If you enjoy chili growing, taking extra care of your plants after they've fruited can be very rewarding. Overwintering your chili plants is a great way to ensure a great harvest in the future.
Overwintering your chilies involves providing additional care and attention to your plants. Doing this may result in earlier and more abundant yields than planting seeds in the spring.
However, overwintering chili plants can be a bit daunting, especially if you're new to gardening. That's why we've put together this guide to help you understand the process and provide practical tips on how to overwinter your chili plants successfully.
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In this article, we'll take a closer look at the temperature tolerance of different chili plant varieties, the ideal locations for overwintering, and the steps to take for successful overwintering.
We'll also cover the essential steps to follow when preparing your pepper plants for winter, including how to properly water and prune them and transition them back to a warmer environment in the spring.
It's essential to understand that not all chili plants can handle colder temperatures, and choosing a suitable variety for overwintering is vital. For instance, Rocoto chilies are much more tolerant of colder temperatures than other varieties, making them ideal for overwintering in cooler climates. In contrast, chili species such as Capsicum Chinese are very susceptible to cold.
Whether you're an experienced gardener or just starting, this guide will provide the knowledge and tips you need to successfully overwinter your chili plants. So let's get started and ensure that you have a thriving and healthy garden come springtime!
Table of Contents
Understanding Chilli Plants' Temperature Tolerance
Although chilies prefer warmer climates, they can survive through winters with extra care. Several factors come into play when considering how to overwinter chili plants successfully. Chilies (Capsicum) are native to South and Central America and used to plenty of sun and warmth.
However, they must adapt to lower temperatures in areas with colder and frosty winters. Because the plant is not accustomed to cold temperatures, it's essential to know when it gets too cold for the chili and how to protect it from frost.
When the growing season ends, chili plants prepare for winter by slowing their growth to almost nil, drastically reducing their sunlight and water intake requirements. At this point, the plant's primary job of producing chili seed pods is done, and it starts to shut down for the winter.
Chilli plants experience slowed growth rates if temperatures fall below 14°C at night and will lose leaves and appear unhealthy if temperatures remain below 10°C. The Capsicum Chinense chili is especially vulnerable to the cold. This chili variety cannot survive temperatures below 13°C.
However, Rocoto chilies, which belong to the species Capsicum Pubescens, are more tolerant of colder temperatures than other varieties. They can survive night temperatures as low as 8 °C, making them ideal for overwintering in cooler climates where other chili varieties may not survive the winter months.
Choosing a suitable variety for overwintering is essential to ensure the plant's survival during the colder months. Here is an overview of the cold tolerance of the most popular chili plant varieties:
- Capsicum Annuum: This is the most widely cultivated species and includes sweet bell peppers, Cayenne, and Jalapeño peppers. They have a moderate heat level and can survive moderately cold temperatures.
- Capsicum Chinense: These are the hottest chili peppers, with heat levels ranging from 100,000 to over 1,000,000 Scoville heat units (SHUs). This variety includes Habaneros, Bhut Jolokia, and Trinidad Scorpion. They are highly sensitive to cold and cannot tolerate temperatures below 13 °C.
- Capsicum Baccatum: This variety is native to South America and produces small, yellow, and orange peppers with a fruity taste. The Lemon Drop chilies are the most known of this variety. They have a moderate heat level and can handle cooler temperatures than other species.
- Capsicum Frutescens: This variety includes the popular Tabasco pepper and the Piri Piri. These peppers have a moderate to high heat level. They can handle cooler temperatures and are suitable for overwintering.
- Capsicum Pubescens: This is a rare species of chili pepper native to South America, which can tolerate very cold temperatures. The Rocoto chili belongs to this group. These peppers can handle temperatures down to 8°C.
Overwintering Chilli Plants Indoors
It is not recommended to expose the plants to frost or leave them in a greenhouse or polytunnel without heating. A chili plant should be overwintered indoors since an environment comfortable for humans is generally suitable for the plants too.
If your peppers are planted in the garden, you will need to dig them up. Once they have been dug up, you need to transfer them into containers before bringing them indoors. This is to ensure that they don't freeze during the winter months. Once inside, please place them in a sunny spot with plenty of light and warmth.
While overwintering peppers will keep them alive, they won't produce fruit since they need higher temperatures and more light than most US and European homes can provide during wintertime. Make sure to water your peppers regularly but not too much, as letting the soil dry out between waterings is best for keeping your pepper plants healthy over winter.
Steps for Successful Overwintering
You should bring your plants indoors before the first frost. Inspect the plants to see if any pests may hide on the leaves or roots. It may help to spray the entire plant with water, including the roots, to remove any such problems.
In addition, you need to remove all flower buds and pepper fruits, mature or immature, from the plant.
Keep as many roots as possible when transplanting a hot pepper plant to a container. Keeping as many roots as possible helps your plants soak up nutrients and moisture from the soil.
Once the pepper plants are located indoors, they will receive much less light than they are used to. This will force the plants into dormancy. Once the plants are dormant, they are not actively growing.
Cutting back on watering is an essential step in overwintering pepper plants. When the temperatures drop, peppers need far less water than during the summer months. It is best to only water the plant once every three to four weeks, ensuring not to let the soil become too wet or dries out completely.
After placing the pepper plant indoors and cutting back on watering, you will notice that some leaves start to die back. This is normal and should not cause alarm as it is part of the natural process of overwintering pepper plants.
Pruning your pepper plants is essential in keeping them healthy and productive. Pruning helps remove dead or injured branches and reduces the plant's susceptibility to pests.
To prune the pepper plant, use pruning shears to trim back the branches to a few main Y's on the plant, leaving about 2.5 - 5 cm for the upper part of the Y. This will help to ensure that only healthy parts of the plant remain and that new growth can occur in the spring.
In addition to pruning, it is also essential to regularly inspect your pepper plants for signs of disease or pest infestation. If you notice any discoloration or wilting of leaves, take action and prune away any affected areas.
When spring is approaching, you can move your pepper plant to a brighter, warmer spot. A reference date would be about a month before the last frost date. You can use a heating pad under the pot to add heat and an LED light to give the plant more light.
You may now also give the plant some fresh compost and start to resume watering. As always, it is essential not to over-water the pepper plant. In a week or so, you should see some new growth appear.
In summary, overwintering your chili plants can be an excellent way to ensure healthy plants and a successful harvest next season. When overwintering chili plants, it's essential to consider the temperature tolerance of different varieties and ensure that they are not exposed to frost. It is necessary for outdoor plants to dig them up and transfer them into containers before bringing them indoors.
You can keep pepper plants healthy and productive throughout winter by cutting back on watering and pruning them. With proper care and attention, your pepper plants can make it through winter unscathed and ready to produce a bountiful harvest next season!