Your pepper plants don’t have to die young! We’ll show you how to overwinter your peppers indoors so they can go on to live long and happy lives!
Winter is coming!! As we get deeper into Fall, the weather man has started saying the word that every gardener dreads. Frost!! While some plants can tolerate a little frost, for some of the most popular summer crops it means instant death. Peppers love heat and are particularly susceptible to cold temps.
Peppers Plants Don’t Have to Die Young
Many people don’t realize it, but pepper plants are actually perennials. In their native habitats pepper plants can live for many years. In places that actually have seasons though, they are annuals and are killed off by cold frosty conditions each year. Overwintering is a great way to keep your pepper plants safe until warmer Spring temperatures return.
If you have some pepper plants you would like to save from inevitable destruction, it’s really easy to overwinter them indoors. You can even have your pepper plants continue producing pods all Winter with the right conditions.
Benefits of Overwintering Peppers Indoors
Here are some of the many advantages to overwintering your peppers.
- Grow the same rare or favorite plant for many years.
- Grow more peppers that take a long time to mature such as most of the super hot varieties.
- Get an early start on growing when Spring rolls around. Bigger Plants=Faster Yields
- Pepper plants are just a lot more interesting than most house plants.
- Harvest peppers throughout Fall and Winter
- Overwintering is perfect for places with short growing seasons. Get more peppers in less time with already established plants.
- Pepper plants usually produce many more pods their second year when compared to their rookie season.
When thinking of overwintering pepper plants, there are basically two ways you can go. Both ways will keep your plants safe through the cold months, but they vary slightly in their purpose. Keep reading to see which way will work best for your plants.
Pot up the plants
First things, first. If you already have your pepper plants in pots, Great, skip to the next step. If your peppers are in a raised bed or other type of garden you’ll have to dig them up and put it in a pot.
Using a shovel, dig all the way around the plant and as far away from the stem as possible. The idea is to disturb as few roots as possible and not expose them to light. The more roots you disturb, the greater the transplant shock to the plant will be. It’s inevitable that some of the root system will be disturbed and that’s fine, but less disturbance means faster plant recovery when potted up.
Choose a pot that is big enough for the pepper plant, and bigger is usually better. I like the big plastic pots or even 5 gallon buckets. Terra cotta pots tend to dry out way too quickly. If the root ball and dirt are too big to fit in your pot, just try knocking off some of the dirt around the sides until it fits. Again, less disturbance is always better for the root system. Fill in any extra space in the pot with a potting mix that drains well.
Spray down your plants
You’ll need to ensure there are no pests that hitch a ride indoors on your pepper plant. Spray the leaves and stems with sharp streams of water from a garden hose. Check all over for pests such as aphids and beetles. Pay close attention to underneath the leaves where they like to hide.
If needed, move the plant to a different spot, and repeat the spraying process until you see no more pests. Moving the plant around will keep the same pests from climbing back on the plant after you’ve sprayed them off.
Sprinkle some cinnamon or cayenne powder all over the surface of the soil. Although many of us humans enjoy these two ingredients, many pests will steer clear which keep them away from your plants.
Next bring the plants onto your porch or deck, weather permitting, and let them sit for a couple days. Check one last time for any pests. If you find any, you can rinse the plants again outside or bring them indoors and spray them down in a tub or shower. After you’ve cleared all pests, it’s time to bring your plants indoors.
Overwintering Peppers Indoors-Method 1-Send Your Pepper Plants Into Dormancy
First you should keep in mind that this first overwintering method is a bit finicky. Some pepper varieties will work better than others, and there is a chance the plant won’t make it through winter alive. Some experimenting with different varieties may be needed to find the ones that work best.
With that in mind, this overwintering method is a great low maintenance way to keep plants alive during the cold months. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time caring for the plants, have lots of plants to bring in, or don’t mind losing a few, this method may be for you.
For your more important or rare pepper plants you may want to scroll down and check out the next overwintering method which has a much higher success rate.
Let Your Plants Take a Long Winter’s Nap
When the days get shorter and the temperature drops, pepper plants are sent into a state of dormancy in areas that have mild enough temperatures through Fall and Winter. This is very much the same as what many trees go though in Fall. The plants will shed some of their leaves and require much less light and water throughout the cooler months. This whole process helps plants to conserve energy and survive the cooler low light conditions of Winter.
You can simulate the conditions to initiate dormancy in the pepper plants by bringing them indoors. Pick all of the ripe and unripe peppers from the plants. Next, find a cool place in your home to set up your plants. A cool 50-55 degrees F works best. A lot of light is not needed since they’ll be dropping all or most of their leaves anyway. Windows that get a little sun, or the light from a lamp should be plenty. Garages or basements are ideal locations for overwintering.
Caring for the Dormant Pepper Plants
As the plants adjust to their new indoor conditions, they will start dropping leaves. This is perfectly normal, as they are no longer getting the usual amount of light and heat. Leaf drop just means the plants are entering their dormant state. Make sure to dispose of any fallen leaves quickly to prevent pests and disease.
Once many of the leaves have dropped off of the plant, it’s time to prune it up. Trim the plant to just a few main stems, leaving a few inches past the “Y” on each one. Don’t worry, new leaves and branches will grow after warmer temps return in the Spring.
The plants will need an occasional watering. Don’t let them dry out , but also don’t overwater and avoid keeping the soil soggy. You’ll find that the pepper plants need much less water in their dormant state. With no leaves, no fruit, and no new growth, only a small amount of water is needed to keep the roots and stems alive.
A good trick for watering is to slightly lift the pots and only water when they feel light. Watering once a week or even every other week should be plenty.
Prepare for the Return of Warm Weather
A few weeks before warm temperatures return, take your pepper plants to a warm, sunny location. Near a South facing window works best. This will reawaken your pepper plants from their dormant sleep and get the new growth started.. Once nightly outdoor temps are back above 55F, it’s safe to take all your plants back out to the garden.
Overwintering Peppers Indoors-Method 2-Give the Plants What They Want
With this method you’ll basically just be giving your pepper plants the same conditions that they require outdoors. Peppers require lots of light and warmth to grow, and indoors you’ll need to provide them with an abundance of those two things.
This overwintering method is a lot more reliable than the previous one. Since you’ll be giving the plants exactly what they crave, it’s easy to keep them alive and well all Winter.
Let There Be Light (Lots of It)
Bring your potted pepper plants indoors and immediately place them under a fluorescent, tube style grow light fixture. Here is one grow light I’ve had a lot of success with. You want to provide as much bright light as possible, and these types of grow lights are designed for high light output.
If you have a window that gets a lot of light throughout the day, you can also put your plants there. If you’re like me, you may not have any or a very limited amount of such windows. This is usually due to blockages of the sun by trees or other houses and the direction the windows are facing. South facing windows will generally receive the most sunlight.
With a four-foot long, one or two tube fixture, you should be able to fit four large sized plants. If needed, lightly prune the outer branches of plants to fit under the light fixtures. Just don’t get too carried away with pruning. Prune a little at a time to avoid sending your plants into shock. Fluorescent lights burn cool so you can and should keep them as close as possible to the tops of the plants for maximum benefit.
Caring For Your Growing Plant
Peppers like it warm so make sure to keep them in a place that stays above 55 degrees F. (65-75F works best) Keep the plants at a safe distance from freezing windows, especially ones that are drafty. Pick off any ripe pods and leave the unripe ones as they’ll continue to mature while indoors.
You won’t need to fertilize, but make sure to keep the plants watered. Check the weight of the pots and when they feel light give them some water. Make sure not to get the soil too soggy. Peppers like to dry out a bit in between waterings.
Doing all of these things will keep your plants alive and well during Fall and Winter. The basic grow lights are good for keeping pepper plants alive, but if you want to keep growing and harvesting pods all winter you’ll need even more lighting power.
Harvest Pods All Winter
Peppers require REALLY bright light and warmth to flower and fruit. To make that happen you can try a few different things such as…
Use high pressure sodium (HPS) lighting. These types of grow lights produce a high intensity light and also provide a lot of heat. Because of that extra heat, make sure to keep them further away from the tops of your plants to avoid burning them.
Combine larger 4 tube fluorescent grow lights with light from a sunny window. Unobstructed south facing windows usually get the most light.
Use LED lighting. LED’s provide large amounts of light and are energy efficient which saves on the power bill. For an even better set-up, use a strong LED grow light inside of a grow tent. The inside of a grow tent is covered with reflective material to intensify light. Because it’s closed up, grow tents also trap heat and humidity inside, which is ideal for growing pepper plants. Many LED grow lights are high in reds on the light spectrum making them great for flowering and fruiting.
Using one of these methods, you should be able to enjoy fresh pods all throughout the cold months.
Overwintering pepper plants requires are bit of experimenting, but is fairly simple to do. Once your plants make it to Spring, you’ll be rewarded with more pods, faster than you ever could get from little small starts. Friends and neighbors will be jealous as you enjoy fresh peppers before their plants even start flowering.