How long do pepper plants live, anyway? Are they annuals, perennials or somewhere in between? Can you grow them indoors in the winter? Let’s take a look at the life of a pepper plant.
Note: In the years since I have written this post I have had more experiences with keeping pepper plans going — here’s my new post. (Read this one first, though, because it has additional information.)
Pepper Types (Species)
There are five main species of peppers:
- Capsicum annuum: Includes bell, sweet and many standard chile peppers like ancho, jalapeno, cayenne and more.
- Capsicum chinense: Includes datil, habanero and scotch bonnet peppers.
- Capsicum frutescens: Includes tabasco and thai peppers.
- Capsicum pubescens: Includes the South American rocoto peppers.
- Capsicum baccatum: Includes the aji peppers.
It’s important to know the species, as some are longer-lived than others. All pepper plants can be grown as annuals, but a few species can be perennial, provided they are in very warm, tropical climates.
There’s one pepper that seems to be cross-species, and that is the naga / bhut jolokia pepper. Originally called Capsicum frutescens, DNA testing has found some Capsicum chinense genes as well.
Capsicum Chinense as a Perennial
The Capsicum chinense peppers can live several years, providing they are in a warm climate. In theory, this means you can grow this species in a warm greenhouse as a perennial.
I’ve grown habaneros almost perennially here in South Florida, but I’m afraid that some of our cold snaps have done them in. This year I am trying habaneros and datils in containers, so that I can move them into the house (well, garage at any rate) when the temperatures fall below 45 degrees.
Your average pepper plant belonging to the species Capsicum annuum is generally grown as an annual. Although I have had some pretty long-lived jalapenos, they eventually get woody and die off.
I’ve never tried pruning a jalapeno, though, to see if I can revitalize it — that’s something I’ll have to try this year.
Although you really can’t grow them as a perennial, Capsicum annuum can have an extended season. If you’re growing your pepper(s) in a container, you can try moving them indoors when the weather cools down. Just keep in mind that your pepper still needs plenty of sunlight; without sunlight, all the warmth in the world won’t extend your pepper’s life. That may mean a combination of south-facing window along with some supplemental light (grow lights).
Other Pepper Species
The same general rules apply to the other species; they need warmth and plenty of sunlight in order to keep growing. In their native tropical environments, the plants can live multiple years. But even in South Florida, they won’t necessarily live all year around — we do get chilly weather, and even as I write this, I’m expecting freezing termperatures tomorrow night.
So how long do pepper plants live? While they may not be perennial in the sense of living years on end, there are varieties that can grow several years — if you have the right climate.
You might enjoy these related posts on peppers:
Growing peppers in containers is easy, and most (if not all) peppers will thrive. In fact, some were selected for their ability to grow well in a pot! Let’s look at some things to consider when growing your peppers in a container.
Choose the Proper Size Pot
It’s not so much a problem with the pot being too big, but rather don’t go choosing one too small. Although many peppers don’t grow to more than 20″ tall, they still need enough room for their roots to spread out.
For the smaller peppers (under 12 ” tall), you’ll need a 2 gallon container. For the larger pepper plants, a 5 gallon or even 10 gallon container will give the peppers plenty of room to grow.
Oh, and remember — your container needs to have drainage holes, so excess water has a way to escape.
What Kind of Soil to Use
I prefer to use bagged soil, seeing as the soil in my yard is fairly sandy. I like a mixture of composted cow manure and organic potting soil. The composted cow manure feeds the plants, and the organic potting soil lets the plant’s roots grow freely. I generally use in a 50/50 ratio (just as much composted cow manure as potting soil).
I generally avoid any potting soil labeled as “african violet” or “houseplant” or any such designation. I also like to avoid pre-fertilized potting soil. If you can’t find any “regular” potting soil, try using sphagnum moss instead, at a ration of 40/60 (40% sphagnum and 60% composted cow manure).
If you have access to real compost (meaning, from your own compost pile), by all means use that! Just make sure it’s fully “cooked” to destroy any lingering unfriendly bacteria or fungi.
Feeding and Watering
Your pepper plants will very likely need more frequent watering when being grown in a container, as well as more frequent fertilizing.
Watering should be done whenever you can stick your finger 1 inch into the soil and it’s dry (the tried and true method). Soon enough, you’ll get to recognize whether that means watering every day, every other day, etc. for your particular growing conditions.
I like to use my fertilizer at no more than 1/2 strength, but I fertilize a little more often — usually once every other week. When your pepper is first growing, it needs a fair amount of nitrogen, but once it starts producing flowers, it needs more phosphorus. I prefer doing things as organically as possible, so I like worm castings, fish emulsion and seaweed extract. (See the organic fertilizer and peppers post for more information.)
If I feel the plant needs a little boost of nitrogen or phosphorus (beyond the normal fertilizing), I’ll add in some blood meal (nitrogen) or bone meal (phosphorus). Both can be found in most garden centers.
I am debating adding an organic tomato fertilizer to this mix — after all, tomatoes and peppers are related and have similar requirements.
Staking or Caging
Some peppers may need to be staked or caged due to their growing habits. I usually find that bell peppers need to be staked, due to fruit weight. Large rangey plants like jalapenos may need to be caged if they start overtaking your container gardening area.
Ultimately, it’s up to you, especially since there are now peppers like Mohawk that are more of a draping/hanging pepper, instead of upright.
Those Really Hot Chile Peppers
Please keep in mind that if you decide to grow the really, really hot chile peppers (like scotch bonnet, habaneros, etc.), please don’t do it around small children or pets. Just touching the fruit of these plants can cause severe irritation and burning.
I also would recommend staking or at least caging such chile peppers, if they are in an area where people will potentially be walking near them. All you need to do is brush by the peppers to get the oil on your clothes/body.
And remember, when staking or caging the extra-hot chile peppers, please use rubber gloves — preferably the disposable kind. That’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way. (And naturally, also use the rubber gloves when harvesting the peppers.)
Growing Peppers in Containers is Easy!
That’s pretty much all you need to know about growing peppers in containers. This means that even if you don’t have a yard, you can have garden-fresh peppers. Just make sure that the spot where you plan to put the pots gets at least 8 hours of sun a day, and is in a warm spot (peppers like heat).
If you plan to grow your peppers from seeds, you may want to check out the growing peppers from seeds post. If your inclination is towards growing chile peppers, check out the growing chile peppers post.