How to Prune Pepper Plants for Improved Yield

One of the most popular members of the vegetable garden, cultivating a healthy and productive pepper plant is a largely straightforward process. If you do not want to harvest the fruit of these reliable specimens, there are also a number of attractive, ornamental varieties that are just as easy to cultivate.

Knowing how to prune pepper plants is one of the most important aspects of care. While it can take a little time to master, being able to prune pepper plants enables you to encourage healthy, productive and heavy yielding specimens to develop.

Additionally, once mastered, pruning is a useful skill that can be transferred to other members of the vegetable garden such as the cucumber or tomato plant. This guide to how to prune pepper plants will take you through everything that you need to know including how and when to prune your Capsicums.

1 Prune pepper plants
Capsicums are a popular part of the vegetable garden.  

Capsicum Caring and Growing Tips

Capsicum specimens are considered perennial in tropical climates. Elsewhere they are more commonly cultivated as summer flowering annuals. As well as knowing how to prune pepper plants for improved yield, there are a few other important things that you need to know to successfully cultivate a healthy crop.

Ideal for container gardens,Capsicum cultivars do best in warm conditions. To help your Capsicums settle more quickly and extend your growing season you can warm the soil up before planting by keeping it covered with AGTEK Landscape Fabric during the winter months. This helps the soil to retain heat which, in turn, enables you to start planting more quickly in the spring.

Extending the growing season by keeping the soil warm during the winter months is particularly useful if your garden naturally only enjoys a short growing season.

For an early start, sow your Capsicum seeds in pots or trays in a greenhouse. Starting seeds undercover enables you to keep them warm and safe. Young specimens growing in containers are also easier to protect from pests such as slugs and snails. If slugs are particularly problematic, our guide to getting rid of slugs in your garden is filled with useful tips.

Start the seeds undercover 6 to 8 weeks before you wish to transplant them outside. Seeds germinate once the temperature is over 75 ℉. It can take 2 to 3 weeks for the seeds to germinate.

If you are starting the seeds undercover with the intention of transplanting the seedlings into a raised bed or the garden, start the seeds in Biodegradable Peat Pots. These can be planted directly into the ground, removing the need to remove the plant from its pot and reducing the risk of transplant shock. Wait until the soil has warmed up sufficiently before hardening off the seedlings and transplanting into their final growing position.

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Starting seedlings undercover helps to prolong the growing season. 

Space the young transplants 1 to 2 ft apart. This gives them lots of room to develop into. Remember to harden your Capsicum seedlings off before transplanting.

Capsicum specimens are best planted in a light position and fertile soil. Before planting work in lots of organic fertilizer or homemade compost.

The Capsicum is part of the nightshade plant family. Do not plant Capsicum in soil that has recently held other members of the nightshade family. These include:

Adopting a simple crop rotation system, such as the one outlined here, enables you to rotate the growing position annually. This, in turn, helps to keep your entire garden productive and your soil healthy.

Water Capsicum specimens regularly, especially during dry spells. Once fruit forms, apply a homemade liquid plant feed once a week.

Even if you prune pepper plants regularly, some cultivars may still grow overly tall. Additionally, the plants may become top heavy when bearing fruit. Supporting the plant with a tomato cage or trellis, helps to keep it upright and intact.

Why Should I Prune Pepper Plants?

Learning how and when to prune pepper plants is a vital part of keeping them healthy and productive. There are also a number of other, additional benefits.

Firstly, knowing how to prune pepper plants enables you to reshape the plant easily. This prevents it from outgrowing its position or wasting valuable energy that could be better spent developing fruit.

Topping, a certain way of pruning Capsicum specimens that I will explain later, encourages them to become stronger. Sturdy, full specimens usually produce a higher yield.

3 Prune to encourage robust pepper plants
Pruning encourages robust, heavy yielding specimens to develop. 

Knowing how to prune pepper plants by thinning them out may initially lead to stark looking specimens. However, if done correctly, the specimens quickly recover and fill out with lots of new growth.

While knowing how to prune pepper plants is both necessary and beneficial, over pruning the Capsicum specimens by taking away too many leaves slows down the growth process by preventing photosynthesis.

When Should I Prune Pepper Plants?

There are four different times during the growing season when it is beneficial to prune pepper plants. These are:

  • Topping Seedlings,
  • Bottom Pruning Transplants,
  • Pruning to Encourage Ripening,
  • Pruning to Overwinter

Topping Seedlings

This only applies if you are growing Capsicum from seed.

4 to 6 weeks after the seeds sprout you can top out the seedlings. At this point the seedlings are around 6 to 8 inches tall and may still be in a propagator or under grow lights. Wait until a few sets of true leaves have developed, these are the leaves that emerge after the first set of seed leaves, before topping the developing specimens.

At this stage in their development the seedlings can look tall or leggy. This isn’t ideal when you are aiming to grow productive, stocky Capsicum specimens. Pruning now, by topping, encourages them to become stockier or fuller in the long run.

Remember a stocky, bushy Capsicum specimen with a strong, thick stem is both more resilient and heavy yielding.

Topping young specimens is one of the most common ways to prune pepper plants. For the home grower it is not only important but also necessary.

Bottom Pruning Transplants

The second time that you prune pepper plants, known as bottom pruning, happens a few weeks after transplanting your seedlings to their final growing position.

As the Capsicum plant develops, the lower branches can become dirty and covered with soil. This is not ideal because the soil can harbor pests or diseases.

Bottom pruning, or cutting off the low branches, keeps them away from the soil. The lowest branches should be 6 to 8 inches above soil level. This means that the soil is unlikely to splash up onto the foliage during watering or wet and windy periods.

Bottom pruning is best done shortly after transplanting in the spring. Wait until the plant has settled and new growth is emerging before pruning. You may also need to remove the lowest stems at other points during the growing season.

4 Bottom prune pepper plants
Bottom pruning helps to keep plants free from disease and infestation.

Pruning to Encourage Ripening

The third stage at which you should prune pepper plants is 2 to 3 weeks before the first predicted frost date. At this stage you should have removed most of the fruit from the plant and it is reaching the end of its productive life. Pruning the specimens now encourages any remaining fruits to quickly ripen, hopefully before the first frosts of the year hit.

At this pruning point you should cut away any foliage and excess stems that don’t hold developing fruit. Leave just enough foliage on the plant for photosynthesis to continue.

Pruning to Overwinter a Capsicum Plant

The final time at which you prune pepper plants only applies if you are overwintering your Capsicum plant.

If you are aiming to overwinter, cut away most of the plant after the first frost of the year. This is the most dramatic pruning of all. Allow only a few leaves and stems to remain on the plant, just enough to keep the plant alive during the colder, winter months.

How to Prune Pepper Plants

Now that you know when to trim and cut back your Capsicum plant, it is time to learn how to prune. The pruning techniques that you use varies slightly depending on the reason for pruning.

How to Prune Pepper Plants By Topping

The first pruning, also known as topping, is possibly the most important.

This is essentially the process of removing the top part of the plant. Many types of Capsicum plant have a tendency to become tall or leggy, especially if they are not receiving enough light. Pruning when the plant is young helps to keep it compact and manageable. This is particularly important if the plant is still growing undercover.

To top the plant, start by identifying the emerging nodes. These are the crossroad-like points from which new leaves or stems emerge. The long parts of the stem between the nodes are called internodes. As the plant grows more nodes develop, producing leaves, stems and flowers. Being able to identify nodes is important because you can use them to decide where to make your cuts.

Once you have identified the nodes, the next step is to choose which nodes you want to remove. Trying to picture how you want the plant to look after shaping can help you decide where to make the cuts.

When topping, aim to prune pepper plants just above the 3rd or 4th node counting up from the bottom of the plant. Pruning at this point allows more light to reach the lower nodes. These remaining nodes are critical new growth points. Pruning down to the lower nodes triggers growth at the base of the plant, encouraging a bushy plant to form.

Once you decide where to prune your pepper plants, use a sharp pair of scissors to make clean, precise incisions just above the nodes. Do not use your hands to break or pinch the stems. This can stress or damage the plant. A nice clean cut is less stressful, enabling the plant to heal more quickly and start producing new growth.

Should I Pick Off Early Flowers?

This is difficult to answer.

If you have started your seeds undercover early and they have lots of sun and growing time ahead of them then removing the earliest flower buds is recommended.

Removing the earliest flowers encourages the plant to grow and develop into large, healthy specimens before focusing their energy on fruit production. While you may have to wait a little longer for your first fruits to form, your plant will be bushier and healthier.

Continue to remove the flowers until your specimens have become established in their final growing position. This is usually 2 to 3 weeks after transplanting, when new growth starts to emerge.

5 Prune early pepper plant flowers

In some situations, removing early flowers increases the fruit yield later on in the year.

Growers in cool, northern hemisphere climates should only cut away the flowers early in the growing season, from March to May.

If you only have a short growing period or have started the seeds later, allow the early flowers to remain in place.

Pruning During the Growing Season

As well as the times outlined above you may also need to regularly prune pepper plants during the growing season. Removing damaged or diseased leaves helps to keep the Capsicum plant healthy and productive.

Regularly check your growing Capsicum specimens for signs of disease, pruning away any affected areas.

Remember to clean your tools after using them to prevent the accidental transmission of disease or infection from one plant to another.

Pruning regularly also helps to prevent the branches from becoming too dense or thick. Air can struggle to circulate through a dense plant, leading to issues such as powdery mildew developing.

6 Prune pepper plants regularly
Trimming regularly helps to keep the plant open and productive.

Removing Suckers

This is particularly important if you are cultivating larger cultivars.

Larger Capsicum cultivars produce more suckers than smaller specimens. Suckers are the small shoots that emerge from between the stems usually at a 45 degree angle. If allowed to develop these will turn into full stems.

 

Allowing too many suckers to develop into full stems draws energy away from fruit producing branches. It also risks the plant becoming dense or overcrowded, which can increase the risk of fungal disease developing.

Cut away some of the suckers to keep growth balanced and stop the Capsicum plant from becoming top heavy. It is easy to remove the suckers when they are small, simply snap them away with your fingers.

Larger suckers are best cut away with small scissors such as Fiskars Precision Plant Scissors. Sharp and compact, these enable you to make precise cuts on even the smallest plant.

Before removing the suckers make sure you know what type of Capsicum you are growing. There is no need to remove the suckers on a small plant. This can limit growth, flowering and fruit production.

Do All Pepper Plants Need Pruning?

It is not necessary to prune every pepper plant. Some gardeners never prune their pepper plants, and they still develop into large, productive specimens.

Others prefer to prune pepper plants on a regular basis, keeping them healthy and in shape. Regular pruning also helps to improve flower production and yield.

7 Prune for healthy productive pepper plants
An important part of cultivation, pruning regularly encourages a productive, heavy yielding plant to develop.

Knowing how to regularly prune pepper plants also limits the risk of infestation and disease. Damaged leaves and stems are vulnerable to infestation or disease, this can, if allowed to, spread to the rest of the plant.

Finally pruning helps to keep the plant healthy and productive for longer, improving yield and resilience. It can also help to extend your fruiting season. A useful, transferable skill, once you are able to prune pepper plants you can also trim other fruiting specimens such as the tomato plant.

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