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How can you tell if a plant is dead or dormant?

I tried overwintering my orange habanero plant. Now, as the snow is finally (and rapidly) melting, it's been pretty nice out the last two days and will continue to be for at least a week. It was even sunny yesterday and 66 degrees, I should've put it out then... oh well. It's out there now, even though it's cloudy. The weather's getting me anxious to see what's going to happen this year, especially to the overwintered hab... if it makes it.

Which leads to the question: How can you tell if a pepper plant is dormant or outright dead? Is the only way to put it in the ground and hope it springs back to life?

A few notes... This particular plant lost all of its leaves, still green with no odd markings or discoloration, over a period of two or three days due to the cold weather early last fall just before I decided to bring it in. It was protected with a frost cloth, and all the C. annuums kept their leaves... the habanero was the only one to drop them.

I trimmed damaged branches off (quite a few of them) and broke the little brittle stems that once held peppers, though I didn't bother messing with the roots. I planted it in some standard (probably cheap) potting soil. I tried seeing if I could somehow make it produce new growth by giving it a bit of nitrogen and plenty of water, but then decided it was pointless... the thing's either sleeping or dead. I proceeded to water it less to avoid fungus and fungus gnats, and occasionally misted the stems with water. I didn't notice any aphids, spider mites, or webs, but then I didn't really pay that much attention.

So now, months later, and still probably a couple months before it can be planted back outside, the plant still looks virtually identical to when I first brought it in. No rotting that I can tell. It's like it's just frozen in time. Is there any way to find out if this plant is dead or dormant without the waiting? This anticipation is killing me! :hell:

Edit: I forgot to add, the plant had around 25 unripe habaneros... I left them on to ripen when bringing in, but eventually took them off (they didn't seem to ripen very well indoors; got soft and mushy)
What color is the stems? Are they still green or have they turned brown / black? If they are black chances are it is dead. Most of my peppers, when trimed back, have started new growth almost immediately, but any that got hit by frost ended up dead.
The stems are mostly a light green with possibly some light brown-ish stripes. Toward the base the thicker portions of the main stems have a lighter brown, woody texture. Actually, I don't think the plant is too much different in appearance than what I remember it looking when it still had its leaves and was producing. So I'm thinking (hoping) it is in fact dormant. There are some small darker-looking parts at the bottom of the stem, but I think they're dirt stains from heavy downpours and mud splashing up against the stem.
UltraZelda64 said:
So now, months later, and still probably a couple months before it can be planted back outside, the plant still looks virtually identical to when I first brought it in. No rotting that I can tell. It's like it's just frozen in time. Is there any way to find out if this plant is dead or dormant without the waiting? This anticipation is killing me! :hell:

You are going to have to wait and have patience. It may come as a surprise to you that chiles don't respond well to impatience.
I have a naga morich plant that I overwintered. It has sat in my garage for the last 3 months with no foliage whatsoever since I cut it all back until there was only 4 stems about 3 inches each. This week, it has started to put on new growth and if I can keep the aphids away, will be ready to go outside with the rest of them. If there is still green in the stem, it is probably still alive. Just have to wait and see. The only thing you can do to speed it up is to give it lots of light and warmth.

Good luck!
Well, it's most definitely getting lots of warmth--the thermostat/furnace has been set to 70°F pretty much all winter, and the plant has been sitting on top of the fridge in front of a south-facing window (though it's so high up it really doesn't get much light, even for a south window, which is already crap compared to unfiltered, outside light).

Last year it didn't get much light in its growing location; it was in an area that got quite a bit of shade (the majority of every day), yet it still produced well. This year, if it makes it, I want to put it in an area with full afternoon soon (the house blocks a lot of the morning light). See how it works that way... though the pH of the soil seems to be a bit lower in that location. Hopefully it works out. By the way... the area with a slightly lower pH is my intended area for growing pretty much all my peppers this year... if I remember right, it's around 6.8 or 6.9... should that be alright? Or should I try to get it to 7.0? Last year it was used for sunflowers.

Too bad that on the one day with lots of sun, I didn't bring it outside (paranoid to bring pests in from outside), it's been rainy and cloudy since and will be for a while. Then again, maybe that's a good thing... wouldn't pests (aphids, spider mites) become more of a problem on non-dormant plants?
The problem with the pests is if they get on the plants while they are coming out of dormacy. Aphids can kill the new growth rather quickly.
In a way, I wish I could say I had experience with aphids so I would know what to look out for and what to do in case of an infestation. Yet on the other hand, I'm glad my problems have been (for peppers) the occasional slug eating leaves outside. I had a red spider mite infestation on my tomato plants last year, but they didn't seem to touch my peppers. Half of the plant looked dead and brown and wilting while the other half seemed to be flourishing, so I think (post research) it must have been infected with fusarium or verticillium wilt. No experience with aphids--don't think I've ever seen them before. I'm new to gardening.
I have used dish detergent in a spray bottle (with water) to kill aphids. It seems to do the trick, and you're plants are soapy clean.
That does work, but may take several treatments before you clean the whole area. I have been fighting them for about 2 weeks now. Finally saw no new ones yesterday.:woohoo: I will continue to check every couple days to be sure they don't return.

I have a combination of mature plants and small young plants outside soo it seems like whenever i introduce the younger ones out side i get aphids then they spread to all my plants. young plants seem to attract them more IMO.

the stem of a dead plant will be brittle whilst one that is still functioning will not be nearly as brittle and won't have a dead wood color to it;)
Just an update. I put the plant outside the last couple days in the sun, it's been sunny and pretty decent out (around 55-62 degrees). I was just examining the plant earlier, and I realized... the ends of the stems where I trimmed after bringing it in were a darker brown. Curious, I cut a small amount more off where the stem got lighter, and looked at it. It appeared to have a little bit of light green inside the stem where it was cut from... it looked like a ring. I didn't look at the roots (trying not to disturb it too much), but that seems to me like it's a sign of life.

But that brings me to another question. It seems that when bringing an already-dormant plant in and trimming it, the trimmed ends seem to dry out and turn dark brown over the months. Is it good to trim this off when trying to bring the plant back to life, exposing fresh stem, or should it grow fine as is?

It seems that the next few days it should be nice and sunny outside. I just fertilized it a bit, started misting it more heavily, and am just waiting now... I think it's gonna pull through.