Overwintering your chilli plants

Did you know that chilli plants are actually perennials, and with care can last several years. Indeed, in their second season they tend to produce a much higher yield of fruit, and of course start much earlier in the season than if grown from seed. Depending on your latitude in Australia, you may have to bring your plant indoors to protect from frost, or they may continue growing all year round in northern climates. Here in Perth we rarely get frost, but the plants start to lose their leaves in the late autumn, and that means it is time to prepare them for winter. The plant reacts to the lower temperatures and reduced light levels by shutting down its growth and shedding its leaves – it may even look dead – but if kept warm enough, it will grow new shoots in the spring, and has the benefit of a healthy root system to get it started.

It may seem brutal to cut your plants back, but they should be pruned back so that there is as little to keep alive as possible over the winter and all fruit should be removed whether ripe or not.  You only need to leave about 10-15cm of the main stem – this means all its energy goes towards keeping the root ball healthy.

You can repot in some fresh compost, but keep them in a small pot to help concentrate their energy – once spring is here, you can put them in a larger pot and feed them and your chilli plant should grow well.

They shouldn’t be allowed to dry out completely, but they don’t use much water when they are in hibernation. If you bring them indoors for winter, a little water once every 1-2 weeks is enough.

To protect them from the cold, either bring them indoors or keep them in a green house. If this isn’t possible, try to keep them somewhere sheltered, and protect the roots from frost by covering the soil with black plastic or mulch.

Good luck everybody!

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