Overwintering chillies

by Kate Bradbury

[...] for the last three years I have overwintered chilli plants, albeit with varying degrees of success.

Yellow chillies on the plantEvery autumn I have the same dilemma: should I overwinter my chilli plants or not? I probably shouldn't bother, as they quite often die, but I always end up taking them indoors. It seems so wasteful throwing them in the compost bin.

Although they're usually grown in the UK as annuals, chilli plants (native to South and Central America) are perennial, so overwintering them shouldn't be a problem, if you live somewhere nice and hot. The theory is that if they survive winter, the plants flower and fruit far earlier than those sown in spring. Overwintering chillies can be a bit of a struggle in the UK though, unless you can offer them plenty of warmth and light (which I can't).

Nevertheless, for the last three years I have overwintered chilli plants, albeit with varying degrees of success. The first year I brought two 'Cayenne' plants indoors in autumn. They lived on the sunny kitchen windowsill and (just about) survived winter. The following year they flowered and fruited before those I grew from seed, but they didn't yield as good a crop as they had produced the year before, or as much as the younger plants.

The second winter they gave up the ghost, and died. Luckily, I also overwintered four 'Cheyenne' chilli plants I had raised from seed that year, but three of those died (I suspect vine weevil was involved), leaving the smallest, weakest one alive. It's still alive now, but hasn't so much as flowered this year. At what point should you give up on a plant? (I know, a year ago.)

Apparently, certain varieties are easier to overwinter than others.  This year I grew a yellow variety called 'Hot Stuff', which is supposed to overwinter well. The plants are still in fruit (which are delicious) and look healthy. It would be a shame to let the frost get them. If I do bring them in I'll repot them in fresh compost and keep them in the warmest, lightest part of the flat. Who knows, perhaps these will be the ones that survive winter and go on to flower and fruit their socks off next year. I like a challenge.

Have you successfully overwintered chillies?

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Overwintering chillies
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 21/10/2011 at 18:33

I live in the southern hemisphere and winter is not that harsh, still it rains a lot and temperatures are on the one digit. I left Jalapenos in the green house, an harvested them in August, some were really small, but still they were good. In the e end the plants were rotting because of the humidity. I will do the same this year.

Gardeners' World Web User 21/10/2011 at 21:12

am trying this year to over winter my dorset naga and scotch bonnet plants, not going to hold my breath though!! the main problem ive had this year with my chillies is aphids and have had very littel success in controlling them, would be grateful for any help on this matter

Gardeners' World Web User 21/10/2011 at 21:47

I've been growing many chilies for the last five years or so, only last year I tried overwintering them (I wanted to experiment). I brought them in on the windowsill but the house was invaded by aphids, literally (lots of them flying around and sticky substances around the window). I managed to control them to some degree by giving them a jet of water in the shower, but after about two months of doing this, I'm starting to wonder if it was worth it. Those I left in the conservatory didn't make it, but the ones in the house on the windowsill was ok. In late winter, I gave them a drastic cut until about 20 cm of the soil level. They grew back very well, but now at the end of the season I also find their fruits are not as big as those I started from seed this year, though there are as many of them. So, I think the conclusion of my experiment is it's not worth the effort of trying to keep control of the aphids for the whole winter. On the other hand, lots of the fruits are still green until now so I don't really want to kill them yet. I have one more experiment I want to do: overwinter them, and in late spring give them a hair cut and root cut, then re-plant in new compost. Maybe then I'll get a good result?

Gardeners' World Web User 22/10/2011 at 05:47

In London, I successfully overwinter jalapeno chillies on a sunny windowsill indoors every year so that I have a supply of fresh chillies. This year I'll be trying the 'super chilli' variety as they are still laden with unripe pods. I treat jalapenos as biennial and they do produce flowers and pods earlier than ones sown from seed. Aphids are a general pest when bringing plants indoors and should be treated as such.

Gardeners' World Web User 22/10/2011 at 06:28

Hi Kate, We have a naga chilli sitting comfortably in our conservatory (S.E.England) as it has done for the last 4 years. It seems happy to flower & fruit (with a bit of manual pollination) all through the winter & only requires a bit of judicious pruning if it gets leggy. Yes, white fly & spider mite can be a problem but an occasional water spray or immersion seems to help prevent this. This year we will be trying to overwinter some additional types (apricot, coffee bean, pumpkin & Etna). A simple tip (well it works for us) is to initially reduce the summer growth by 1/2 to 2/3rds & then provide as much light as possible & not over/under water.

See more comments...