Last autumn I posted about my experiment overwintering peppers. This spring the results are in. The good news is it works! But the bad news is, it only works about 40% of the time. Two out of five. Below is a photo of one of the hot pepper plants I removed from the garden. I removed all the peppers I could find and then lopped off the truck, leaving a few inches for new growth to grow from.
This is how the trunks look after the foliage has been cut off. All of the plants that did overwinter grew new growth almost immediately.
For whatever reason one of the plants that had overwintered died after being planted out. The others are growing very nicely.
It was almost impossible to get the peppers to sustain growth through the winter. I just didn’t have enough light. It would most likely require grow lights to fruit indoors. I have some to the conclusion that it is just not worth the effort to trick the plant into growing.
Above is the same hot pepper plant shown against the fence. It is already flowering and a lot bigger than this year’s transplants, only time will tell if the harvest is consistent with last year’s.
Above is Sheepnose pimento, this plant was started late in the season last year and had not yet fruited when everything was starting to go dormant. It kept its leaves through the winter and it already had three large pimentos on it!
In consulsion I rate this experiment as a moderate success. I recommend to anyone interested in trying this, to use a good number of plants to increase the probibility of a successful overwinter. Keep in mind that the peppers I used are Capsicum Annum, not the hardier South American C. pubescens, which has been recommended for overwintering.
Most of us grow peppers as annuals, but all peppers are actually perennials, even the species Capsicum Annum, which can be overwintered and planted out again.
The genus Capsicum includes over 20 pepper species, but most popular varieties are included in the five domesticated species, C. annuum, C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. frutescens, and C. pubescens. The species Capcuscum Annum includes sweet bell peppers, cayenne, Anaheim, de Arbol, and Jalapeno, while Scotch Bonnets and Habaneros belong to the species Capsicum chinense. The famed Naga Jolokia, aka, Bhut Jolokia the hottest pepper in the world, is a naturally occurring hybrid between C. chinense and C. frutescens. The species C. Frutescens includes Thai Peppers and the Tabasco pepper, which was originally imported from the Mexican State of Tabasco, before it was made famous by the Louisiana-based manufacturer of Tabasco Sauce. According to the TheChileman.org, the hairy stemmed peppers in the species Pubescens, which are native to the mountains of South America are more tolerant of cooler conditions and tend to overwinter best.
I found a great guide to overwintering on The Chileman.org, my absolute favorite chili resource. The first thing to do is dig up the pepper plants before the first frost. Remove any fruits and cut off all of the foliage and branches, leaving a stump. Cut off a proportionately large amount of roots and plant in a container, tamping down the soil with a skewer or chopstick. Two to three weeks later, new growth is sprouting from nodes along the trunk. Water the peppers when new growth starts to form, or if the soil looks very dry. Currently more than 50% of my peppers of putting out new growth. So at least I’ll have a head start on my chilies for next year, if not some fruits during the winter.
In conclusion, overwintering peppers is a fun experiment. Personally, hot peppers grow very well for me, with few pests, but I have terrible luck with sweet peppers. They are sensitive to temperature changes and moisture changes, which most of the times causes them to shrivel up before they reach picking size. Just this year my California Wonder pepper finally starting producing at the end of October. So, maybe next year the plant can start off where it left off. One thing is for sure, I’ll be mulching my peppers next year.
Thanks to a number of great responses on my first overwintering peppers post, I learned some additional facts about growing peppers as perennials.
What I didn’t know before was peppers do not need to go dormant to be overwintered. If provided enough light, peppers can grow year-long and fruit indoors. Patrick of Bifurcated Carrots posted about a Siberian pepper plant that fruits and even flourishes in low indoor light conditions.
According to fellow organic gardener Mr. Tummas, at Growing Groceries, it is possible for peppers to be grown for several years in the same pot.
There are also some great pictures on the wonderful blog Mas Du Diable, where blogger Laura Hudson has posted the results of her in-the-ground overwintering experiments. Laura has successfully overwintered the same pepper plant for three years. It’s massive. Check out the post.
There is no consensus on the best practices for growing peppers as perennials and material from official sources is nonexistent. It is an an experimental process. There’s nothing to lose, at least it will be an educational experience.
Thanks to everyone for commenting and contributing their knowledge.
“Never regard study as a duty, but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs. ” – Albert Einstein