Indoor pepper plant?

jungleexplorerOctober 30, 2011

Ok. I have two indoor pepper plants. I want to keep them alive and healthy. I have never grown peppers indoor before so this is a learning process.

When my plants first started to bloom I did not think about pollination. But after dozens of blooms fell off I realized that pollination would not occur on it's own indoors. Since then I have tried to accomplish pollination several ways, Q-tips, fans, open window on windy days, electric toothbrush. At one point I did something right because I got 30 fruits all at once on one plant. These first fruits are now fully mature, but since then I have not been able to get another single fruit. Recently the blooms have been falling off at and alarming rate and the plants don't look like they are thriving. I don't know what I am doing wrong.

Here are a few questions I have.

1. Does pollination have to occur at a certain time? I.E. are blooms only open to receive pollination at certain times of the day or during a certain window of time after they form?

2. What is the best way to effect pollination indoors?

3. With the days growing shorter, should I use a grow light? If so, which one would be best for indoor use? Do I need a dedicated grow light fixture, or are there bulbs that can be used in my existing fixtures?

4. My plants are getting huge. Can pepper plants be pruned? Or should I prune them?

5. My plants are in large 20" vinyl pots with about 60 pounds of Miracle-Gro Moisture Control potting soil. They are about 4 feet tall. How much and how often should I water them?

I know that I have a lot of questions. I do not expect exact answers, just some experienced recommendations. Thanks

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Yes, you should definitely prune them back once the fruit is done. The larger the plant, the more light it needs, and there isn't going to be enough light to go around indoors in winter.

Peppers are VERY resilient at coming back from being pruned. I personally like making bonsai trees out of my old peppers in order to over-winter them, and that requires cutting them back to virtually nothing but a stump and they just spring right back.

As for watering, overwatering is the leading cause of death amongst peppers during the winter (a fact I completely made up on the spot, but is still probably mostly true). The best way to know when a pepper needs to be watered is to wait until you see it start to droop. If the leaves aren't droopy and wilty, don't water it. It doesn't hurt the plant in any way to let it go without water until it starts to droop, and it will keep you from killing them.

Also, you might want to consider pruning back the roots and putting them into smaller pots for the winter as well. Helps save space indoors, and again an established pepper is like a weed, it takes a *LOT* to kill one (far as pruning goes, anyway).

    Bookmark   October 31, 2011 at 8:57AM
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Use the search function at the bottom of the page with "overwintering" will answer this question and the next 20 questions.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2011 at 9:11AM
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Thanks Edymnion. That is some really good info. Thank to you too, Willard3. I will try searching for overwintering.

Does anyone have any advice about indoor pollination?

    Bookmark   October 31, 2011 at 12:40PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Overwatering is the number one killer, indeed, and that is usually a result of using a soil that
holds too much moisture. Moisture Control potting soil is some of the absolute worst soil out there.
In containers of that size, the soil won't dry out for weeks or months even. Smaller containers
with a fast-draining soil are far more optimal.

Pollination will occur indoors without any help. But for better results, use a fan. I just flip my
ceiling fan on for a few hours a day. Don't blast a fan directly at your plants, though...that'll probably
just dry the pollen out or send it flying.

You can hand pollinate the flowers, too - just collect pollen from the anthers and swipe the pollen
across the protruding stigma in the middle of the flower. When the stigma seals up, you know that the
flower is fertilized.

Please do use the search function. We have many, many Threads devoted to this process,
along with discussions of pot sizes, pruning techniques, lighting, watering, fertilizing,
and the very important choice of potting mix.


    Bookmark   October 31, 2011 at 1:19PM
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esox07 (4b)

regarding hand pollination. It can be very effective but it is more effort than I care to put out. An alternative to transferring the pollen is to simply shake the blooms or branches they are on. This is a quick and dirty way to dislodge the pollen on get it moving and if all goes right, it will fall on the stigma and get things going. I have never tried to raise peppers indoors but by starting plants indoors during the winter last year, I had several pods form before I ever was able to get them outdoors into their summer homes. That was without trying but keep in mind that indoor conditions are not optimal for pod production with the lack of pollinating insects, wind, optimal lighting and other factors working against you. But definitely possible and probably a fun activity during the winter. Good luck and let us know how things work out for you.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2011 at 1:44PM
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Fast draining soils are still the best indoors as well as out. The only downside, is that you can't just weakly water without moving the plant. I am finding my plants both fully indoor, or plants I've moved indoor doing well with the 5-1-1 mix discussed in the container forums. Downside of fast draining soil? I have to put the plants in a tub or on a grate on a bucket when watering and fertilizing them to allow them to flush and drain as they should. But the plants are worth it. I still have potted peppers I moved indoors that are still ripening and growing new pods. When the light is not enough, I'll put them under my artificial light.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2011 at 3:59PM
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Thanks to all. Tons of great advice. All of it appreciated more then you know.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2011 at 5:35PM
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Update on my peppers. I moved them to the south side of my house so that they would get direct sunlight. They were on the north side of my house getting only indirect sunlight. I had to rearrange my whole living room to move them, but they are worth it. But now I am seeing different effects as a result of the direct sunlight and I am wondering if I did the right thing.

Since I moved them, they appear to be securing their blossoms longer and I have even got a few new fruits, and one is on the plant that had never produced a fruit. So this is good. But the plants over all do not look as healthy as they did. They were a dark rich green color before the move. Now they have turned a light green and seem droopy. Some of the leave have wilted and fallen off. At night they seem to perk up again though.

I am not sure of what to make of all of this. I am wondering if my double pained windows are producing some kind of magnifying glass effect and overheating the leaves, even though I keep my house indoor temp at a steady 70 degrees.

Another thought is about watering. After I asked about how much to water my plants, I received a lot warnings about over watering, but very little advice about how much and how often to water my plants in their current state. Which is, they are in large pots with about 60 pounds of moisture control garden soil. I will move them to a different pots and soil at some point, but I need to take care of them as good as possible like the are until I can do that. All I want to know is how to test if I need to water them and about how much to water them when it is time. For instance; Is there some way to test the soil? Like running my hand to the bottom of the container? Should the soil be moist, wet, dry? My pots are plastic designer pots and have no drain holes in the bottom. Should I drill some?

I know I ask a lot of questions. It is just that I know so little about this subject and these pepper plants are very important to me. I do appreciate everyone's patience with me and my ignorance.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 2:01PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Drainage holes are absolutely necessary!!!!

Did someone suggest that you use these colossal containers with zero drainage and swampy Miracle Grow?
If someone told you to do this, don't ever take their gardening advice again.

Yeah, the plants are already suffering from too much moisture in the root-zone.
Basically, if you have saturated roots, they can't take up moisture. Then, with sunlight
hitting the leaves, the leaves wilt and fall off because the roots aren't providing moisture.

Small containers, fast-draining soil, and root-temps above 50F. That's about it.

Stick a dowel or skewer all the way to the bottom of the container. If it's wet/dark, don't water.
If it comes out clean and dry, it's time to water. But since you said there's no drainage, I can
assure you that the soil is saturated and most likely stagnant. When you drill those holes,
beware the water that comes out.....should be some pretty nasty stuff.

Miracle Grow moisture control is an awful, terrible, horrible, foolish product.
I wouldn't even use it in containers outdoors during the summer, let alone during the winter indoors.
It's just a matter of time before total root-death occurs.


    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 3:06PM
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I agree with what Josh said. My suggestion (in addition to drain holes) was going to be to use a wooden skewer to test the moisture. Poke it in, and give it a couple minutes and pull it out. If the skewer is wet, you don't need to water. You'd be surprised how wet it can stay 2/3 down in the pot. You probably have a stinky swamp in the bottom right now. Been there - done that - even with drain holes.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 5:24PM
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Thanks all for the advice. I know you think my pots are to big, but my plants are over five feet tall. I started them in 8" pots and then moved them up to 12" pots. They got so big so fast that they dwarfed the 12 " pots, so I thought it better to jump straight to a 20" pot. After I get my first seeds and start new plants, I plan on trimming them down and putting them back into 12" pots. They have fruit on them right now and I am just waiting for it all to mature to seed collection state before I do it. These are special plants. They are 100% native, non-hybrid and it took me many years to find the seeds for these plants and only two out of fifty sprouted. I have all my fingers and toes crossed that I will get some viable seeds from these plants. I don't want to stress them right now, at least until I get some viable seeds from them.

I have a stick in the pots right now, testing the soil. I have run my hand 2/3 of the way to the bottom and the soil at that depth is only slightly moist. As soon as I find something to put under them as water catchers I will drill holes in the bottoms. I tried to find big pots with built in holes and catchers, but I could not find any big enough, so I had to go with these.

Thanks again for all the advice.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 8:03PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

The point is, you are stressing the plants by keeping them in this cultural condition.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 7:27AM
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Yes Josh, I probably am stressing them a bit, and that is why I am looking for advice to help me avoid stressing them in their current condition. I would very much like to move them, but I cannot do it without trimming them. Why? Because they are so big and huge, and they have grown in a windless environment so their trunks are weak. They are so top heavy that even when I move them in the pots they fall over and I have to prop them up with sticks.

Anyway, I put a wooden dowel to the bottom of each pot and left it there for a few hours. One stick came out completely dry on the tip with no color. The other came out a little moist with a darker color. So I think I should water the first one and hold off on the other until it drys out a bit. What do you think?

    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 10:30AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Drill those drainage holes, then water, and keep your fingers crossed.
Don't water until you've drilled drainage holes.

Even with drainage, the type of soil and the volume of soil will virtually make it impossible
to water properly. Watering the containers in "sips" will merely lead to dry pockets in the soil,
as well as an accumulation of salts (which will further impair the plant's ability to take up
water and nutrients).


    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 12:33PM
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Holes drilled! I had the hardest time finding bases to put under these pots. I drilled a lot of holes on the bottom and then around the base at the bottom edge of the horizontal wall. This should allow plenty of air to get to the roots. No water came out by the way. The soil of one was a little moist and the other was almost dry. Thanks again for the advice.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 9:14AM
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I find that generally I don't need catch pans under my indoor plants. I only water when things start to droop, and I only give enough water to perk them back up. I never have a single drop coming out the bottom.

As for the move, it may be that the increased sun is drying them out and they do need more water. I say this because you mention them perking up at night. I don't think heat is a problem, as my peppers were perfectly happy outdoors in 100 degree full sun last summer, just needed watering twice a day and they were content.

So yeah, use the dowel trick. If it comes out dry and your leaves are droopy, water 'em. Don't soak them, just give them about half what you initially think they'd need and see if they perk up. If so, don't water again until they start to droop, and use about the same amount next time. The idea is that in the winter it is better to under-water than over-water.

Apologies if it sounds like we're beating a dead horse, but overwintering indoors means you see the plant more often than you do outdoors, and the climate control means they retain water a lot easier than before, so the vast majority of people water more than they realize and drown the plants.

If everything is dry and you're still getting yellowing leaves, try mixing in some miracle grow all purpose plant food at half the recommended strength (as in if it says use a teaspoon per gallon for outdoors, half a teaspoon indoors, use a quarter teaspoon) mixed in next time you water and see if that helps. Don't know when the last time you fed them was, so it could be a trace mineral deficiency.

But again, go sparingly. Like with the water, too much of a good thing will kill it, so start very small and see if there is any improvement then wait a while. Those containers can retain chemical fertilizers a lot longer than the ground would, so it can be easy to get a buildup in there thats toxic.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2011 at 1:54PM
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Thanks Edymnion. I have been following your advice (letting the leaves droop before watering) on watering ever since you you first suggested it. Your advice has probably saved my plants, since I apparently used the absolute worst soil possible (Miracle Grow Moisture Control). As far as nutrition goes, the potting soil I used is pretty fortified to start off with and I used about 40 pounds per plant. It has been about 3 months since I moved them to these larger pots, so I would think they should still have plenty of nutrients left.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 12:04PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

That initial nutrient charge in the soil should last through the Winter,
particularly in that the plant's nutrient demands aren't as high this time of year.

Indeed, watering in "sips" is about all you can do with a large volume of moisture retentive soil.


    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 6:08PM
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Yep i killed most of my overwintered plants last year.

Cause of death ------> Overwatering

I didnt save any of my outdoor pepper plants this season, but i did bring my potted lemon tree its second upcoming winter. Its too big to put on a windowsill now so im hoping ambient sunlight and ceiling flourescent ambient room lighting will keep it alive.

Yep be careful of those soils that retain water. I dont water if the soil "looks" dry. I always lift the pot and guage how much moisture is in the soil by the weight.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 2:11PM
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Okay, so I just re-potted one my pepper plants because it was yellowing and starting to look bad. Many suggested that it might be root rot, but I saw no sign of root rot when I re-potted it. The roots looked very healthy. I trimmed the plant back about 70% and moved to a 12" inch pot (it was in a 21" pot). I hope I did not kill it. I could not find the ingredients to make my own soil from scratch, so I bought some organic potting soil that is a mix of pine firs and sphagnum peat and mixed in a good quantity of Perlite.

What really confuses me is this; I have two pepper plants that I have treated equally and one is thriving and still putting on blooms and peppers and the other (that was doing the best at first) is on the verge of death for no explicable reason.

The one that is doing well is dark green and full of blooms and peppers. The other one has been a on slow decline for about two months now. At first the leaves were slowly turning a lighter green, but in the last two weeks they started to yellow. The other plant is sucking up water like it is going out of style. When it runs out of water the leaves droop dramatically in a short period of time and perk up almost immediately when I water it. But the other plant appeared to be using no water at all. Even when I stopped watering it for two weeks, the leaves never drooped and I could still feel moisture in the soil a few inches from the top. I makes no sense to me. If it was not root rot, what the heck is wrong with my one plant?

    Bookmark   December 19, 2011 at 6:32PM
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I know you said above that the soil had lots of nutrients, but if it's been almost 4 months and no fertilizer, I can't help think that might be your problem. I fertilize my indoor plants about every 10 days, though they are in far smaller pots than yours. Four months is a long time for no added nutrients, and a slow decline and yellowing of leaves on a previously healthy plant would be consistent with starving for nutrition.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 12:18AM
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You could be right. The only reason that I might think that lack of nutrition might was not the problem is, that fact that the other plant is thriving in identical conditions. But I did apply some Osmocote a couple of weeks ago and also started using SUPERthrive in my watering water. Both of these were recommended by the head gardener at a huge local Nursery. I have also been applying Sonic Bloom once a week, which is a special combination of organic nutrients that you spray on the leaves and music you play to open the stomata on the leaves to receive the nutrients.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 10:55AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Give the re-potted plant approximately two weeks to establish roots, then fertilize at half strength.


    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 11:41AM
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Sometimes you do just get a weak plant. Good example are a pair of Halloween NuMex ornamentals I planted about two months ago now I think. They were planted about a week apart, with the same soil, same type of pots, sitting right next to each other in the same window, watered/fertilized at the same time.

One took off quite nicely, the other stunted and I recently put it out of it's misery after it became clear it was sliding downhill.

Sometimes one plant will just be heartier and healthier than another, even in identical conditions.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 2:01PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Yep, very true.

Also, the plant that was "doing better" at first could have exhausted itself....


    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 2:09PM
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What type of peppers you growing? I think I missed that part.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 4:06PM
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That is the million dollar question armac. I have done enough research to have solved world hunger trying to determine the answer to that question. I have posted detailed photos of every aspect of the plants, on this and other forums, and as of yet, no one has been able to positively identify the type. I am 90% certain that they are from the C. Chinese family. I got the seeds from a friend who brought them back from his trip to the north central Amazon region. At this point some have suggested that I may have the only two plants in North America. If you would like to review the photos, would be glad to point you to the threads.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 8:14PM
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Would love to see the photos.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 9:03PM
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    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 11:55PM
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