There are few things that you can grow in your garden that are as versatile as the pepper. Hot, sweet, red or green – even yellows, oranges and purples can add a touch of the exotic to your next dish. For most gardeners it simply wouldn’t be the same without a nice harvest of peppers come late summer and early fall.
But why limit yourself to fresh peppers for only a few months of the year? Unbeknownst to many of us who do not live in a desert climate, peppers are actually perennial plants that can live for many years if given the proper care.
There are two main ways that you can grow peppers indoors. The first is by starting a plant from seed, and the second is by bringing your existing plants indoors at the end of your normal outdoor growing season.
Starting Peppers Indoors
Starting your peppers indoors from seeds is fairly simple and can be done at any time of year. Seeds should be planted in a mixture of peat moss, vermiculite and sand (roughly equal parts of each). Place two seeds in each pot near its center, and push the seeds just below the surface of the soil. Keep soil moist but not wet, and keep pots in a spot where they will get sunlight throughout the day.
If you are starting peppers from seed, then you will have the advantage of selecting a variety that will grow to the ideal size for your indoor space. If you have lots of room, then you can grow larger plants such as red bell peppers or Hungarian wax peppers. If you are short on space, however, then try more compact varieties such as dwarf chilies.
Bringing Your Outdoor Peppers Inside
If you’ve already got pepper plants in your garden, you’re ahead of the game. Peppers in containers can be brought directly inside.
For peppers that are planted directly in the ground, the process for bringing them inside is trickier – but so worth it! Start this process well before your first frost. Using a sharp shovel, you can dig around each plant and lift it out of the ground, placing it into a plastic (not terra cotta) pot. This should be done during the evening so that the plant has the cool of the night to recover.
If there is extra room in the pot, you can add some compost, but avoid adding extra garden soil. Water you plants and place them in a shady spot outside, and leave them for a few days. Inspect you plants for any pests or aphids and rinse them off very well and then move them to a different spot. Repeat as necessary, until you can’t find any pests. After a few days, you can bring your plants into an in-between spot like a porch.
Finally, bring your pepper plants inside and place under florescent bulbs.
Keeping Your Peppers Fruiting
It is possible to keep your pepper plants fruiting the entire winter – but you will need to keep them toasty warm and give them sufficient light if you are to be successful. Ideally, the room that they are in should be a constant 65-75 degrees. Using very bring florescent lighting or a combination of sunlight and florescent light is best. Peppers tend to need more light than other plants, so if you want fruit you should plan on leaving their lights on for 14-16 hours per day. Some people control this using a timer, but it is also fine to leave the lights on 24 hours a day. Once plants have flowers, they should be fertilized on a weekly basis.
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Watering may be done whenever the soil is slightly dry. It is important to never let your peppers sit in a pool of water, as this can cause disease.
Finally, in caring for you plants, remember that peppers are sensitive to air quality. They should not be kept in a room where people smoke or where there are other pollutants in the air, as this can damage the plants.
When fruit is ripe, you may harvest it using a sharp knife. This will help to prevent you from inadvertently damaging the plant.
Growing any type of fruit or vegetable indoors gives you greater control over your growing environment and provides an extended growing season. Peppers are a perfect choice for those who love to make spicy Asian or Mexican dishes to beat out the chill of winter.
Even if you decide that it is too much trouble to keep your pepper plants fruiting over the winter months, there is still good reason to bring this season’s plants indoors and keep them healthy. That’s because next season, you’ll be able to re-plant your mature pepper plants – instead of seeds or starts from your local garden center.
And those mature plants will start producing peppers fast, and you will be the envy of the neighborhood. Your only problem will be trying to figure out what to do with all of those peppers!