Breaking overwinter dormancy

Time to wake up

The days are starting to get longer in the United Kingdom in the runup to spring. Before long, Chilli plants started earlier in the year will begin growing with increased vigour as they respond to more sunshine. It’s almost as if they get a pep in their step. It’s fantastic to see. However, spring is not only for the new kids on the block. Don’t forget that spring is also an important event for overwintered plants. Now is the time of the year to start moving them from the dark into the sunshine again to break their overwinter dormancy.

Where they have been kept dormant out of direct sunlight for winter, now that spring is on its way, these plants will want a piece of the action

To help your Chilli plants break overwinter dormancy, place them on a shaded sun-facing windowsill. You don’t have to expose them to the full glare of the sun right now. They will need time to adjust to breaking their dormancy. However, it won’t be long before you notice new shoots developing from previously bare stems. Don’t worry if it doesn’t happen quickly (say in a week or two). Relax, it will happen at some point after that all the same

That’s, of course, if the plant is still alive. Sometimes it is not that easy to say that with conviction. While t is easy to believe that a plant is still living when it still has pliable stems with some green in them; when the plant looks dried out, that’s more difficult

Breaking dormancy

Are they still alive?

That is precisely my situation at the moment. Only six are definitely with us out of the twelve plants I overwintered from last season. The rest, I am not so sure about. My Scotch bonnets (which were being overwintered for a second year) look particularly bad. They really look dried out. The other plants, an Apache, two Baraks and a Satan’s kiss, look a little better, but not much.

The question, though, is, are they really dead? That they are definitely dead is not written in stone. Sometimes it may look that way, but they may well be alive and kicking below the surface.

For a plant to survive an overwintering, only the roots need to have stayed alive. The rest of the plant may well have died, but if the roots are still in one piece, the plant is still in business

To check whether this is the case, I will report the plants looking a bit suspect. In doing so. I want to achieve two objectives. Firstly, it is to visually inspect the roots, but I  also want to give the plants a renewed source of nutrition from the potting soil. You have to remember that these plants have been in the same pot for eight months (or even longer) now. The soil in the containers is well and truly exhausted.

The reason the soil needs to be changed is because, right now, I don’t want to give the plants extra fertilizer. If they are still alive, but in a state of dormancy, they don’t need any fertilizer. Their nutrition needs are minimal, and they will get anything they need from the soil. It also needs to be borne in mind that it is also not a good time to give plants too much water when they are  breaking  their dormancy. Doing that will only increase the chances of root rooting. If that happens, it will definitely be game over

And so what happened?

Repotting the plants

I repotted the smaller plants (Apache, Baraks, and Satan’s kiss) into a new potting mix after shaking away the old soil from their roots. I wasn’t confident the roots looked healthy in three out of the four plants. They just looked (for want of a better word) “manky”. But, on the other hand, one plant’s roots seemed “Okay”. So, I am afraid that it is not with any certainty at all that I can say whether any of these plants will make it. The odd are that they probably won’t make it. They are, however, for now repotted and now on a shaded sun-facing window. Let’s wait and see what happens!

As far as the Scotch bonnets are concerned, I decided to leave them as they are. It would have been a big mission to attempt to repot them, so I decided not to attempt it. I have, however, moved them into view of the sun. Once again, only a waiting game will reveal what the outcome will be

This whole exercise got me thinking in a different direction in terms of overwintering. I am now considering growing some Chilli varieties based  on their ability to overwinter, well.  Sounds daft, I know, don’t but hang on. I am not saying I will  grow the Chillies with the sole intention of overwintering them, but rather that I will grow varieties suitable for overwintering. I would still aim to harvest in the season, but when it comes to the end of the season, we will use varieties that we can overwinter with confidence.

Let me give an example. Rocotos are Chillies that are known to be cold weather resistant. I am growing Rocotos this year, and all being well, I hope to get a good harvest from them. Now when it comes to the end of the season, what do I do? Let them die. Hardly. I will overwinter them. Because Roctos are tolerant of cold weather, the odds are excellent; I will be able to overwinter them successfully. That means come next season, they will have a flying start and can start producing Chillies a lot sooner than might previously have been the case. It makes sense, doesn’t it?


There are Chillies besides Rocotos that are also suitable for overwintering. From a personal experience point of view, I can say I have been successful with (among others) Barak Chillies,   Purple Tigers, Baskets of Fire, Aji Crystals and Satan’s kisses.

Ornamentals like Baskets of fire are particularly easy to overwinter. This is because they don’t need any special attention. They are simply treated like any other houseplant. Examples of ornamentals for this purpose include Thai hots, Priari fires, Stumpys, Numex Twilights, Etnas, Apaches, Aji Omnicolours and Little Elfs

Bigger plants require more attention when it comes to overwintering. This is where choosing cold weather-resistant plants comes into the equation. While I have never grown these Chillies through maturity, apparently Hungarian Blacks, Hot Banana Chillies, Hungarian hot waxes and Bulgarian carrots are Chillies that cope well with cold weather conditions. This makes them good candidates for successful overwintering. It’s something to remember when choosing which varieties to grow





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