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Grow-How

Extending Your Season

Can Peppers Be Grown In Containers?

For those folks without sunny ground for a garden, there is an alternative - grow your chiles in containers! Container growing is relatively easy and fun, as long as the plants receive a good deal of sunshine and fresh air, and have the correct size container. Choose the final growing cotainer based on the comparative size of the pepper plant, i.e.. a smaller pot for smaller, compact plants, and a larger pot for those pepper plants or pods that grow large, have very fleshy fruits, and/or are needing higher production. The rule of thumb for decent production is to grow in a pot no smaller than 5 gallons. 5 Gallon buckets can be used, and the handles make moving the pots easier. A 10 to 15 gallon pot is even better for greater production in containers. The exception is with some of the ornamental varieties which can be grown in smaller one gallon pots, but will produce a smaller plant. You can also grow in half whiskey barrels, with 3 plants per barrel, spaced equally and slightly towards the edges.

It is best to up-pot a small plant into a slightly larger container first, to become larger before putting into a large pot. Putting a small plant into a large container will take longer to grow, as well as being much easier to stunt/kill by overwatering. We up-pot our 2.5 inch pots into a 4 inch pot at first, top-dressed with 1 teaspoon of our Organic Granular Fertilizer, and grow for a few weeks. We then up-pot into a 6 inch pot, top-dressed with 1 Tablespoon of our Organic Granular Fertilizer and grow out another few weeks, before up-potting into the final planting container.

If a 5 gallon bucket is not the look that you are looking for, try to find a pretty pot that is either plastic or glazed pottery. While a terra cotta pot looks pretty, the unglazed surface loses lots of water to evaporation, and you will be constantly watering with less than satisfactory results. If you simply must use a terra cotta pot, try planting the chile in another pot and then placing that pot inside the terra cotta pot. Or buy a non toxic glaze and cover the inside of the terra cotta pot so that it will retain moisture. Use a good quality potting soil found at most garden centers, not just dirt from outside, which will have many weed seeds and will compact and get hard. Remember that plants grown in containers will need extra fertilizer to keep healthy and productive.

How Can I Extend My Growing Season?

Chiles like to be transplanted into warm soil. Planting too early will produce very unsatisfactory results, and will actually lose you time to harvest, as the plants are set back. To warm the soil earlier, place black or clear plastic down where your garden will be, a few weeks before planting to heat up the soil. The "walls of water" are also reported to be good at getting plants established earlier. If night temps are expected in getting below 50 degrees, cover your plants with either a larger pot turned upside down, or with "floating row cover", also known as Reemay, or with simply a bed sheet. If possible cover the plants in the late afternoon, to capture some heat within. Uncover in the morning when temps rise above 50 degrees.

To get a jump on the season, or if you cannot plant out right a way, up-pot your plants up into slightly larger 4 inch diameter pot using a regular potting mix (we Do Not recommend Miracle Gro as it produces tall lush foliage and little fruit.) We soak in a fish emulsion and seaweed solution immediatley prior to planting, and then do not water after planting. We open the roots and set at the same level as in the other pot, and cover with soil. Topdress with our Organic Granular fertilizer, using 1 teaspoon per 4 inch container, around the edge of the pot and buried just slightly. We grow out for 2 weeks, then up-pot into a 6 inch container, doing the fish/seawwed soak and this time using 1 Tablepoon of Organic Granular fertilizer per 6 inch container, topdressed around the edge and buried just slightly. When safe to plant out, we have a larger and stronger plant, that will begin harvesting earlier than if we planted a small plant out.

At the end of the season, as Jack Frost is looming, covering the plants nightly with the "floating row cover" (Reemay) or bed sheets. Again, try to cover in the late afternoon to capture some heat within. Watering or foliar feeding with seaweed also helps offer some frost protection.

Another great way to extend your growing season is by…

Can I Bring Chile Plants Indoors For Winter?

You can easily get a few extra months of fresh chiles by bringing your chile/pepper plants indoors. If they have been growing in pots, the transfer to the indoors is quick and simple. If they have been growing in the garden, there is a bit more work involved, but you will be repaid handsomely with fresh chiles in November!! First decide which chile plant you would like to transplant, and water it or fertilize it a few days beforehand, so that it is fresh and strong for it's journey inside. Choose one that has many buds and/or immature fruit, and is not too terribly large. Usually a smaller plant will transplant better than a larger one. Find a pot that will be big enough to handle the plant that you will be digging up A five gallon bucket will work great. Dig the plant with as large a root ball as possible, so to disturb as few roots as possible. Place into the pot, and fill the empty spaces with extra soil. Water well. Now, give the plants a haircut! Since you have cut off some of the roots, you will have to cut off the same amount of top growth so that the plant is balanced above and below the soil line. Trim the branches back a bit, or selectively cut off some branches while leaving others intact. The one very important tip is to keep an eye on pests.

Bugs love to come indoors, especially aphids. They can be easily controlled with Insecticidal Soap. Use 4 Tablespoons per gallon of water, mixed in a sprayer or squirt bottle. Spray at the first sign of bugs, covering the plant foliage, both tops and undersides of the leaves, and never in full sun. Make sure the plant is well hydrated before spraying. Spray once every 3 to 4 days, for 3-4 applications, to be sure that you catch them all. If just one aphid is left on the plant, you will have an army of aphids in just a matter of days. keep a good eye out!

Can I Grow Chiles Indoors?

Yes. Give lots of light. Place the chile plants near a sunny or bright window, but not where it is drafty. Even better is to place them under grow lights, that are on for 16 hours a day, and off 8 hours (plants need to sleep too!!) The closer the lights to the plant the better, but don't let the leaves touch the lights. Plants can be placed outside on warm days, but returned inside if temperatures are expected to go below 50 degrees. Slowly acclimate them to the sun and other outdoor elements if they have been indoors for an extended period. Do this by putting them outside for short periods, in a slightly shady spot at first, then gradually increase the amount of time and amount of sun that they received.

Water sparingly. Chile plants prefer to be on the dry side. Water lightly when the soil appears quite dry, but remember, DO NOT OVER-WATER! It is okay for the plants to get a bit dry, they might even begin to wilt. Water lightly at first, checking again in a few hours to see if they have revived. Water the soil, not the leaves.

The chile plants may go through a "dormancy" in winter and may drop leaves or look a little bare. Give the plants a haircut! Trim stems back an inch or more to give a nice compact shape. Also cut back a bit on watering.

In the spring, slowly begin to increase watering as you see new leaves emerging. If possible, transplant your plant into a larger container, using fresh potting soil. Start with low levels of organic fertilizer, increasing doses as the plant grows.

Give the plants a shake every week! Flowers need to be pollinated in order for fruits to form. Indoors, the chiles can self-pollinate by having the pollen fall into it's own flower. Carefully give a gentle shake!

Harvest fruit at the stage that is most preferred for taste or use. Sample the fruits at all colors of maturation to test the different levels of heat produced. Always taste a small portion at first, as chiles can be extremely hot!

How Do I Bring Chiles Outdoors After Being Inside All Winter?

After being inside all winter, many plants aren't looking so good. But don't despair, with a little TLC they will be growing by leaps and bounds, and will be producing fruit much earlier than newer, younger transplants.

Start by trimming back branches to give a nice compact shape, onto which new branches will grow. This spring haircut can be quite severe if your plant is large. Make sure you leave at least ten nodes where new growth will push out. You can give a symetrical haircut, or you can remove whole branches, or both. Imagine how the plant will look with new growth branching out above the cut. Don't cut too high (the plants will be top heavy) or too low (leave at least a handful of nodes). A rough guide is to cut the plants leaving 1/4 to 1/3 of the plant remaining. We cut our plants back to approx 6 to 9 inches high, depending on the variety. Fruit will be produced on new growth only. Since you have removed lots of foliage, you will need to water less, as there are fewer leaves to transpire moisture away. You will see new growth begin to push out from the nodes. Start fertilizing a few weeks before the move ouside, with organic fertilizer, to get your plant strong for the move. At first bring the plants outside for short periods of time, to slowly acclimate them to the outdoors. Try to not have them outside during the sunniest, hottest part of the day for the first few trips outside. Morning sun is less strong and is perfect to start.

If the plants will remain in their pots, remove as much soil as possible without disturbing too many roots, and replace with fresh new potting mix. Since the new potting mix will probably have nutrients, you won't need to fertilize for a couple of weeks. After that, fertilize with organic fertilizers once a week for 3 weeks, then monthly.

If you will be planting your winter house-bound chile plant back into the garden, wait until the ground and air have warmed up, before transplanting. Have your hole dug and ready to go before tipping the plant out of its pot, and be sure to tamp down the soil after planting. We soak our plants in liquid fertilizers , immediately prior to planting for 5-10 minutes,and then once a week for 2 more weeks, then monthly.

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