It’s getting colder, winter is starting to creep up and you figure your chile plants are done for.
You don’t need to start new pepper seedlings each season if you understand how overwintering pepper plants works.
Peppers are perennial and they just and need to stay away from severe cold (50 degrees Fahrenheit and below), frost and snow to survive each year.
Oftentimes, pepper plants produce larger chillies in greater quantities when they are allowed to mature.
With care, you may get your plants to live 10 years or longer!
A common solution is to get your plants into pots, and then use a few key techniques to protect chillies — especially if you’re in a colder climate.
(Note: This winterization procedure, along with other pepper-growing processes, are covered in detail in our Grow Hot Peppers System training.)
Prune Your Peppers
Pruning helps your plants stay alive and go into hibernation so that they can store energy for the next growing season.
Get a pair of clean pruning shears and cut off any lingering peppers. If they’re still green, you can leave them on the counter for a couple days to ripen up, or try eating them in the immature stage — you might like the flavor.
Cut all the leaves off as well as any brown limbs that are dead. You want to leave the chili plant bare so that it just has its original “Y” shape.
These plants are in the process of being pruned for the winter:
If your plants try to produce buds after pruning, pinch them back.
Replenish the Potting Mix
Keeping your pepper plants alive for more than one year means replenishing the potting mix.
A new mix delivers fresh nutrients and removes any bad insects that might be present.
You have a couple of options here:
- Swap out the old potting mix for a new mix, or
- Use the same mix and add fresh compost, potting mix or soil conditioner.
The method you use depends on how many pepper plants you have. If you have a lot of plants, buying new mix can be costly!
Here’s what you’ll do for each option:
Swap Out Old Mix
- Dig out your chile plant and put it in a safe spot. I usually leave mine propped up against a wall or laying on the ground if it isn’t in danger of being trampled on.
- Trim the root ball and dispose of the old mix.
- Fill the container with new mix. (Tip: if you’re worried about any diseases that might be present, carefully pour some boiling water in your pot to sterilize it first.)
- Position your plant in the pot and water the soil well.
Add Fresh Compost or Soil Conditioner
- Repeat Step #1 above.
- Pour the old mix in in a clean container.
- Add compost and blend it in with the old mix. If you don’t have compost, you can add new potting mix. I usually use a ratio of 75% old mix to 25% compost or new mix. If using soil conditioner, such as Happy Frog, follow the instructions on the bag.
- Place your replenished mix and plant back in the pot.
Get Rid of Bugs
Ideally, you want your pepper plants indoors during colder weather.
Before you do this, make sure any bugs are gone so you don’t end up with an indoor infestation.
- Spray the whole plant, including the top layer of mix, with an organic insecticidal soap until it’s drenched.
- Wait about 5 minutes, and then spray water over the plants to wash the soap away.
- Leave your plants outside for a day, and if you don’t see any bug activity, you can bring them inside.
Tips on Moving Peppers Indoors and Lighting
A desirable indoor temperature for hibernating peppers is between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and never below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Look for available spots in a covered garage, basement or spare room.
My pepper plants increase each year and I don’t always have enough indoor space.
What I do is put them under a covered patio to give them shelter. At night, I just cover all the plants with a frost blanket or floating row cover to keep them warm, and then remove the blanket in the morning.
As far as lighting, your plants can survive if they’re situated next to a bright window.
Otherwise, add some fluorescent bulbs or grow lights a couple of inches above the pepper plants to keep them going.
(Update: Recently, someone asked what he should do if he couldn’t use this traditional, overwintering method. You can clone your pepper plants instead.)
So that’s about it!
Continue to watch for insects, water your chile plants when the soil gets dry (my plants like a once a month watering when they’re being overwintered).
Put them back outside when the temperatures consistently stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the threat of frost has passed. Also, be especially diligent about watching for bugs and disease when you first put them back outside.
We’d love to know what you think of this tutorial in the comments below — thanks!
(Note: This overwintering peppers procedure, along with other pepper-growing processes, are covered in detail in our Grow Hot Peppers System training.)