Do Chili Plants Need To Be Pollinated?

A honey bee about to pollinate a pepper flower

Chili plants are self-pollinating, so they shouldn't need any help to get pollinated under ideal circumstances. Unfortunately, these ideal circumstances are not always present when growing plants of the pepper family, like chilies and sweet peppers. For this reason, you may need to help the plants get pollinated. There are a few techniques that you can use for the transfer of pollen.

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In this article, I will discuss why chili plants are self-pollinating, but cross-pollination also occurs. Then I will mention in which situations peppers will need your help to pollinate and how you can do this. To close, I also say a few words on ensuring the purity of a given chili variety.

Table of Contents

Chili plants are self-pollinating.

All chili flowers contain both male and female parts. Therefore the pollen does not have to be transferred between a male and a female flower for the chili plant to form a chili pod.

Each flower has a female part in the middle. This part is the ovary. On top of the ovary is the stigma. Around the female part are the male parts. These are filaments that carry pollen on top.

The flower gets pollinated when pollen is transferred from the filaments to the stigma. Once the pollen is transferred to the stigma, the genetic material will move down into the ovary, where the eggs become fertilized.

Once fertilized, the ovary starts to grow into a chili pod. The flower will subsequently fall off, and the fertilized eggs will transform into the seeds that will be present inside the chili pod.

In nature, chili plants are pollinated by wind transfer and by insects like bees attracted by the flower's nectar. The wind can transport pollen within a flower and between flowers. In addition, wind can cause a chili plant to shake. This shaking will also result in the movement of pollen.

Insects also move pollen between flowers. When insects land on the flowers to consume some of the nectar, pollen attaches to their bodies. On the next flower where the insect lands, the pollen on the insect's body may fall onto the stigma and thereby fertilize it.

If a flower doesn't get pollinated, it will not form a chili fruit. When unpollinated, the entire flower will drop off the plant.

Cross-pollination between chili plants also occurs.

Apart from self-pollination, cross-pollination can also happen when insects fly from plant to plant. In this case, pollen is transported by an insect from the flowers on one plant and then deposited in a flower on another chili plant.

When cross-pollination occurs between plants of different chili varieties, it can cause a change in the genetic material of the pollinated flower. The result will be a change in the appearance of the plants that grow from the seeds. Chili growers also use this phenomenon for breeding new chili varieties.

Note that not all pepper species can cross-pollinate easily with each other. For example, Capsicum Annuum can be crossed easily with Capsicum Chinense. It can also be crossed with Capsicum Baccatum and Capsicum Frutescens but with a lower chance of success. Also, in general, no pepper species can cross with Capsicum Pubescens.

When do hot pepper plants need to be pollinated?

There are cases where chili pepper plants experience difficulties becoming self-pollinated.

In the case of an indoor pepper plant where there is no wind and where there are little or no insects, it can be challenging to become pollinated. In this case, you may have to help your plant. Luckily this is only so for some chili varieties.

Similarly, in an outdoor situation with only slight wind and few insects, the pepper plants will also find it challenging to have their flowers develop chili pods. This situation can arise due to various causes. If there are extreme temperatures, then insects may be less active. Another cause may be the decline in bee populations around the world.

If you are a chili grower trying to sell seeds, plants, or chili fruits, your chilies do not contain enough pollinated flowers that develop into new chili pods, then manual pollination will be useful.

Also, if your goal is to breed new chili varieties, you'll need to perform a controlled manual cross-pollination.

How to pollinate chili pepper plants?

Here I mention four techniques that you can use to pollinate your hot peppers. By using one or more of these techniques, you can ensure that your plants produce more chili fruits than they would otherwise have.

Attracting insects (outdoors)

In the outdoor situation where too few insects are present to pollinate your chilies, you may try to attract more insects. One way to do this is to install one or more insect hotels near your plants. These so-called hotels can accommodate multiple kinds of insects, including wild bees and flower flies that are excellent pollinators.

If you want to take this even further, you may consider placing a beehive nearby as well. This is a totally different ball game, though. Beekeeping is an art and science by itself. Yet, it may be the ideal solution to increasing the pollination rate of the flowers on your chilies.

Airflow from fans

If you grow chilies in a greenhouse or another indoor situation, there will likely be no wind present to transport pollen or shake the plants. In this case, you may try to use a fan to simulate the wind. The airflow produced by the fan will have the same effect as the wind. This airflow can transport pollen within and between the flowers and even between plants. In addition, the airflow will shake the plants.

The fan does not need to be turned on all day long. It is sufficient to let it run for short amounts of time, several times a day. Furthermore, many fans can be set to rotate. This can be handy for increasing the shaking effect.

Shaking the plants

Instead of using a fan to generate an airflow that may shake the chili plant, you can shake the plant yourself. When watering your plants, you can make it a habit of also giving them a good shake.

You simply grab the stem of your pepper plant and give it a shake for a few seconds.

By giving your hot peppers a good shake now and then, you are also strengthening the stem.

Manually transferring pollen

The most involved method for the pollination of pepper flowers is to transfer pollen manually. To manually pollinate the flowers on your chili plants, you can use a small soft art brush or a cotton swab. These tools cost very little and can be found in supermarkets, pharmacies, or hobby stores.

Move the tip of the brush or swab around in each flower. Use soft circular movements to catch and deposit the pollen. Be careful not to damage the flower as this may impact the growth of the future fruit. Also, if you find that the pollen does not attach to the brush or swab then you can dip it in some water first.

Note that this method can be used for simulating both self-pollination and cross-pollination.

If you have multiple varieties of hot peppers and you wish to keep these genetically pure, you may want to use one brush for each pepper variety. By using one brush for each variety, you make sure that you avoid cross-pollinating between these.

You can keep using the same brush for each variety during the flowering season.

How to ensure the purity of chili varieties?

If you wish to keep the chili varieties you are growing outdoors pure without any technical means, you will need to grow them at least half a kilometer apart. This distance is required to make sure that the wind and insects cannot carry pollen between the plants of different varieties.

Of course, creating this distance between plants is usually not feasible. Therefore, you can use various technical means to avoid cross-pollination.

One way to do this is by covering your plants with a plant fleece. Another way is to cover each individual flower with a teabag.

When using these means, you will need to pollinate the flowers manually.


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