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Should You Pinch Off Pepper Plant Flowers?

If you’re growing peppers, you want to get the most out of each plant. Pruning is one optional technique that can potentially result in higher yields, but should you pinch off early pepper flowers?

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 at 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 began forming into 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, butterflies and other insects fertilize the peppers, 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 from your peppers.

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. 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. 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 Bell Pepper Flowers and peppers
Early bell pepper and flower buds.

Timing is everything! If you have recently planted outdoors (within the last 2-4 weeks), you should pick off pepper flowers and any early-forming fruits. This will allow your plants to focus energy on producing a large root system and lots of foliage before switching to fruiting mode.

However, if your plants have already been planted outside for a month and have adjusted to the elements, leave your pepper flowers on the plant to develop into fruits.

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

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!

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 need lots of 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 stop fertilizing 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 a simple garden plot, 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! 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 peppers 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

So we have established that it is generally a good idea to pick off early pepper flowers and fruits. However, when should you stop picking them and let them grow?

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 get acclimated to the weather. 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 will help dictate when your peppers will stop growing foliage and start growing more flowers and fruits. 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, we switch to Fox Farm’s Big Bloom fertilizer. The 3-stage regimen keeps things simple for fertilizing peppers with confidence.

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 require good drainage. That is why growing in pots is recommended, especially for first-time pepper growers.

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 Temperature

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 plant fabric or floating row cover for some 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 or share with us on social media.

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.

mark

Tuesday 12th of July 2022

Have been growing carolina reapers, scorpions and ghost peppers in totes for the last 4 years and I have never seen them so large this early. I live in Northern Ohio and the summer has been fantastic here. I feed them every 2 weeks with Miracle Gro. Is there anything else I can do to keep them healthy?

Charles Jaslow

Sunday 3rd of July 2022

Great articles; thank you for your advice. Do you have any thoughts on using Epson Salt as a fertilizer. Thank you

peppergeek

Monday 4th of July 2022

Yes, my advice is to not use it. It is magnesium sulfate, basically just water soluble magnesium. Soil is not often deficient, but even if it is, you should use a blend that also includes calcium to avoid other issues. Best to use the epsom salt in a hot bath instead!

Matzi

Friday 17th of June 2022

Hi again,

Was just thinking about feeding etc....I used all purpose miracle gro when I put my chilli plants in their final home. It's working well but do you recommend using anything else along side this and also should i start using something else at the flowering stage, as by that point it could get close to the point that where the miracle gro has no more nutrients to release.

Matzi

Tuesday 21st of June 2022

@peppergeek, Thanks again. I will change to a bloom fertilizer for each plant when they start flowering, hopefully by that point the miracle gro will be producing less N. I did notice it has a balance of P,K and N , so next year i'll use something else which is more specific to each stage.

peppergeek

Monday 20th of June 2022

I would either reduce the amount of fertilizer, or maybe use another type (bloom stage fertilizer with higher P & K, lower N).

Matzi

Thursday 16th of June 2022

Hi PG,

I am growing some Jalapenos, chocolate habaneros and some Thai chillis. The habaneros are slow growing as usual, as are the Thai chilli's due to the slow start to summer. However the Jalapeno peepers have gone insane (prob due to the miracle gro i used)It's prob about 2ft tall at least and it's producing multiple flowers, I have started to pick the larger ones off and I heard that I should not pick anymore passed mid June. What do you recommend?

Matzi

Tuesday 21st of June 2022

@peppergeek, Thanks man, appreciate the advice, the thought of taking tweezers to the remaining 40-50 pods wod have been a chore, good to know I can leave them now and enjoy the growth.

peppergeek

Monday 20th of June 2022

Yep, 2' sounds like a great height. I would let the plants produce flowers/pods at this point. They should still continue to grow larger while also fruiting. Enjoy the plants!

Hope

Wednesday 1st of June 2022

I am growing ghost peppers and habanero in pots outside, and they both just started producing flowers. I pruned the first round of flowers in hopes the peppers would get taller (they are around 1 foot tall now) and now more buds are growing. Should I prune them or let them grow? I am in Zone 8b!

peppergeek

Sunday 5th of June 2022

As long as you have enough season ahead of you, you can prune. But we simply wait until the plant is showing signs of leafy growth/getting taller, then we stop pruning the flowers. From there, the plant should do both - produce fruits, and continue to get bigger.