Typically treated as annuals, peppers are planted outdoors in pots or in the garden a few weeks after the last frost and thrive in warm to hot temperatures until the fall harvest. Did you know that you can get a jump on next season’s pepper harvest by overwintering your hot peppers indoors?
If peppers are known to be heat lovers, how does overwintering pepper plants work? 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. Keep reading for tips and instructions to follow for overwintering your favorite pepper plants!
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What Temperature Is Too Cold For Pepper Plants?
Peppers are sensitive and easily temperature stressed. Outdoor nightly temperatures that drop below 55 degrees Fahrenheit can stunt growth and fruit production and may cause leaves to wither. At 32 degrees, pepper plants will die. Unless you live in an area that literally never reaches freezing temperatures, you need to shield your peppers from the cold.
Many people 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 which has been very vigorous and you just want to keep it going? Overwintering peppers allows you to coax another year of life out of them despite the cool weather.
As an attempted perennial, pepper plants need a few things from you. They need a certain amount of warmth, although not enough to keep the plant producing. They need a period of dormancy so they can rest and rejuvenate for the upcoming year of flowering and fruiting. And they need just enough light to keep them going.
Sometimes, despite our efforts, a pepper just won’t come back. Remember, these plants are most commonly raised as annuals, and they can be a bit tricky to keep alive in the colder months. If you have a lot of plants, you should expect that some of them may not make it.
But on the bright side, those which 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.
So let’s go over some tips for keeping those plants going throughout the cold season!
Overwintering Pepper Plants Indoors
First, remove any remaining fruit and examine the leaves and stems for pests. Spraying the plants with water will help remove lingering pests. If you notice unwanted pests sampling your plant, treat it with neem oil a few days before moving it. Then 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 55 degrees Fahrenheit and has some light exposure either from a window or a grow light. It doesn’t need to be a lot, just enough to convince the plant it’s still getting sun. Reduce watering the peppers to once every couple weeks. If the soil’s still moist from the last watering, you can wait longer. You may even go 3-4 weeks between waterings if the soil is still damp!
With less water and the 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. Don’t worry, 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!
Overwintering Pepper Plants Outdoors
It is possible to overwinter your plants outdoors in the garden as well, at least if you live in zones 9 or 10. You’ll just have to protect them and keep them warm.
Once nighttime temperatures start to dip below 50, you’ll start to see signs of cold stress. If your peppers are container grown and you have a greenhouse, you should move them into the greenhouse. But plants grown in the soil will either need to be potted and moved, or protected in place.
A cold frame may be the answer. In essence, this is a portable greenhouse that allows in light but shields your plant from the 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.
Your peppers may look a bit sad. But it can continue to survive and keep growing as long as the temperature remains above 50 degrees in the cold frame. You likely will not get winter produce at those temperatures. Peppers won’t produce unless they’re warm! But you can allow them 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 it during the winter, and wet conditions can cause root rot to develop.
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. And hopefully, you’ll follow our tips and enjoy your pepper plants for a second season!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can a pepper plant survive the winter?
A: Yes, but they must be protected if you live in an area that experiences frost or freezing conditions. Overwintering peppers indoors is a great way to start your next growing season with healthy, mature plants.
Q: How long can a pepper plant live indoors?
A: If kept in a warm, sunny place, and consistently cared for, pepper plants can live indoors for years. But unless they are moved to a warm greenhouse and placed under grow lights, pepper plants will not fruit indoors. Peppers need higher temperatures and plenty of light in order to produce fruit. There are visually stunning ornamental pepper varieties that grow very well inside as long as you have a window or other spot that receives at least eight hours of sunlight.
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! I can report that it absolutely does work. While there’s still a bit of a risk, and you might lose a plant or two, the reward is worth the effort.
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