Chilli plants make very attractive houseplants, but how should they be kept through the winter?
Chilli peppers come from the tropics where the plants can live for many years. In Britain, however, it is a different story. The heat-loving plants do not like British winters, and need special care to get them through these difficult months.
Firstly, the plants must be kept in a frost-free place. This means they cannot be left in an unheated greenhouse or polytunnel. It only takes one cold night for the plants to be killed off. The best place to overwinter a chilli plant is in the house, an environment warm enough for humans will be fine for a chilli plant.
However, temperature is not the only issue for chilli plants in the winter. Capsicum species also need to high light levels to grow and be healthy, something that is sorely lacking in British winters. Not only are the days short in winter, but also the sun shines less, and even when it does its rays are not as powerful as they are in the summer. No matter how warm the temperature, the low light levels of winter will stress the plants.
Stress in chillies often casues them to drop their leaves. So in winter, stressed by the low light levels, chilli plants may behave like decidious trees, i.e. drop their leaves and go dormant. When this happens watering must be reduced; over watering results in wet compost that will damage the roots. As the plants are not growing they do not need to be kept in the prime sunny position, and can be left in a corner to wait the winter out.
If the plant has got overlarge, this is a good time to prune it back into a more suitable shape and size. But do leave plenty of stem on it, and certainly do not cut it right back to the base.
In the spring
In March, as the increasing daylength starts to feel significant, return the plants to a sunny position and this should stimulate them to burst into activity and produce new leaves. As the leaves appear increase the watering as necessary.
March is also a good time to repot the plants.
Two chilli plants: Stumpy, the perfect small windowsill chilli, and NuMex Twilight.
© Joy Michaud