Because peppers are warm-season crops, they’re not usually grown in cold climates. However, most pepper varieties are perennial, meaning that they can pull through cold winters to bloom back after the last frost, just as long as you take good care of them.
Some tips for growing peppers in cold climates include picking a quick-growing variety that you can harvest well before the first frost. You should ideally start your seeds 6–8 weeks before the last frost ends. When the time comes for transplantation, pick an area with plenty of sunlight.
Those were the most important tips, but we’ve got more to share in this post, so stick around until the end!
Stick to Quick Growing Pepper Varieties
The most important factor you need to consider before you grow peppers in a cold area is the ‘days to maturity.’ It’s best to pick a variety that ripens in a relatively short time so that you can harvest them well before the first fall frost.
We’ve put together a list of the most cold-tolerant peppers to get you started. Keep in mind that the stated maturity dates are just estimates. The actual peppers you’ll get may need a longer time to ripen.
- Sweet Chocolate Bell Pepper: Since it needs about 57 days to ripen, this pepper variety should be your best bet in a cold climate. The mature peppers have chocolate-brown skin, deep red flesh, and a deliciously sweet taste.
- Early Jalapeño Pepper: Not many Jalapeños can grow well in cold climates, but this one is hardy. It starts with green skin, and it needs about 65 days to turn red and develop a sweet, bold taste.
- Shishito Sweet Pepper: This pepper is one of the most famous varieties in East Asia. You can harvest it after about 60 days, but you’ll have to wait 80 days if you’re after the red skin. Pro Tip: It actually tastes better while still green!
- Yankee Bell Pepper: Like the Shishitos, the Yankee Bell peppers can be harvested after 60 days, but they need 80 days to turn red.
Start Seeds Early
Regardless of the variety, almost all peppers may not germinate properly below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius). The ideal range is between 65–75 degrees Fahrenheit (18–24 degrees Celsius).
Depending on where you live, the outdoor temperature may remain unfavorable for peppers up until midsummer. This isn’t ideal because your pepper plants won’t have enough frost-free days to grow afterward.
So, you’ll either purchase pepper transplants from a nursery or start the seeds indoors.
If you decide to grow the seeds yourself, start six to eight weeks before the last frost. This way, the seeds will have enough time to sprout and grow into healthy transplants, giving you plenty of time to account for the possibility of an early first frost.
If you’re not sure about the frost dates in your state, you can quickly look them up on online databases, such as Dave’s Garden or The Old Farmer’s Almanac. All you have to do is type in your zip code, and the system will show you the average frost dates.
Toughen Up the Seedlings with Cold Treatment
Cold treatment entails exposing your seedlings to somewhat cooler conditions to improve their cold tolerance in the long run.
For peppers, you can begin the cold treatment after the third true leaf grows. Move your seedlings to a brightly lit area with a temperature around 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) for a total of four weeks. Afterward, return them indoors until they get ready for outdoor transplantation.
Cold treatment improves cold tolerance by slowing down the growth and encouraging them to strengthen their cell walls and stock up on carbohydrates. Such changes will pay off in terms of fruit size and flavor.
Wait Two Weeks Before Transplanting Peppers
Pepper varieties differ in the minimum temperature they can tolerate. For example, the Yankee Bell peppers usually grow best in temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21.1 degrees Celsius), while Shishito peppers can survive at 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius). You’ll need to familiarize yourself with the ideal temperature range for the variety you pick.
When the last frost date approaches, you should keep tabs on the weather forecast. Most people may transplant their peppers right after the frost date, but it’s not recommended because the nighttime temperature may still drop below your pepper’s ideal range around that period.
And, of course, cold weather can be detrimental for your peppers, possibly limiting their growth for the whole season.
So, it’s better to err on the side of caution and wait for two weeks after the last frost, just to be safe.
Pick the Sunniest Area for Planting
Even if you picked a pepper variety with excellent cold tolerance, it will likely still need plenty of sunlight and warmth to grow efficiently. Try to pick an area that gets six to eight hours of sunlight per day.
You can also grow your peppers in containers, and that option might be your best bet if the weather is usually dicey where you live. Whenever the nighttime temperature drops below the safe limits, you can always bring your potted peppers indoors to protect them.
Pinch off the First Flowers
When your peppers bloom for the first time, you’ll have two options:
- Let the flowers grow and harvest a few small peppers a little earlier than the expected days to maturity.
- Pinch off those flowers to encourage your plants to channel all their energy into developing stronger roots, stems, and branches. Indeed, that will put off fruit production for a while, but you’re guaranteed to get bigger, more flavorful peppers at the end.
At first glance, the second option may seem like the most reasonable one. However, it may not work out well for you if you don’t have enough frost-free days to make up for the delayed harvesting. It’ll be quite risky if you’re living in truly cooler climates.
Don’t Overwater Your Peppers
It can’t be emphasized enough how much and how often you should water your pepper plants. The watering frequency and amount will come down to your location, the average mid-day temperature, how much sunlight the plants are getting, whether they’re planted in pots or beds.
But it’s safe to say that, in a cold climate, you should water peppers only once per week. You can then work your way from there by checking the soil every day. If you find the soil dry an inch or two down, water your plants again. If moist, let it drain and don’t water for now.
What happens if you overwater peppers? The plants will likely droop and turn yellow, and that will certainly impact the produce.
Besides, as you water your peppers less frequently, they’ll gain a hotter flavor.
Protect Your Pepper Plant from Frost
If your peppers won’t ripen completely within the set calendar, that means you’ll have to get them ready to face the first frost. This could be relatively easy with potted plants since you can always bring them inside.
On the other hand, if you’ve planted your peppers in an outdoor garden, you can protect them by creating a tiny greenhouse with bubble wrap.
To do that, hammer four to six garden stakes along your bed’s edges (you might need more if you have a larger grow area). Then, wrap the bubble wrap around the stakes and over the top to seal it.
Bubble wrap works well because the air trapped in the bubbles provides efficient heat insulation.
Before buying the pepper seeds, check the hardiness zone recommended by the seller. That’s the easiest way to determine whether the pepper variety at hand would survive the cold climate or not.
If you’re not sure about your hardiness zone, look it up on the USDA website. Just type in your zip code, and the system will show you the result right away.
Here are Some of my Favorite Gardening Products and Tools
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful for growing some new plants in your home or garden. Here are some products I like that I hope you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, and I am compensated for referring traffic. But in all honesty, these are the exact product that I use or recommend to everyone.
Soil: For high-quality soil, I really like Fox Farm Ocean Forest. I do all my growing in containers and this soil has worked great for me. I like how they use nutrient-rich contents like earthworm castings, bat guano, and composted crab and fish.
Fertilizer: Currently I am using a seaweed-based organic fertilizer call Neptunes Harvest. This is a great milder fertilizer option if you want to use something organic. If you want a more powerful fertilizer, I recommend Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio, lots of people have had great growing success with this product.
Pruning Shears: Pruning shears are one of the most useful gardening tools to have because it’s important to prune your plants to keep them healthy. The pruning shears I recommend are the Gonicc 8’’ pruning shears. I like them because they are built sturdy and work both on bigger and smaller plants, so you don’t need to have multiple pruning shears.
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