Chili Plants: How to Overcome Winter’s Obstacles - Simplify Gardening (2023)

Tony O'Neill

Tony O’Neill, gardener and author of the popular “Composting Masterclass” and “Your First Vegetable Garden,” combines lifelong passion and expert knowledge to simplify the art of gardening. His mission? Helping you cultivate a thriving garden.

Chili plants, a sub-cultivar of the pepper species, members of the Solanaceae family (nightshades) are perennials that are often grown as annuals.

An annual plant’s life completes a full cycle of seed-to-seed in a single year. Biennials do so in two years, and perennials go from planted seed to fruit and seed in more than two years. Chilies are perennials that grow and provide a crop in the first year and several years thereafter.

(Video) How To Grow Chillies At Home|100+ chillies per plant|Seed To Harvest

Indoor Hydroponic System - Autopot XL - Chilli Plant

Table of Contents

  1. What is the Difference between Pepper Plants and Chili Plants?
    1. Capsicum annuum
    2. Capsicum chinense
    3. Capsicum frutescens
    4. Capsicum pubescens
  2. Overwintering Chillies
  3. Growing Chillies
    1. How Much Light Do Chilli Plant Seedlings Need?
    2. Harvest Chilli Plants
    3. Overwintering Chillies – Plant Selection
      1. Step 1 – Choose well
      2. Step 2 – Harvest Remaining Chilli Seed Pods
      3. Step 3 – Prune Excess Foliage
      4. Step 4 – Begin Feeding for Next Year
      5. Step 5 – Provide Protection
  4. Using Pots for Overwintering Peppers

What is the Difference between Pepper Plants and Chili Plants?

All chilies are peppers, but not all peppers are chilies. Peppers include sweet peppers (green bell peppers) and hot peppers (chili peppers). Chili plants generally refer to the hotter varieties of pepper, excluding bell or sweet pepper.

All pepper plants (including chili) are part of the Solanaceae family, including tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants (aubergines). All peppers are part of the Capsicum genus.

Knowing plant families is important because each family has related soil-borne diseases and shouldn’t be planted sequentially in the same garden bed.

For instance, you shouldn’t plant tomatoes in a bed (or pot) that had potatoes the previous year, especially if the potatoes had some challenges. The same goes for eggplants and chili plants (pepper plants).

The Capsicum genus includes C. annuum, C. chinense, and C. frutescens.

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Capsicum annuum

This species includes chili, bell, paprika, and cayenne peppers. Some hybrids include:

  • ‘Basket of Fire’
  • ‘Black Pearl
  • ‘Buena Mulata’
  • ‘Calico’
  • ‘California Wonder
  • ‘Early Jalapeno’
  • ‘Mad Hatter’
  • ‘Purple Flash’
  • ‘Sweet orange’
  • ‘Sweet Sunset’

Capsicum chinense

The species is responsible for some of the hottest chili peppers you can grow and includes:

  • Adjuno
  • Ghost pepper
  • Carolina Reaper
  • Congo pepper
  • Jamaican Hot
  • Madame Jeanette
  • Red Dominica
  • Red Savina habanero
  • Scotch Bonnet
  • Trinidad Scorpion

Capsicum frutescens

This species of chili plant, also known as the tabasco pepper or bird’s eye pepper, grows as a shrub extending to six feet tall. Hybrids include:

  • Bird’s Eye
  • Hawaiian Pepper
  • Kambuzi Pepper
  • Malagueta Pepper
  • Piri Piri
  • Tabasco
  • Thai Pepper

Capsicum pubescens

Every family has one, the cousin that breaks the rules. This is the only family member with epidermis hairs on the foliage. Capsicum pubescens, also known as the ‘tree pepper,’ is the strangest domesticated pepper plant, producing chili seed pods thick-walled and juicy with black seeds and purple flower buds.

The species is home to some of the only known cold-resistant pepper varieties. Some plants maintain a low and wide structure with small leaves, while others can grow quite tall.

(Video) 5 Pepper Growing Mistakes to Avoid

Overwintering Chillies

Some varieties overwinter much better than others. From experience, we have found that chilies from the genus of Baccutum, Chinese, Frutescens and Pubescens survive winter much better than annual varieties.

Simply put, we have had better success overwintering hotter varieties than the milder ones. With proper care, all peppers can be grown as multi-year crops if you take the precautions I share in this post. Generally, crop yields improve with time, and the first-year crop poorly reflects the plant’s potential. It’s worth persevering!

Growing Chillies

Chili plants are native to warmer climates, and they are warm-season plants. Anything below 55°F (10°C) will cause them not to form fruit.

Chilli plant seeds germinate when soil temperatures are between 80 and 95°F (21 – 35°C) and won’t germinate below 55°F (10°C). The ideal soil temperature is 85°F (29°C), and this will cause seedlings to emerge after a week to ten days.

Your best option for beating the winter frost is planting your chili plants in pots. If you live in a warmer climate (USDA Hardiness Zones 9 – 11), raise your beds to help the soil warm up faster and drain better.

Sow seeds indoors in flats, cell packs, or peat pots about ten weeks before the anticipated transplanting, knowing that transplanting can only be done when the soil has warmed (about two weeks after the last frost).

Use an inert growing medium (sand, pumice, perlite, vermiculite) to plant about a quarter of an inch deep seeds. Keep plants indoors in a sunny location where daytime temperatures are about 70°F (21°C)) and nighttime temperatures are above 65°F (18°C).

Pepper plants don’t need light to germinate, but light will boost seedling growth and health. The nightshade family (Solanaceae) are day-light-neutral plants and don’t need darkness to flower.

How Much Light Do Chilli Plant Seedlings Need?

Ideally, you want a heating mat and artificial light to boost initial growth. Ample light (16 hours) boosts photosynthesis which boosts root system health and dense foliage. Insufficient light causes plants to grow spindly internodes (leggy) as they reach for the sun. This can cause transplant risks.

Don’t be in a rush to transplant outside. Cold temperatures can weaken plants, and they may never fully recover. Harden your plants by reducing water, light, and temperatures systematically.

Unlike tomatoes and potatoes in the same family, pepper plants don’t have pubescent (hair on the leaves), and leaves are protected by a wax layer that develops in response to light levels.

If you’re planting your chili plants outdoors, wait for the soil to be above 55°F (10°C) minimally. This is generally about two to three weeks after the last frost when the weather has settled. Plant chili plants about 18 inches apart, in rows two to three feet apart or closer (15 inches) in raised beds.

A pepper plant prefers full sun and soil that drains well. If your soil is heavy clay, add compost to aerate it. I advise home gardeners to plant their pepper plants in a container.

(Video) Save Your Chilli Pepper Plant During Winter | Overwinter Chilli Plant

It allows you to move it indoors, making overwintering pepper plants much easier. Overwintering peppers should be protected from frost.

Harvest Chilli Plants

Most cultivars’ first fruits begin to mature in 60-90 days after transplanting. Hot peppers can ripen before harvesting, although Jalapenos can be picked green. Use secateurs to harvest fruit, leaving about an inch of stem on the fruit.

Fruit doesn’t ripen simultaneously, so harvest every seven to ten days. Green fruit will ripen if stored above 50°F (10°C).

Overwintering Chillies – Plant Selection

I haven’t had much success overwintering peppers that grow tall on a single stem, like Cayenne or Jalapenos. However, these are easy to grow from seed anyway. For other busy varieties, here are five steps to follow:

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Step 1 – Choose well

Select healthy plants from your crops of chill plants. Be selective, and avoid weaker plants. Pick robust-looking plants that seems to be surviving better than others, with a healthy main stem and signs of new growth, rather than diseased plants.

You want a plant with some resilience. If the plant is in a pot, consider repotting it using fresh compost into a slightly larger pot. Don’t go for a large pot, as these tend to lose soil temperature faster.

Step 2 – Harvest Remaining Chilli Seed Pods

Harvest any remaining chili seed pods. If the chili fruit isn’t yet ripe, pair unripe fruit with a ripe banana. The ripe banana releases ethylene that triggers unripe fruit to ripen.

Step 3 – Prune Excess Foliage

Prune the chili plants by removing side branches, leaving nodes intact. Pruning stimulates root development. If you want your chili plants to grow taller, don’t prune the apex, as this is the meristem (growth point) from which chili plants grow vertically.

However, if the chili plants are already as high as you would like, then feel free to cut the main stem back, but don’t cut right back to the new growth. Leave an inch or so above any new leaves. Continue around the rest of the plant.

Try to preserve any “V” shaped sections, so the chili plants have maximum growth in the next growing season.

After cutting back the stems, your chili plants will resemble something like this. Remove any old leaves which may have dropped during the pruning process.

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Chili Plants: How to Overcome Winter’s Obstacles - Simplify Gardening (5)
(Video) Leaf Curling Disease in Chili Pepper, Capsicum & Tomato Plants | How to Identify, Prevent & Cure it?
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Chili Plants: How to Overcome Winter’s Obstacles - Simplify Gardening (8)

Step 4 – Begin Feeding for Next Year

The next stage is to add organic material and give the plant a final watering. You still need to water your plants in the winter but a lot less than in the summer. Once every 2-3 weeks will be enough (depending on where you are keeping them)

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Step 5 – Provide Protection

If possible, you should be overwintering our chili plants indoors. If you use an unheated area, like a garage, cover the pot with bubble wrap insulation. This gives the chili plants some added protection against frosts. Make sure to bubble wrap underneath the pot too.

To protect against sharp frosts, keep your overwintering chili plants off the floor, especially if the floor is tiles or concrete and the room is unheated.

Finally, on a really cold night (or day depending on the temperature), we will also use fleecing to give the stems an added level of protection. If frost gets into the stems, that is usually catastrophic for chili plants. However, we do not recommend covering the plants entirely with fleece throughout the winter. This can lead to rot and diseases and also not give the plant a chance to adapt to conditions.

Chili Plants: How to Overcome Winter’s Obstacles - Simplify Gardening (10)

Using Pots for Overwintering Peppers

A single chili plant can be a prolific producer, especially from its second year on, so growing them in pots and bringing them indoors in winter.

Chili Plants: How to Overcome Winter’s Obstacles - Simplify Gardening (11)

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(Video) EASY Way to Grow Chilli Plants in Plastic Milk Bottles!


How do you save chilli plants over winter? ›

Ideally, overwinter your chillies in a cool, bright room with temperatures between 10 and 15 °C. Make sure the temperature never goes below 10 °C. If the chilli is overwintered in a cool spot, it will not bear any fruit during this time but can save energy for the new season during its winter dormancy.

Can chili pepper plants survive winter? ›

Q: Can a pepper plant survive the winter? A: Yes, but they must be protected if you live in an area that experiences frost or freezing conditions. Overwintering peppers indoors is a great way to start your next growing season with healthy, mature plants.

How many years do chilli plants last? ›

These pepper plants can live between 1.5-3 years. We find that the New Mexican Chile varieties really produce the best in their first year, they don't produce much if grown longer than that, so planting fresh plants each season is best for the biggest harvests.

Is it worth overwintering chillies? ›

Overwintered chilli plants get a head start compared to slow-germinating seeds. This extends the growing season by several weeks, increasing the chances of a bumper, fully ripened harvest. An extended season also widens the range of varieties you can grow.

Do you water overwinter chilli plants? ›

Overwintering Care

1) Watering - The temperatures are lower so the plants will use far less water. Water less frequently to avoid damp conditions and deter mould build up. Check them once a week and water only when the compost is getting dry, this could be as little as every 2 - 3 weeks.

Should I bring pepper plants inside for winter? ›

The first step to overwintering your pepper plants is to bring them indoors before first frost. Before you do so, thoroughly spray down the entire plant, including the roots. This will help remove any pests that may be hiding on the leaves or roots. Remove all pepper fruits, mature or immature, from the plant.

How cold can chili peppers tolerate? ›

Most peppers are not happy when temperatures drop below 50-60˚ F. If you live in a short season climate, we recommend starting pepper seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost of the spring is expected, and wait to transplant outside until it's warmed up to at least 55-60˚ F at night consistently.

What is the coldest temperature that a pepper plant can tolerate? ›

Pepper plants will tolerate temperatures as low as 55 degrees Fahrenheit but may start to wilt and die in temperatures below that. The mature plants can thrive at 80 degrees Fahrenheit at maximum durability, while the best temperature is between 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Should you prune chilli plants? ›

As autumn intensifies, the cooling weather changes the temperature of the soil, and warm blooded creatures like chillies begin to lose their vibrancy and turn colour. At this point, take the last remaining harvest (perhaps make some chilli oil), and begin to prune.

Do chili pepper plants come back every year? ›

Peppers of all types are grown as annuals by most gardeners: sown, grown, picked, then condemned to the compost heap at the end of the season. Yet these hard-working plants are perennials that, given the right conditions, will happily overwinter to next year.

What is the best fertilizer for chilli plants? ›

Best Fertilizer for Growing Chili Peppers

Tomato fertilizers work well for chili pepper plants, as do compost and well-rotted manure. A good 5-10-10 fertilizer is usually sufficient for peppers. Work it into the soil before transplanting, about 3 pounds per 100 square feet.

Are coffee grounds good for chilli plants? ›

However, only use coffee grounds as fertiliser in moderation so that your garden soil's pH does not become acidic.

How much Epsom salt for chilli plants? ›

By adding one or two tablespoons to the area before planting for seeds, starter plants and full-grown plants, and then adding it twice a week based on the height of the plant (see above), you can give your pepper plants a much-needed magnesium boost.

Why are my chili plant leaves turning yellow and falling off? ›

Over-watering can cause stress to your pepper plants, causing leaves to turn yellow, stunted growth, and lower pepper production. What is this? Finally, extreme temperatures can cause pepper leaves to die and fall off, turning yellow. This is especially common in cold weather, below 50°F.

How long do chilli plants live indoors? ›

The indoor cultivation is worthwhile because of the sight and taste. Each year the chilli plant yields more fruit before it dies after three to four years. Ideal as a snack with salads or for seasoning with moderate heat.

What is the best way to store home grown chillies? ›

The peppers start to rot more quickly, so refrigeration is best. They will stay fresh longer this way. If you must store your peppers at room temperature, place them into paper bags and keep them in a cool dark place, such as your pantry.

When should I repot my chilli plant? ›

Chillies need repotting a few times during their growth. Once the seedlings reach about an inch high, they'll need their own snuggly pots. Gently lift them out by the leaves and plant them in a three to five inch container.

Should you water chilli plants from top or bottom? ›

  • Fill the plant tray with water.
  • Make sure the soil is in contact with the water on the tray.
  • Wait for about 10 minutes.
  • Feel the soil to see if it absorbed enough water —> if the soil is moist throughout, remove any excess water from the tray.
  • If it's still dry —> add more water to the tray.

What time of day should I water my chilli plants? ›

If possible, water your chillies in the morning or evening. But not in the blazing sun. If drops of water form on the leaves of the peppers, burns will occur. In order to prevent fungal diseases, the plant should have time to dry off before night falls.

Is 40 degrees too cold for pepper plants? ›

Between 33 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 degrees Fahrenheit (1 and 5°C), your peppers will suffer cold injury in the short term, and, most likely, death in the long term. What is this? And, even though it won't kill your peppers, temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12°C) significantly slow growth and ripening.

Do chilli plants lose their leaves in winter? ›

Chilli plants may very well go into a dormant state. They often lose their leaves and some of their stems will dry up. The plant may appear dead. Remove all remaining chillies in late December.

Can pepper plants survive 35 degrees? ›

To get the best start, plants should be hardened to the climate where they will grow. Peppers should be covered if the temperature drops below 50 degrees.

Should I cover my plants at 39 degrees? ›

Our recommendation would be to remove the cold protection covering once temperatures are above 32 degrees. If you leave the covering on when it gets warm and the sun is shining brightly, it may get too hot inside the cover and stress out the plants.

Can peppers survive a light frost? ›

Like all hot peppers, jalapenos are intolerant of frost. Mature plants with ripening fruit may be destroyed if they get hit by frost. There isn't any way to save the plant once it is exposed; however, the peppers are still edible. Pick peppers before frost and allow the peppers to continue ripening indoors.

How do you grow peppers in cold climates? ›

Planting Outdoors

Try the spicy Orange Rocoto Pepper or the Bulgarian Carrot Pepper, which both tolerate (and prefer!) cooler temperatures than most other peppers. Plant peppers in full sun – the more sun they get, the faster they will grow and mature. At least 6-8+ hours of sun daily is ideal.

Will stunted pepper plants recover? ›

Will Stunted Pepper Plants Recover? The good news is yes, they definitely can!

What temperature do pepper plants go dormant? ›

They are frost-tender and when nighttime temperatures drop to below 60°F and the days become shorter they will start to go dormant and drop their leaves. Temperatures below 35°F will kill the plant.

How do you increase chilli yield? ›

Increasing Fruit Production

The more branches your plants develop, the more fruits will be produced. If your chillies are growing in pots, a trick to increase branch growth is to tilt the containers sideways at 45 degrees, which will encourage new vertical growth from the sides of the main branches.

How do I make my chilli plant bushy? ›

Pinch out the growing tips when plants are about 20cm tall to encourage bushy growth. Tall varieties may need staking. Water your chilli plants little and often. As soon as the first flowers appear, feed weekly with a high-potash liquid fertiliser such as tomato feed.

Should I cut the bottom leaves off my pepper plants? ›

Peppers do not require as much pruning as tomatoes, but it's still important to keep the bottom leaves and stems cleared. This allows for good air flow and light, 2 vital keys to growing a great crop.

How many years can you overwinter pepper plants? ›

Pepper plants, ultimately, can live more than two years when they go through what's known as the “overwintering” or “winterizing” process. so, what is overwintering? In a nutshell, overwintering helps your plants go dormant during cold weather so that they can come back next spring.

Does picking peppers make more grow? ›

Does picking peppers make more grow? Yes, picking peppers off your pepper plants will keep them producing more pods. We also like to pinch off the first blossoms on pepper seedlings to ensure that they put more energy into growing so they produce more pods later.

Is Miracle Grow good for chilli plants? ›

Grow Your Hot Peppers From Seed

Plant in loose, well-draining soil amended with compost or garden soil, like Miracle-Gro® Organic Choice® Garden Soil. To prevent transplant shock, consider applying a starter plant food such as Miracle-Gro® Quick Start® Planting & Transplant Starting Solution.

Which plants do not like coffee grounds? ›

In most cases, the grounds are too acidic to be used directly on soil, even for acid-loving plants like blueberries, azaleas and hollies. Coffee grounds inhibit the growth of some plants, including geranium, asparagus fern, Chinese mustard and Italian ryegrass.

Can you overfeed chilli plants? ›

In conclusion YES, you can overfeed your chilli plants. Try not to. It's tempting to go nuts with plant food in the hope that more feed equals more chillies. But STOP, and consider whether your plants need that extra food, it might do more harm than good.

When should I cut my chilli plant back? ›

Pruning your chilli plant

In autumn, after the last fruit of the season has been picked and the plant is dropping leaves, you can prune the plant back quite hard. Trim back spindly and leggy branches, leaving a nice open framework with an even branching pattern.

Can you grow chillies indoors all year round? ›

In the winter months, chillies grow in many breeders' homes. All seeds are germinated on the windowsill or plants from the last season spend the winter in a bright room. If you don't have a garden or balcony, you can grow chili plants all year round indoors.

Can I bring my chilli plant indoors? ›

Keep chilli plants indoors until the night temperature is reliably at least 12°C (54°F), usually by late May or early June. Then harden off for two to three weeks, to acclimatise them to outdoor conditions. Chillies need your warmest, sunniest spot to produce a crop outdoors.

Will chillies ripen once picked? ›

The Branch Method.

What is this? Realistically, peppers do continue to ripen on their own after you've picked them, so even if you keep them in a small bin at room temperature, they should ripen up for you in about a week or two, though be sure to check on them periodically to make sure none of them goes bad.

Can I leave ripe chillies on the plant? ›

It's important to remember that as chilli pepper fruits mature, they tend to become hotter and spicier over time. However, by leaving the fruits on the plant to mature further you won't get new flowers and fruits forming.

How often do you water chilli plants? ›

One of the most important aspects of growing chilli pepper plants is getting the watering right, they are very thirsty plants. During hot periods, especially if grown inside a greenhouse, you will need to water regularly, usually twice a day. As dry compost will lead to a check in their growth.

How many chillies do you get per plant? ›

One plant will often give you a hundred chillies or more. So all but the most dedicated chilli eater can usually be self sufficient in chillies with just a few plants – something very achievable, even in a tiny growing space. Any surplus chillies can easily be dried or frozen, keeping you in supply all year.

How long does it take for a chilli plant to bear fruit? ›

Some can produce ripe fruit in 60 days from sowing and others take as long as 120 days. Remember that varieties such as Habaneros take 100 or more days (3 1/2 months) from potting on to reach maturity.

What not to plant with chili peppers? ›

Kale, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Collards, Fennel, and Kohlrabi, are poor companion plants for pepper plants. All plants belonging to the brassica family, such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli, are harmful to pepper plants and should be planted in a different area.

Do chilli plants like rain? ›

Rainwater is best suited for watering chili plants. Chillies do not grow particularly well in calcareous tap water.


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