To prune or not to prune, that is the question. While there is a debate on whether you should prune back (top) pepper seedlings at the beginning of the growing season, for overwintered peppers, the answer is yes.
Pruning your peppers before and after winter is straightforward. As long as you prune above at least one (preferably a few) growth nodes, your peppers will grow back healthy and strong.
Read below for a guide on how to prune pepper plants before and after winter, as well as some more tips on overwintering your peppers.
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How To Prune Pepper Plants Before Winter
Before you take your pepper plants inside for the winter, prune heavily along the branches above the nodes (joints along branches where new shoots grow) where you want new growth to occur. For tall, lanky pepper plants, you can prune down to the main stem, but make sure you have at least a few visible nodes to ensure new growth will occur.
Pruning pepper plants before winter is very straightforward. Prune down to the main 2-4 branches, or optionally down to the main stem, as long as there are multiple nodes for new growth to occur. These nodes are like joints or knots along a stem where new growth occurs, and sometimes you can already see tiny leaf buds on each node. Make your cuts with clean garden scissors or pruners just above the nodes.
When you bring them inside, you do not need to fertilize them, but you can apply a light fertilizer once and then apply again after winter. Read the section below on keeping your overwintered pepper plants alive.
How To Prune Pepper Plants After Winter
After winter, before or right after you take your overwintered pepper plants outside, prune above the nodes (joints along branches where new shoots grow) where you want new growth to occur. For tall, lanky pepper plants, you can prune down to the main stem to promote more compact, bushy growth, but make sure you have at least a few visible nodes to ensure new growth will occur.
Overwintered pepper plants benefit from pruning before they’re taken back outdoors in the spring. When you prune back your pepper plants, they will regrow new branches along the nodes below the cuts.
Below are the basic steps to take when pruning your pepper plants after winter:
- Use clean (preferably sanitized) garden scissors or pruners.
- Select branches you want to prune back, each with a few nodes. Nodes are joints along branches where new shoots grow. You may already see tiny undeveloped shoots already at your nodes.
- Cut right above the nodes you want to see new growth from.
- You might also want to remove some branches entirely, such as those that are growing across the center of the plant.
- Having 2-4 branches with
- Remove any tiny green branches with flowers and flower buds; this will help your plant focus on vegetative growth–growing new branches and leaves.
- If you have a tall, lanky pepper plant, you can prune down to the main stem, but ensure there are at least a few nodes to support new growth. Cutting all the branches and leaving just the stem is riskier, so ideally, you should do this if you already see tiny shoot buds on the nodes, so you know for sure that they will grow back.
Pro-Tip: After pruning, your pepper plants will take up less water, so you will not need to water as frequently until it starts growing back, but still make sure the soil is evenly moist and water when the top inch or so of potting soil is dry.
Pro-Tip: Applying a light feeding of balanced or high-nitrogen fertilizer after pruning will promote new shoot growth.
Pro-Tip: Whether you prune right after or right before taking your pepper plants outside in spring, slowly acclimate your pepper plant to outdoor conditions by gradually exposing them to direct sunlight over several days. Start with an hour of direct sunlight or a few hours of partial shade per day, and gradually increase the number of hours of sun exposure over 7-10 days until keeping them permanently outside.
Should I Prune Pepper Plants in Winter?
Pepper plants should be pruned before overwintering, and can benefit from being pruned after winter before taking them outside again.
While you can keep your pepper plants unpruned when overwintering them, it’s strongly recommended to prune them before you bring them indoors. Pruning serves several benefits when overwintering:
- Pruning reduces overall plant size, saving space indoors. Instead of bringing in a large, shrubby pepper plant, you can cut it down to a more manageable size. If you are transplanting your pepper into a smaller pot (either from a larger pot or dug up from the ground) then pruning will lessen transplant shock.
- Pruning encourages more compact growth and with adequate lighting, can lead to a larger flush of new flowers and peppers during the winter. Peppers absolutely grow back after being pruned, and when you prune a mature pepper plant, its larger root system will cause it to grow back relatively quickly, because of its large root system, it will grow back even faster. Furthermore, it will branch out and grow into a more compact growth habit that is more stable and bushy. A good grow light can even promote more flowering and fruiting, so you can enjoy pepper harvests in the middle of winter.
- Pruning helps remove any pests hiding on the leaves which can cause serious problems indoors. Even if your pepper plant doesn’t have a pest problem, a few aphids or other pests can quickly multiply and cause a serious infestation once your pepper plant is in a warm place indoors with no natural predators to control their numbers.
Pruning is also recommended after winter, before you take your pepper plants outside in the spring. This is mainly for reason #2 above, in that it will rejuvenate your pepper plants with new growth that will lead to new blooms and peppers in spring.
Will Pepper Plants Come Back After Winter?
Pepper plants cannot survive a hard frost. However, if kept out of freezing temperatures, pepper plants can survive the winter and grow back when pruned.
It may come as a surprise to many, but both sweet and chili peppers are shrub-like perennials, meaning they can keep growing for years. However, they cannot tolerate frosts or extended near-freezing temperatures, so most gardeners grow them as annuals.
If you shield them from the cold or bring them indoors over the winter, you can overwinter them and take them back outside in the spring when temperatures warm up. Follow up with some pruning right before or after you take your pepper plants outside again. Peppers readily grow back after being pruned.
When Should You Overwinter Peppers?
Pepper plants can be overwintered any time before the first frost, but preferably when nighttime temperatures are consistently below 50°F (10°C). One rule of thumb is to bring your pepper plants indoors a few weeks before your average first frost date.
Peppers are perennials but they are also frost-tender, meaning they can suffer damage or die at temperatures just below freezing. Even if you don’t experience frosts in your area, you should overwinter your peppers indoors if your winter temperatures are consistently below 50°F (10°C).
Exactly when to overwinter peppers before that point is at your own discretion. Many pepper growers start overwintering their peppers at least a few weeks before their average first frost date.
Keeping Overwintered Peppers Alive
To keep your overwintered pepper plants alive, ensure they have adequate light, nutrients, and water. Nevertheless, they don’t need as much as when they are growing outside.
Light requirements for peppers are much lower if you just want to keep them alive. A fluorescent shop light or low-wattage LED grow light is sufficient if you want to keep your peppers green and healthy. You also do not need to fertilize your pepper plants often during the winter; a light application of fertilizer in early winter and again in late winter is more than enough for overwintering. Pepper plants still need to be watered regularly, but the soil won’t dry out as frequently. Water when the top inch or so of potting soil is dry.
If you do want to grow peppers indoors for good winter harvests, you will need stronger grow lights for your pepper plants, which will promote flowering and fruiting.
After First Frost (Overwintering Plants)
If you plan to keep your pepper plants alive over the winter (overwintering), you will need to prune away most of the plant for the winter. This is the most dramatic pruning that will ever be done, leaving just a few leaves on the plant to keep it alive through the cold months.
To top pepper plants, prune off all of the growing points about 3 to 4 weeks prior to the arrival of the first expected frost. This forces all of the remaining peppers to mature and develop to their full color. Use a pair of pruners to trim off the topmost 3 to 6 inches of every branch and side shoot.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.What time of year should you trim a pepper tree? ›
Winter is usually the best time of year to prune California Pepper Trees as the tree is not actively growing at this time.How late can you prune pepper plants? ›
Late season pruning should be done at least one month before the first frost to allow sufficient time for the fruits to gain color. Clip away leaves that are hanging over and obscuring peppers. Be very careful not to stab or slice a fruit, as peppers are quite fragile and easily damaged.Do pepper plants lose their leaves in winter? ›
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.Should you top off pepper plants? ›
Cutting off the main growing point of the plant redirects energy to the axillary buds and forces them to grow, creating a bushier plant with more side shoots which in theory leads to more flowers and potentially more fruit. Topping pepper plants also encourages plants to grow sturdier stems.What do you do with pepper plants at the end of the season? ›
Overwintered peppers need to be kept somewhere that remains comfortably above freezing. In most cases an indoor windowsill, away from heat sources, is just fine. A conservatory would also work well.Should I pinch or top my pepper plants? ›
Topping pepper plant seedlings encourages them to grow more bushy. By pruning off the top of the seedling when it's young, the plant will focus its energy on growing side branches – rather than getting tall and lanky. The more side branches, the more places to grow flowers and fruit!What do you cover pepper plants with for frost? ›
Protect Tomato and Pepper Plants
You need two things to protect your tomato and pepper plants from frost: tomato cages (wood or metal is fine) or sturdy garden stakes, and bubble wrap. The tomato cages or garden stakes will form your structure, and you'll wrap the bubble wrap around that to protect your plants.
These include Bell Peppers, sweet/Italian Peppers, Serrano, Cayenne, Paprika, Hatch Chile Peppers, ornamental peppers like the gorgeous NuMex Twilight pepper, and all of the fast growing Jalapeños. These pepper plants can live between 1.5-3 years.How much should I prune my pepper plants? ›
Trim back all non-essential branches a few weeks before the first frost. As the season draws to an end, trim back all the parts of the pepper plant that don't already have maturing fruit on them. Remove branches with flowers and any peppers unlikely to ripen before the frost.What is the best mulch for peppers? ›
There are lots of options for the Best Mulch for Tomatoes and Peppers, you can use fine wood mulch, compost, grass clippings, paper mulch, fabric, straw, leaves or newspaper. We think the best mulches are grass clippings or good compost as they help feed the soil. Mulching can prevent a lot of problems in the garden.Should I put straw around my pepper plants? ›
Reduce Pests and Diseases
Straw mulch at the base of tomato and pepper plants also prevents that transfer of soil-borne diseases such as early blight to plant leaves. No water splashes up from the soil to leaves, because the straw absorbs it.
In a nutshell, overwintering helps your plants go dormant during cold weather so that they can come back next spring. You typically do this by bringing outdoor plants inside. For chillies, you'll start winterizing pepper plants well before the first frost because temperatures of 32°F (0°C) and below can kill them.What happens if you leave a pepper on the plant too long? ›
'The peppers become sweeter the longer they are left on the vine. But this does mean your plant will bear fewer fruits, something to bear in mind,' cautions Samantha. It is important to pick red bell peppers as soon as they fully change color. Leaving red bell peppers on the vine for too long can lead to over-ripening.What temperature is too cold for pepper plants? ›
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 time should I water my pepper plants? ›
We recommend watering after the soil has dried somewhat. During the longest hottest days of summer, that may be every day. During cooler weather and during spring and fall you may only need to water them every 2-3 days. The best bet is to feel the top layer of soil to see if it's moist, if it is, wait before watering.What happens if you over prune a plant? ›
Over time, continued over pruning may lead to branches that are too weak to tolerate wind or ice loads, or the plant may simply exhaust itself trying to replenish its canopy. The plant may become extremely weak, allowing a variety of pathogens and insects to invade.Why are the leaves on my pepper plant turning yellow and falling off? ›
One of the most common reasons for pepper plants turning yellow is watering stress. This can happen if plants are either overwatered or underwater. But when it comes to pepper plants the main culprit tends to be overwatering. Pepper plants like moist soil, but they don't like to sit in water.
Both overwatering and underwatering can result in pepper plant leaf drop. You should water mature plants once or twice a week, no more, no less. Don't run for the hose in the heat of the day if you see the pepper leaves wilting. Leaves naturally droop a little at this time, but they don't need water.Can you move pepper plants inside for winter? ›
Like so many outdoor plants, hot peppers can be moved indoors for the winter months. In their native environment, peppers do not get exposed to freezing temperatures and will live for many seasons. If you have peppers in containers, they can easily be moved indoors.Do you water pepper plants from the top or bottom? ›
If you must water your pepper plants during the day, be sure to water at the base of the plant below the leaves. If you get some water on the leaves, you can dab it dry with a towel to avoid the leaves scalding in the light.Can you plant peppers in the same place every year? ›
So, don't plant peppers or any of their solanaceous relatives--tomatoes, eggplant, or potatoes--in the same spot this year. From painful experience, I've learned a 3-4 year rotation is best, especially for gardeners who want to maximize production from a small growing area.Will pepper plants continue to produce? ›
In short, yes. Pepper plants will keep on growing and producing all season long. This is great news is you live in a warm climate with a long growing season!Should I remove first flowers from pepper plants? ›
We always pinch our pepper plants' first blooms to get the plants to put more energy into growing rather than into a few first pods. This is especially good to do prior to transplanting, as the plants will put more energy into their roots and growing rather than producing fruit.How do I save pepper plants for next year? ›
- Thoroughly prune your pepper plants. Remove all the leaves and all but a few of the nodes to reduce your pepper plant to a simple Y-shaped stem. ...
- Choose the hardiest plants. ...
- Clean the roots. ...
- Water the plants sparingly. ...
- Wait until the last frost to bring plants outdoors.
Yes—peppers (hot and sweet) are perennial plants that will live for many, many years if protected from frost.Can pepper plants survive winter indoors? ›
Temperature, Light and Water Needs
Overwintered peppers need to be kept somewhere that remains comfortably above freezing. In most cases an indoor windowsill, away from heat sources, is just fine.
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.
Most sweet peppers mature in 60-90 days; hot peppers can take up to 150 days.