Peppers are perennial and they just and need to stay away from severe cold (50 degrees Fahrenheit and below), frost and snow to survive each year. Oftentimes, pepper plants produce larger chillies in greater quantities when they are allowed to mature. With care, you may get your plants to live 10 years or longer! A common solution is to get your plants into pots, and then use a few key techniques to protect chillies — especially if you’re in a colder climate.
Prune Your Peppers
Pruning helps your plants stay alive and go into hibernation so that they can store energy for the next growing season. Get out a pair of clean pruning shears and cut off any lingering peppers. If they’re still green, you can leave them on the counter for a couple days to ripen up, or try eating them in the immature stage — you might like the flavor. Cut all the leaves off as well as any brown limbs that are dead. You want to leave the chili plant bare so that it just has its original “Y” shape. These plants are in the process of being pruned for the winter:
If your plants try to produce buds after pruning, pinch them back.
Replenish the Potting Mix
Keeping your pepper plants alive for more than one year means replenishing the potting mix. A new mix delivers fresh nutrients and removes any bad insects that might be present. You have a couple of options here: A) Swap out the old potting mix for a new mix, or B) Use the same mix and add fresh compost, potting mix or soil conditioner. The method you use depends on how many pepper plants you have. If you have a lot of plants, buying new mix can be costly! Here’s what you’ll do for each option:
Swap Out Old Mix
- Dig out your chili plant and put it in a safe spot. I usually leave mine propped up against a wall or laying on the ground if it isn’t in danger of being trampled on.
- Trim the root ball and dispose of the old mix.
- Fill the container with new mix. * Note: if you’re worried about any diseases that might be present, carefully pour some boiling water in your pot to sterilize it first.
- Position your plant in the pot and water the soil well.
Add Fresh Compost or Soil Conditioner
- Repeat Step #1 above.
- Pour the old mix in in a clean container.
- Add compost and blend it in with the old mix. If you don’t have compost, you can add new potting mix. I usually use a ratio of 75% old mix to 25% compost or new mix. If using soil conditioner, such as Happy Frog, follow the instructions on the bag.
- Place your replenished mix and plant back in the pot.
Get Rid of Bugs
Ideally, you want your pepper plants indoors during colder weather. Before you do this, make sure any bugs are gone so you don’t end up with an indoor infestation. First, spray the whole plant, including the top layer of mix, with an organic insecticidal soap until it’s drenched. Wait about 5 minutes, and then spray water over the plants to wash the soap away. Leave your plants outside for a day, and if you don’t see any bug activity, you can bring them inside.
Tips on Moving Peppers Indoors and Lighting
A desirable indoor temperature for hibernating peppers is between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and never below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Look for available spots in a covered garage, basement or spare room.
My pepper plants increase each year and I don’t always have an indoor space for them. What I do is put them under a covered patio to give them shelter, cover them with a frost blanket or floating row cover at night to bring up the temperature and then remove the blanket in the morning.
As far as lighting, your plants can survive if they’re situated next to a bright window. Otherwise, add some fluorescent bulbs or grow lights a couple of inches above the pepper plants to keep them going.
So that’s about it! Continue to watch for insects, water your chili plants when the soil gets dry (my plants like a once a month watering when they’re being overwintered) and put them back outside when the temperatures consistently stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the threat of frost has passed.
Soften the Seed Shell
One of the best things you can do for your seeds is to soak them before planting. This weakens the shell barrier so the seedlings don’t have to work so hard to come up. If you use a weak chamomile tea solution for the soaking, you also kill off any bacteria that may be present.
Make the Weak Tea Solution:
Brew a cup of chamomile and drink it. Use the same tea bag to make another cup of tea, and then use that batch to soak your seeds. Let your seeds soak for 24 to 48 hours before planting.
Use the Bag Method
You can create an effective germination environment for your chili seeds simply by using a paper towel, ziplock bag or coffee filter and water. This bag method is ideal for difficult varieties that have problems sprouting using the traditional seed-starting mix. Some peppers also germinate faster in the bag. Here’s how you do it:
- Fold a paper towel or coffee filter in quarters and then spray it with water until is damp.
- Place your pepper seeds in between the fold.
- Position your towel and chili seeds in the ziplock bag. Seal it up.
- Spray your towel and seeds each day with water to keep it damp.
- Check for sprouting seeds. When they germinate, bury them under a light layer of sterile potting soil.
If you use a paper towel, cut the portion of the towel that has the germinated seedling because if you pull the seedling, you can tear the root. You shouldn’t have to do this with the coffee filter.
Use the Cup Method
A lidded, 2.5 ounce gelatin cup creates another ideal setting for pepper germination. You can get these cups at a party supply or grocery store. Dampen a small piece of paper towel and stick it at the bottom of the cup. Place your seeds on top of the towel and put the lid on. Leave the cup on a warm spot and dampen the towel each day to keep the environment moist.
Try the Freezer Method
One of our fans on the Grow Hot Peppers Facebook page was kind of enough to share a technique that he uses with great success. We haven’t tried this ourselves, but we encourage you to test it out and let us know if works for you. Here goes:
- Place your pepper seeds in the freezer for two days. Yep, we said freezer.
- Remove the seeds and position them in a folded-up paper towel. Dampen the towel with water.
- Place the towel on a plate and cover it with a dark bowl. Situate it on top of a warm spot. Ideally, you want the temperature to be between 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Check your seeds each day and dampen the towel when needed.
We hope these pepper germination techniques help you raise all the chile varieties you want.
Between 2006 to 2010, the ghost pepper was given the world’s hottest pepper title by Guinness World Records. This distinct chile is also known as “Bhut Jolokia” and “Naga Morich,” which all refer to the pepper that is over 1 million Scoville units hot and three times hotter than the habanero. If you’ve ever enjoyed the delicious pain of the ghost chili, you have the option to grow it indoors or in your garden. The bhut jolokia, being one of the hottest peppers on the planet, is really hard to find in grocery stores. Understand how to grow this hot pepper so you can really add some heat to food.
First, select a well draining seed-starting soil mix to sow the naga seeds under a shallow layer of dirt. The key here is to keep the soil warmed between 75 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a heating mat to consistently keep this rating. Ghost chilies typically become seedlings in 30 days.
Next, water your soil so that it is constantly damp, but not drenched. These peppers are sensitive to too much hydration just like other hot peppers, so use a moisture meter to check the level, or use a bottom-watering technique for a safer way to water your peppers.
Keep your young peppers underneath an indoor growing light at least 10 hours a day and make sure the lamp is no more than 4 inches away from the top of the plants.
Once your ghost peppers have at least four leaves, transfer them to a larger pot. Watch the growth of your chillie seedlings and continue to move them to bigger containers when needed. Bhut jolokia are generally transferred two or three times before they go outside.
Fully ripe ghost chillies usually develop in 160 days. You can expect orange to red peppers that are 1 inch to 2 inches wide and 2 inches to 3 inches high. The pepper plants themselves grow up to 4 feet high and do well when they are at least 36 inches apart from each other in the ground.
When you touch these dented, cone-shaped peppers, wear gloves to protect yourself from the burn. And when you’re ready to eat them, keep that milk nearby to soothe the heat in your throat. Most of all, get ready to brag to your friends that you grow one of the world’s hottest peppers.
Bottom-Watering Equipment for Growing Pepper Seedlings
Make sure that you have the right supplies before you water your peppers from the bottom. Choose planting containers, such as a propagator, that have holes in the bottom. Select a tray that can sufficiently hold the containers and that is a couple of inches high. Further, acquire distilled water because your tap water may contain too much chlorine that can kill the chile seedlings. Optionally, you can use a wicking mat that goes underneath your containers and helps get the hydration to the pepper roots, but it’s not necessary.
Procedure for Bottom-Watering your Chillies
Place your containers in the plant tray and fill the tray with at least 1 inch of distilled water. Let the water stand for at least 10 minutes and then stick your index finger up to the second knuckle in the soil to ensure that it’s wet. If it’s not, let the water stand for another 10 minutes and then repeat the test. Pour out the water in the tray and then dry it completely to ensure that your pots do not sit in the moisture. As a tip, try picking up the container to get a sense of how it feels when your pepper seedlings are properly watered. Continue to water your peppers when the tray feels lighter, indicating that the soil mix is dry.
Watering Your Hot Peppers in Outdoor Containers
Larger outdoor containers may also be watered from the bottom. Obtain a large container, such as an inflatable swimming pool or trough, that is large enough to hold the pepper pots. Position the pots in the container and fill it with water so that the it reaches halfway up the pots. Leave the water for about 30 minutes to an hour to allow the pepper roots to soak up all the moisture. Again, lift the pot to get a feel for how heavy it should be when the hot pepper plant is sufficiently hydrated. Use this bottom-watering technique when your pots are light, or stick a moisture meter in your pepper soil to determine if its ready for another watering.
Did you enjoy this article? If so, check out the "Grow Your Own Jalapenos and Super Hot Peppers in Containers" e-book for detailed, step-by-step instructions that explain how to grow all of your favorite chillies from beginning to end.