Pruning pepper plants is easy. It involves cutting away portions of your plants to improve their overall shape and productivity. In this article, we will show you how to prune pepper plants the right way.
This involves learning why we prune our plants, when to prune, what tools to use, and which parts of the pepper plant should come off. Let’s get started!
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- Why Prune?
- Do I need to prune peppers?
- How To Prune Pepper Plants
- Pruning Flower Buds
- Do I Have To Prune?
Why Prune Pepper Plants?
Pruning pepper plants is a simple method of reshaping your plants. By taking away certain branches, you allow the plant to focus growth and energy elsewhere.
Topping pepper plants typically leads to sturdier, stronger, fuller plants, often with higher yields. The areas of the plant that you remove quickly recover and fill in with new growth from the remaining nodes (more on nodes later).
However, it is important to only prune if it is necessary or beneficial. You wouldn’t want to take away too many of the plant’s leaves. This could lead to slower growth due to a lack of photosynthesis.
It can also be harmful to prune at the wrong time. So let’s start with this: When exactly is the best time to prune pepper plants?
Do I Need To Prune Pepper Plants?
There are four different scenarios during the growing season when pruning may be beneficial to pepper plants. Be sure to consider carefully whether pruning is even necessary for your plants.
Here are the major growth stages during which pruning may be helpful for peppers.
4-6 Weeks After Sprouting (Topping)
The first time to consider pruning pepper plants is shortly after seeds sprout. After 4-6 weeks of growing indoors under grow lights, your plants should be about 6-8 inches tall with a few sets of true leaves. ‘True’ leaves are the leaves that grow after the initial set of ‘seed’ leaves.
At this stage, your plant may look slightly tall or ‘leggy’ in stature. This is not ideal for most pepper plant varieties, and thus we can prune away some of the plant.
This can encourage stockier and fuller plant growth in the long run. Having a stronger, thicker stem with a bushier shape will often lead to better pepper yields and a more resilient plant.
Early growth pruning is the most common type of pruning. It is typically the only pruning that will need to be done for home gardeners. However, there are two other times at which pruning may be beneficial.
We highly encourage growers to bottom prune their pepper plants. Bottom pruning is simply cutting off low branches from the plant, keeping leaves up and away from the soil.
Soil can harbor diseases and viruses that can be fatal to your pepper plants. By bottom pruning and keeping the first branches 6-8 inches above the ground, rain and wind will not splash as much soil onto the plant’s foliage.
Bottom pruning can be done shortly after moving plants outdoors in the Spring, and as needed throughout the season.
2-3 Weeks Prior To Frost
So you’ve had a great harvest, but winter is now approaching. Your pepper plants are nearing the end of their life cycle, and the risk of frost is growing closer. Pruning can be done at this time to encourage the last of your peppers to ripen more quickly.
At this stage, you can cut away any foliage that does not contain any peppers, leaving enough leaves to continue photosynthesis. By removing excess stems, you will help direct the remaining energy from the plant towards ripening the existing pods.
With time running out for the pepper plants to produce, pruning can help get you a few more ripe peppers before winter!
After First Frost (Overwintering Plants)
If you plan to keep your pepper plants alive over the winter (overwintering), you will need to prune away most of the plant for the winter. This is the most dramatic pruning that will ever be done, leaving just a few leaves on the plant to keep it alive through the cold months.
During overwintering, pepper plants will go from having dozens of stems and hundreds of leaves to having just a handful to keep photosynthesis active.
How To Prune Pepper Plants
This method of pruning peppers is known as topping the plants. It is done early on at around 4-6 weeks of age. These steps will show you where to prune and the method we use to prune our peppers.
1. Identify Plant Nodes
Nodes are like a crossroads along a pepper plant’s stem. They are important points from which new leaves and stems can grow. The long parts between nodes are simply called “internodes.”
As a plant grows larger, the stems develop more and more nodes, shooting off more leaves, flowers and stems along the way.
It is important to be able to identify the nodes on your plant for pruning because we will use them to determine exactly where to trim away foliage.
2. Choose Which Stems To Remove
When choosing which parts of your pepper plants to prune, you want to envision how the plant will re-grow after you have pruned. The remaining nodes will be critical points for new growth.
We recommend pruning young peppers just above the 3rd or 4th node, counting up from the bottom. This will allow more light to reach lower nodes, triggering new growth from below.
Note: This method is also called topping pepper plants, as you are essentially cutting the top of the plant off.
Many pepper varieties have a tendency to grow tall and lanky, especially with inadequate lighting. Pruning can also help keep your plants a manageable size while they are indoors.
3. Cut With Sharp Scissors Just Above Nodes
Once you have chosen which part of your plant to prune, it’s time to make the cut. Make sure you use a pair of sharp scissors. Do not use your fingers to break or pinch the stems! This can cause damage to the plant, prolonging recovery.
Use scissors for a nice, clean slice that will heal quickly. This way, the pepper plant can recover and begin forming new growth sooner.
We love these sharp shears from Amazon.
Should I Pick Early Flowers Off Pepper Plants?
One common question that people ask about pruning peppers is, “Should I pick off early flower buds?” This is a tough question to answer because it depends on when you started your plants and how long your growing season is.
Read More: Should I Pinch Off Pepper Flowers?
If you started your plants early enough and have plenty of sunshine and growing time ahead, then we do recommend pruning early flower buds. We generally recommend cutting flowers off until the plants have been established outdoors in their final growing location for 2-3 weeks.
Pruning flowers will postpone pepper pod production (say that 3 times fast!) and allow for fuller foliage.
Again, pruning away flowers should only be done early in the growing season (March-May in cooler Northern Hemisphere climates). It is also possible that your plants are flowering because they have outgrown their current container. Learn more about container size here.
If you got a late start for your plants, or have a shorter growing period, you may want to allow your pepper plant to flower naturally. Flowers are ultimately what become your peppers.
If you pick pepper flowers too late in the season, you may end up with fewer peppers overall.
Do All Pepper Plants Need To Be Pruned?
No! While we do recommend pruning, it is by no means required. Most pepper plants will have no issue producing a healthy harvest without any pruning. It is simply a method we use to help shape our plants for an ideal harvest.
Some growers claim that pruning peppers is unnecessary, so feel free to experiment and let us know the results. It is also possible that certain varieties of pepper plant benefit more from pruning more than others.
I hope this guide helped you feel more confident when pruning pepper plants. If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to reach out or comment! Thanks for reading, and happy gardening.