And they sprout a lot. We call it a witch's broom, because it's basically a heading cut. And that means a lot of sprouts, a lot of nice juvenile sprouts, and there's too many. And so we would have to thin them out so that they would turn into mature branches, and they were about maybe a foot or eight inches long. And now it's looking great.


Farmer Fred  21:41

The entire bottlebrush is about three and a half feet tall, looking full and lush. And I imagine you could do coppicing with a plant that's getting kind of lanky looking or just gawky looking and you do that coppice cut near the base, what, six inches or so above?  You don't have to leave side shoots on this, you just basically leaving a stump and it comes back more full.


Karen Bjork  22:02

It does, but it's going to be coming back too full. So you will have to thin out some of those immature branches. They're called juvenile branches.


Farmer Fred  22:12

How many did you take off,  on this bottle brush here, when you cut back to a stump? How many new branches emerged? And how many did you keep?


Karen Bjork  22:20

I don't remember that. But we didn't. We did do some side branches that were very old, or they were very mature. But I don't remember.


Farmer Fred  22:32

Typically, how many would you leave? Like two or three?


Karen Bjork  22:35

I would probably leave the main trunk. cut that down and then maybe a couple of side branches that were pretty mature. A couple of side branches. Yeah, but they wouldn't be limbs, more like side limbs.


Farmer Fred  22:48

So it's not a matter of keeping the strongest growing ones?


Karen Bjork  22:51

We certainly don't want to keep anything weak. So you're gonna be pruning all the weak stuff off.


Farmer Fred  22:57

Now what I find interesting is you're doing this in midwinter. Now in my brain, I would think that making a major cut like that, you'd want to do it when the plant is actively growing in the spring. Why do you do it in the winter?


Karen Bjork  23:10

We do it in about February. And that's going to be actively growing. Because in our area, spring doesn't start on March 21, or whatever it starts, way before that. And we're getting new growth on things earlier than that.


Farmer Fred  23:27

For people listening in other zones, basically you want to make the coppicing cut, then, on the verge of whenever  your last frost date is, perhaps a little afterwards. What you don't want is that new growth and then a frost.


Karen Bjork  23:41

This is over my head right now. I don't know. 

Farmer Fred  23:53

 But basically it does make a plant look much nicer. It's going to take, like you say, probably a year for it to start looking presentable again.


Karen Bjork  24:04

Actually, it was faster than that. Yeah, it looks smaller, but it looked nice after a few months.


Farmer Fred  24:12

Karen, you're telling me that coppicing has been around a long, long time. That is was very popular among Native Americans.


Karen Bjork  24:18

Yes, in California, they use coppicing a lot. And if you've ever wondered how they got their arrows so straight, that was through coppicing. And the different tribes in different areas had probably different plants that they used. But gooseberry and spicebush were two of them that they used for making arrows. When the plant got mature enough, they would coppice it. And they would get all these shoots coming up and they would be pretty straight. And they probably would wait  two or three years before they would actually make the arrow. I don't know for sure, I'm just trying to tell you the concept of it. The willow is very easy to coppice, and of course they used a lot of willows for basket making and fish nets and lots of things. I can't make a list of them right now, but it's so interesting.


Farmer Fred  25:12

I know with willow, trees, a lot of early American settlers would cut the branches off willow trees, stick them in the ground about six inches apart, where they wanted a fence line. And because of the hormones in those branches, the willow cuttings would grow roots and thrive.


Karen Bjork  25:27

Yeah, they also used a lot of coppicing in England. They coppiced for firewood. And they also coppiced for carpentry. And one of the things that I read about was that they actually use some of that coppiced wood for shipbuilding to get those really nice boards. I don't know how they did it.


Farmer Fred  25:46

Are there any plants you should avoid coppicing?


Karen Bjork  25:48

Yeah, lavender.


Farmer Fred  25:50

Okay, why is that? Because it won't sprout?


Karen Bjork  25:52

Lavender doesn't have the adventitious buds in its woody parts. So you need to prune lavender only down to where it's still sprouting.


Farmer Fred  26:02

Alright, so you just basically prune off the greenwood and not the gnarled looking wood.


Karen Bjork  26:07

Gnarled wood. That would be totally dead.


Farmer Fred  26:11

Alright. That's good advice for a lot of plants like that, that don't, as you say, produce adventitious buds.


Karen Bjork  26:16

Oh, pines are another one.


Farmer Fred  26:18

That you wouldn't want to do? Would that be true for probably any pine?


Karen Bjork  26:21



Farmer Fred  26:22

All right. Well, there you go. That your makes pruning a lot easier. If you're staring at a plant that's overgrown, and think you might just remove a little bit here, a little bit there, a little bit there. Why not just take your one handed chainsaw, or other pruning saw, and cut it off near the base, a few inches above the soil line, and stand back and watch it grow.


Karen Bjork  26:45

By the way, it should be a plant that's been in the ground for three years or so, an established plant.


Farmer Fred  26:52

That's good to know. Because all young plants, like teenagers, are gawky? 

Karen Bjork


Farmer Fred

We've learned something. We've learned a new term, coppicing. And I do it all the time, not knowing what it is I’m doing. But then, what else is new? Karen Bjork, Sacramento County Master Gardener. Thanks for teaching us about coppicing.


Karen Bjork  27:09

Thank you.



Farmer Fred  27:10

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Farmer Fred  28:29

Garden Basics With Farmer Fred comes out every Tuesday and Friday and is brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Garden Basics is available wherever podcasts are handed out. For more information about the podcast, visit our website, GardenBasics dot net. That’s where you can find out about the free, Garden Basics newsletter, Beyond the Basics. And thank you so much for listening.

Pepper Seed Starting Tips for Quicker Germination
What is Coppicing?