Skip to Content
Learn To Grow and Cook Peppers Like a Pro! ►

Should You Pinch Off Pepper Plant Flowers?

If you’re growing peppers, you want to get the most out of each plant. It can be exciting to see the very first flowers start forming on your plants – more flowers means more peppers, right?

Since we start our peppers indoors in the late spring, it is not unusual to see flower buds beginning to form in April or May. So that begs the question, should I cut flowers off my pepper plant? We’ve got the answers for you here on Pepper Geek.

Pepper Plant Flower Buds

In This Article:


Should You Pick Pepper Flowers? (Video):


What Are Pepper Flowers?

If you are new to growing peppers, you may see flowers on your plant and wonder what they are there for. Before we had any experience growing, we wondered the same thing.

Well, I left the flowers alone and low and behold, they transformed into tiny peppers!

Pepper Plant Flower Buds
Early pepper forming.

The flowers on a pepper plant will turn into the actual peppers. Essentially, the flowers attract insects to your pepper plants, and they pollinate the flowers. Bees, flies, and other insects fertilize the flowers, and the peppers bear seeds.

Peppers self-pollinate, meaning that each flower contains both male and female organs. This means that you don’t have to worry about growing multiple plants side by side to get good harvests.

However, sometimes pepper plants will begin flowering too early. A number of factors can cause this, including small pot size, not enough fertilizer, or irregular temperatures.


Should I Pinch Off Early Pepper Flowers?

If you are waiting for the weather to warm up so that your plants can safely move outdoors, your plants may start producing flowers prematurely. This is a pepper plant’s natural response to limited soil space.

If the plant doesn’t have enough soil to continue growing more roots, it will begin the next stage of growth, producing fruit.

Before you move your plants outside, we recommend that you prune early pepper flower buds off of the plant. Be sure to allow the flowers to grow large enough so you don’t damage the young leaves when picking. Another option is to only pick flowers that begin forming fruits, and leave the rest alone.

However, there are some cases when we don’t recommend pruning pepper flowers. If you are growing slower-to-produce varieties like ghost peppers or habaneros, you may want to leave early buds to ensure that your peppers ripen.

However, if you are growing faster varieties like jalapenos or bell peppers, early flowers can be pinched back until the plants are a more mature size.

Early flowers picked from pepper plant
Early flowers and fruits removed from young pepper plants.

Timing is everything! Early flowers are a sign that your plants need to be up-potted. If you planted your seeds too early, it is very common to have pre-mature flowers.

If your plants have been properly transplanted to larger pots at the right time, the leafy growth will continue to expand. Pepper plants will hold off on producing flowers until the plant has reached a mature size. Be sure to learn how (and when) to transplant your pepper plants.

Plan ahead by scheduling your seed starting according to your planting zone. There’s nothing worse than planting too early and having root-bound plants eager to get outside!

Early Bell Pepper Flowers and peppers
Early bell pepper and flower buds on small plants.

Fertilizing Properly

Using the right fertilizer in early-stage pepper growth can change how many early flower buds your plants produce. During early plant growth, pepper plants prefer higher nitrogen.

This helps the plants produce stems and leaves as opposed to flowers and fruit. If your fertilizer is low in nitrogen, consider switching to something with a higher volume.

For early stage growth, we recommend using one of these fertilizers for pepper plants:

After your plants have reached maturity (usually mid to late July in the Northern Hemisphere), you can either reduce the amount of fertilizer or switch to something with less nitrogen.

Keep in mind, we mostly use fertilizer for potted plants, while in-ground gardens need less. If you have a raised bed or an in-ground garden, we recommend composting and amending the soil once or twice per year for nutrients.


How To Pick Pepper Flower Buds

The last thing you want to do is to damage your pepper plants while pruning flowers. You’ll want to work carefully to avoid removing or damaging any leaves while removing buds. To help you avoid this, here are a few tips for picking early flowers.

  • If the buds are tiny, let them grow larger before picking
  • Use tweezers or pruning shears for smaller flowers
  • If using fingers, don’t pinch, just pluck in an upward motion
Picking Pepper Flowers
Unopened flower buds on pepper plant (too early to pick without damaging young leaves).

Pepper plant flowers tend to grow in tight bunches right around newly developing leafy growth. Each flower is usually surrounded by new leaves. If the flowers are tiny, it is best to leave them until they are easier to pick.

We found that using tweezers helps get a more precise pluck. With larger flower buds, it is safe to just use your fingers and pull the flower off in an upward motion.

Tip: It can be painful to remove your plant’s progress, but fret not! Healthy pepper plants will always produce more flowers later on.

If you have any tiny peppers growing too early in the season, pick those off too! When fruits are growing, the plant is focusing all of its energy on growing the fruits and seeds rather than leaves and branches.


When To Stop Picking Pepper Flowers

At some point, you have to stop picking your pepper plant’s flowers. After all, the flowers are what grow into the peppers, so when should you stop picking them?

In general, stop picking pepper flowers when your plants have been in their final planting location for 3-4 weeks. This allows the plants enough time to grow a healthy root system and form strong branches and leafy growth. In the Northern hemisphere, we stop pruning flowers around mid June (Zone 6a).

After 3-4 weeks of being in their final location, the pepper plants should be maturing to a healthy size. The plants will then be ready to set fruit and begin producing peppers. Give your plants enough time to produce fully ripened peppers by the end of the season!

One potential exception is if you live in an especially cold climate. For you far-Northerners, you may want to allow flowers and fruits to form earlier to allow your fruits to ripen before your fall frost date. Pay attention to the ripening time of your pepper variety, and your location’s first frost date.

Note: Nutrients can help encourage your plants to form more flowers and fruits instead of more leaves and branches. Switching to a lower-nitrogen fertilizer halfway through the year is key!


Why Are My Pepper Flowers Falling Off?

During late-stage growth, you want your pepper plants to have lots of flower buds. The more flowers, the more potential peppers. So why are your pepper flowers dropping off instead of growing into peppers?

There are a few possible reasons this could be happening. Let’s go through the possibilities. Learn more about pepper flowers dropping here.

Over-fertilizing

After your plants produce flower buds, it is time to change up your fertilizing regimen. We switch from a high nitrogen fertilizer to a lower nitrogen blend. If you continue to use a fertilizer high in nitrogen, your plant may continue to expand and produce more leaves rather than buds.

By reducing your fertilizer amount or nitrogen content, you help encourage the plant to begin producing flowers. Providing too much nitrogen is a leading cause of pepper flowers dropping off.

After we start to see lots of flower buds on our mature plants, it can help to switch to a lower-nitrogen fertilizer like Fox Farm’s Big Bloom. The 3-stage regimen keeps things simple for fertilizing peppers with confidence.

Alternatively, you can simply reduce the strength or frequency of your fertilizing regimen. By reducing the nitrogen and optionally increasing phosphorus and potassium, you can encourage higher productivity.

Some pepper growers even stop fertilizing all together in early August. We have yet to experiment with this, but anything is better than providing too much nitrogen.

Over-watering

If you’ve read our article on watering pepper plants, you’ll know that over-watering is one of the most common mistakes home gardeners make when growing peppers. It is easy to over-care for your peppers, and providing too much water is not good!

Pepper plants are happier when slightly dry as opposed to soaking wet. They need to have moist roots, but they also require good drainage. That is why growing in pots is a good option, especially for first-time pepper growers.

Red Ember cayenne pepper plant in pot with red peppers
Cayenne peppers growing in small pot.

Whether you have pepper plants in pots or in a garden bed, make sure that water can escape from the root system of your plants. Too much water will suffocate the roots and can cause yellowing leaves, leaves and flowers dropping off, and even root death.

Hot or Cold Temperatures

Peppers like warm weather during the day. This means daytime temps around 75-80°F and night-time temps above 60°F. Having temperatures above or below these can cause stress for the plants.

Excessively hot temperatures can be a cause for dropping flower buds. If you expect to have a heat-wave with temps above 100°F, plan to move your plants into the shade and feed plenty of water. This will help avoid too many dropped flower buds.

If you are expecting cold weather below 55°F, consider bringing your potted pepper plants indoors for the night. If you have plants in the ground, you can temporarily cover them with floating row cover for some temporary protection.

There could be other reasons for dropping flower buds (poor pollination, disease, etc.), but these are the most likely culprits.


Read Next:

I hope this guide helped you decide how to treat your early pepper flowers. Are you planning to pick them all off? Just some of them? Let us know in the comments below.

Calvin Thumbnail

Calvin

One of the original Pepper Geeks! When Calvin isn’t gardening or learning more about peppers and botany, he might be traveling new places or playing some music.

Anthony Stauffacher

Sunday 23rd of July 2023

My Habañero plants are doing great I’m looking at a very promising harvest this year between 3 plants I’ve got about 200 peppers on plant at various sizes! And the plants are all still loaded with flowers trying to produce even more! My question is should I start pinching the new flowers they keep producing so they put energy towards growing and ripening what is already on plant vs trying to produce more? Or does that not really matter? I live in the north zone 4 so I only have another month or two of real warm weather before the cool fall season starts. That is why I’m concerned I don’t know if all of what I have will ripen before it gets too cold. Let me know what you think.

Anthony Stauffacher

Monday 24th of July 2023

@peppergeek, Thanks for your input on that. I’ll just let them go and see what happens. I have them in large pots I plan to try and overwinter my best plant in the house this year and see what I can get out of it next summer. This thing has grown like crazy in its first season from a seedling, it’s now about 18 inches tall and has a canopy at 34 inches across.

peppergeek

Monday 24th of July 2023

That's an amazing harvest! Once the plants get producing, we don't pinch anymore flowers. Removing some really small fruits can help ripen up the bigger ones, but not much faster in our experience. They will drop any that the plant can't support naturally, and as you harvest, the plant will direct more resources towards more fruits! Great work, good luck.

Landon

Friday 21st of July 2023

Help! I have 2 chiltepin pepper plants that I started from seed. After over a year, they've finally started bearing fruit. They got pretty tall, and not bushy due to my reluctance in pruning them. I did find that they were getting a spider mite infestation and tried controlling them with insecticide "A". After a while, the problem got worse, and the infestation grew. I used neem oil, and repotted them with new soil, keeping some of the old soil as well to prevent shock. I think the infestation is under control now, but I fear pruning more than ever because the branches lost a ton of leaves near the stems, and they continue to lose leaves if shaken. Is there any hope for my plants?

Billy Rowe

Friday 7th of July 2023

Calvin,

I need some advice that I'm hoping you can help me with!

I have planted Carolina Reaper pepper plants in 7 gallon bags 6 weeks ago. They are now about 13-15 inches tall. I am in New York.

The peppers were slow to grow but now that the weather got hotter two weeks ago, they really sprung up.

They have started to grow some flower spots and probably will bloom within 2 days...

I fear that the plants are too small. Should I pick the flowers OR do you think 13-15 inches in height is good for their first year?

There are a lot of leaves too... I was wondering if I should be pruning them.

I have 6 plants so perhaps I could do some testing with a few?

I really look forward to and appreciate any advice!

I've also posted on the Reddit with pictures.

https://www.reddit.com/r/peppergeek/comments/14tnrh6/carolina_reaper_plants_about_1315_inches_height/

Rich McGourty

Thursday 29th of June 2023

My shishitos grow plenty of fruit but the fruit has been quickly turning red and shriveling. I have rotated the location of the crop and tried different shishito varieties. This is the second or third crop in a row that this has occurred. None of my other pepper types are having this issue. Have images for you if that might help. Thanks

peppergeek

Sunday 2nd of July 2023

Hm, shishitos do turn red when they are ripe, so maybe just try harvesting sooner? Unless they are not reaching a full size before ripening. The thinner skin of shishitos and cayennes sometimes leads to "shriveling", but only in hot/dry climates as I understand it. Only real option we have used is to harvest early

Don

Wednesday 21st of June 2023

A furry pest of some sort clipped off all the flowers and the main stem of my banana peppers - will they re-bloom and produce or are the plants done? Thank you!

peppergeek

Thursday 22nd of June 2023

Hm, I am not sure what you may have without seeing it. It depends how far down the damage was done. If the animal bit off the entire plant at the base of the main stem, it is unlikely to come back (though I've seen it happen). Either way, it'll take some time for the plant to recover, so give it water and time to come back!