Earlier this Fall I wrote about bringing your hot pepper plants indoors for overwintering. I’ve put together a short 2 minute clip showing how I dug up a ‘Variegata’ hot pepper plant from my community garden plot and transplanted it into a pot to spend the next 7 or so months indoors.
There are lots of different ways to over-winter peppers — some take space into consideration and involve pruning the entire plant back and storing in a cooler location, while the method I am using is about enjoying attractive plants as houseplants until they can be put back outdoors in the late spring to begin a new season of pepper production. By my method your plant isn’t likely to produce fruit during the cold months but should produce lots of pretty foliage to look at.
Here are a few extra tips:
- Soil: When transplanting from and in-ground garden gently remove as much soil from around the roots as possible and transplant into a container of potting soil. The soil from your garden will become compacted in a pot, eventually smothering the roots and preventing drainage and air circulation.
- Fertilizing: Peppers do not require much in the way of fertilizing. Be very sparing and apply fertilizers that are slightly higher in nitrogen keeping in mind that the goal is to produce healthy leaves, not bare fruit. I think a sprinkling of vermicompost at transplant time is just enough. Anything too high in nitrogen will enourage a lot of leggy, tender growth, just the kind of foliage aphids are most attracted to.
- Pests: And while we’re on the subject of aphids, chances are you will get a few or a lot this winter. A good spray in the shower or kitchen sink is the best chemical-free way to get them off your plant for good. So is keeping your plant as healthy as possible.
- Peppers like sun and warmth: Keep your plant in the sunniest window you’ve got. If the windowsill gets too cold and drafty move your plant as far away as possible while still providing optimum light. If that’s not enough try setting them underneath grow lights. You can also try setting your pepper’s pot on a crocheted windowsill cozy or pot coaster. Heating mats are great too but I usually wait to bust mine out until closer to the start of the growing season, otherwise the warmth prompts the plant to get active before the light is bright enough to sustain that level of activity.
- Peppers Prefer a Bit of Drought: Water less often then you would outdoors — with less drying heat and light your plant will require less moisture. Peppers like a bit of drought so test the soil with your finger first to see that it has dried out slightly before giving it a drink.
- Shock: Some leaves will turn yellow and drop off shortly after transplanting or bringing indoors. This is quite normal. If this continues, prune back bare branches and remove any remaining fruit and flowers so your plant can concentrate on producing foliage, not reproducing. You should see some fresh leaves spring up in the coming weeks. I’ve had peppers that looked to be on their last legs come back strong as soon as the warmth and sun came back in the spring. Give your plants some time, it will be worth it for that early season bumper crop. Of course some plants just don’t overwinter well, period. Give it a go, if it doesn’t work out chalk it up to experimentation and move on.
I spotted this lovely gold and dark purple seasonally appropriate container combo at Fiesta Gardens recently. While I am generally not a fan of the traditional seasonal mixed container, this one is a simple concept with a limited colour palette incorporating unusual plants like the ‘Red Boar’ Kale centre piece that is edible and insanely inexpensive if you start it early in the year. Even still a plant that size at this time of year runs between $6 and $10. I would guess that the price of plants for a container like this (not including the price of the container) would total approximately $50-$100. It’s pricey, a little out of my league — I’d replace the Heuchera with something cheap like black or yellow pansies to lower the cost.
Plants: ‘Red Boar’ Kale [centre], Chrysanthemum [middle ring], Heuchera ‘Black Beauty’ [edging].
What a pleasant surprise discovering that the ‘Fatali’ Hot Pepper I started from seed in the Spring of 2006 (1 1/2 years ago) finally produced those adorable little wrinkly peppers I couldn’t wait to see. ‘Fatali’ is supposed to be one of the hottest known hot peppers with a heat that rivals ‘Habenero.’ I’m too afraid to actually try it and will have to enlist a friend to do the taste-test.
I don’t know why but this is the only variety I have ever grown that did not produce in its first year. In fact all it did last summer was put out leaves and stems without a single flower bud. The growing conditions were right and every other plant went berserk with fruit… the answer to this quandary continues to elude me.
Not one to give up, I brought the plant indoors last Fall once the temperature had dipped, nurturing it in a window with Southern exposure, then moving it to a space under grow lights when the window ledge grew too cold. Come late spring, once the last frost date was in the clear and warmer temperatures were on the way, I moved it to a protected spot outdoors, gradually shifting it closer to a full sun position once it was used to the hot sun and wind (this is called “Hardening Off”). The plant looked a little sad at first having been deprived indoors but quickly bounced back with fresh leaves a trim from my shears.
‘Variegata’ Hot Pepper
You can try overwintering just about any hot pepper indoors, including plants that have already produced a crop that year. I’m thinking about bringing in some of the attractive ornamental varieties I grew this summer. Space underneath the lights is always tricky around here but I just can’t bear to see those beautiful plants wither up and die outside.
Look what my spouse brought home for me yesterday as a gift for being sick. If this is what I get for being sick what do I get for being a fully-functioning, productive member of society? Actually being sick was a nice excuse to lay in bed watching Wonder Woman reruns and re-reading back issues of Bitch Magazine until today, the forth day, which just happens to be one day too long. I am both exhausted and bored out of my skull. Those last days of summer are passing me by while I sleep all day, wallowing in my own unshowered filth.
But this is not about being sick, this is supposed to be about the plant. When he presented me with this Nepenthes ventricosa all fancified in a perfect little box, complete with tissue paper and ribbon I have to admit that after the initial excitement and flattery my “thriftiness” (read cheapness) kicked in and my second thought was “But I could have put this together myself for about ten bucks!” I haven’t asked him how much it actually cost. I don’t want to know. Knowing might kill me if this unknown virus or utter boredom doesn’t first.
If you want to make something like this easily and without gift-store/fancy-pants floral shop prices here’s what you do:
1. Get yourself a pretty glass bowl, fish bowl, candy bowl or terrarium. Department stores sell them in the pet section and so do thrift stores.
2. Line the bowl with approximately 2-3 inches of gravel. This can also be purchased cheaply in a pet store. Gravel is inexpensive when purchased from the pet department. Repackaged as floral gravel and the price is jacked sky high. Go figure.
3. Add about 2 inches of long fiber sphagnum moss to the bowl. Remove the small Nepenthes plant from it’s pot and plant into the sphagnum. Personally I am not a fan of pure sphagnum as the “soil” for this plant. The Nepenthes will certainly survive since the sphagnum provides a light and airy bed that doesn’t stay too damp just as Nepenthes’ roots require, however the sphagnum can dry out too easily if you don’t watch it like a hawk. Try the following instead:
Nepenthes Soil Mix
- 1 part long fiber sphagnum moss
- 1 part orchid bark mix
- 1 part regular peat or coir
Two Tribes: Nepenthes are divided into two kinds: highland and lowland species. The plant in my terrarium is probably the most common variety, a highland species called Nepenthes ventricosa. Their name says a lot about where and how they grow with highlanders growing up in the mountains at a high elevations and lowlanders growing in hot, lowland tropical locations. As a result highlanders can withstand much lower temperatures as well as some fluctuations making them better suited to your average home or apartment. Lowlanders are better suited to greenhouses where conditions are very humid and stable.
Drainage: Unlike many other popular carnivorous plants Nepenthes are not bog growers. Instead, many types thrive in the tropics, growing epiphytically perched in trees much like many orchids. All of this means that they require lots of good drainage. A container with drainage holes is preferred so if you’re planning to go the terrarium bowl route than be sure to add lots of gravel and water carefully.
Water: Like all carnivorous plants you MUST use water low in dissolved mineral salts — your plant will die otherwise. Carnivores may seem tough as nails but they are a sensitive sort really — they’re sort of like the Jane Seymores of the plant world. Try collecting a little rain water now and again into a clean bowl and then funnel it into a bottle or jar for storage. If you’ve got a reverse osmosis filter at home you can use water from that otherwise you’re gonna be reduced to shelling out a few bucks now and again for special low-sodium or distilled bottled water.
Quick Nepenthes Growing Tips:
Nepenthes do not like wet feet — let the water in the gravel dry out just a little before adding more.
Temperatures: Nepenthes are tropical plants. While the highlanders can tolerate some temperature dips they should be kept in the high 70s F with night time temperatures that drop slightly into the mid 50s F to low 60s F.
Light: Nepenthes generally prefer bright but diffused light.
Humidity: Your plant will require humidity in order to produce more pitchers. A glass bowl like mine will go a long way in keeping humidity levels up around the leaves. You can also spritz your plants once or twice daily with the same de-mineralized water used to water.
Read This: If you are at all interested in growing carnvivorous plants I highly recommend The Savage Garden by Peter D’Amato. His book came out in 1998 and it is still by far the most interesting and most comprehensive book for home growers that I have seen.
The Carnivorous Plant FAQ: This is a great site if you’re interested in learning more about carnivores and how to care for them. There are also some fascinating pictures following author Barry Rice’s trips to carnivorous plant locations. The Nepenthes section begins here.
Grow a Carnivorous Bog: I’m a huge carnivorous plant fan and have a project in my book that walks you through the steps involved in putting together a container-grown carnivorous bog that can be kept on a porch, balcony, or deck. pgs 110-111. Just remember that unlike many carnivorous plants, Nepenthes are not a bog plant.
Get Some: Look for nurseries and plant societies that do not acquire their plants through field collection. If you’re in the U.S try California Carnivores. Canadians can try Keehns Carnivores in B.C.
Panoramic of the Roof Garden July 21, 2007.
The following was found in my archives and is dated for July 14.
The rooftop garden is coming along beautifully this year. I do believe it is my best year yet. I was shocked to discover that on final count I am growing 14 tomato plants and 2 tomatillos. Most of the tomatoes are mid-sized determinants and 3 are indeterminants. I am growing the same number of tomatoes at my community garden plot with a grand total that far surpasses the total number of tomatoes I have ever been able to grow at one time. Thrilling! And yet it still doesn’t feel like enough. When I think of how hard it was to narrow things down to these varieties, I pine for all of the varieties I could grow at one time if given more space. Sigh. And yet I have so much more than most gardening, apartment-dwelling city-slickers. The more I garden, the more I want to garden and the grander my ideas grow. It is hard to be satiated with limitations. After all of these years there is still so much that the process of gardening is teaching me about patience and feeling satisfied with accomplishments within any given moment.