Pruning pepper plants: how & when?


I grew up on a small, organic family farm and after a gap year spent working on an American ranch, I started studying agricultural science. Soil, organic farming practices, and plant science are what I am most drawn to. At home, when I'm not in our garden, you can find me in the kitchen, cooking and baking with our harvested fruits and vegetables.

Favorite fruit: Even if a bit boring - apples
Favorite vegetables: Bell peppers, red beets, zucchini, white cabbage

Is it a good idea to prune a pepper plant? Opinions are divided. Here are some of the benefits of doing so, and some top tips on doing it right.

Red peppers on plant
Pruning peppers can result in a more stable plant and higher yield [Photo: Alena Haurylik/].

Many people dream of growing their own peppers (Capsicum) and enjoying a bountiful harvest at home. In reality, however, it can be tricky to cultivate many large pepper fruits. For a good harvest, peppers require plenty of sun, warmth, water and nutrients.

However, there is one more step you can take. Pruning pepper plants can increase their yield and prevent disease. Here, we explain how best to prune peppers, and which rules apply to chillies and jalapenos too.

Is it necessary to prune peppers?

As with cucumbers (Cucumis), it is not absolutely necessary to prune peppers. However, it does offer some advantages. Pruning peppers:

  • Removes excess side shoots. This means that the plant will put energy towards its fruits, and not its leaves or shoots. After pruning your pepper plant, it may produce fewer fruits, but they will be larger and more flavourful.
  • Provides a better microclimate around the plant. With dense foliage comes a warm and humid microclimate; perfect conditions for pests and pathogens. Thinning your pepper will allow it to dry more quickly, and the increased air flow helps prevent disease.
  • Reduces the plant’s workload. Peppers tend to shed their flowers naturally, because they do not have enough energy to produce fruit from each one. By pruning your plant, you help reduce this extra work. What is more, you can also guide the plant into your desired shape.
  • Forces vertical growth instead of horizontal growth. If a pepper plant is left alone, it will grow rather bushy, because a new shoot will form on every leaf axil. When you trim the plant, however, it puts energy towards vertical growth, not horizontal growth.

Tip: Attach indeterminate pepper plants to a support – their growth is taller and less stable than the natural, bushy growth of pepper plants.

Bushy bell pepper plant with green pepper
Without human intervention, pepper plants tend to remain small and grow bushy

Bell peppers, jalapenos and chilli peppers all belong to the same plant genus: Capsicum. As such, they all require similar care. However, because chilli fruits are smaller than bell peppers, and because the plant’s side shoots can be quite fertile, chillies do not require as much pruning as bell peppers. Leaving a chilli’s side shoots intact can foster a larger chilli crop. In sum: prune chilli plants little or not at all.

For bell peppers, opinions differ. However, scientists have proven that breaking off the first flower bud usually increases the overall yield of the plant. To do this, remove the first flower that forms at the top of the plant, between the main shoot and the first side shoot.

Pepper plant with flower and small green pepper
When pruning peppers, be careful not to accidentally remove the fruit set [Photo: barmalini/]

Step by step guide to pruning pepper plants

If you do decide to prune your pepper plants, start when they are still young. The earlier a side shoot or sucker is removed from the plant, the smaller the wound, and the less energy the plant expends healing. As such: regularly check your pepper plants for suckers. If possible, to reduce the risk of infection, remove any shoots or suckers in the morning and in dry weather.

Which shoots should you remove? There are many strategies for pruning peppers – here are two of the best:

  1. Remove all side shoots from the main shoot, leaving only flowers and fruits intact. If you act soon enough, the side shoots should be easy to break off with your fingers. Otherwise, reach for a sharp knife or garden shears to create a clean cut and small wound. Smaller wounds heal faster and reduce the risk of infection.
  2. Remove the tip of every side shoot. Do this once a shoot has produced its first flower and leaf. A new shoot forms at every leaf axil, so by preventing the growth of side shoots on side shoots, this method mimics a more natural pruning pattern. In contrast to tomatoes, the side shoots of pepper plants can be quite fertile.
Pepper plants with no sideshoots on main shoot and lots of large peppers
In commercial cultivation, often only the main shoot and the fruits are left on the plant [Photo: Santirat Praeknokkaew/]

Pepper fruit can drain a lot of energy from a pepper plant. As such, it is important to regularly water your pepper plant, and provide it with enough nutrients. Fertiliser is a great idea and our Plantura Liquid Tomato Food works perfectly. It is entirely animal-free and, being so rich in potassium, it has the ideal nutrient balance for pepper plants.

Yellow and green chillis on plant with side shoots
Generally, you do not need to prune chilli plants

To sum, it is not absolutely necessary to prune pepper plants, but it can have some benefits. This is also the case for cucumbers. Read our guide on how to prune cucumbers to find out why you should prune cucumbers and how to do it.