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(Zone 7, Memphis, TN)

A friend and I are starting an organic community garden in a nearby neighborhood and are currently building up the soil and laying out plots for next spring.

This season, I grew several varieties of peppers in my home garden, and would like to donate them when we start planting out there.

But first, they have to survive the winter.

Never overwintered crops before. These are fully matured peppers, 3-4 feet high 2-3 feet wide. I figure there are two routes to go, here: either mulch the crap out of them, perhaps put up some cold frames (never done that either) and hope the roots will survive the frost, or transplant them to (very large) pots and bring them inside.

What should I do?

Edit: They're in raised beds, which I've read are automatically a few degrees warmer, and there's room for a good foot, foot-and-a-half of mulching (leaves, wood shavings, etc). After exploring the site, my gut right now is to harvest all the peppers before the first frost, trim the plants back to their main stems, mulch hard and throw up some cold frames. Does anyone have any experience with this? Is it worth all the effort?

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In my experience, overwintering pepper plants is not easy - but it is incredibly rewarding. If done successfully, you start the season with mature plants that will bloom fully much earlier in the season. Harvests can be advanced by as much as 60-75 days depending on variety. I have done both Habanero and and Rocoto/Locoto and the second year production far exceeded the first year. I have actually kept some peppers for as long as 5 years. These were all in pots that I let stay out through an early frost. They dropped most of their leaves (this also helps mitigate aphid issues) and then i pruned them back by as much as 30%. Then you can either throw them in the basement where they won't get too much light and keep the soil relatively dry (not bone dry) and wait for spring. OR you can bring them inside and put them in a sunny space - they'll leaf out again and do OK during the winter. I'm sure that you could prune before the frost and bring them in or any number of alternatives. They're far more hardy than they are given credit for being.

This is a nice writeup about how to do it: Overwintering Pepper Plants

It is rewarding to overwinter them - BUT I know nothing about how they'd respond to digging from the ground to overwinter in pots. It wold probably have been better to start that process in earlier to allow time for acclimation to the container.

  • I agree with you – Alexander Leon VI Oct 22 '15 at 15:21
  • Given how close we are to the first frost here (next week, maybe?), I think I'll leave them in the beds and see how things go. But it's encouraging to hear that this all might actually work. <3 peppers – AndrewG Oct 31 '15 at 1:33
  • Just dropping in with an update: I lost a few to frost (the poor habanero died almost immediately) but, surprisingly, many are hanging in there (poblano, jalapeno, tabasco, and others) despite some pretty rough temperatures (we just hit 20 this week). I wish I had gotten some cold frames up, but so far just using leaf mulch in the raised beds is surprisingly successful. Hopefully, come spring, they'll bounce back hard. – AndrewG Jan 14 '16 at 0:24
  • Thanks for the update. These are all in the ground, right? Can you put cages around them and fill those with shredded leaves? – That Idiot Jan 14 '16 at 12:52
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I am trying this right now. I have some transplanted into cold frames with an additional cone of opaque greenhouse film over them and christmas lights available for the coldest nights. It's been about 40-55 degree in the cold frame pretty steadily so far in this warm Dec of 2015. I left the leaves on some and denuded others that had partial frost damage. I also have some in pails with exposure to normal office lights and steady 70 degree temps. I have others in a basement, which also has been pretty mild so far, and the plants get a little light through the west facing glass block windows. I have a couple of other pails in 75-80 room with almost no light ever. In all situations, at least some of the plants seem to be doing ok. In the situation with the room light, I have had a number of the plants shoot new growth when I over-watered them, but I sort of like that because I can monitor the new leaves for health. At least I know they're alive. It has been as low as 9 degrees (zone 5), and I didn't even have the lights on in the cold frame (blankets over the tarp inside the cold frame.

  • It sounds like you've got a nice variety of experimental treatments going. Please update with status reports periodically. Your experiences will be very interesting. – That Idiot Dec 28 '15 at 12:39
  • I'm very eager to hear how yours turn out: I just didn't get to the cold-frames in time, so mine are roughing it out in nothing but mulch and some are taking a beating for it. It's sort of shocking how well a few are doing anyways, though, so I suspect yours, in cold-frames, will coast through winter in style. Let us know! :) Best of luck to you. – AndrewG Jan 14 '16 at 0:28
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Transplant the peppers wont be easy and you are going to lost at least the 35% of the plants, but I think that this is the right thing to do because the pepper roots cannot resist too cold temperatures. Also I have to say that peppers needs a very rich soil (very well fertilized soil) cause they are very demanding maybe that's why they are so rich in Vitamins specially A and C.

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Your best bet would be to save the seeds and start new plants next year.

  • 1
    "What's the best way to do X?" "Don't do X." – AndrewG Oct 23 '15 at 1:57

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