Sunday, 5 August 2018

Is it worth over-Wintering chillis?

For the past several years I have kept some of my chilli plants through the Winter, and re-potted them the following Spring. To be honest, it is always a struggle. They often get seriously infested with aphids; many (usually at least 50%) of them die (often for inexplicable reasons), and at best you have to worry all Winter about maintaining them at the right level of temperature and soil-hydration. Why do we chilli enthusiasts inflict this upon ourselves? The theory is that the mature plant will do better in its second (and possibly subsequent) year(s); it will be bigger and stronger, and perhaps most importantly it will produce ripe fruit earlier than plants grown from seed in the second season. But is this true? Heresy though this may be, I'm not convinced...

This past year, my over-Wintered chillis did better than usual, largely because I used a self-watering system marketed by Blumat to keep them evenly hydrated. I described it HERE.

Even with the aid of these devices, I still lost 3 of my 8 plants. To be fair, 2 of the 3 casualties were ones which had not had the benefit of the Blumat self-watering things (I only had six, as pictured above).

I have to admit that by the time Spring came around, even the surviving chilli plants didn't look great.

The plants didn't have a lot of leaves, and those that there were mostly had yellow edges and dry brown patches. I had had to trim off quite a few dead branches. Overall the plants were not in good shape. That photo was taken on 19th April, that's to say two months after I sowed the seeds for my other 2018 chillis.

It took a long time (and several doses of feed) for the over-Wintered plants to regain their vigour. The very cold spells we had in the Spring ("The Beast From The East" etc) didn't help. Luckily, from about May onwards the weather has been hot and sunny, perfect conditions for chillis. They are now good-quality plants. Only three of the five have fruits on them though, which means that it is unlikely that the others will produce any ripe fruit this year. Admittedly, they are both plants originally grown from seeds obtained in countries with very hot, humid climates - Panama and Mexico - so maybe even our 30C+ temperatures during July weren't sufficiently warm for their liking.

The other 3 plants have plenty of fruit on them, but I have noticed some differences, compared to normal. One of the plants is an Aji Limon, and this year its fruits are much bigger and fatter than previously:

Aji Limon over-Wintered from 2017 - very fat pods

This (below) is more like what I expect from Aji Limon. It's on the same plant.

Aji Limon over-Wintered from 2017 - a more normal pod

I have another Aji Limon plant, grown from seed sown this year, and its fruits are much slimmer, as is normal for this variety.

Aji Limon grown from seed in 2018

Curiously, the opposite has happened with Aji Benito. The over-Wintered plant has produced fruits which are a lot smaller and mostly a lot slimmer than it produced last year.

Aji Benito over-Wintered from 2017

An Aji Benito grown from seed this year has more normal fruits - wedge-shaped and very chunky.

Aji Benito grown from seed in 2018

In terms of fruiting, the over-Wintered Aji Limon and Aji Benito are probably a couple of weeks ahead of their equivalents grown from seed this year. The over-Wintered plants are also perhaps a little bigger than the 2018 ones, but not much, and the 2017 ones may yet catch up. The Aji Limons for instance are both in the region of 75cm tall, though the 2017 one is a bit bushier than the 2018 one. Here's a size comparison:

Aji Limon 2017 plant (it's the one at the back, nearest the netting)

Aji Limon grown from seed this year.

Since it is still only the first week of August and there is plenty of ripening-time left, I'm not sure that such a small difference is sufficient reward for all the TLC I have given those plants since last Autumn!

I can't complain about their colleague "Not Cheiro Roxa" though. It has really romped away and is now a very handsome plant, nicely shaped, with lovely dusky foliage and loads of gnarly / rugged fruits which will be bright red once they are ripe.

"Not Cheiro roxa"

"Not Cheiro Roxa"

My conclusion is that over-Wintering chillis can give an advantage in terms of earliness of harvest, but I don't think it is a big advantage, and it may be outweighed by the care requirements necessary to achieve it. Will I try over-Wintering some chillis again this year? I don't know. Maybe I will, maybe I won't... It depends how I feel at the time, I suppose!


  1. I too wonder whether it's worth overwintering chillies and remain unconvinced that they do actually fruit earlier and more prolifically than my seed grown plants (although I do start my seeds v early in late January), certainly for the bigger growing plants. My 3yo Apache (small mature plant) has certainly produced many more fruits in its 2nd and 3rd years than its 1st, whereas my 2yo Serrano currently has many fewer fruit than this year's seed grown plant despite being over twice the size!

  2. A really interesting read, Mark. I don't have the space to overwinter chillies but if I had a heated conservatory I would probably give it a go. I think keeping anything going overwinter is challenging so well done for completing your extended trial. Will you try and overwinter any of the plants this year?

    1. I haven't decided yet, but based on experience from the last few years, I probably will! I enjoy the challenge.

  3. Your main problem in my opinion is that you are trying to grow them outside. They can, but indoors on windowsills they will overwinter fine and even fruit all winter.

    In the greenhouse they fruit a bit later but generally do ok.

    I think with climate change we are getting closer to a chilli friendly environment but just not long enough growing seasons or mild enough nights at this moment, even this year.

    The best place for a chilli plant evidently remains as a sunny conservatory or windowsill for now.

  4. I overwintered about a dozen chillis last winter, and I lost four of them. I do find mine get bigger the second year if I plant them out in the ground. Our weather gets warmer earlier than yours does though, and that might make a difference in how mine perform. It was largely your experiences with overwintering the plants that led me to try it a few years back, and I do appreciate your sharing your results.

  5. Outstanding post as usual! ps, I've abandoned Twitter but am now on Mastodon. Still read your blog weekly via RSS though. I'm trying to grow a few chillies this year and I really appreciate time you spend on the blog!


Thank you for taking time to leave me a comment! Please note that Comment Moderation is enabled for older posts.