Do pepper plants come back? You’re probably asking this question if it’s getting colder outside. The answer is yes: By overwintering pepper plants, you can help them survive the winter so that you don’t have to start over from seeds. Learn how to keep your plants growing next year with this updated guide to overwintering peppers.
I originally published this post 8 years ago because it sucked having to lose my chile plants during the winter. Come to find out they’re perennial. Pepper plants, ultimately, can live more than two years when they go through what’s known as the “overwintering” or “winterizing” process.
so, what is overwintering?
In a nutshell, overwintering helps your plants go dormant during cold weather so that they can come back next spring. You typically do this by bringing outdoor plants inside. For chillies, you’ll start winterizing pepper plants well before the first frost because temperatures of 32°F (0°C) and below can kill them.
Before overwintering pepper plants, you need to know when and how to do this. I’ll describe everything I do to keep my chillies coming back, along with other tips I’ve learned over time.
Let’s get started!
Is Winterizing Pepper Plants Worth It?
Keeping pepper plants alive over winter requires extra work that includes pruning, getting rid of pests and repotting. If you have lots of plants and you don’t have an outdoor shelter like a cold frame, this may not be practical.
Below are some pros and cons that can help you decide.
- No need to start pepper plants from seed. Starting from seeds is fun yet time-consuming, especially if seeds won’t germinate or seedlings die along the way. Overwintered pepper plants, on the other hand, need very little care while indoors for the winter months.
- Save special pepper varieties. Some chile plants – um, hello purple Ghost pepper – take forever to germinate and grow chillies. You won’t have to go through this work again if you save your plant.
- Get a head start on next season. Mature plants have an established root system, which means they can take off once spring hits.
- Hardier plants. I tend to see more vigorous growth during the second or third year of a pepper plant’s life. Older plants also seem to have a better tolerance for weather fluctuations and pests.
- Bugs. Pests like fungus gnats can be a real problem if they come inside with your plants. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent them from becoming an issue.
- Indoor space. You’ll need to be able to house the amount of pepper plants that you want to winterize. (For example, in a garage, basement, grow tent or other sheltered space.) Each chilli plant should be in a ~2-gallon container.
- No guarantees. Some pepper plants just don’t make it through the winterization process. You’re dealing with living things and that comes with the territory.
If you decide to give this a shot, you’ll get all the details below.
When To Overwinter Peppers
Pepper plant growth stops when nighttime temperatures reach 50°F (10°C), and they can die during a freeze of 32°F (0°C) and lower. Start overwintering pepper plants when temperatures drop to the ~50°F (10°C) range and definitely before your first frost date.
More On Temperature For Bringing Pepper Plants Inside
Temperatures lower than ~50°F (~10°C) can stress plants. However, you may have a short growing season that requires extra time to ripen your chillies outside. In this case, you can try leaving your pepper plants out until it drops to ~45°F (~7°C) to maximize growing time. Just keep a close watch on your plants.
Overwintering Peppers At-A-Glance
Overwintering peppers indoors involves a few steps that include pruning, pest control and transplanting plants to smaller pots. We’ll go over everything below.
Pruning Pepper Plants For Winter
Pruning is the first step in preparing to winterize pepper plants. You’ll do this whether overwintering indoors or outside (more on that later). Pruning helps plants conserve energy, and it gets rid of the leaves where insects might be hiding.
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.
If you see new flower buds after pruning, pluck them off. Continue pinching pepper plants while they’re indoors.
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How To Overwinter Pepper Plants Indoors & Outside
After pruning your peppers, it’s time to gather your winterization supplies.
What You Need To Overwinter Chilli Plants:
- Potting soil calculator (how much soil you’ll need for the smaller pots)
- Potting soil (ideally new, unopened bag)
- Smaller container (~2 gallons)
- Garden trowel
- Clean shears
- Hose with spray nozzle
- Neem oil with Azadirachtin
- Dish soap
- Grow light (optional)
Many people choose to bring plants indoors for the winter. If your area doesn’t experience frosts and freezing temperatures, you have the option to winterize peppers outdoors.
Overwintering Pepper Plants Indoors
Here’s how to prepare pepper plants to hibernate and come inside as bug-free as possible.
- Moisten Potting Soil: Add the soil you’ll need to fill your pots and mix it with water. You want the soil to be moist, but not saturated where it drips water when you squeeze it.
- Sanitize Soil (Optional): Carefully pour boiling water over the fresh potting soil to help kill any pest eggs. (Yes, even fresh bags of soil mix can have eggs!) Let the mix cool before handling it again.
- Prepare New Pots: The best container size for overwintering peppers is usually around 2-gallons. (You may need a smaller or larger pot depending on how large the root ball is.) Make sure the pot is clean, then add a couple inches of soil to the bottom.
- Remove Pepper Plants: Take your pepper plant out of its current pot and break up the soil around the roots. Use a hose with a spray nozzle to blast away the dirt and get the roots as clean as possible. You can also trim the root ball if it’s large and your plant needs more room in the new container.
- Get Rid Of Bugs: Spray your whole plant, including the roots, with a Neem oil solution. (The Neem oil I recommend has Azadirachtin — an active element in Neem that kills bugs.) You can also add yellow sticky traps to your plants to help catch anything that might still be present.
- Transfer Plants To New Pots: Put your pepper plant in the new pot so that it’s about an inch from the top, then add the moistened potting soil. Fill the pot so that the soil reaches the stem area where it was in the previous container. Gently tamp down the soil and lightly water the top.
- Provide Sunlight: Pepper plants need light to overwinter. Put them near a sunny window, or use a plant grow light that runs for about 8 hours a day.
Indoor Peppers Tips:
Here are some other ways to provide the best environment when keeping peppers inside during the winter.
Temperature: Overwintered peppers go dormant in temperatures that range from the mid-50’s to 65°F (13°C to 18°C). A garage, basement or shed works well. Anything higher than 70°F (21°C) keeps the growth going, which doesn’t allow plants to conserve as much energy during the winter.
Watering Indoor Plants: So, how much should you water while overwintering pepper plants? Peppers need less water when they go into dormancy. You can use the weight test by picking up a freshly watered pot to know how heavy it feels when it has enough water. (For reference, I water my winterized chillies about every 3 weeks.)
Fertilizer: Here’s a common question: Should I fertilize overwintering pepper plants and how much? You actually don’t need to fertilize your plants when winterizing them. 🙂
do you need to repot pepper plants in winter?
Transferring plants is a lot of work – I get it. If you have the room and can take the time for bug prevention, you can keep peppers in their current pots before moving them inside.
Winterizing Pepper Plants In the Same Pot:
- Spray the whole plant with an organic insecticidal soap until it’s drenched. Do this when the sun goes down.
- Repeat this process every 3 to 4 days over a 10-day period.
- Watch for bug activity. If you don’t see anything, bring your plants inside.
Overwintering Pepper Plants Outside
So, can you overwinter pepper plants outdoors? Yes, as long as you live in a climate that stays above 32°F (0°C), or you can provide a warmer environment where your plants won’t come in contact with frost or snow.
Potted Peppers: After pruning, move your containers to a sheltered area, such as a covered patio, where overwintered plants can still get sunlight. If your location gets frost, cover the plants with a frost blanket, or put them in a garage or shed for the night.
In-Ground Peppers: If your area doesn’t get frosts or freezes, simply prune your pepper plants and apply mulch to help the roots stay warm during the cooler season.
Going Outdoors Again
When overnight temperatures are regularly ~55°F (~13°C) and the last threat of frost has passed, you can put your pepper plants back outside.
So, do you have to harden off overwintering pepper plants? Yes, the hardening process helps indoor plants reacclimate back to outside conditions. Mature peppers take about a week to harden, and they usually grow quicker than new seedlings. Here’s the process for moving pepper plants outdoors.
If transplanting pepper plants back to larger pots, fill your containers with new potting mix and water lightly. You can also reuse potting soil by amending it with nutrients like compost, soil conditioner or fertilizer.
Lastly, go back to your regular water and fertilizer schedule when you see signs of regrowth on your plants. (It’s always such a relief to see those small, green leaves forming again!)
Is Your Pepper Plant Dead Or Dormant?
Pepper plants look like they’re dead when being winterized, but sometimes they really don’t make it. Here are some ways to tell if your chile plants are likely gone or just sleeping.
- Put your plant in a room that is at least 70°F (21°C) or more to see if you see any signs of growth like new leaves starting to form. This can take a couple of weeks.
- Do the “thumbnail test” by scratching a portion of the bottom stem to see if there’s any green. If you find black, the plant is likely dead.
- Check the roots of the plant to see if they look alive or if they’re mushy and shriveled.
So there it is – I hope this guide helps you start overwintering pepper plants so you can keep your plants for next year! Just be sure to start winterizing when night temps are about 50°F (10°C) and before your first frost date.
If you want to start peppers from seed, be sure to check out the ultimate guide to growing peppers from seed to harvest. Get all the steps for starting any chile variety indoors and growing them into outdoor-ready plants.
- Prune your pepper plants by cutting off chillies, leaves and pruning the plant down to its original "Y" shape. (Tip: You can leave any leftover green chillies on your counter to ripen.)
- Mix the amount of potting soil you'll need with water so that it's damp, but not drenched. (You should be able to squeeze the mix and not have any dripping water.)
- Optional: Pour boiling water over fresh potting soil to kill any insect eggs that are present. Let the mix cool before handling it again.
- Prepare smaller pots (about 2-gallon) by adding a couple inches of soil to the bottom. Make sure these pots are clean.
- Remove your pepper plants from their current pots and break up the soil around the roots. Use a hose with a spray nozzle to blast away the remaining dirt and leave the roots as clean as possible.
- Kill any bugs by spraying the whole plant (including the roots) with a Neem oil solution that has Azadirachtin.
- Transfer your pepper plants to the new pots. Hold your plant about an inch from the top, then add the potting soil so that it reaches the stem area where it was in the previous container. Gently pat down the soil and water lightly on top.
- Put your pepper plants in an indoor area with a sunny window. Otherwise, use a plant grow light that runs for about 8 hours a day.
Tips For Indoor Peppers:
- Water: Reduce the amount of water you give your plants when overwintering indoors. (For reference, I water my chillies every 3 weeks.)
- Fertilizer: You don't need to fertilize when overwintering pepper plants.
- Temperature: Give overwintered peppers a temperature range of mid-50’s to 65°F (13°C to 18°C). A garage, basement or shed works well.
- Pests: Use Neem oil with Azadirachtin again, if needed. You can also add yellow sticky traps to your plants to help catch anything that might still be present.
- Plant Appearance: It's common for plants to look dead during the winterization process.
Moving Plants Back Outside:
- Temperature: When overnight temperatures are regularly ~55°F (~13°C) and the last threat of frost has passed, harden off your plants so they can go back outside. (Mature plants generally take a week to reacclimate back to the outdoors.)
- Transplant your peppers into bigger pots. You can fill containers with new potting mix or reuse potting soil by amending it with nutrients like compost, soil conditioner or potting mix. (For the latter, use a ratio of 75% old mix to 25% new.)
- Water & Fertilizer: Go back to your regular water & fertilizer schedule when you see the signs of regrowth on your plants.
- Unexpected Freeze: If bad weather is coming, use a frost blanket to protect outdoor plants.
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