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Can Chili Plants Survive Outside

Chili pepper plants offer much variety, fun challenges as a gardener, and a rainbow of different colors, tastes, and heat levels. There’s just one problem: chili plants have a bit of a reputation.

Some gardeners love growing chilies and think they’re an easy plant to care for, while other gardeners struggle to get a single healthy pepper from their plants.

The reputation for pickiness has led a lot of gardeners to assume they need protective equipment or a greenhouse to grow peppers outside. But is that true?

Chili plants tend to grow well outside, assuming you’re in a suitable climate for the plant or take steps to help protect them. Remember, different kinds of chili pepper grow best in different climates. The hottest peppers tend to also do best in more tropical conditions. But milder peppers can grow well in temperate zones, and even spicier cultivars can be grown in temperate areas with the proper precautions. 

Of course, figuring out which chili peppers will grow in your area is the first step to growing them in your outdoor garden. You can also grow chilis in greenhouses or indoors if you want to, but they’ll need different kinds of care depending on where you plant them.

Let’s take a closer look at growing chili plants outside, how you can help your chili plants thrive and produce a lot of peppers, and some alternatives if growing outdoors isn’t an option for your favorite peppers.

Can I Keep My Chili Plant Outside?

Chili plants do well outside when they’re kept in the right conditions. Many people get huge chili pepper crops by planting directly in their gardens, while others have better results from raised garden beds or using containers to help protect their chilis.

If you have a garden with a few square feet of additional growing space, you may be able to plant your chili plants outside, but you need to know a few things about your garden first.

Thankfully, while there is a little variability between cultivars, almost all plants in the capsicum family, that is, all peppers, have similar needs. So, if you can successfully grow one type of pepper, you can likely grow other chilis.

However, because peppers tend to be warm-weather plants, they have a more limited growing zone. For successful planting outside, you need to live in USDA hardiness zones 8-11. That’s even a bit generous. Some pepper planters recommend protecting your peppers more unless you live in zones 9-11, excluding zone 8.

If you live in colder zones, you can attempt to grow your chili peppers outside, but you’ll probably have a more challenging time and need to protect them from the cold more often than gardeners in suitable zones.

If you live in a zone colder than zone 6, you are better off planting inside, in a greenhouse, or skipping chili peppers entirely. The ground and air temperature don’t support healthy pepper growth.

The other thing to consider is your soil condition and quality. Peppers prefer soil that’s rich in organic matter that offers good drainage. Compost is an excellent addition to improve drainage in clay-rich or compacted soils.

Additionally, your peppers will set more fruit if they don’t have too much nitrogen in their soil. Consider fertilizers higher in phosphorous and potassium, with lower nitrogen supplementation once your plants are ready to set fruit.

Early fertilizing with nitrogen-rich fertilizers can help encourage early growth, but you need well-drained soil to prevent nitrogen buildup.

Are Chili Plants Okay In The Rain?

Yes! Chili plants might not need as much water as other garden plants, but they do fine in most rainy conditions. As long as the soil drains well, your chili plants should be okay.

However, chili leaves don’t do well in hail, sleet, or icy rain. If outside temperatures dip between 36 degrees Fahrenheit, your chili plants would probably benefit from being covered until the storm passes and the temperature increases.

Can Chili Plants Survive The Winter?

Chili plants really can’t survive the winter outside. These warm-weather plants come from tropical or sub-tropical regions that don’t have a winter so much as a cooler or a wet season.

Chili plants usually don’t have as many adaptations to protect their stem, leaves, and fruit from colder temperatures; roots can even be damaged if the soil, or the water in the soil, gets too cold.

However, if you want to keep your chili plants alive over the winter, you may be able to take them inside. If your plants are in containers, you can move the container. The process is more complicated if your chili plants are in the ground, but you can transplant them into a container and then transition them inside.

Do You Grow Chili Plants Inside Or Outside?

Chili plants can be grown inside or outside, and both options have some requirements. For instance, outdoor chili plants do best in USDA hardiness zones 8-11 or 9-11 and need plenty of room to grow and well-drained soil to do their best.

Indoor chili plants need plenty of well-drained soil in their container, lots of light, and thorough watering. They also need regular additions of compost or fertilizer to help make sure they have plenty of nutrition to grow. Tweaking the content of that fertilizer is important to help tell your chili plants when to set fruit and when to focus on growing.

Despite the challenges of growing both inside and outside, both are good options for different gardeners. That means that growing chili plants is accessible to anyone who wants to put in the work.

What Size Pots Should You Use For Chili Plants?

Chili plants need a variety of sizes throughout their lifetimes.

If you’re starting your plants from seed, we’d recommend using a seedling pot or tray until they are big enough to go in a 3″ pot for their first transplant.

For reference, if you’ve purchased pepper plants from your local garden nursery, those plants were probably ready for 3″ or 6″ pots depending on whether you were buying the more mature plants or the youngest plants available.

When your plants are a bit larger, you should transplant them into a 6-inch pot and then a 12-inch pot. Plan on transplanting your peppers every time their height increases by 2-4 inches until the plant has reached its full height. You should also transplant if your plant grows a branching stem or produces a new stem.

Full-grown pepper plants should be in pots that are at least 12″ wide and 12″ tall. Or, if you’re using a non-traditional pot shape, a full-grown pepper should have at least 3 gallons of soil and may do better in 5 gallons of soil.

Many indoor or indoor/outdoor pepper gardeners plant their peppers into 5-gallon buckets.

How Long Does It Take For Chili Plants To Bear Fruit?

Assuming good growing conditions, most pepper plants will bear fruit at about 80-90 days into their growing. Many varieties continue to bear fruit until growing conditions change, which can mean you get several harvests per plant.

Some pepper plants wait to set fruit if there is too much nitrogen in the soil or if the weather is too cold or warm. Try adding a phosphorous and potassium-rich fertilizer to help encourage fruiting.

If your chili plants start setting fruit too early – less than 60 days old – you should pinch off the fruit and add a little (very little!) nitrogen to the soil to encourage leafy growth instead. Switch to potassium and phosphorus-rich fertilizer when it’s time to start fruiting.