Over-wintering Your Plants
Bring in Your Green Tomatoes!
Well, if you garden up here in the North and haven't done it already, its time to start ripping out your tomato plants. Seed some lettuce and spinach in their place and bring all your big green tomatoes inside; they'll ripen up better on your kitchen counter at this point than they would outdoors. The best way to get the most ripe tomatoes is to place your greenies in low cut cardboard boxes out in the open; one layer of love apples only, don't stack them! It's ALWAYS one on the bottom that goes bad.
And Your Pepper plants!
But DON'T harvest any of your peppers while they're still green, and don't toss those plants! Peppers are tropical perennials that can live for many years, and they love to be brought INdoors for the winter. And wait'll you see how early you get ripe peppers when you take those BIG plants out to the garden NEXT year!
Yes, this is especially good news for us hot and sweet bell pepper growers who endured a frustratingly cold and wet summer; a lot of our plants are just now getting in gear, with frost lurking right around the corner! Well, if you dig up those pretty plants all covered with flowers and unripe fruits carefully and bring them inside to sit in front of a sunny window, those flowers will turn into peppers, and your green fruits will ripen up! And if you provide some artificial light, they'll keep producing tasty treats for you all winter. That's right, these plants don't have to die; you can, and should, treat just like lemon, orange and other citrus trees in pots: Wheel 'em out for the summer and back inside for the winter!
Here's How to Turn Peppers Into Houseplants!
No matter where you live, it's time to perform my absolute favorite gardening trick and bring your pepper plants inside for the winter! This works best with small compact plants, like almost all hot pepper varieties, and smaller sized sweet bell peppers. Make a wide, deep circle around each plant with a sharp shovel. Then slide the shovel underneath, lifting the plant up with its roots tucked safely inside an island of soil, and plop it into a nice big pot, ten inches is an ideal size. If you need more soil in the pot, use a light, loose seed-starting mix like Pro-Mix, not poor-draining garden dirt! Water your potted plants well, leave them outside for a few days to get adjusted, then wash the leaves down carefully with plain water to remove any pests, and bring 'em in!
Put them in a sunny South facing window, and they'll ripen up their green peppers and stay alive for replanting outside next Spring. (I wind up with such BIG plants to put out in the Spring that they quickly bloom, and we get ripe red bell peppers before our first tomatoes!) Clean those windows first, on both sides, and you'll double the amount of light your houseplants receive, even if the windows didn't look dirty! Artificial light is even better; you can fit four nice-size pepper plants in 10-inch pots underneath a four-foot long shoplight. Use a pair of 40-watt cool-white bulbs, not plant lights, they just aren't bright enough. Hang the lights on chains and move them up as the plants grow, but keep the tops almost touching those cool bulbs, those plants will flower and fruit for you indoors all winter long!
Bring in These Pretty Garden FLOWERS Too!
Potting up my pepper plants and bringing them inside for the winter has become my favorite gardening trick. But peppers aren't the only tropical plant you can do this with; it works just as well, maybe even better, with two favorite bedding flowers: Begonias and impatiens. They're really easy to bring indoors, and they'll bloom for you all winter long! Pot them up, leave them sit outside for a few days to get acclimated, wash them carefully with water to remove any hitchhiking pests, and then use them to liven up your South or East facing windowsills. Don't bother with extra lighting, these shade lovers DON'T need any! Replace those outdoor posies with pansies, and you'll have blooming flowers indoors and out all winter long!