Improve Your Harvest by Overwintering Peppers

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Cayenne chillies in pot

Sometimes you can’t help but be a little boastful. So if you’ll indulge me for just a moment, I’d like to share my extraordinary run with this year’s chilli peppers.

They were sown about a month before my last frost date to germinate on an indoor windowsill. I didn’t bother with a propagator but I did do the old clear polythene-bag-over-the-pot trick to keep humidity up. The seedlings were slow to germinate, I’ll admit, but once they (finally!) appeared I moved them on into the greenhouse, which by then was warming up nicely. Periodic potting-on kept seedlings and then young plants growing steadily. And since the second half of summer they’ve been yielding chilli pepper after chilli pepper – after chilli pepper!

Pepper seedlings growing steadily on the windowsill
Pepper seedlings growing steadily on the windowsill

Moving Peppers Indoors for Winter

Peppers of all types are grown as annuals by most gardeners: sown, grown, picked, then condemned to the compost heap at the end of the season. Yet these hard-working plants are perennials that, given the right conditions, will happily overwinter to next year.

Why bother? Because coaxing peppers to keep going for another year gives you an instant head start on the new growing season, shortening the time to fruit production, extending the picking period and giving you an overall heavier harvest. Sounds good to me!

Overwintering peppers can help extend your picking period
Overwintering peppers can help extend your picking period

To succeed you need to start with healthy plants, be able to offer your peppers a frost-free spot and keep a constantly searching eye out for their nemesis, the aphid. My chilli peppers have done me proud, and seeing as I have windowsill space it makes sense to give overwintering a go.

Preparing Peppers for Overwintering

It’s best to start with peppers that are already growing in pots. This avoids any unnecessary root disturbance, reducing the risk of failure. That said, if you have strong, healthy plants growing in the ground try digging them up with as much of their original rootball as possible, then pot them into large containers with fresh potting mix fed in around the sides. You will need to reduce the top growth by half to three-quarters to allow for the inevitable loss of roots, but with luck you should be successful.

Container-grown peppers may be pruned to fit the space you have to overwinter them. Make each cut just above a bud and use sharp, clean secateurs. As autumn progresses the stems are likely to die back further. This is absolutely normal – no need to panic! Simply prune back to where the stems are green. Any remaining leaves may turn yellow and drop off too, which is, again, completely normal; some plants will sit through the winter leafless, but will burst into growth again in the spring.

Prune container-grown peppers to a manageable size before bringing them indoors
Prune container-grown peppers to a manageable size before bringing them indoors

Temperature, Light and Water Needs

Overwintered peppers need to be kept somewhere that remains comfortably above freezing. In most cases an indoor windowsill, away from heat sources, is just fine. A conservatory would also work well.

Light levels are already low over winter but indoors they’re even lower, so place your peppers on the sunniest windowsill you can find. Again, a conservatory would be ideal given the generally superior quality of light found there.

Water overwintered peppers infrequently
Water overwintered peppers infrequently

Keep plants barely moist. The potting mix should be left to get almost dry before watering. You will find you need to water very infrequently as the plants begin to shut down in the lower light levels. Allow plants to soak up the moisture of each watering, but then make sure any excess moisture drains freely away from the base of pots so the roots are never sitting in water.

Aphids are a problem indoors and it’s more likely than not that your overwintered peppers will play host to them. Don’t worry, just clear them off the plant every time they resurface, using a damp cloth to squish and wipe them clear, or by spraying with water.

Resurrecting Overwintered Peppers

About a month and a half before your last frost date, re-pot peppers into fresh multipurpose compost mixed with a little organic general-purpose fertiliser to give plants a boost as they start into growth. Scrape away about 3-5cm (1-2in) of the old growing medium from right around the rootball then re-pot into the same container, or a slightly bigger one, with the fresh compost. Once you notice the first signs of regrowth begin watering more often. Plants can go out into a greenhouse or polytunnel a week or two before the last frost date. You can always bring plants back indoors if an unusually cold night is forecast.

Move overwintered peppers back outside in the Spring
Move overwintered peppers back outside in the Spring

With improved light levels and rising temperatures it won’t be long before the leaves come thicker and faster and new branches develop. Once plants have begun to produce flower buds it’s time to begin feeding the peppers once more, with a liquid feed that’s high in potassium to encourage flowering and fruiting. If you’ve done it right, you should get your first fruits a full month ahead of plants sown that spring. Good luck!

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Comments

 
"Interesting. What causes potscdo you use?"
Mark on Saturday 20 October 2018
"I just use plastic pots, nothing special. For a mature chili pepper they need to be at least 20cm/8in across."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 22 October 2018
"Thanks for a great article - soooo timely and useful as usual! I've successfully overwintered chilli pepper plants for the past few years (kept one particular plant going for 3 years but lost it eventually). Would this also work with sweet pepper plants? This year I've grown two beautiful long green sweet pepper plants (variety unknown as they were saved seed from an allotment neighbour) and wonder if they too can be overwintered?"
Aisling on Wednesday 24 October 2018
"Hi Aisling. Absolutely, yes! Sweet peppers and chilli peppers are essentially the same plant - it's just the latter has much hotter fruits. So please go ahead overwintering your sweet peppers in exactly the same way."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 29 October 2018
"Thanks Ben - I'll give it a go and let you know how I get on next spring. Cheers, Aisling"
Aisling Judge on Wednesday 31 October 2018
"I'm trying to overwinter a chocolate habanero that grew outside in a raised bed this year. It took so long to get going that I don't want to deal with doing it all over again from seedling. I may have to check on it against these instructions. It's under two layers of Reemay but that may not be enough. We've had a mild winter so far. Washington, DC"
Carl W on Thursday 27 December 2018
"Hi Carl. I’d be worried that any very cold snap would get at the plant and kill it. If possible it would be far safer to bring it indoors where there’s no risk of frost damage at all. "
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 27 December 2018
"can i use a "wicking pot - self watering pot " for my capsicum bush or will the soil be too moist "
PHILIP BEINART on Sunday 19 April 2020
"A self-watering pot should be absolutely fine for capsicums, as the plant will be drawing on the soil moisture it needs. These sorts of pots will be particularly useful as summer progresses and the heat picks up."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 20 April 2020
"i have planted red bell pepper, green bell pepper, hot pepper last yr and now there are no leaves but i see a couple peppers on my red bell and hot pepper but nothign on my green bell pepper. Will the leaves grow back or do i just need to get me some new ones to plant"
Hazel on Thursday 30 April 2020
"Hi Ben, I said I'd update you on my over wintering success/failures, so here I am - and only a year late! I lost one of the long, sweet peppers over winter 2018-19 but the other cropped well last summer. Sadly, this did not survive a second winter so I'm starting afresh this year. Of the chillies, all bar one survived ( 3 x Peppadew and 1xBiquinho Yellow), gave fantastic crops in 2019 and are looking good for another year again already! Last summer I invested in a self watering system ( Quadgrow pots and reservoirs, attached to waterbutts filled with diluted liquid feed) which kept everything ( incl tomatoes and aubergines) healthy and fruiting all summer, even when I was away for 6 weeks during July/Aug. Thanks for all the wonderful advice!"
Aisling, Cardiff on Thursday 30 April 2020
"Hi Hazel. If the stems themselves are still green and not brittle and dead, then there's still a good chance they will sprout green leaves again. Have you started to gradually increase the amount of water you give them? Perhaps a gentle feed will also help to coax them into life - and you could repot them into fresh potting mix. At this stage, though it may be prudent to sow for some new plants, just in case they don't spring back to life."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 1 May 2020
"Hey Aisling - that's a real result - nice one! So pleased you managed to get another year out of them and a few more seem to be game for a third. Keep up the great work!"
Ben Vanheems on Friday 1 May 2020
"Thanks for the advice. We got a nice shishido pepper plan this year and would love to winterize it."
Lance Baker on Monday 31 August 2020
"You've very welcome Lance. Good luck with overwintering your pepper plant."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 1 September 2020
"Great article! For some reason I've never thought of overwintering pepper plants, and I'm going to try it this year under grow lights. I've never had much luck with those I've raised from seed, as they take so long to produce and never get any real size on them before our Minnesota cold kills them off. Overwintering should be just the thing. Thank you!"
Diana Lawrence on Sunday 27 September 2020
"So pleased to hear the article has been of use Diana. Good luck with overwintering your peppers, and here's to a bumper crop next year!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 28 September 2020
"i forget how old my pepper plant is been bringing it in for yrs in winter an cutting it back looks like a small tree now and grows so many peppers only one i want or need so i guessing it can be done an it flowers an grows peppers in winter but slowly an i live in canada"
p.s. leyland on Friday 27 November 2020
"Wow. Keeping your plant alive for several years is genuinely impressive! "
Ben Vanheems on Monday 30 November 2020
"Hi there Ben, I'm just wondering why they need a lot of light if their leaves often drop off anyway? My cottage is very small and small windows, so I haven't got any space for the plants on the windowsills. Is it more about warmth, would you say? Do you think they would be ok in a downstairs bathroom (bizarrely, the biggest room in the cottage! but gets a bit steamy... would they object?). I bought 6 very productive, but not cheap, grafted sweet pepper plants this summer, which are currently looking very healthy in large terracotta pots in the greenhouse. I'm just wondering if a mini heater in there to keep above freezing, and bubble wrap the pots, would be a feasible option? I'm Somerset, so warmer than some areas."
Judy B on Saturday 2 October 2021
"Once most of the leaves have dropped light isn't so important. They really like it a bit warmer than just above freezing - say 10-15 Celsius, such as you might get in an unheated room. Some suggest overwintering peppers in a garage with a window - just a little light is fine once they're dormant. I worry that a downstairs bathroom might be a bit warm and also that the humidity might encourage pests - but then if it's well ventilated possibly not. You could try overwintering them in the greenhouse as you suggest, but the whipsawing of temperatures - cold nights even with heat, then warm days if it's sunny - could be disruptive. I've never tried overwintering them like this, but it could be worth a try. Perhaps you could box off a separate area in the greenhouse for them to make the most of the mini heater and, if it's super-cold and there's a risk of frost inside the greenhouse, you could always bring them in temporarily. "
Ben Vanheems on Monday 4 October 2021
" Winter mins are around 6c usually, here at 730m in S Spain (Aracena), but the average is 15c+. Is it worth the risk to leave them in the ground?"
David on Friday 8 October 2021
"Thank you both for your replies... I will experiment!"
Judy B on Friday 8 October 2021
"Hi David. Peppers are perennials and will drop their leaves as light levels decrease and it gets cooler. But assuming you can keep plants comfortably above freezing over the winter, they may well overwinter where they are for you. So I would say it's certainly worth a try. However, do watch the weather forecasts carefully and be on hand to cover plants with extra fleece or similar to keep them safe if there is any risk of frost whatsoever."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 11 October 2021
"What kind of peppers are those in the first picture in this article? I bought some from Home Depot a long time ago and it was mislabeled as Carmen peppers. I was very happy with the mistake, because those became one of my favorite peppers, but I wish I knew what they were called."
Bruce on Tuesday 19 October 2021
"From memory Bruce, I think they were a Cayenne chili pepper."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 20 October 2021
"Lot of work and hassle when you consider new pepper plants are about 3 bucks in the spring. "
Paul Rowe on Monday 13 December 2021

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