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Come late-winter, many of us gardeners will go through the time-honored ritual of seed-starting. After having pored over our favorite crop catalogs and chosen our preferred seeds, we’ll put those seeds into seed-starting trays packed with fresh potting soil, and set those trays under grow lights or in a greenhouse to give birth the beginnings of our gardens.
However, many of us don’t have a knack for seed-starting, losing our newly started seeds to poor maintenance, and end up buying starts from professional farmers. Depending on how many plants you want to put into your garden, this method can get rather expensive.
But there’s a solution to the brown thumbs of the gardening world who get flustered over the thought of another failed set of starts: Overwinter the plants you’ve already had success growing.
Peppers are an ideal candidate for overwintering. Because they’re a tropical plant, in most areas of the U.S., they’re a perennial crop. To get a headstart on the growing season, you can pull up your already mature plants and bring them indoors for the winter, and then come spring, you can begin growing peppers again on a full-sized plant.
Overwintering peppers isn’t overly complicated, but there are a few things you should know:
Tip 1: Hot Peppers Work Best
According to some farmers, hot peppers overwinter better than sweet peppers. Do with this information what you will. If you want to play it safe, maybe only dig up your jalapeños and cayennes this year and save your bells for a later date, once you’ve gained more confidence in the overwintering department. If you’re game for an adventure, though, dig up all your pepper plants despite their Scoville rating.
Tip 2: Dig Up As Many Roots As Possible
Roots are the lifeline to your garden crops, so when digging up your pepper plants for overwintering, try to pull up as many of the surrounding roots as you can. This will help your plants soak up nutrients and moisture from the soil come spring, when they’ve been replanted into the garden and are attempting to regain their strength.
Tip 3: Use Potting Soil
It may be tempting to use garden soil to pot up your overwintering peppers—it’s a free resource after all—but don’t do it. Garden soil is full of critters, and once the soil warms up inside, those critters will be all over your house. You don’t want that! Instead, opt to use fresh potting soil or a soil-less mix.
Tip 4: Water Just Right
There are two places you can put your overwintering peppers once you bring them inside. The first option is a cool, dark basement in an area that receives minimal light. This setting will force the plants into dormancy, so they will look dead. (Don’t worry, they aren’t.) During this period of dormancy, you’ll want to make sure the soil doesn’t get too wet or too dry. Give the soil a nice spritzing every once and awhile so it stays lightly moist.
The second place you can put your pepper plants is in a sunny window or under grow lights. In this case, they won’t die back too much, though they probably won’t produce. Give them a bit more watering than the fully dormant plants located in a dark basement.
If you don’t want to hassle with seed-starting in the spring, or if you have a particular pepper plant you love, try overwintering it and you’ll have more peppers earlier in the season.