Overwinter chilli plants and keep the plants alive to get a head start on the following growing season. Here’s how to do it.
For a beginner gardener, growing chilli peppers is arguably one of the segways into edible gardening. The temptation to bring home an established chilli plant brimming with fruit is too good to resist. But what happens at the end of the fruiting season?
In Sydney’s temperate climate, I have been successful in keeping chilli plants alive during the winter months. In fact, I have a chilli plant that’s over 12 years old now, that very same neglected plant I rescued from its demise, the one that triggered my foray into edible gardening.
I live in a part of Sydney that doesn’t get frosts and by keeping established plants alive during the cooler months, I get a head start before chilli season starts again in the warmer months.
Chillis thrive in the heat and in my climate, growing chilli from seed can take some time to get them started, not withstanding being highly dependent on fluctuating temperatures. Seeds can be started indoors on heat mats but I prefer to raise all my seeds outdoors.
A rather cool and wet spring one season meant that many chilli seeds didn’t germinate. Those that eventually did, were very slow to grow let alone produce flowers and fruit. Meanwhile, my overwintered chillis were abundant in growth and began setting fruit from late spring. In one instance, fruiting, albeit small continued throughout winter.
Here’s what to do once fruit production has stopped to keep the chilli plants alive during winter. While the article refers to chillis, the same method applies to other pepper varieties such as jalapeños and capsicums.
How to Overwinter Chilli Plants
1. Around mid to late autumn, when fruit production has stopped, prune and cut back the plant leaving about 10-15cm of the stem. Pruning has the effect of conserving energy which is subsequently directed towards keeping the roots healthy.
2. Carefully lift the plant by the roots, making sure to take as much of the rootball as possible. Use fresh potting mix and transplant it into a small container that is big enough to fit the rootball comfortably. Do not add compost or fertiliser as it might stimulate some growth and the plant needs to shut down during winter. Cover with straw mulch and water thoroughly.
3. Place the container in a sheltered position that gets the winter sun. Ideally a position against a brick wall offers some protection from the elements as well as some heat.
4. Water about once a week and only if it doesn’t rain. Overwintered chilli plants don’t need much water but make sure the soil is not dry.
5. In spring, repot the chilli plant into a larger container or in the ground or raised garden bed. Use fresh soil, compost, a little blood and bone and some phosphorus to promote fruit production. Place in full sun, mulch well and water. The plant will soon wake up from its dormancy and produce lush foliage and abundant fruit.
Overwintering chilli plants is simple enough to do if you’re in a frost free area, and come springtime, you’ll be rewarded for the little effort it takes.