Pepper plants are perennial and can grow back every year if you help them along and create the right environment.
But there is one major hurdle to cross. Peppers are not hardy, and they will not tolerate frost.
Pepper plants will overwinter outdoors in tropical zones with no winter frost.
Today, you will learn why you should overwinter pepper plants and how it is done in an easy-to-follow, stress-free way.
Why most peppers are grown as annuals, not perennials
So yes, pepper plants can survive and grow into large shrubs when protected from cold weather and frost.
But most gardeners actively choose to grow peppers as annuals as it is easier.
Overwintering peppers means extra work, and gardeners prefer to start new seeds every year.
And yes, I agree that overwintering pepper plants will take some planning and work, but there are also rewards to be had.
3 top reasons to overwinter (some) of your pepper plants
Overwintering any plant is, of course, a rewarding experience. But there are also real benefits and advantages to overwintering plants.
Here are the top 3 reasons you should consider overwintering at least some of your pepper plants.
1. Get a headstart on the growing season
Peppers need a long growing season to develop and mature. While this holds for all peppers, it is especially true for hotter pepper varieties like Bhut Jolokia ghost peppers, habanero peppers, and cayenne peppers.
Overwintering pepper plants will give you an earlier start, a longer growing season, and more pepper fruits to harvest.
2. Some peppers are difficult to start from seed.
We all hear about the successes, but truthfully, pepper seeds for hotter pepper varieties can be fickle to germinate.
Seeds take weeks to germinate, require certain soil temperature intervals and need that perfect state of soil moisture.
And when seeds germinate and sprout, they need lots of light for the seedlings to develop into vigorous, compact plants.
Overwintering pepper plants, skip these steps and let you start your growing season with a developed pepper plant.
3. Clone a pepper plant with desirable traits
Growing peppers, there will sometimes be that plant that yields a bigger harvest or seems more disease-resist than the other plants.
And, of course, we want that plant to come back every year.
But seeds harvested from the pepper fruits will not give you back the plant you loved. You may get something similar, but it will not be the clone you want.
So how do you bring back that exact clone of your favorite plant?
You guessed it; overwintering the plant will give you back that same plant with those same traits and qualities.
How to overwinter pepper plants
It is not hard to overwinter pepper plants. All it takes is a bit of planning, patience, and a sense of humor.
Why do you need a sense of humor? Because, much like starting peppers from seed, there is no guarantee it will work.
1. Prune the pepper plant
Remove all fruits and flowers and trim all leaves.
Next, start trimming branches, leaving 2-3 “Y” shaped stems or branches off the main stem.
2. Clean plant thoroughly
A visual inspection is not enough. Hose down the remaining stems with a medium firm spray.
3. Remove, trim, and clean root ball
Remove the root ball from the pot or container and use garden scissors to trim the root ball to fit into your indoor overwintering pot.
Next, use a hose to rinse off the soil to minimize the risk of spreading pests or soil-based pathogens.
Your plant may be healthy now, but this simple step minimizes the risk of spreading dormant diseases to your indoor growing environment.
Finally, dunk the clean root ball in a water-based neem oil solution. This final step may feel over the top, but it does make a difference.
4. Plant pepper plant in a new pot
Plant your pepper plant in a new, clean pot with fresh potting soil that drains well. I recommend adding perlite to help aerate roots and create good drainage.
Potting soil should be moist, not wet.
5. Find a spot for the potted pepper plant to overwinter
To help the plant survive winter, place the pot in a room with some light and a temperature around 10-15 degrees Celsius (50-59 F).
The pepper plant will go dormant as it overwinters and will not need a lot of water or light.
A garage or storage room near a window is often an ideal spot. Avoid direct sunlight and water just enough to prevent soil from drying out.
6. Bring pepper plant out of hibernation
About 4-6 weeks before the last frost, place the pot in a warmer spot with more natural light. Use a heat mat and grow light if necessary.
Avoid shocking the plant by making the change in environment and conditions gradual.
Within weeks you will start seeing new growth on your plant. Make sure to water more but take care not to overwater.
Summary and wrap up
Pepper plants are perennials and will grow back every year given the right conditions.
Overwintering peppers is not a complicated process. But it is a manual process, and there are no shortcuts if you want to minimize the risk of spreading pests and diseases.
If you have limited space, I recommend overwintering the hotter pepper varieties like ghost peppers, habanero peppers, and maybe cayenne peppers.
Milder peppers like jalapenos, Spanish Padron peppers, and Jamaican bell peppers can, of course, also overwinter. But as they are faster to germinate, I tend to start then from seed every year.