How and When to Prune Pepper Plants For Earlier Harvests, Higher Yields & Healthier Plants

Peppers are a wonderful and flavorful addition to any garden, and pruning pepper plants can help control their growth and keep them healthy. Spicy or sweet, most varieties of peppers can benefit from a little intervention when it comes to different points in their growing season.

But how and when should you prune your pepper plants, and what are the reasons for pruning? Let’s explore these questions and more, to make sure this is your best pepper growing season yet!

Do peppers need to be pruned? 

As is the case with the pruning of many popular garden vegetables, there are many opinions on whether or not pepper plants have to be pruned.

Well, it really depends on whether or not you have the time. Pepper plant certainly do not need to be pruned, and you will still be able harvest many peppers from unpruned plants, but there are a number of great benefits that can arise if you do prune pepper plants.

What are the benefits of pruning peppers?

Pepper plants can benefit from pruning in a number of ways. Reduced foliage provides better air circulation amongst the leaves and fruits and reduces the likelihood of disease spreading.

Gaps in the foliage also allows for pests to be spotted and dealt with more quickly, and provides fewer places for them to hide.

Too many heavy branches that are all allowed to produce fruit can also cause the plant to snap or topple, and pruning helps even out and balance the plant. 

Once the fruits begin to ripen, pruning can expose them to a bit of sunlight which can enhance the flavour. It will also benefit the fruits by helping them ripen more evenly and quickly if there is unfavorable weather on the horizon.

Sometimes pruning can even improve yields by enhancing the quality of existing peppers and reducing the likelihood of pest and disease attacks ruining fruits. 

When should peppers be pruned?

If you do have the time to prune your pepper plants, there are three main times of year that are best, all with slightly different pruning strategies and goals: 

  • Early-season pepper plant pruning: You can begin to prune your peppers when the plant is only 10-12 inches tall. This should be right after you transplant them, depending on how tall you let your seedlings grow before moving them out to the garden. At this stage you should be able to see this distinct Y shaped frame that pepper branches form, and you can then prune around this shape. 
  • Mid-season pruning of pepper plants: There are no hard dates for mid season pruning, as it is more generally the period where the plant has been established and is setting fruit. Mid season pruning is more focused on continuous maintenance to make sure the plant keeps producing fruit and stays healthy.
  • Late-season pepper plant pruning: The last time when peppers get pruned is right at the end of the season. The plants will be at their mature height, which will depend on the variety being grown but can be from 2 to 6ft. The peppers should all have been set and be at a good mature size, but may still need to ripen up.

Avoid pruning your peppers right after they have been irrigated or after rain, as wet plants are more likely to spread fungal spores and bacteria to other plants. Instead, prune them on a dry day in the morning or evening before temperatures have gotten too hot. 

How To prune peppers at different times? 

Since the way in which peppers should be pruned varies depending on what stage of growth they are at, the following instructions detail the pruning technique for the three main pruning periods.

You should always use clean, disinfected tools when pruning!

1: How To Prune Pepper Plants Early In The Season

The main ways that young peppers at the beginning of the season should be pruned is by removing side shoots, flowers, and the very topmost growing point of the plant.

Some of these techniques may seem counterintuitive, but the idea is to help the pepper plant focus its energy on establishing itself, and encourage outward, branching growth.

rune Pepper Plants Early In The Season

Here are the main steps you can follow for early season pruning of your pepper plant: 

  • If you purchased your peppers from a nursery and they already have flowers, clip them off prior to planting. 
  • When your pepper plants have just been transplanted, you can pinch off the top cluster of leaves to encourage branching. This should only be done with the small fruiting varieties of pepper, and not with larger varieties like bell peppers. 
  • For the first two weeks after transplanting, clip off any flowers that emerge. This will seem like it is actively detrimental to the plant, but is actually a technique that encourages the roots of the plant to develop. 
  • Whenever you clip flowers, look for small branches that are beginning to shoot off from the main stem of the pepper plant, particularly those that are close to the ground. Prune them occasionally to reduce the development of very dense foliage and to reduce the likelihood of water splashing up onto lower leaves.

2: How To Prune Pepper Plants In The Middle Of The Season

In the middle of the season, pruning pepper plant becomes more like general maintenance as diseased leaves are picked away, lower leaves are pruned, and suckers are removed.

The idea with mid season pruning is to prevent the plant from developing any diseases or being attacked by pests during this important period of growth, and to generally keep it under control.

Prune Pepper Plants In The Middle Of The Season

Follow these steps in the middle of your pepper growing season, on a more continuous basis than early and late pruning.

  • Snip off any leaves on the lower portion of the pepper plant stem so that the bottom eight inches are bare. This helps prevent ground-travelling pests like slugs and snails from gaining easy access to the most delicious part of the plant: the leaves. 
  • Identify any leaves that are discolored or developing spots and remove them to limit the spread of disease. You should also try to diagnose which disease it may have been, so you can take appropriate preventative action.
  • For large fruit varieties, like bell peppers, you can pinch off any suckers you see developing. Suckers are shoots of new growth that emerge from where an existing branch meets the main stem (called a node). This will help focus the plant’s energy on existing fruits, but you can always leave a few to develop and prune the rest. Do not do this for small fruiting varieties (like habaneros or thai chillies), which will benefit from having suckers develop. 
  • Prune away any inward facing stems or branches that develop, as these will begin to make the foliage very crowded and chaotic. Halting inward growth encourages the plant to branch out and leaves more space for peppers to hang. 

3: How To Prune Pepper Plants Later In The Season

Late season pruning entails removing leaves around ripening fruits and topping plants at the very end of the season.

At this point, the plant has set its fruit and the peppers are fully developed but need to finish ripening.

Although most all types of peppers can be eaten when they are still green, many will develop distinct flavor palettes and nuanced tastes when they are allowed to ripen on the plant.

What are the benefits of pruning peppers?

Late season pruning should be done at least one month before the first frost to allow sufficient time for the fruits to gain color.

  • Clip away leaves that are hanging over and obscuring peppers. Be very careful not to stab or slice a fruit, as peppers are quite fragile and easily damaged. 
  • To get the last of your fruits to develop color, you can top your pepper plants by cutting off the ‘head’ of the plant and any other growing points. This will immediately stop all new growth and production and focus all the energy of the plant on fruit ripening. 

Tips On Pruning Pepper Plants

Tips On Pruning Pepper Plants
  • Know your pepper variety. Pruning advice is highly dependent on whether you are growing large or small peppers, and you shouldn’t apply the same pruning habits to all your pepper plants. For example, you should not pinch the growing point of bell peppers, only small fruiting varieties. On the flipside, you should only remove suckers from large fruiting peppers, and leave them to grow on small pepper varieties. 
  • Always prune when peppers are dry! This applies to most plants but especially those in the Nightshade family (peppers, tomatoes, eggplant etc), as they are very susceptible to having disease pathogens transferred between them via water. 
  • Use disinfected pruning shears and clean hands! This is especially important during midseason pruning when you are removing infected or diseased leaves, as a number of pathogens will live on your tools for days- even weeks! If you are a smoker, make sure you always have clean hands before handling pepper plants, which are vulnerable to tobacco mosaic virus. 
  • When you eventually harvest your peppers, you should also use your pruning shears to snip the stem, to prevent ripping off a whole branch. You may be surprised at how tightly attached they are, and can also damage the fruit if you grip it too hard while trying to pull it off. 
  • When pruning branches, try to cut them 3 or 4 mm above the node or bud to prevent damaging buds, and to leave minimal dead branch material which can begin to get slimy. 
  • When removing diseased pepper leaves, make sure that you are not mistakenly removing leaves that are just browning from lack of water- or you will end up with no leaves at all! Instead, address the cause and increase your irrigation frequency, and you may see some of those leaves return to green. 
  • Diseased leaves or those found with insect eggs should be burnt or thrown away, as leaving them in your compost pile will spread them around the garden. 

Updated on by Amber Noyes

1 thought on “How and When to Prune Pepper Plants For Earlier Harvests, Higher Yields & Healthier Plants”

  1. Thanks. Like your information. Light tan on a couple of plants. To dry. Looked the same color of the paint I was using to touch up house. lol. the next day.

    Reply

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