I first heard about the idea of over wintered peppers from the Ottawa Gardener a few years ago but didn’t get around to trying it myself until just this year. The results were much better than I expected and the process was even easier than over wintering some of those popular tender perennial herbs.
The specimen that I chose was one of the Rat Turd peppers that I grew last summer. It had been raised in a container, which made things easier when the time came to move it indoors. But you could also lift a pepper plant from the garden in the fall to over winter. The plant can also then be pruned back a bit to shape it and make it more manageable.
Don’t worry if the plant sheds leaves, branches, fruit, and just looks terrible during the moths that it spends indoors during the winter. As long as it survives it should rebound and send out lots of new growth next season. And your perennial pepper will be further along than those new plants started from in the spring.
I wouldn’t try this technique with my entire stock of pepper plants, but it’s something fun to try with a prized plant or two. From my research it seems that hot peppers are the best types to over winter and some varieties will perform better than others. I’ll probably stick with the compact, small fruited types, and raise them in containers if I intend to bring them inside during the fall.
Nursing a Hot Pepper through the Cold Winter Months
As far as care is concerned, my plant survived with a lot less attention than it should have received. They need warmth, light, water, and possibly a little fertilizer during the winter months. My Rat Turd plant didn’t consistently receive any of those needs during its stay in the house!
It spent the winter isolated in a spare room with temps that had to be on the cooler side of what it would have preferred. A 60 watt grow bulb supplied light, but it was shared with a six foot bay tree that cast a shadow on the much shorter pepper plant. The plant wasn’t fertilized during its stay indoors and watering occurred on a very irregular basis; twice a month at the best.
In spite of the neglect the hot pepper survived the winter and even held onto some of its ripe fruits. The flowering and leaf growth was suspended and there was a bit of die back and leaf loss but the plant looked good considering the conditions and the treatment that it had received. Looking back I think the plant may have gone semi-dormant and that that helped matters a lot.
Moving an Over Wintered Pepper Back Outdoors in the Spring
After things warmed back up outdoors and the threat of frost had passed the Rat Turd pepper was gradually hardened off, repotted to a larger container with fresh soil, and moved back outdoors onto the patio. I pruned off any dead branches and to give the plant a more even shape and began feeding it again.
Now things are looking pretty good! Flowering and fruiting has resumed and new shoots and branching is occurring all over, even along the base of the plant which is now forming a trunk. This trunk is also turning brown and woody, much like a tree. Click on the photo to the right for a close up of the fresh new branches, complete with buds and flowers, forming from the plant’s “hardwood” base.
So, I’ll say this pepper over wintering experiment was a definite success it will be repeated again next winter. I’ll see how many seasons the Rat Turd plant can survive and try out some other varieties as well. Maybe I’ll even try to bonsai a pepper plant, but I can strongly recommend that you give it a try for yourself this winter.
Update: Now I’m hearing tales of gardeners over wintering eggplants too! That sounds even more appealing to me than over wintering the peppers… guess there will be a new experiment conducted in my home this coming winter.
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