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Overwintering Peppers: A Step-by-Step Guide
If you want to keep your peppers for years to come, it’s worth learning how to overwinter them! This post covers all you need to know about why you should start overwintering peppers, along with a step-by-step guide with tips on how to overwinter them successfully.
Why Overwinter Peppers?
You can overwinter peppers year after year to keep your plants going strong. It prevents the usual cost and time needed to start peppers from seed or find them in greenhouses. Your overwintered peppers will be able to start producing well ahead of schedule compared to their freshly planted counterparts.
Additionally, by preserving your original plants, you’ll be able to keep getting fruits from a favorite plant or a particularly good producer. Some plants may have characteristics you like, such as a certain heat level.
The main con of overwintering peppers is the fact that they may not overwinter successfully. Despite our best efforts, some will not make it through the stress of being replanted and kept indoors. However, you will be more likely to have success when you follow these steps.
Pepper Production During Winter
When you overwinter pepper plants, they typically won’t provide fresh peppers throughout the cold months. The process preserves the plants, but they’ll go dormant. They’ll begin producing again when planted outdoors in spring.
In a few rare cases, if you do have a very warm house with lots of sun or a strong grow light, you may be able to harvest peppers for a while longer by following the usual tips for growing peppers in containers.
That said, if you really want fresh peppers throughout the year, you’ll be better off starting fresh seeds.
How to Overwinter Peppers
Peppers are tropical plants, which means they’re not too fond of frosty temps! While those in warmer climates can simply cover the peppers when it gets chilly, all of us in the northeast need to be overwintering peppers indoors to protect them from the harsh conditions. Here’s how:
Step 1: Pick the Right Peppers
While you can overwinter any peppers, some plants will do better than others. The best peppers to overwinter include any that have produced well and were hardy throughout the year. You can overwinter any variety, including bell peppers, as well as hot peppers like habaneros, ghost peppers, and jalapenos.
Skip trying to overwinter smaller, weaker plants that have had fewer fruits. Even strong plants don’t always make it through their dormancy period, and weaker ones won’t be worth the effort.
Step 2: Prepare Peppers for Overwintering
Start the process of overwintering your peppers when nighttime temperatures regularly reach 45-50 degrees.
Before overwintering, carefully check your peppers for signs of pests or disease. If you find any pests, treat the plants with a neem oil spray.
Pick any peppers still on the plant and prune your plants down to only their most essential parts. Here’s a helpful tutorial on pruning different pepper varieties back to their most basic V/Y shape:
Transplant in-ground or previously potted peppers into clean 2-gallon pots with fresh potting soil, keeping only one plant per pot. For in-ground peppers, use a shovel to gently dig up the full root ball of the pepper.
For the best defense against disease and pests, gently loosen the dirt around the roots and rinse them completely with clean water. You can spray or bathe the plant and roots with a neem oil solution again for extra pest protection.
You may want to prune the roots back if the root ball is larger than the pot you’ve prepared for it. Once cleaned and trimmed, repot the pepper in fresh soil.
Step 3: Bring Peppers Indoors
Keep your pepper plants in a cool area (around 55 degrees) near a window, lamp, or grow light. It doesn’t need direct sun, just about 2-3 hours of light. Common spots where this could work are a well-lit basement, garage, or unheated room in your house.
If additional leaves grow on the peppers, you may wish to prune them off to prevent bugs.
Step 4: Watering Peppers
Regularly water your peppers, but water them less than usual. Overwatering can rot the plant. Slight underwatering will stress them, but it is easier to reverse.
You will probably only need to water once every 2-4 weeks. If the soil is still damp, wait longer. Set a schedule for yourself and mark dates in a calendar if you have trouble remembering when you last watered them.
Don’t fertilize your peppers during their dormant period.
Step 5: Keeping Pests at Bay
Despite careful measures, you may still find pests on your peppers during winter. Some of the most common pests include aphids, spider mites, and fungus gnats. Check for pests regularly, and move any plant with pests far away from your other overwintered peppers. For treatment, spray with neem oil.
Step 6: Bringing Peppers Out of Dormancy
About a month before the last frost date (when you would normally transplant your peppers outside), move the pepper plants to a sunny, warm location and resume watering more frequently. If the pepper starts to regrow leaves, you’ll know it survived the winter!
To prepare for transplanting, harden it off with a gradual increase in outdoor time each day. Finally, replant the pepper in a larger container or transplant in the garden when it’s over 55 at night and past the last frost date.
Start Overwintering Your Peppers!
Overwintering peppers is a fantastic way to extend your favorite pepper plant’s life and enjoy fresh peppers early in spring. With a little extra care, you can successfully overwinter peppers and enjoy the (literal) fruits of your labor for years to come.