How To Overwinter Pepper Plants

Overwintering pepper plants extends their life and allows you to grow peppers as perennials, keeping them alive season after season. Erin Matas explains how to overwinter peppers indoors and outdoors.

Overwintering peppers

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Typically treated as annuals, peppers are planted outdoors in pots or in the garden a few weeks after the last frost. They thrive in warm to hot temperatures until the fall harvest and are typically removed in winter.

But you can get a jump on next season’s pepper harvest by overwintering your hot peppers indoors, growing them as perennials instead.

With careful management, it’s possible to coax your peppers into dormancy and keep them alive until the warmth returns and they can resume normal growing habits. Follow this guide to find out how.

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What Temperature Is Too Cold For Pepper Plants?

Peppers are sensitive and easily temperature-stressed. Outdoor nightly temperatures below 50F can stunt growth. This will result in lower fruit production and may cause leaves to wither. Below around 30F, the plants begin to die off.

Unless you live in an area that never reaches freezing temperatures, you need to shield your peppers from the cold to grow them for more than one season.

Many gardeners in these cooler environments will start new plants every year and raise them as annuals. This is always an option. But what if you have a hard-to-find pepper plant, or one you just want to keep going?

Overwintering pepper plants allows you to coax another year of life out of them, despite the cool weather.

Growing Peppers as Perennials

As an attempted perennial, pepper plants need a few things from you.

For starters, they need a certain amount of warmth (although not enough to keep the plant producing). They also need a period of dormancy to rest and rejuvenate for the upcoming year of flowering and fruiting. And they need just enough light to keep them alive.

Sometimes, despite our efforts, a pepper won’t come back. Remember, these plants are most commonly grown as annuals, and they can be tricky to keep alive in the colder months. If you have a lot of plants, expect that some of them may not make it.

But on the bright side, those that do make it can get right back to work. They’ll be far ahead of any new seedlings you would normally plant.

While they’ll need to grow new leaves and branches, they’ll flower and fruit earlier. Once they start to produce new growth in the spring, you can feed them and spur their development again.

How To Overwinter Pepper Plants Indoors

First, remove any remaining fruit and examine the leaves and stems for pests. If you notice unwanted pests, treat them with neem oil a few days before moving.

Pot the peppers and bring the plants indoors. Make sure there’s only one plant in each pot.

Find a location in your house, basement, or garage that stays around 55F and has some light exposure (either from a window or a grow light). Bright indirect light with some gentle direct sun is usually enough.

Reduce watering to once every couple of weeks. If the soil is still moist from the last watering, wait until it dries before watering again.

With less water and a cooler environment, the peppers will stop growing and begin to go dormant. The leaves will die, indicating that it’s time to prune the plants. Simply cut the peppers back to a few main Y-shaped branches. New branches will emerge and begin growing again when it’s time to bring the peppers out of dormancy in the spring.

About a month before your area’s last frost date, move the peppers into a warmer area with more natural window light. Water the plants normally and cross your fingers that new growth shows up in about a week.

If it does, congratulate yourself for keeping your peppers alive for another year.

How To Overwinter Pepper Plants Outdoors

It is possible to overwinter pepper plants outdoors in the garden if you live in USDA Zones 9 or 10.

Once nighttime temperatures start to dip below 50F, you’ll start to see signs of cold stress. If your peppers are potted and you have a greenhouse, move them into the greenhouse now. Plants grown in the soil will either need to be potted and moved, or protected in place.

A cold frame is one option. In essence, this is a portable greenhouse that allows light in but shields your plant from chilly temperatures. You can add small heaters or even a string of warm lights to raise the ambient temperature in the frame, depending on your needs.

Allow your pepper plants to go dormant and sleep the winter away. Remember to prune them once they’ve entered dormancy.

Watering should also be reduced. If there’s rain, you may not need to water at all. Ensure your soil drains away excess water easily. The peppers won’t need much during the winter, and wet conditions can cause root rot.

If you’re in an area where the temperature is consistently at or below freezing, cold frames may not work. At that point, it’s safest to remove your plants from the garden and bring them indoors. Keeping your peppers alive until spring is the goal, after all.

Final Thoughts

If you love hot peppers as much as I do, now you know how to extend the life and productivity of your favorite pepper plants. While there’s some risk (and you might lose a plant or two), the potential reward is worth the effort.

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