Matt Simpson’s Guide to Over-Wintering Chillies

by Matt on December 14, 2010 · 2 comments

in General Information

Whilst having their origins in warm and sunny South America, our dear chilli plants are actually quite capable of surviving for some years here in the UK, all you need is some protection from the cold, and a suitable location.

Over-Wintering-Chillies

Over-Wintering-Chillies

The plants themselves are perennial sub-shrubs, capable of living for many a year. I heard about some huge Scotch Bonnet ‘trees’ in the Caribbean, but sadly, not all chillies are equal, some are easier to over-winter, and some are a complete nightmare. Through trial and error, some elation and some disappointment, I have found that members of the Cap annuum family are the hardest, and members of the Cap pubescens and Cap baccatum are some of the easiest. I have found Cap frutescens to be OK, with some being easier than others, and Cap chinense to be pretty difficult, with the exception of Habanero Fatali, which seem to be happy to over-winter.

The benefits to an over-wintered plant are great: they fruit much earlier, and the harvests tend to be larger too. For example, in early July one year I counted 108 pods on An over-wintered Rocoto (Cap pubescens), whilst those Rocotos which had been sown earlier that season were only just setting their first fruit.

There is one key factor in keeping chillies alive through the winter, WARMTH!!. If you are allowed, it’s much cheaper to bring plants into the house and have them in the sunniest and warmest spot in the house; though some houses have cats, who may well resist this action. I cut the plants back, referring to this as a short-back-and-sides. When it comes to watering, they receive a very dilute feed with each watering. I feel this is important as, with the shorter daylight hours that we have here in Northern Europe, the plants immune system gets a bit low, so a very light feed with every watering helps to top up the plants’ immune system. [Ironically it’s the longer hours of daylight in the summer and early autumn that enables us here in the UK to grow chillies topping 1,000,000 SHUs.]

Reports from various chilli growers I meet at festivals and events around the country tell me that windowsill over-wintering is pretty successful, although it can cause some domestic ‘situations’. Choosing a suitable plant also helps, it is best not to go for one which is in too large a pot.

In the greenhouses here at the nursery, we do things differently. I make a little ‘tent’ or ‘winter cocoon’ out of fleece and this tent goes onto a heated bench. The plants receive an even shorter back-and-sides trim, and go onto heated benches; it is much cheaper to heat the bench in a greenhouse. The heat on the benches comes from Hot Mats, heated propagation mats, which are set to 14 degrees, or more if you wish, but I don’t like to go below12. I am conscious of the costs involved. If you go higher, the plants will try to grow faster. When these plants need water, they get the same diluted feed that plants in the house get. This method does have its downsides: last two winters have seen our greenhouse suffer from some heavy snow falls – fingers crossed that the worst is over for this winter. But a breakage in the glass house can be a nightmare, as can power cuts. I often keep a small paraffin heater going to keep the edge of the frost away. Generally I’m successful, but some plants give them impression that they have made it through the winter, then suddenly die off in the spring.

I also feel that plants are aware of the winter solstice, and come the new year will add a weak high nitrogen feed. I keep my cocoons up during cold nights, but like to take them off in the day, when the sun is shining, hopefully recharging my plants for the year ahead.

I have found that the following varieties from our catalogue have done well for me when trying to over-winter:

  • Nepali orange
  • Any Aji, cap baccatum
  • Habanero Fatali
  • Aurora
  • Chinese Ornamental
  • De rata
  • Exploding fire
  • Friars Hatt
  • Peruvian Orange
  • Madre Vieja
  • Little Finger
  • Lemon Drop
  • Rocoto
  • Tri Colour Varigata
  • Thai Mound
  • Zimbabwe Bird

Matt Simpson and his family runs Simpson’s Seeds, they supply an excellent selection of Chilli, Tomato and other vegetable seeds and plug plants

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar Hot Juan October 9, 2011 at 4:24 pm

At this time of year we are asked about over wintering chillies more often than any other question. So we have rerun this popular article again.

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