I spent several months this winter living at my parents second home in Dorset to get a bit of fresh air from lockdown life. They were rather surprised when I rocked up with my chilli plants taking up most of the space in my car and filling every available window space. There were good reasons for that though.
Some of the super hot chillies like habanero can take a long time to fully ripen and I still had chillies ripening well in to December. You can strip the bushes earlier and freeze, dry or preserve the green chillies but the flavour profile is a little different.
I turned my red habanero in to a festive Christmas tree. After all it did already have red baubles.
The real reason to overwinter your chillies is to have earlier chillies the next year. Again especially with the super hots and their relatives you are not likely to get ripe chillies until well in to the back end of summer. If you over winter well however you may get chillies as early as late April or early May.
To give you an idea the snapshots below are from my Jan 1st sowing from this year versus those sown at the same time last year.
As you can see last years chillies are starting to flower and I even have signs of the first fruit. However before you try and over winter your first chilli there are things you need to consider.
Heat and light
Chlilies need a warmth and light. They are unlikely to survive below around 5c so need to be indoors or in a heated greenhouse in area which drop below. Windowsills indoors can be good locations but can still be a little chilly especially when plants are large. For that reason and also to increase ventilation I cut back the chillies to around 10cm -15cm tall and then remove all leaves (yes really!) to overwinter, allowing new leaves to sprout in their place. This encourages them to be more bushy the next year, reduces the risk of pests and mould and seems to help keep them productive.
After a year of producing chillies the nutrient in the soil can be depleted. You will need to dress with an all purpose fertiliser like blood fish and bone and a tomato fertiliser to encourage flowering. A top dressing of additional compost is also a good idea. Signs of soil exhaustion will be stunted growth or discolouration of leaves. When treated often the leaf colour will come back but sometimes older leaves will remain discoloured.
If you have space for bigger pots then you can pot your chilli on to the next pot size on. If you do not want to increase the size of pot and you are brave you can root prune the chilli by slicing off small sections of the outer roots and repotting with additional compost in the same pot. It is best to do this whilst they are still small and relatively dormant.
As your chilli is indoors and away from wind you will need to be your chillies pollination buddy. Use a small makeup brush or the tip of your little finger to move pollen from one flower to another every few days.
Keep chillies quite dry over winter to prevent the roots getting too soggy. If however your chillies are close to a radiator you may still need to water them every week.
Aphids can be a real problem on chillies. During the winter you can be more drastic. I find that cutting the chillies back to 10cm and removing all the foliage can really help, especially if you then scrape off the top layer of compost and replace it and give the main stem a bit of a wash with a soft sponge. The leaves will soon grow back, hopefully aphid free.
Sciarid fly can be a problem indoors mainly because they fly around annoying you and die in inconvenient places than because they do any harm. I use yellow insect sticky tape when I first bring them in and that keeps them clear over winter.
The yield on your over wintered chillies may be less than new plants although because of the length of time for some to flower and fruit year 2 may be more productive than year one. However even if you have lower yields the advantage is it is much earlier so it is good to have both going at the same time. However I find the more you cut the chilli back over winter the higher the yield will be the next year, whether it is because plants are bushier or panicked in to reproducing as much as possible, who knows!
Some varieties are less successful than others to overwinter. Capsicum annum tend to be best for one year only (mainly bell peppers, jalapeños and cayenne types). It doesn’t mean they can’t be overwintered (I’ve a jalapeño on the windowsill at the moment) but they are less successful. Capsicum Chinense like habanero overwinter very well. Capsicum Pubescens have a reputation for overwintering well.
Sometimes no matter how well you look after your chilli it will not survive the winter so always make sure you sow some back ups and give them to your neighbours, friends and family if you have too many.