Peppers are a warm-season crop that thrives in mild springs and hot summers.
In North America, many gardeners grow peppers as annuals that will die off when temperatures drop or days become shorter.
If you’re thinking about growing peppers, it is important to understand their dormancy and how to overwinter them indoors. Additionally, you could try planting varieties resistant to freezing conditions for added protection.
Peppers Are Perennials
Pepper plants are perennials, meaning they will return every year if protected from frost or disease. They can be grown outdoors in tropical regions or indoors as houseplants during the wintertime.
If you want to grow peppers as a permanent part of your garden, opt for varieties with the best hardiness in your area. The University of Minnesota Extension suggests selecting fruit that can withstand both hot and cold temperatures.
Start peppers from seed 8 to 12 weeks before your last spring frost date. You can speed up germination by using bottom heat such as a heating pad or placing the flats atop a refrigerator.
As temperatures begin to dip, move your pepper plants indoors to a warm, bright location that’s not directly exposed to freezing temperatures. Place them on a windowsill or near an energy source like a heater or light source so they have easy access.
Over the winter, water your pepper plant sparingly. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings and never overwater it.
Once temperatures have increased, check on your dormant peppers and provide them with some water as needed. Make sure they don’t drop their leaves; once exposed to some sporadic outdoor sunlight again, new growth should begin.
Before transplanting your peppers outdoors again, prune away any remaining stems and leaves from them. While this may feel wrong, it’s essential to leave some nodes on stems and branches so the plants can reseed themselves in the future.
Pruning your pepper plants before winter or transplanting them indoors will help deter pests, so take this time to inspect for diseases or other issues affecting their growth.
Before replanting your plants, it is wise to remove any damaged or dead fruit in order to prevent them from becoming infected with viruses such as tobacco etch virus, cucumber mosaic virus and potato virus.
They Can Go Dormant
Pepper plants that have been established for some time often go dormant during the winter. This helps ensure they get enough rest before beginning production again the following year and also prevents nutrient deficiency, which could result in poor growth or disease.
When it comes to overwintering pepper plants, there are three methods you can choose from:
First, you could bring the pepper plant indoors. This involves placing it in a cool spot (55-65 degrees Fahrenheit) with plenty of light, and keeping it there throughout winter.
Another option is using a cold frame, which functions like an outdoor greenhouse that lets in light but keeps your pepper plant protected from cold temperatures outside. Depending on your requirements, you may even add small heaters inside the frame to raise its internal temperature.
If you want to grow peppers in a garden, they should be planted in well-drained soil that contains plenty of organic matter. Compost, peat moss or other organic materials can improve the texture and fertility of the soil.
Peppers require plenty of water in addition to soil fertility and drainage for successful growth. Although they can tolerate dry spells, it’s best to keep their top layer soil moist between waterings.
You may want to provide your pepper plants with additional nitrogen by applying manure tea, liquid fish or kelp fertilizer, grass clippings or aged manure in compost made from the leaves of your pepper plants.
Once spring arrives, it’s time to bring your dormant pepper plant back outdoors into the garden. Although this requires more effort than simply bringing it inside, you’ll end up with a much larger and healthier pepper plant that’s ready to produce again.
Once you’ve brought your dormant pepper plant outside, it’s time to prune away any unnecessary branches. Doing this will protect the plant from pests such as aphids and spider mites which can be particularly destructive when grown indoors. You may also try spraying your dormant pepper plant with light neem oil or insecticidal soap for additional protection.
They Can Be Moved Indoors
Pepper plants can be brought indoors for the winter and brought back out again when temperatures warm up in spring. This is an ideal way to enjoy fresh peppers and their fruit is packed full of antioxidants.
If you want to overwinter your pepper plant indoors, do so before the first frost in the fall. Doing this helps ensure the plant doesn’t go dormant and could result in a dead plant or one that won’t come back after springtime.
To successfully overwinter pepper plants, it is best to repot them into a new pot with potting mix. This will keep the soil moist enough for root development but not so wet that it becomes unhealthyly thirsty.
Repotting an outdoor pepper plant requires first loosening the soil around its root ball with your fingers. Doing this makes it easier to move the plant. After you have taken out all of the existing soil and have a clean pot, add fresh potting mix.
Once your seedling has sprouted, transplant it into its new pot and cover up until you reach its first true leaves or beyond. Be sure to leave some extra room around the plant so it can expand as needed.
Next, water the plant to help it settle in. Although this step may not be necessary if soil has been wet for some time, be sure not to let the soil become too dry.
Once your plant has settled in, it may be beneficial to place its pot inside a sunny window so that it can receive some natural sunlight. You may also use grow lights as an additional aid in helping the plant adjust to its new environment.
Finally, ensure your pepper plant stays well watered throughout the winter to ensure all its needs are met. Once temperatures begin to warm up again, you can begin feeding and repotting your plant once again.
They Can Be Moved Outside
Peppers are one of the world’s most diverse and profitable vegetable crops, boasting an array of shapes, colors, and flavors from sweet bells to fiery habaneros. As plants, they’re highly resilient – which explains why many pepper growers use them as breeding stock for creating unique varieties.
Peppers can be planted directly outdoors in the ground or transplanted into containers during their first year of growth. This gives them an advantage, producing many new branches and larger fruit for harvesting. However, if weather conditions are particularly harsh or peppers are susceptible to disease, then they may need to be brought indoors for protection from frost damage.
Before bringing the plants indoors, thoroughly spray their leaves and roots with water to eliminate any pests that may still be present from their previous home. You can also use neem oil, an organic plant fungicide which effectively combats diseases in the pepper family.
Once your seedlings reach four to six weeks old and have several leaves, you can begin moving them up a pot size. This will help them support themselves better and enable them to withstand outdoor conditions which may be more unpredictable than indoor temperatures.
After transplanting, make sure the roots are adequately drained and place them in a sunny location. Additionally, add aged compost or an organic time-release fertilizer to the soil for improved nutrition.
Once the peppers reach an adult height of approximately 8 inches and have several leaves, they’re ready for their outdoor adventure. Transplant them into a hole twice the size of their root ball and fill it with a mixture of potting soil and compost or manure.
Keep the plants in this spot until the nighttime temperatures consistently surpass 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Be careful not to overheat your plants during this period as it can cause stress.
After 2-4 weeks, pepper plants are ready to venture back outside and soak up some sun and oxygen. They may need some time to adjust to their new environment, but should be well-established by then.