Overwintering Chilli Plants

Chillies are perennial but need a little extra care to get them through the cooler winter months.

Overwintering chillies (keeping your plants alive during winter) will give you a head start in spring because you will not need to grow from seed again. This will allow for a longer growing season, ensuring a higher yield of fruit.

Depending on your growing conditions, there are various ways to help your plants survive through winter.

Climate Zones & Protection

If you reside in a tropical location, there is very little you need to do to ensure your plants survive though winter. In fact, many plants will retain their foliage and even continue to produce fruit in the warmer climate.

If you reside in subtropical and more temperate zones, some extra care is required.

For plants protected in a hothouse, or a greenhouse with a winter covering of some sort of agricultural film, a light pruning will be beneficial. This will help the plants conserve energy for surviving with less sunlight and in lower overnight temperatures. You will not need to prune your plants back to stems. A hothouse, or covered greenhouse, will provide higher temperatures, so while your plants might stop producing fruit, they will retain some foliage.

If your plants are outdoors, you can help them to survive through winter by covering the soil with extra mulch. If you are in an area where frosts occur, you also will need to cover the plants in frost cloth or some sort of protective cover, such as a plastic dome. Frosts will kill chilli plants. If your plants are outside in pots, you can move them into protected areas, or even into warm positions indoors.

Plants that are outdoors will cease to produce fruit and eventually shed leaves and dry out as winter sets in. This is the plant’s way to conserve its resources in order to survive through winter by going into a dormant state. Do not mistake this for dying off. Your plants will come back to life in spring.

To help your outdoor plants into dormancy, they should be fully pruned back to stems. By cutting away foliage, you are helping the plant conserve the resources it would otherwise put into trying to maintain foliage for a longer period. Leave a stem system of approximately 15 to 30cm.

Feeding and Watering:

Dormant plants do not need feeding or a lot of water. Just make sure the soil does not dry out beyond a few centimetres deep. A fortnightly dose of a seaweed tonic (without fertiliser) will also help to keep the plants alive through the colder months.

Despite your efforts, you may lose the odd plant, but with a bit of extra care through colder weather conditions, most should survive. These plants will begin to grow new foliage in spring, giving you a good head start towards fruiting for the new season.