There are many ways of pruning chili pepper plants. You can trim away the top to make the plant bushier. You can also prune away bottom leaves to ensure that pests from the soil don't affect the plant.
It is also possible to prune away non-productive branches in the late season to speed up the growth of the remaining chili fruits. Furthermore, you can prune the plant to make it ready for overwintering.
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Currently, I'm researching all aspects of chili growing. Many years ago, I developed a fascination with these plants. Since then, I have grown numerous varieties indoors in my apartment. By researching how to grow chilies, I hope to grow some of the difficult types with more success. I also make use of the opportunity to share my findings via this blog.
Below, you'll find more about the reasons for pruning. Then I will discuss in more depth the four different ways of pruning that I mentioned above. To close, I also talk about some best practices when pruning.
Table of Contents
The main idea behind pruning
There are a lot of different ways to prune your chili plants.
You can prune both potted plants and plants grown in the ground.
The keys to good pruning are selecting the right time and using an excellent strategy to remove branches and leaves.
The main idea behind pruning is to improve the plant's health and maximize the yield of hot peppers. A healthy pepper plant should have a sturdy stem, harmonic branching, and is more resilient against diseases.
Don't worry if you prune too much. Hot pepper plants are very resilient plants and can handle severe pruning. They will grow back from as little as a stem with just one or two nodes on it. These nodes are the place where future leaves and branches will grow from.
Given that most chilies are perennials, they will start growing again the following season.
Do take into account that often pruning your pepper plants may not be necessary at all. If you just want to grow some chili pepper plants casually, then pruning is likely unnecessary. Perhaps you only need to make sure that no branches or leaves are touching the ground and remove some bad leaves or branches.
On the other hand, if you wish to maximize the yield of your pepper plants and if you wish to keep your plants for many seasons, then pruning is recommended.
Topping hot pepper plants in early-season
Topping is a kind of pruning where you essentially cut off the top of the plant. By topping your chili pepper, you can create short bushy plants. Topping can be very beneficial as it also prevents your entire plant from becoming top-heavy. If your plant gets top-heavy, you'd need to support it such that it does not fall over.
It is recommended only to apply topping to chili varieties that produce small-sized fruits and that usually branch out a lot. Use good pruning shears for this.
Removing the top of a pepper plant should be done when the plant is still tiny. In other words, you should do the topping in the early season.
You can prune the plant down to a set of leaves.
The idea behind topping works as follows. When you top a pepper plant, you also remove what is known as the top growing tip.
This part of the plant produces a hormone that suppresses the growth of new branches along its stem. So, if the top growing tip has been removed, the other existing growing tips will now form new branches as they are no longer suppressed. Some of these potential growing tips are located on the stem. New branches will thus be able to grow from the stem.
Prune away lower leaves that may touch the soil in mid-season
The soil is full of soil-borne diseases like harmful bacteria and fungi that are harmful to your chili plants. Other pests like slugs and snails also love to feed off the lower leaves of your chilies. For these reasons, you should always make sure that no leaves (or fruits or branches) are in contact with or close to the ground.
Simply use pruning shears to prune away any leaves that are touching the ground. You may also prune away leaves that may potentially reach down to the soil simply as a preventative measure.
An additional benefit of trimming the lower foliage is that the air circulation will be increased.
Pruning away the lower leaves is usually done once the chili plants have reached their expected height. This kind of pruning is thus done in mid-season.
Pruning non-productive branches in late-season
Follow the stem up to the two main branches. Cut off side shoots that grow from the main branches without any flower buds, fruit, or blossoms. Do make sure that at least half the side shoots are still present on each main branch.
Pruning non-productive branches is done in the late season for the chili plant to focus its energy on finishing the production of fruits. Trimming the plant in this manner will speed up the ripening process of the remaining fruits on the plant.
Pruning pepper plants for overwintering after the season
When the growing season has ended, you can start to make your plant ready for overwintering.
Make sure to harvest all remaining fruits and give the plant a nice watering. Then, you can cut the stem at about 10 cm above the ground. Like this, the plant should have at least a few remaining growing nodes on the stem. Keep watering the plant whenever the soil has almost dried out.
Pruning a chili plant like this is very drastic, but as mentioned before, the plant will regrow from this base the following season.
Note that chilies cannot overwinter outside if the temperatures get below 0°C. If the climate in the location where you grow chilies has frost, you'll need to bring the chilies inside a greenhouse or indoors. Your chili plants will die if they experience frost.
Best practices for pruning
Use sharp scissors or pruning shears for pruning your pepper plant.
Remove all diseased branches, fruits, and leaves. Throw the diseased foliage out with the thrash such that it cannot reinfect any other plants.
To avoid spreading diseases, your pruning shears need to be disinfected. For this, you can use a piece of cloth that has been slightly soaked with rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol or isopropanol) or something similar.
Your pruning tools should also be sharp, such that they make a clean cut. The cleaner the cut, the easier it will heal.
Make sure to prune your chili plants when they are dry. If the plants are wet when you prune them, they may be infected with fungal spores more easily.