Overwintering chillies

by Kate Bradbury

Last year I had a great crop of chillies. I was so pleased with them that I couldn't bear to throw the plants on the compost heap when they'd finished fruiting.

ChilliesLast year I had a great crop of chillies. I was so pleased with them that I couldn't bear to throw the plants on the compost heap when they'd finished fruiting. So I saved my favourite two to overwinter indoors as an experiment in chilli endurance.

Although grown in the UK as annuals, chillies are perennial plants, so technically they can last for several years. The climate of their native South and Central America helps though. I once stayed in a hostel in Fiji that had lush, green chilli bushes growing in the grounds. The bushes were huge and bright red chillies hung from them like exotic earrings.

By December my overwintered chillies looked quite dead. I put this down to the fact that it was December, it was dark and miserable and they should have been on the compost heap.

In January I just had two pots of twigs, so in a last-ditch effort to save them, I top-dressed them with some fresh compost and fed them with a seaweed solution. Come March, I had moved house and no longer had a sunny windowsill to keep them on, so I hardened them off quite abruptly by putting them outside.

Against all odds, my chillies burst into new life and vigour. I repotted them in fresh compost and sowed seeds of red clover around the base of their stems, to act as a green manure. I hoped the clover would fix nitrogen in the soil, which would directly feed the chillies and encourage new leaves to grow. This seemed to work, and before long the plants were in full leaf and flower and attracting lots of hoverflies.

I did get some chillies, but not as many as I'd hoped for, and they weren't as hot or flavoursome as the first year's crop. Perhaps this is because I overwintered them, or maybe they rebelled at such harsh treatment. I'll definitely wait until I have a greenhouse before attempting to overwinter chillies again. But I think I'll be taking these two inside again this autumn. I feel I owe it to them.

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Gardeners' World Web User 25/09/2009 at 10:41

I disappear to a warmer land for 3 months in winter. This year I have two 3 foot high avocados doing well in sheltered corners of my garden. Has any one suggestions about helping them survive the winter eg smothering in compost & horse manure.Will the heat generated harm them ? would a framework surrounded by bubble wrap do the trick ? alternatively maybe I could transfe them to my greenhouse floor.But I really want to leave them where they are ......

Gardeners' World Web User 25/09/2009 at 11:06

Dear ShensiHarness, I've never kept avocados outside, but mine have always survived over winter in a very cold conservatory, so maybe just make sure the roots are well covered as you suggested and wrap them in fleece? I'd be interested to know how they get on!

Gardeners' World Web User 25/09/2009 at 11:19

I used to live in Zimbabwe where we grew chillies all year round and some of our plants were years old. I like you tried to overwinter but gave up and just keep the seeds now but start early in the season. This year I was harvesting chillies in July and still have much to go...

Gardeners' World Web User 25/09/2009 at 14:00

I do understand you not wanting to do away with the chilli plants, but I always freeze, and also dry surplus chillies and find they last the year round so no need to keep the plants. I have also grown them indoors and they make lovely plants all year round and give the hanging chillies away to visitors.

Gardeners' World Web User 25/09/2009 at 16:38

All the tops of my potatoes have suddenly wilted and died. Any comment on what could have caused this and what I should do next?

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