Are pepper plants perennial?

How long can a bell pepper plant thrive while maintained indoors?

I’m revising my answer again, but this time with an opinion based on my observations of peppers (not bell types specifically):

My opinion is that they’ll continue to live as long as they’re healthy and pruned. If they’re in a small container and not pruned, they might die after they produce ripe fruit the first or second time, but if you prune them afterward and keep them healthy, you should be able to get the plant to live for a very long time, even in a small container.

A general rule I go by is that if the leaves are starting to fall off, or if the plant isn’t growing anymore, then prune it. (Provided it’s otherwise healthy.) It should grow new leaves/branches, and flowers, too.

Picking the fruit when they’re still green may encourage more fruit to develop in the long run. The plants may be more prone to dying directly after the fruit is all ripe than beforehand. Interrupting this process seems to be healthy for the plant (although if you’re taking good care of the plant, this may not be much of a concern).

Peppers use nutrients fast, though, and they have a lot of pests. So, keeping them healthy can be a challenge, since they require regular maintenance. Knowing what nutrients to give them can also be a challenge. I’ve personally found that indoor peppers seem to improve with the addition of a little wood ash and other stuff.

Bell types will need larger containers, maybe more light, and probably different care, but I imagine the principles are similar.

(Old answer)

I’m revising my answer significantly (my old answer is at the bottom, after the divide).

I believe you’re looking for bell peppers that ‘overwinter’ well (probably more than once). Overwintering is usually when you pot your pepper and take it inside for the winter (or just keep it in a pot it’s already in for the winter).

Originally, I thought that indeterminate peppers were peppers that would continue to grow and produce fruit indefinitely, and that any indeterminate sweet pepper would suffice in answering your question. However, some people have different definitions of what indeterminate means, apparently. Some say it just means that the plants produce flowers all throughout a single season, and then die like other annuals regardless of the climate (this largely comes from my contacting a Canadian website that spoke of greenhouse and field peppers, and their response to me, as well as Seed Savers Exchange—those who responded may not have had a great knowledge on the topic of the article, though, but seemed to have some good general knowledge about plants—but it’s also a general observation that not everyone thinks it has anything to do with longevity or size, but rather bloom frequency only).

Some people say that all sweet peppers are indeterminate. Some say field peppers are determinate.

Some say all peppers are perennials, provided the climate is right. Some say all peppers are annuals (of course, they’re wrong, but they might be right in that some peppers are annuals).

Here’s what I’ve concluded (which may or may not be entirely accurate):

Most peppers are capable of surviving longer than one season (at least up until December), whether or not they do very well afterward. Some of them will survive up to 5+ years. One of the comments to your question, and another source (15 years of fruit; 10+ feet tall), speak of 10–15 year old peppers, but I haven’t specifically heard of anyone growing one in-doors for that long, yet (although I personally believe it can happen). Some varieties of peppers are easier to grow for longer periods than others. Some peppers lose their leaves in the winter, and some don’t (although how you treat them may or may not influence whether they lose their leaves). They say at least some habaneros don’t lose their leaves in winter.

It seems to me that peppers that live longer probably produce better on the second and third years (but thereafter, I’m not so sure). I’ve heard this from two or three locations, but I don’t have the sources, currently (I found them via web searches, probably in forums). However, I’m not referring to every pepper that can overwinter at least once as ‘peppers that live longer’. Not all peppers that overwinter will thrive in this fashion, I hear.

Some people think most sweet peppers don’t live that long, especially the hybrids, although if you take proper care of them, they might last somewhat longer and do better. However, I’ve read that at least big Bertha peppers, which are sweet, will do well on at least one subsequent year (in at least one person’s experience).

I could be wrong, but it really seems like the peppers that overwinter indoors the best are those that tolerate cold the best. Even houses can get pretty cold for some peppers. So, that’s good to take into consideration.

Peppers are notorious for dying when it gets cold. Most people think all peppers die at the slightest freeze. However, I have heard an account of someone in Beijing, China who had some wild peppers outside that survived snow.

Some of the more cold-tolerant peppers (and though they are all hot varieties, they just might survive mildly freezing temperatures) include these (although even the hardiest of these, with the possible exception of capsicum flexuosum, would probably die at 30 to 23°F (-1 to -5°C) and colder:

  • capsicum flexuosum (I think this needs a pollinator, but it’s supposed to tolerate cold well; it is said to be able to stay green and vibrant through at least 20°F nights)
  • cumari pollux (I’m not sure which kind this refers to; I’ve heard the name does not always refer to the same kind of plant.)
  • capsicum annuum ‘goats weed’ (this is said to overwinter well)
  • capsicum baccatum (a kind of habanero: probably Aji Habanero)
  • capsicum chinese ‘datil’
  • capsicum pubescens (rocoto, manzano, etc. these may or may not tolerate a frost, but are said to be more cold hardy than most peppers)

Of the cold-hardy hot peppers listed above, goats weed is the most closely related to sweet peppers. So, it might be possible to get a hybrid going there, with a certain amount of cold tolerance.

I’m not sure how cold-hardy it is, but this very hot pepper also can be overwintered:

  • capsicum annuum ‘pequin’

I’m guessing peppers that people call determinate may also be perennials, at least some of the time, and that they probably just have greater intervals without flowers (or else are better at flowering at other seasons than those people are normally used to). This is, however, just a guess. They could really die at the end of the season regardless of frost or care.

There do seem to be very few peppers that people say are determinate, with the exception of commercial field peppers (whatever varieties those are), but if you grow the seeds from a store pepper, the seedlings will probably resemble one of the parents of the hybrid instead of the hybrid itself.

Really, the only varieties of sweet pepper that I’ve specifically heard can overwinter indoors well (at least once) are big Bertha and potentially pepper ‘Carmen’ F1 (overwintered at least once). I’ve also heard of some orange bell peppers that overwinter well, but I don’t know what varieties they are. More than one person has mentioned orange bell peppers in this regard.

Some people say pruning peppers is good (and some think it may be necessary to keep them alive), while others think this should not be done.

I’ve heard of a fertilizer (bloom builder plant food) that is supposed to help at least cayenne peppers to fruit well even in the middle of winter. That might work for sweet peppers, too.

I don’t remember where I read it, but I hear nitrogen will help pepper plants to get big, while phosphorus will help them to develop fruit. Too much nitrogen may result in a huge plant without much fruit. However, if you’re overwintering, that may be exactly what you want (a plant focusing on growing larger may thrive better than a plant focusing on growing fruit), for I hear you can switch the fertilizer later on to get more fruit after the plant has already gotten large. I think I read that you want equal parts nitrogen and phosphorus (or a little bit less phosphorus) if you want fruit, and less phosphorus (though I’m unsure how much less) if you want growth.

I’ve never heard of bell peppers (or any plants) dying if they don’t get pollinated. The flowers may not turn into fruit, but that should be it. If you’re worried about it, you can always remove the flowers. Some plants that are annuals, such as amaranth, will die after they flower and seed (and pruning off the flowers may extend the life of the plant somewhat, although it may not be aesthetically appealing). I don’t believe this applies to peppers, but if there are determinate annual peppers, it just might be possible.

If I were experimenting with new peppers to see if they could live a long time and produce well, I would personally want to try peppers with one or more of these qualities first:

  • Above average cold tolerance
  • Takes a long time before it produces its initial batch of fruit
  • Known to grow to be about 5′ tall or more
  • Orange color
  • Hierloom or wild varieties
  • Originate from South America or somewhere else warm.

I would also be more concerned with leaves than fruit until the plant got big. I would also want to keep the soil and air warm (they say if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your peppers), and give it a nice grow light, such as this one (I haven’t personally tried it, but I like the reviews).

If you happen to get a large and old pepper plant and are worried that it might die some day, I have some advice for you. Take cuttings and when they have roots, pot them. If you prune your pepper, you might as well try it with the clippings. Yes, you can take cuttings of peppers and root them (although they say it’s somewhat more difficult than with tomatoes). Here’s one way to do it (this way is said to work for many fruit trees and roses, too, although for roses I’ve also seen a recommendation to rip some of the skin off near the bottom, which might also work for other plants), and here’s another, although if you have clippings to spare, I’d say test it with the plain water method too, just to see if it works (so you can save on hormone rooting powder). When you take cuttings, even if you have a hybrid pepper that doesn’t produce seeds, you can still get more plants that produce exactly the same kind of pepper. People often recommend only taking small cuttings (for just about any kind of plant), but I would recommend experimenting beyond that advice if you have lots of clippings to try. When I did large cuttings with tomatoes, it worked well. Having roots that will be buried deep in the soil seems to be an advantage that makes it so you have to water less.

As mentions, taking cuttings to grow and overwinter can sometimes be a better way to overwinter a pepper than digging it up.

(Older answer):

Some of bell peppers would suit your purpose (greenhouse production of bell peppers uses indeterminate cultivars, but field pepper cultivars are determinate), according to this website and this one. If you stop pollinating, the plant will stop producing fruit, but it won’t stop the vegetative growth. Indoors it is good to do this on an occasional regular basis, to give the plant a break period.

Indeterminate is what you want. Most people probably don’t think of peppers as determinate and indeterminate (it’s probably a tomato-thing to most people). Here’s a forum post with people discussing it. Peppers and tomatoes are in the same family. At least some indeterminate peppers are supposed to be good for hydroponic gardening.

Indeterminate plants grow and produce fruit indefinitely, I hear. Determinate plants do for a season.

Here are some examples of indeterminate sweet peppers:

  • Albatros F1
  • Aruba
  • Big bertha (a customer review testifies of its indeterminate nature)
  • Blushing beauty
  • Bonnie bell
  • California Wonder 300
  • Classic
  • Cubico
  • Eagle
  • Early bell
  • Elisa
  • Fellini
  • Fiesta
  • Giant Marconi
  • Gold flame
  • Hershey
  • Kelvin
  • Lesley
  • Mandarin
  • Maradonna F1
  • Mazurka
  • Mohawk
  • Narobi
  • Pinot Noir
  • Samantha
  • Snapper
  • Sunray
  • Tangerine Pimiento
  • Yankee bell
  • A lot of the ones here claim to be indeterminate (Many of the links above are from this site; it should be noted, though that it says capsicum annuum, or the entire species, is indeterminate; however, it seems that this is not the case. When it doubt, I would experiment with the ones that are said to grow five feet tall, or more, first.)

Growing your peppers indoors, I would recommend a grow light, if you want your peppers to flourish. I’m not really sure how well they do without them, but I’m about to find out, as I just planted some less than a week ago. Also, make sure they’re not in a cold room. They are said to like warm soil. I notice my seed roots grow faster when the room is warm.

I’ve seen it written that you want at least five gallons of dirt, but that’s more than square foot gardening would require (although some things, such as watermelon, prefer deep soil). If you have room and light (as well as pots), I’d use a bigger pot for bigger and stronger plants.

Bring in your Pepper Plants!

(And impatiens, begonias, oregano, rosemary…)

Q. Dear Mike: Years ago, when I subscribed to ORGANIC GARDENING magazine, you wrote about bringing your pepper plants in for the winter and transplanting them back into the garden the following Spring. My brother has a few choice plants I am interested in “wintering over.” Could you repeat the specifics of how this is accomplished? I still miss you as editor of OG—I learned much from the magazine. Regards,

    —David in Middleport (Schuylkill County), Pa.

Q. Dear Mike: I grew bell pepper plants this summer in 17″ containers. I’ve heard you mention that you bring yours indoors each winter and grow them under fluorescent lights. Am thinking of doing the same. But you’ve said that you get peppers only until around Thanksgiving. Why can’t you get them to continue producing through the winter? Thanks; your show is the best!

    —Bruce in Norwood, Pa.

A.’Dank you, boys—this is one of my favorite tricks! Yes—peppers (hot and sweet) are perennial plants that will live for many, many years if protected from frost.

If your pepper plants are in the ground, transfer them into pots right away. I like to fill such containers with a mix of 1/3 compost and 2/3 loose, seed-starting mix when I’m starting out fresh, but we don’t want to stress these puppies with a lot of repotting. So just dig a circle around each plant with a sharp shovel, pop it out of the ground with enough dirt attached that no roots are showing, and slide it into a big plastic (NOT terra cotta) pot. Do this in the evening; never in the morning or heat of the day.

If the Island of Earth you have excavated is a little too big, shave dirt off the sides till it fits. If there’s room for more soil inside the pot, add some compost, not more garden soil. Then water well and put the pots in a shady spot for a few days.

If your plants are already in pots, pick up here.

LONG before frost (while nighttime temps are still in the 50s) rinse the plants off REALLY well in the garden with sharp streams of water. Wait a few hours, move the plants to a different spot in the garden and repeat. Then bring them inside to a porch or other appropriate in-between place, wait a day or two and inspect the plants well for aphids and other pests. If you see any, rinse them in the tub or shower twice; one day apart. If you see no pests, do it once.

Then place them directly under a “shoplight”; that means a fixture housing two, four-foot long, 40W Cool White florescent bulbs. NOT “plant lights”; like me, these theoretically-perfect plant growers are just too dim. Always keep the tops of the plants almost touching the bulbs—the light intensity of these fixtures drops off dramatically after just a few inches, and florescent light is cool, so closeness doesn’t harm the plants.

I’ve always left my lights on 24/7. If that makes you nervous, you can turn them off for a few hours every night. Peppers like it warm, so don’t let the temp drop below 55°. A range of 60 to 70° is ideal.

Do not feed the plants, and water only when the pots feel light. This will ripen up any green fruits, and then keep the plants alive till next Spring, when you will be putting those big honkin’ puppies out in the garden instead of the puny little starts your neighbors will be buying at the garden center. These big plants produce ripe peppers FAST!

Now, you can keep your plants flowering and fruiting over the winter if you provide warm temps and REALLY bright light. That means:

  • A fixture with FOUR, four-foot florescent tubes,
  • A two tube fixture sitting overtop of plants that also receive very bright light from a sunny South-facing window,
  • Or high-intensity lights like sodium vapor or metal halide (which give off lots of heat—keep all plants several feet away from such lights).

If you choose to do this, provide food and water like it was during the summer and enjoy the peppers.

Oh, and this trick works even better with impatiens and begonias. (I have one pot of impatiens that’s at least four years old!) And because these pretty perennial posies are shade-lovers, they don’t need a lot of light. Just put them under a two-tube fixture or sit them in a sunny window and they’ll bloom most of the winter, providing great indoor color and BIG plants for the Spring—both for free!

Q. Mike: I am growing oregano,

    —Jennifer in Drexel Hill, PA

A. Mediterranean plants like true oregano (as opposed to the VERY similar looking marjoram—a difference that would take an entire column in itself to describe) and rosemary will survive winter nicely in the heart of a zone 6 city like your nearby Philadelphia (witness the rosemary TREES in inner-city community gardens like the ones near South Street), but they will succumb to frost just a few miles away in the suburbs. I have tried to over-winter rosemary in my zone 6 country garden by growing cold-hardy varieties like “ARP” (which simply becomes the last rosemary in my garden to perish over the winter) and building leaf-filled cages to place around them like fig trees. They always died.

Then I started bringing them in like my pepper plants and they do just fine. So pot yours up—that oregano too—bring them in, and treat them like peppers. They’ll go a little dormant, so be careful not to over-water—wait until the pots feel light.

Our listeners in zone 7 and warmer have little to worry about here. Their “tender perennial” herbs do just fine outside—if they remember to water during long dry spells (that’s three weeks to a month without moisture). Yes, water them in the winter; they’re dormant, not dead. (Unless you don’t water them, that is…) Seriously, the typically un-humid air of winter can wick a lot of moisture out of small plants, so give them a drink if winter is dry.

The lavender depends on what kind you have. ‘English’ is hardy in zone 6; the French and Spanish strains are not. If you’re in zone 7 or warmer, any lavender should do fine outdoors. Common and ‘clary’ sage are hardy down to zone 5; but the fancier ones die outdoors in gardens colder than zone 7.

Some low-growing thymes, like creeping and wooly, do well almost everywhere outdoors. But your lemon thyme—one of the premier natural mosquito repellants—is tender, so bring it in. In the Deep South, you can just leave it outside—but you already knew that.

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Harvesting Peppers: When And How To Pick A Pepper

Peppers are extremely fun to grow since there are dizzying arrays of them to choose from; with a variety of colors and flavors from sweet to the hottest hot. Because of this variety, it is sometimes difficult to know when to begin harvesting the peppers.

When to Harvest Peppers

Peppers have been cultivated in Central and South America, Mexico and the West Indies since ancient times, but it was early explorers like Columbus who brought the pepper to Europe. They became popular and were then brought to North America with the first European colonists.

Peppers are tropical plants that are grown as warm season annuals here. Given plenty of sun, peppers are relatively easy to grow. Plant them in well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter. Of course, it depends upon the pepper variety, but most peppers should be spaced about 12-16 inches apart.

The harvesting of peppers will vary according to which type of pepper variety you have. Most sweet varieties mature within 60-90 days, while their muy caliente cousins may take up to 150 days to mature. If starting peppers from seed, add eight to 10 weeks onto the information on the seed packet to account for the time between sowing and transplanting. For most people, this means seed sown peppers will be started indoors in January or February.

Pepper harvest time for many hot varieties of peppers, like jalapeños, is often indicated when the fruit is a deep, dark green. Other hot pepper varieties such as Cayenne, Serrano, Anaheim, Tabasco or Celestial, are mature after a color change from green to orange, reddish-brown, or red. Picking hot pepper fruit as it matures encourages the plant to continue to fruit. Hot pepper plants should continue to fruit but production wanes into the fall.

Sweet pepper, such as bell peppers, are often harvested when the fruit is still green, but full sized. Allowing the bell pepper to remain on the plant and continue to ripen, changing colors from yellow, orange to red before picking pepper fruit, will result in sweeter peppers. Another sweet pepper, the banana pepper, is also harvested when yellow, orange or red. Sweet pimientos are picked when red and around 4 inches long by 2-3 inches wide. Cherry peppers will vary in size as well as flavor and are harvested when orange to dark red.

How to Pick a Pepper

Harvesting sweet pepper varieties requires some finesse, as the delicate branches will break if you tug at them. Use hand pruners, scissors or a sharp knife to remove the pepper from the plant.

When harvesting hot peppers, use gloves or wash your hands immediately after picking the fruit. Do not touch your eyes or mouth after harvesting or the capsaicin oil, which is probably on your hands, will undoubtedly burn you.

Pepper Plants After Harvest

Peppers can be stored in the refrigerator for 7-10 days or at 45 degrees F. (7 C.) with an 85-90 percent relative humidity. Make them into salsas, add them to soups or salads, roast them, stuff them, dry them or pickle them. You can also wash, cut and freeze peppers for future use.

Once the pepper plant has been harvested in most areas, it is finished for the season and the plant will die back during the late fall. In regions with year-round warm temps, however, the pepper may continue to produce, just as it does in the tropical regions of its origin.

You can also over winter a pepper plant by bringing it indoors. The key to over wintering is warmth and light. It is possible to keep a pepper for many years in this manner. Many pepper plants are quite ornamental and will continue to fruit indoors and make a lovely addition to the home décor.

A Guide to Overwintering Your Chilli Plants

Over-wintering Your Chilli Plants for Greater Future Harvests…

So, you are growing chillies. Maybe even enjoying the first fruits of your labour – but what now?

What most people do not know is that chilli plants are in fact perennials and will continue to produce fruits for many years of growing, provided a little care and attention is taken. This extra care and attention after your plants have fruited is called over-wintering and can be very rewarding…

First let’s take a look at why you would want to over-winter your chilli plants:

– Your next harvest will come a lot earlier
– You plant(s) will produce many more fruits and for longer periods of time – more peppers to enjoy
– You will have a great head start over planting seeds in the Spring

At the end of the growing season, and when the temperature drops below about 10 degrees C at night (in the UK this is about the end of October) plants start to shut down for the winter as their job of producing chilli seed pods is done.

At this time, usually the plant will slow its growth to almost nil, therefore reducing its sunlight and water intake requirements drastically, whilst preparing for the long winter months ahead.

Therefore, to give your chilli plants the best chance at coming back strong and surviving the winter, it is important to follow the points:

– As soon as your plant has finish fruiting – make sure you pick all the ripe chilli seed pods from your chilli plant (this tells the plants to produce more in future).

– Next, you would want to prune your plants right back, leaving just a short stem – this includes trimming back the majority of vegetation. This may sound like a harsh thing to do, however it will help your plant to concentrate its energy and not waste any during the winter trying to sustain all that vegetation.

– You can also repot your chilli plants in slightly smaller containers in order to concentrate your plants energies into a smaller space ready for hibernation.

– And finally, make sure you move your chilli plants some place warm to give them the best chance of surviving the winter (preferably in a greenhouse or near a sunny window sill indoors where the average temperature will be higher, which helps your plants during the cold winter months.

Make sure that you water your chilli plants much less often during this stage as to prevent the water sitting in pots and promoting the growth of mould. Do not worry – your plants will be using much less water during this hibernation-like stage. Up to 2 weeks between watering is fine – just make sure you check that the soil is moist but not damp.

If you are unsure of how much water is just right, you can use a moisture tester which is available from any good garden centre – look at maintaining around 25% moisture in the soil.

If you are successful, your efforts will be rewarded in many different ways. First of all, when Spring does arrive, your plants already have well established roots balls and stems. Give them a couple of weeks after Spring has arrived and they will start producing new shoots and leaves.

This gives you a great advantage over planting chillies from seeds and your over-wintered chilli plants will start producing fruit much earlier in the growing season – this has the added benefit of a longer harvesting period, so not only will your plant produce more chillies, it will produce them for a longer duration!

You can expect your chilli plants to last for many years by over-wintering them properly – so when you’ve picked your last chilli of the season – why not start over-wintering for lots more in future?

For a little bit of effort, you enjoy both the challenge of looking after your plants during the winter when there very little else happening in the garden, and enjoy the many additional benefits when Spring finally does arrive.

If you follow these tips, your chilli plants will be ready for a great growing season come Spring time – Saving you time and improving your chilli harvests!

Pepper

Pepper, (genus Capsicum), genus of more than 30 species of flowering plants in the nightshade family (Solanaceae), several of which are extensively cultivated for their edible, often pungent fruits. The genus comprises all the varied forms of fleshy-fruited peppers, including the mild bell peppers that are used as a vegetable and the hot peppers, such as habanero and tabasco, that are used as relishes, pickled, or ground into a fine powder for use as a spice. Some peppers are grown as ornamentals.

pimiento peppersMild pimiento peppers (Capsicum annuum).© Shirinov/.com Read More on This Topic Solanales: Pepper Peppers belong to the South American genus Capsicum. As with the tomato, the garden pepper was domesticated in Mexico…

Peppers are native to tropical America and are particularly important in the cuisines of tropical Asia and equatorial America. Traces of pepper fruits have been found in prehistoric remains in Peru and Mexico, and the plants were widely grown in Central and South America by various pre-Columbian civilizations. Originally mistaken for a form of black pepper (Piper nigrum), the first pepper seeds were carried to Spain in 1493 and from there spread rapidly throughout Europe and the rest of the world.

Thai chili pepperThai chili peppers (Capsicum annuum), a cultivar known for its piquant fruits.Daniel Risacher

Pepper plants are perennials but are grown as tender summer annuals in most areas outside their native habitat. They are propagated by seeding directly in the soil or by transplanting seedlings started in greenhouses or hotbeds after 6 to 10 weeks. The plants become woody as the growing season progresses and bear simple, alternately arranged leaves with smooth margins. The paired or solitary flowers are typically small with five white petals. The fruit is a berry. Pepper fruits come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from the small and nearly circular ají charapita to the long and thin tabasco pepper and to the large, furrowed fruits of the bell pepper.

  • pepper diversityA sampling of the diversity of the pepper genus (Capsicum) at a farmers’ market.AdstockRF
  • aji pepperAji pepper.© Wilfredo Rodríguez (A Britannica Publishing Partner)

hot pepper; thermoreceptionWhy hot peppers are hot.© American Chemical Society (A Britannica Publishing Partner)See all videos for this article

Hot peppers derive their pungency from capsaicin, a substance characterized by acrid vapours and burning taste. Capsaicin is primarily concentrated in the internal partitions of the fruit and was first isolated in 1876; it is known to stimulate gastric secretions.

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Overwintering peppers isn’t very hard, and it’s a great way to keep your favorite varieties year after year. In this post, I will show you how to overwinter peppers as live or dormant plants. You’ll also get tons of care tips for how to grow peppers indoors in the winter.

Every year I start all of our peppers from seed. Our growing season is short, and it seems to take forever for the tiny seedlings to grow into mature plants. Just when they’re looking amazing and producing tons of peppers, frost kills them off.

I love growing peppers! We grew a bunch in pots this year, and had outstanding harvests. The plants were so lush and healthy, and I didn’t want to lose them. So, instead of letting them all die outside, I decided to overwinter them indoors to keep the plants for next year.

Are Pepper Plants Annuals Or Perennials?

You’ll always find peppers for sale in the vegetable section in the spring, and most people grow them as annuals. However, peppers are actually tender perennials that can survive for years in warm climates.

Overwintering peppers outdoors will work in a mild climate where the temperature stays above freezing. But if you live in a cold climate like I do, then they must be brought indoors. The good news is, it’s really not that hard to overwinter peppers, and there are three methods you can try!

Growing peppers in pots outside

3 Methods For Overwintering Peppers

There are three ways to overwinter pepper plants. You can mix and match to try the different methods and see which one works best for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re growing bell pepper plants, chilli plants, or ghost peppers, these methods for overwintering pepper plants will work with any variety.

  1. Potted peppers can be grown indoors as houseplants.
  2. The plants can be allowed to go dormant and stored for winter.
  3. You can take cuttings of your plants, and overwinter those indoors.

How To Overwinter Pepper Plants

In this section, I will describe all three methods of overwintering peppers in detail. Some people find that one method is much easier for them then the others. You should definitely experiment with each of these methods to find your favorite.

Growing Peppers In Pots Indoors

Contrary to popular belief, you can grow peppers indoors. If you want to try this method, then plan to bring your plant indoors before it starts to get cold in the fall so it doesn’t start going dormant. If your plant is too large to bring indoors, you can prune it to a smaller size.

Keep in mind that since the plant is used to growing outside, it will go into shock when you bring it indoors. It may droop for a few days or even drop a few leaves. But this is normal, and it should pop back to health once it gets used to being inside.

Storing Dormant Pepper Plants

Some people find it much easier to allow the plants to go dormant rather than growing peppers in winter. To encourage your pepper plant to go dormant, leave it outside as long as you can in the fall. Be sure to protect the plant from frost or move it to a protected area. Allowing the plant to be exposed to cool temperatures will trigger dormancy.

I also recommend pruning off all the immature peppers, as well as the flowers and flower buds, and stop watering the plant. It may start dropping some leaves during this time, which is a good sign that it’s going into dormancy.

Once it’s too cold to leave them outside, you can move your plants inside to a cool, dark location. Eventually they will drop most if not all of their leaves.

Throughout the winter, check on your dormant peppers and gave them a little water here and there. Be sure to allow the soil to dry out between waterings, but never allow it to get completely bone dry. Never overwater a dormant pepper plant either. Learn how to bring plants back out of dormancy in the spring without killing them.

Overwintering dormant pepper plants

Rooting Pepper Plant Cuttings

Rather than bringing the whole plant inside for winter or digging it out of your garden, you can take cuttings instead. Be sure to take cuttings before it gets cold, otherwise they may not root.

Use a propagation box for rooting pepper cuttings, or try growing them in water. Once your cuttings have grown healthy roots, then you can pot them up using a general purpose potting soil. Once their potted up, you can follow the same tips in this article for overwintering peppers as houseplants.

Bringing Pepper Plants Indoors For Winter

If you want to bring the plants in or root the cuttings, then you’ll definitely want to debug them first. Follow these instructions for debugging before bringing plants in for the winter if you’re going to bring in the whole plant.

Otherwise, if you’re just bringing in cuttings, then you can debug them in the sink. Simply soak them for 10-15 minutes in water with a little bit of mild liquid soap in there to kill the bugs. Be sure to weigh down the cuttings so they don’t float. Then rinse the cuttings well before rooting them.

Bringing pepper plants indoors for winter

Tips For Growing Peppers Indoors In Winter

Thought they’re pretty easy to grow indoors, they do require some special care to keep them healthy through the winter. In this section, I’ll give you some tips for how to grow pepper plants indoors. And, if you keep them alive and growing through the winter, you might even be rewarded with some fresh peppers!

Indoor Pepper Plant Light Requirements

They need a lot of light, so be sure to put your plant in a sunny window at minimum. But usually even a south facing window isn’t enough for them during the winter.

So, if you notice your plant is starting to grow leggy or reaching for the window, then you’ll definitely need to give it more light. I use a grow light that’s set on a timer to give my peppers 12-14 hours of light every day.

How Often To Water Peppers Indoors

Established peppers don’t need a lot of water, and they hate soggy soil. So be sure to allow the soil to dry out between waterings. To prevent accidental overwatering, stick you finger one inch into the soil and only water it when it feels dry. If you struggle give your potted plants the right amount of water, a soil moisture gauge is a great tool to help you out.

Growing peppers indoors in winter

Controlling Pepper Plant Pests

Dealing with indoor plant pests is probably one of the hardest parts about growing peppers inside. Aphids and spider mites love pepper plants, and can become a huge problem when overwintering peppers. Fungus gnats can also become an issue when growing peppers in containers (though they are just a nuisance and don’t eat the leaves).

If you ever find bugs on your plants, it’s best to act quickly to get rid of them before they have a chance to spread to your other plants. You can wash the leaves with organic insecticidal soap (or mix your own using 1 tsp of mild liquid soap per liter of water).

Another great way to get rid of bugs on pepper plants is to use organic neem oil. Neem oil is a natural product that kills bugs, and has a residual effect that can help to keep them away. Learn more about using neem oil insecticide here. You could also use horticultural oil to get rid of bugs on indoor plants.

Overwintering peppers is pretty easy, but it can be a bit of extra work. If you have the room, it’s worth the effort to keep your favorite varieties year after year. Starting each spring with a mature plant, rather than small seedlings means more peppers for you!

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Share your tips for overwintering peppers in the comments below.

Hot Peppers as Perennials? Sure!

Habanero peppers

A potted serrano pepper

As the gardening season comes to a close here in Vermont, some of us are just not taking it well. At all. I mean, how frustrating that our beautiful peppers are finally starting to ripen and short, cold days are just around the corner!

Peppers — just like tomatoes and eggplants — are perennial in hot zones. North of Zone 9, they’re treated as annuals. I have seen perennial tomatoes at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, FL, and also at Disney’s Epcot theme park. It’s pretty cool, they develop a thick, woody stem.

Luckily, I have two (real-life) friends in my Facebook gardening group who are experienced at overwintering peppers indoors. Before I share their secrets, let me mention why you might want to consider this approach:

  • You garden in a short-season zone and would appreciate a headstart on next year’s pepper crop. Both of my friends live at high elevations that experience earlier and later frosts than their neighbors. Planting young peppers each spring doesn’t always guarantee fruit.
  • You’re addicted to specific cuisines. My friend Chad cooks amazing Asian food and he’s not about to give up his Thai Devil Peppers to some snow and darkness. Living on a secluded mountain means that there is no specialty food store nearby.

Marisa pots up her small, sweet peppers (they look like Lipstick or Apple to me) in two-gallon pots and brings them indoors before the first frost. She keeps grow lights on them for 18 hours a day and waters them sparingly. When it’s warm enough, she moves the plant — keeping it potted — outside for the summer. For Marisa, this practice gets her fruit in July. Without overwintering, she saw flowers, but didn’t always get fruit.

Chad is more casual in that he doesn’t use lights. He also plants his Thai Bird peppers back into the garden come spring and digs them up in October. He noted that our friend Mike, an outstanding Thai chef, has kept a bird pepper alive for seven years and it stands 6 feet tall. Wow.

This year, count me in! I have a jungle of peppers to choose from. We all agreed that small peppers seem to work well and that if you live in a dark, arid cave (like me and Marisa,) you may need lights and perhaps a humidifier. Further, we all decided to try bigger peppers this year, just to find out if we’re wrong about the size factor. I would love it if you would join us and report back with what you learn.

Perennial Pepper Plants

Buena Vista Images/Photodisc/Getty Images

Whether a pepper plant is an annual or a perennial all depends on how you take care of it or the location in which it grows. Generally, all pepper plants are perennials. However, they are susceptible to cold temperatures and can die after experiencing a harsh season. But if you are able to bring plants inside or otherwise protect them from the elements, then you can have peppers year after year. There are some pepper plants that tend to do well if they are overwintered properly.

Scotch Bonnet

The Scotch bonnet pepper is among the hottest of the edible peppers readily available to consumers. These peppers are small and similar in appearance to the habanero, but they look more like a Scotsman’s hat, hence the name. They typically appear yellowish green or reddish-orange when ripe and are grown primarily in the Caribbean islands–often in Jamaica and Belize. Scotch bonnets are a member of the Capsicum chinense family of peppers, which require a warm to mild climate year round to thrive. Taking these plants into a greenhouse or indoors and trimming them back during the dormant season will keep them coming back for many years.

Habaneros

Red habanero chillies isolated image by Elena Moiseeva from Fotolia.com

The habanero is a popular hot pepper also from the Capsicum chinense family of peppers. They, like the Scotch bonnet, require warm climates to grow. However, these peppers grow mainly in Latin America instead of on the islands of the Caribbean. This pepper is a main crop of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where 1,500 tons of the peppers are harvested each year. Habaneros overwinter similarly to Scotch bonnet peppers. They should be trimmed back during their dormant season. The habanero name means “from Havana,” and these peppers are thought to have originated in Cuba, but were introduced into the Yucatan region, where conditions and space were better for their cultivation. These peppers are usually red, orange or salmon-colored and sometimes even white or brown. They are among the hottest popular consumer peppers and are shaped like small pumpkins or lanterns.

Tabasco Pepper

The Tabasco pepper originates from the Mexican state of the same name. These peppers are most commonly associated with the hot sauce made in Louisiana. The peppers are used in the recipe of the sauce and are now grown in large numbers in Louisiana for that purpose. They are not generally available for commercial uses outside of saucemaking, but individuals can raise them as a perennial plant as long as they are kept frost-free. The primary ingredients of Tabasco sauce are pureed Tabasco peppers, vinegar and salt.

Ghost Pepper

The “ghost” pepper is technically known as the “Bhut Jolokia,” and is officially recognized as the world’s hottest pepper. The ghost pepper registers more than 1 million Scoville heat units. In comparison, the habanero pepper registers around 200,000. This means the ghost pepper is up to five times hotter than the hottest pepper most people ever eat. It is in the same family of peppers as the Scotch bonnet and habanero and can be overwintered in the same way.

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