By Heather Rhoades
Many gardeners regard pepper plants as being annuals, but, with a little pepper winter care indoors, you can keep your pepper plants for the winter. Overwintering pepper plants can be a little tricky, but if you own a specialty pepper, especially chili peppers, keeping peppers over the winter is a great way to get a jump start on the season next year and increase the length of the production period of your pepper plant. Keep reading to learn how to keep peppers over winter.
How to Winter Peppers Indoors
A note… if you plan on overwintering pepper plants, realize that doing this will keep the plant alive, but it will not produce fruit. In order to produce fruit, peppers need a certain temperature and amount of light that the average house in the winter cannot provide. If you want to grow peppers for fruit in the winter, you will need to do so in a greenhouse with supplemental light.
The first step for how to keep peppers over winter is to bring them indoors. When you do so, thoroughly spray the plant down. This will help to knock off any pests that may be hiding on the leaves. Remove all pepper fruit, mature or immature from the plant.
The next step for how to winter peppers indoors is to find a cool, dry location to store the pepper plant. Somewhere that stays around 55 F. (13 C.). An attached garage or a basement is ideal. For pepper winter care, the pepper plant will not need much light, so near a window or near a lamp with a fluorescent bulb will be enough light in these locations.
Once you have placed the pepper plant in this location, cut back the watering. When you are keeping peppers over the winter, you will find that they need far less water than in the summer. You will only need to water the plant once every 3-4 weeks while overwintering pepper plants. Do not let the soil stay soaked, but also do not let it dry out completely.
Shortly after you place the pepper in a cool location and cut back watering, you will notice the leaves starting to die back. DON’T PANIC. This is normal. The pepper plant is entering dormancy. It is almost the same thing as what happens to trees outdoors.
Once the leaves start to die, you can prune back the pepper plant. Prune back the branches of the pepper plant to a few main “Y”s on the plant, leaving about 1-2 inches for the upper part of the “Y”. This step in overwintering pepper plants will remove the dying leaves and make the plant less susceptible to pests. The pepper plant will grow new branches in the spring.
To finish your pepper winter care, about a month before your last frost date, bring your pepper plant out of the cool location and move it to a brighter, warmer location. You may even want to use a heating pad under the pot to add additional heat. Resume watering, but make sure not to overwater the pepper plant. In a week or so, you should see some new growth appear.
That being said, even if you correctly follow all of the steps for how to keep peppers over winter, you may find that your pepper plant does not survive. When overwintering pepper plants, some varieties will perform better than others. But, when keeping peppers over the winter works, you will be guaranteed a bumper crop of your favorite peppers.