Sunday, October 5, 2014

Overwintering Peppers

Last year I read somewhere about peppers being perennial, not annual (they are frost-tender, so they act as annuals up north) and that they could go dormant in the cold months and come back strong in spring. So I decided to give it a try. I'm pleased to announce that it was a wild success.

Being in zone 5b, I have a fairly short growing season. Last year, I didn't get much of a pepper harvest. I hoped that overwintering my pepper plants would lead to a better harvest this year. I selected two Jimmy Nardello's pepper plants for my experiment. One was the pepper plant that gave me my first pepper of the year (it only gave me one) and the plant that gave me the most peppers (it gave me three). What did I have to lose other than a bit of water and space?

Freshly potted up
Before the first frost, I dug about a foot out from the plant all the way around. Keeping the rootball as intact as possible, I gently removed the pepper plant from the ground by easing the shovel under the plant about a foot underground. I didn't brush off any dirt. I placed the plant in a large container that had a bit of potting soil at the bottom. I filled in the gaps with more potting soil, but kept the soil at the same level as it was in the ground. I gently sprayed the plant off just in case there were bugs and brought it inside. I plucked off all tiny peppers and flowers and gave it a thorough watering.
The one on the right was actually in a
less sunny spot than the one on the left but
still grew bigger than the other. It also
gave me a bigger harvest this year, so it
will be coming back inside for another go-round.

Going from 60 degree days and 40 degree nights to a steady 64 degrees, the plants went nuts. They grew taller, put on new leaves and branches and then exploded with flowers. I picked every single flower off because I wanted it to conserve its energy for next spring instead of burning out putting on fruit. I kept it by the back patio door. The patio door is a bit drafty, and gets a moderate amount of sunlight. After a couple of weeks, the plants went dormant. The growth stopped, a few of the leaves dropped off, and it just sort of paused. The plants stayed this way for most of the winter.

I watered them whenever the soil got dry, about once every week to week and a half. The shades on the patio door were opened most days, although we did forget to some days. Ray cat wanted to dig in the dirt, so I laid down a mulch of newspaper sheets and she left it alone. I didn't do anything else for the plants.

In mid spring, the plants came back. All of a sudden, they started growing again and putting on flowers. I kept picking off the flowers, but as soon as they started growing, I moved them to a warmer, sunnier window. They put on flush after flush of flowers, each of which I picked off, until we were past our last frost date. I moved the plant outdoors during the day, and brought it back in at night for a few days, then planted it in the garden. After a few days of recouping from transplantation, it started growing fruit like crazy. I planted some nice, sturdy first-year transplants the same day in the same bed. The overwintered peppers had provided me with 10 full sized (but still green) peppers before the first-year plants had set a single fruit. I ended up getting dozens of peppers from each of the overwintered plants, much more than from the newer plants. I picked them when they were full sized but not ripe and they put on a new batch for me.

This first flush of peppers were full-sized and
harvested before the new plants had even
set fruit.
Both plants gave me a phenomenal harvest, but one did a little better than the other. I will overwinter that plant again this year, as well as a few other high performers. On a home-gardener scale, this is a fantastic way to increase yields of peppers. It is also nice to have the plants in the house, even if they are dormant. I'm sure they also do a bit to help with air-purification, too, so there's no reason not to put up a couple plants over winter.

Has anyone else tried this? Any tips, tricks or warnings?

Shared on:
The Self Sufficient HomeAcre


  1. I'm trying to grow turmeric in zone 7. Because its tropical I've had a hard time getting rhizomes/roots that are viable after freezing air cargo trips. Finally, my friend brought me some with little dried roots attached. They sat for 6-8weeks and are sprouting! In Autumn! so, I am still going to plant and water and leave in my southern window and container grow outdoors in spring. Your pepper perennial story is so inspiring!

  2. That is so awesome! I live in Northwestern Wyoming....I am going to try a winter garden this year, but will also bring in some pepper plants to overwinter. Thank you so much - I had never heard of doing this and our growing season is so short here! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. You're welcome! It's been a life saver for me. I live in a colder area (not quite as cold as you). My yard is pretty shaded, so things just don't grow as fast as they would if I got proper sun. I barely got any peppers my first year, but those overwintered peppers went mad! I couldn't believe how many I got.


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