Overwintering pepper plants is a way to help chillies survive the colder months and regrow again next spring. You don’t have to say goodbye to them when winter approaches, only to start new plants next season. (You still can if you want to though. 😉 )
Peppers are perennial, but they need to stay away from from frost and snow to survive each year. In my experience, they also stop growing and drop leaves when it gets to be 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) or lower.
I overwinter (winterize) my peppers whenever I can. Besides the obvious benefit of getting a head start on the new season, I’ve always found that my older plants produce larger chillies and in greater quantities.
Before we continue, I want to caution you that winterizing pepper plants doesn’t always work. Some pepper varieties, for whatever reason, just won’t come back. Despite this, I’ve been successful more times than not so it’s definitely worth trying!
Below are my tips for overwintering your pepper plants and supporting them during their dormancy.
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.
If you see new flower buds after pruning, pluck them off. Continue pinching pepper plants while they’re indoors.
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 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 Indoors
A desirable indoor temperature for hibernating peppers is between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (~ 15 to 21 degrees Celsius).
Pick an indoor area with a sunny window where your plants can get light. Otherwise, supplement with a plant grow light.
I don’t have enough light in winter for my chillies, so I use a T5 fluorescent lamp. I keep it on anywhere from 12 to 14 hours a day.
Watering Indoor Plants
Pepper plants require far less water when they go into dormancy. You don’t want overly wet soil.
For reference, I water indoor chillies once every 3 to 4 weeks.
This one’s easy. You don’t need to worry about feeding your plants when you overwinter them. 🙂
Pepper Plant Pests
Despite any bug precautions you take, they may still show up indoors. It helps to use yellow sticky traps, but using an organic neem oil solution is the most effective.
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Overwintering Pepper Plants Outdoors
If you live in a warmer climate, meaning your plants won’t come in contact with frost or snow, you can leave them outside.
I typically move my container peppers to a covered patio so they are sheltered from the top. If you know a frost is coming, you can cover them with a frost blanket (remove this the next morning), or move them inside for the night.
Preparing for Spring
Some people put their plants back outside one month before the last frost date. I prefer to wait until the last threat of frost has passed and temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).
Regardless of whatever you decide, be sure to follow the steps below.
Replenish 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
- Refresh your current mix by adding 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!
Pick the option that works best for you. Here’s what you’ll do for each one.
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.)
- Add your fertilizer by following the instructions on the container.
- 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 (Amazon affiliate link), follow the instructions on the bag.
- Add your fertilizer by following the instructions on the container.
- Place your replenished mix and plant back in the pot and water well.
Other Things You Should Know
- Harden off your pepper plants before they go back outside. They should take off much quicker than new seedlings.
- Pepper plants look like they’re dead when they are being winterized.
- If bad weather is on the way, make sure your plants are under a covered porch, or put them back inside for the night.
- Resume your regular watering schedule when you see signs of regrowth on your plants. (It’s always such a relief to see those small, green leaves forming again!)
I’ve always had the best luck overwintering different pepper plants like serranos and habaneros. With care, you may get your plants to live 10 years or longer!
- Prune your pepper plants by cutting it down to its original "Y" shape. (Tip: You can leave any leftover green chillies on your counter to ripen.)
- Kill any bugs by spraying the whole plant with an organic insecticidal soap after the sun goes down. Repeat this process every 3 to 4 days over a 10 day period to prevent bringing insects inside.
- Put your pepper plants in an indoor area with a sunny window. Otherwise, supplement with a plant grow light.
- Reduce the amount of water you give your plants when overwintering indoors. (For reference, I water my chillies every 3 to 4 weeks.)
- Watch for pests. Use yellow sticky traps and/or apply the organic insecticidal soap again, if needed.
- Put your plants back outside after the last threat of frost has passed. (If an unexpected freeze is coming, use a frost blanket or move them back inside for the night.)
- Repot your plants. Swap out the old potting mix for a new batch. OR, use the same mix and supplement with fresh compost, potting mix or soil conditioner. (For the latter, use a ratio of 75% old mix to 25% new.)
- Fertilize your plants and water well.
- Grow Light (If Using): Run for 12 to 14 hours a day.
- Fertilizer: You don't need to fertilize when overwintering pepper plants.
- Plant Appearance: It's common for plants to look dead during the winterization process.
- Bad Weather: If bad weather is expected, protect outdoor plants by using a frost blanket or putting them inside for the night.
- Water: Resume your regular watering schedule when you see the signs of regrowth on your plants.
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