Do you have a hard time saying goodbye to the pepper plants you tirelessly grew all summer when the frost hits? Overwintering your plants keeps them alive throughout the colder months so you can continue their growth the next year. But what exactly is overwintering, and how do you overwinter pepper plants?
Overwintering is the process of helping plants survive the cold by entering dormancy. To do this, pepper plants must be taken indoors; cleaned up; kept in a cool, dry location; infrequently watered; pruned back as the leaves die; and moved into a warmer, brighter space a month before the last frost.
If you’re looking to try your hand at overwintering pepper plants, this article is for you. Keep reading to find out more about what overwintering means, the benefits of doing it, and answers to all the questions you have about how to overwinter peppers.
What Does it Mean to Overwinter Plants?
Overwintering plants means preserving them over the winter by keeping them warm and sheltered to stay alive until the next growing season.
Perennials naturally overwinter themselves by entering a dormant period over the colder seasons, while annuals, on the other hand, only live for one year. When it’s successful, the process of overwintering has the ability to turn some annuals into perennials. It just takes a little love and maintenance from you.
Since pepper plants can’t withstand the cold winter weather, they need help to survive. This involves bringing the plants indoors where they can stay at a relatively warm temperature. Unlike lots of other house plants, overwintered plants usually don’t require a lot of sunlight. Instead, garages or basements are actually great places to store them.
Don’t expect your overwintered plant to flourish throughout its time inside—it won’t. The purpose of overwintering is to merely keep your plant alive. It won’t be producing any fruits during this time. In fact, you can even expect it’s leaves to die and fall off. This is normal, so if you see it happen, don’t worry, it’s not because you’re not a bad plant parent.
Three Benefits of Overwintering
You may not be used to exercising your green thumb throughout the colder months, but overwintering has a fair share of benefits to reap. Some of these advantages include:
1. Overwintering Saves You Money
Maintaining the same plants year after year helps you save money. Normally, annuals only last for one growing season before dying off, and some perennials might also die off if not kept in the right environment. To continue growing these same plants, the only option aside from overwintering is to plant more seeds every year. You’ll definitely be able to save a few dollars each spring when you can avoid purchasing more seeds or transplants by continuing to grow the plants you’ve already established.
2. Overwintering Gives You a Boost for the New Growing Season
When you continue growing an overwintered plant, you’re not starting from seed like some other plants in your garden. Since it’s already been established, your plant can begin to produce fruit sooner than one that was newly added.
This means that overwintering can speed up and elongate the harvesting season. With a more drawn-out picking period, you’ll likely find that your plants also produce more fruit. What’s not to love about that?
3. Overwintering Let’s You Grow Your Favorite Variety of Plants Again and Again
Have you ever bought a specific fruit, vegetable, or flower plant that you just loved but were never able to find that same variety again? Or maybe you forgot the name of the species and just can’t find the right one again? Well, overwintering makes that problem obsolete. Simply continue growing your favorite variety year after year.
Don’t despair if your overwintered plant doesn’t survive the indoor season, though. Even when you follow all the steps perfectly, sometimes your plants simply can’t handle the transplant shock from being moved indoors and out.
When Should You Overwinter Pepper Plants?
Pepper plants are actually perennials but are commonly treated as annuals because they require very warm climates to survive the winter.
So, while they truly are tropical perennials, they usually don’t act like them. If you do grow peppers in a tropical location, though, where overnight temperatures never come close to freezing, you may not have to overwinter them at all. If you live in the U.S., you will most likely need to overwinter your pepper plants, unless you live in USDA hardiness zones 9 or 10.
Once temperatures dip down to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12.8 degrees Celsius), your pepper plant can face serious damage: leaves may wither, growth may be stunted, and fruit may cease to grow. It is best to bring the pepper plants inside for overwintering once overnight lows drop down to these temperatures.
Any temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12.8 degrees Celsius) will stress the pepper plant even further. Whatever you do, make sure the peppers are inside before overnight lows drop to 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degree Celsius). If they are touched by freezing temperatures, they will die, which is why it is very important to bring your peppers inside before the first frost of the winter season hits.
Can You Overwinter Any Type of Pepper Plant?
In theory, you can overwinter any type of pepper plant, but that doesn’t mean you will always be successful. Some experts claim that hotter peppers withstand the winter better than sweeter varieties. If you’re willing to put in the effort, why not give all your peppers a chance? The worst-case scenario is that they don’t make it to the next growing season, which is exactly what would happen if left outdoors, so there really isn’t any harm in trying!
Six Steps to Overwintering Pepper Plants
Now that you know what overwintering is all about, you’re just about ready to do it yourself. Remember that even following the instructions to a T doesn’t always guarantee that your plants will make it to the new planting season. Unfortunately, some plants just don’t make it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying!
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to overwinter your pepper plants:
- Begin the overwintering process once overnight temperatures start approaching 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12.8 degrees Celsius). You’ll achieve the best results if your peppers are already potted. If they are planted in your garden, dig up as much of the root as possible and transplant them into large pots. Fill the new container with a potting mix—we recommend the pH balanced Fox Farm FX14054 Happy Frog Potting Soil which is full of beneficial microbes and fungi.
- Pick off any lingering fruit and spray the entire plant with water. Thoroughly check all leaves and stems for any pests still clinging on. If you find any stubborn unwanted guests remaining, apply a neem oil solution using a product like Neem Organics Pure Neem Oil Spray for Plants.
- Find a cool, dry spot for your peppers to spend the winter, like a basement or garage. The plants don’t need much light or warmth—55 degrees Fahrenheit (12.8 degrees Celsius) will work well. Remember, overwintering keeps plants alive but dormant, so they don’t need grow lights or heating pads as they won’t be producing fruits.
- Water plants every couple of weeks, letting the soil nearly dry before watering again. Decide if the peppers need watering by touching the soil to see if it’s damp. If it is, you can wait longer. This is a more reliable test than watering the plants on a fixed schedule.
- Prune the pepper plant leaves as they start to die. As the plant enters dormancy, the leaves will start to shrivel up and die, but don’t worry, this is normal. Prune the plant by cutting down to a few “Y” shaped branches. The plant will regenerate in the new growing season.
- Check when your area’s last frost date is and introduce your plants back into a warmer, brighter space about a month before this. Soon, and with luck, the plant will begin to grow again, and your winter care will be complete.
Overwintering helps to preserve plants throughout the colder months, which saves gardeners money, encourages a longer harvesting season, and allows you to grow your favorite varieties every year.
To overwinter a pepper plant, make sure to dig up the plants take them indoors before temperatures hit freezing; clean them off to get rid of pests and remaining fruit; store them in a dry, cool environment; Water them occasionally as needed; prune out the dead leaves; and then reintroduced them to a warmer, brighter location a month before the last frost date. While these steps won’t always guarantee your pepper plant will survive into the next season, they could save you the time of starting from seeds every spring!
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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