Will Frost Kill Pepper Plants?

Temperature is one of the most important factors in success with growing peppers. So, the short of it: Will frost kill pepper plants? Yes, pepper plants don’t handle cold temperatures well and are far from frost-tolerant, so frost will kill them. In North America, unprotected pepper plants typically die during winter (despite technically being perennials.) The sensitivity to cold applies to hot peppers and sweet peppers alike. Peppers grow best in warm temperatures — preferably over 70 — with soil temperatures that remain consistently high.

Will Frost Kill Pepper Plants?
A pepper plant dethawing after significant frost. Will it survive?

What temperatures are dangerous for pepper plants?

Frost occurs at about 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and peppers can start suffering damage from temperatures even slightly below 50 degrees. In other words, they don’t have to experience frost for cold weather to cause problems. Injury from frost can show up as leaf-puckering; temperatures in the 50s and below may cause stunted growth. Planting pepper varieties that can tolerate cold weather (or have shorter growing cycles, like the Hot Paper Lantern) can have some benefits, but even those varieties are sensitive to frost.

Can a pepper plant with frost be saved?

Pepper plants can recover from frost damage depending on the extent of the damage and the maturity of the plants. Cold-tolerant varieties may also be better able to recover from frost damage than plants that cannot handle low temperatures at all. If your pepper plants have been exposed to temperatures below 32 degrees for a long time, they are less likely to recover.

There are some easy ways to tell if a plant will be able to recover from frost damage. Frost damaged tissues turn black, so inspect the plant to see which parts have retained their normal color. If all the foliage has turned black, the plant won’t recover, but it may still survive if the leaves are only partially discolored. Similarly, if the stem at the base of the plant is discolored, it should be discarded.

Pinching early flowers off causes the plant to devote more resources to making stronger stems and roots instead of producing peppers. Stronger stems and roots may make it possible to save a pepper plant despite frost damage.

How to prevent frost on pepper plants

Cold treating

Some gardeners believe that cold treatment can toughen pepper plants up for cold weather and may help them recover from frost. Cold treating the plants is similar to hardening off, which involves acclimating plants started indoors to the outdoors. With cold treatment, you move pepper plants from warm temperatures in the 70-degree range to temperatures in the 50s. The cold environment should provide ample light. The process enables the pepper plants to build stronger cell walls and gets them used to fluctuating temperatures.

Plant your peppers in containers

Peppers in containers are portable, which means that you can move them to a warm place if temperatures get too low. Ideal places for short-term protection from cold weather include attached garages and basements. A greenhouse is ideal. Cut back on watering the plants once you have moved them indoors. Don’t let the soil in pepper plant containers dry out completely but don’t overwater.

Protect pepper plants from the cold by planting them at the right times

If you live in a place where the growing season is short, start pepper plants indoors in late winter or early spring to make the most of warm temperatures. Starting peppers indoors gives them a head start and can ensure more harvests before temperatures fall again.

Protect pepper plants from frost with covers

Different kinds of covers can work including row covers, cloches, and cold frames. Which protective method you choose will depend on the size of the plant.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 11, 2022 to include new content.
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