Chili plants or by its scientific name Capsicum, is a genus of shrubby plants native to the tropical and subtropical regions of America that consists of forty accepted species and almost 200 described ones. They are popular for their fruits, which depending on the species have a spicy flavor of varying intensity. In any case, if you don’t like spicy, you can always have it in your orchard or garden as an ornamental plant since its flowers and fruits decorate both. In this post we will analyze the most important care when growing this potted plant indoors, and we will pay special attention to overwintering chilli plants.
Keep in mind that as we already mentioned there are many species within the genus chili plants, Capsicum annuum, Capsicum baccatum, Capsicum chinensem, Capsicum fruitescens, Capsicum pubescens. This means that some of the care that we mention here can be somewhat general, and there may be slight changes between one species and another. In any case, this general guide will serve you perfectly to cultivate your chili plants correctly, although it would not be bad for you to find out specifically about the species that you have grown in your garden.
1. How to care for chilli plants in pots
Although chili plants are quite easy to grow, both indoors and outdoors, it is always good to take into account some basic care so as not to make serious mistakes. Here’s a brief look at how you should care for a pot-grown chili plant:
- Location: the biggest problem that can arise when growing these plants indoors is being able to give them enough hours of sun a day. In order for them to thrive, they need between 6 and 8 hours of sun, so you should look for the best balcony or window you have so that they receive a lot of sun.
- Temperature: Chili plants like warm temperatures, the ideal temperature range is between 20 and 30 °C. As we will see in the following sections, they suffer a lot from the cold, so in winter you must take care of them.
- Irrigation: they require a lot of water, so you should always keep the soil a little moist but without waterlogging. When you see the top of the soil beginning to dry out, apply irrigation.
- Humidity: Since the origin of these plants is subtropical, they like humid environments. If the weather is very dry, you can mist the leaves with water or place a tray filled with water near the plant. This will slightly increase the humidity level near the chile plants.
- Fertilization: I can briefly recommend that you use balanced fertilizers (eg 10-10-10). The frequency of the application will depend on the type of fertilizer used, if it is a liquid fertilizer, it is enough to fertilize once a month in spring and summer. During the fall and winter it is best to eliminate fertilization.
- Pruning: Pinch off the tips of the plant when young to encourage bushier growth. As the plant matures, prune back any weak or leggy growth to redirect energy to stronger branches.
- Pests and diseases: As with any plant, it is essential that you check it regularly for signs of pests or diseases. Among the most common pests we can mention the aphid, the whitefly and the red spider. It is key that you control these pests early or they could end up killing your chili plant.
- Pollination: when you grow indoors, the fertilization process can be diminished by the lack of insects and drafts. So you can help the fertilization process by gently shaking the plant or using a small brush to transfer the pollen between the flowers.
- Transplanting: If cared for properly, chili plants can live for a couple of seasons, so you may need to repot if it’s getting too small. Never forget to check the correct drainage of the pot.
- Overwintering: taking care of the cold is essential when living in areas with well marked winters. In the following sections we will analyze this point in depth.
By following these care tips, your indoor chili plants will thrive and you will be able to use their spicy fruits in your kitchen.
2. What is overwintering plants
Overwintering plants is what is known as the process by which we seek to protect our plants from the adverse effects of the cold. It is carried out on plants that do not respond well to low temperatures and with our care we will try to guarantee their survival and well-being until the return of a warmer climate in the spring.
In areas with well marked winters, where every year we have some frosts, it is essential to know some techniques to protect our plants. Otherwise, they will suffer negative effects, among which we can mention:
- Direct damage by frost: we know as frost when the temperature drops to levels below zero. At that moment the water begins to transform into ice, which increases its volume (by approximately 7%). As plant cells contain a high percentage of water, this expansion can cause a breakdown of the cell walls. Something that causes irreversible damage to stems, leaves, flowers and/or fruits.
- Root Freeze: The first effects of a frost are seen on the top (above ground) of the plants. But prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can cause the soil to freeze, sometimes leading to root damage. This type of damage is one of the most harmful for a plant, since the roots are essential for the absorption of nutrients and water. You can hardly save a plant whose roots have frozen.
- Withering and desiccation of plants: depending on which plant it is, on many occasions frost is not necessary for it to suffer from the cold. Cold winter winds can cause excessive transpiration of the leaves, causing them to wilt.
- Stunted growth and retarded development: When winter is extended too long, a plant’s growth and development can be delayed or stopped. This stunting can lead to reduced yields or smaller fruit and flowers once the warmer seasons arrive.
- Increased vulnerability to pests and diseases: A cold-stressed plant has low defenses, making it more susceptible to pest and disease infestations. Although many pests and diseases do not act in winter, this drop in defenses can give the plant the door to enter.
- Death of annual plants: in annual cycle plants, the cold will cause their death. In plants like these, it is not necessary to take care of them from the cold winter, but you should take into account that you should replant them if you want to have them next season in your garden.
In plants such as chili plants, care in the cold months will be essential for them to survive and reach spring. We will dedicate the next section we will see how to overwinter chilli plants.
3. Overwintering chilli plants
We have already seen the basic care of a potted chili plant and we have defined what overwinter is. It is time to get fully involved with the main topic of this post, which is none other than how to overwinter chili plants.
Follow these steps below and your chilli plant will overwinter perfectly:
- To begin with and as the most important point, if you have your chili plants in pots, move the plants indoors in a warm place. Look for a place where it receives a few hours of sun a day. Also keep in mind that the plants do not suffer sudden changes in temperature, it is not good that they are near heaters.
- As soon as the plants have finished bearing fruit, you must collect all the nuts that may have remained on the plant. This is a way of telling the plant to produce more fruit next season.
- Another practice that will help your plants to pass the winter is to prune correctly. In this case it will help you by cutting all the foliage, leaving only a stem with a couple of centimeters above the ground. What this will do is prevent the plant from wasting energy trying to keep all the foliage alive. Thus it will focus its energy on enduring the cold winter days. Don’t worry, in a couple of warm weeks your chilli plants will have lush, vigorous new foliage.
- In case you have your plants in very large pots, it may be a good idea to transplant them into somewhat smaller pots. In this way you allow the energies to be concentrated in a smaller space, also being able to better regulate the temperature.
- Since the chili plants will receive fewer hours of sun, and they will also consume much less water, you should reduce the frequency of watering. Failure to do so will run the risk of generating fungus in the roots of the plant, bringing with it a new problem that is difficult to solve.
- If your chile plants are not in pots, caring for them in the winter is more difficult. If the winters are not excessively cold, it may be enough to prune them and cover them with a thermal blanket. But if the winters are too cold, transplanting each plant into pots to bring them indoors may be an option. Once the first days of spring have arrived, you can transplant them back into the ground if you wish.
These are the key care you must have to overwinter your chili plants. If done correctly, you will be able to enjoy these beautiful and useful plants for many seasons. Otherwise, if you do not take care of them, each season you will have to start from scratch by planting new plants.
- CHILI PRODUCTION MANUAL – pdf.usaid.gov
- CHILI PRODUCTION – jica.go.jp
- Chilli plant information – piras.lrd.spc.int