A guide to pruning pepper plants

Hi guys, welcome back to our blog.

As we gear up for another season of growing peppers for our sauces, it’s time to share a few tips and tricks for getting the most out of your own homegrown chillies this year.

We love hearing from our customers about their chilli-growing adventures and recently we’ve received a few messages looking for advice on how to prune chilli plants to get the best out of them going forward, so we wanted to take a moment to share our expertise and help you achieve your best harvest yet.

But why would we even want to take shears to our beloved chilli plants so early in the season?

At Khoo’s Hot Sauce we have  two main reasons…

  • To increase the fruiting yield of the plant
    Removing the top growing tip of a young chilli plant triggers the plant to redirect its energy towards lateral growth. The more lateral branches and nodes a plant has, the more flowers it can produce, and therefore, more fruit.
    A study conducted by the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue University found that pruning Capsicum annuum plants resulted in a 32% increase in the number of fruit produced per plant. So with the limitations of our shorter British growing season it makes sense to take this step to ensure the maximum amount of peppers produced by each plant in its first flush before Autumn rolls around again. This technique is only possible for those who germinated their peppers early enough.
  • To buy us some time before planting out into the polytunnel
    At Khoo’s Hot Sauce we germinate our peppers seeds early in January and grow our plants indoors, and then in our conservatory before they move out to their final positions in the polytunnel when the weather gets warmer.
    Because of the relatively cold spring so far it will be a while before our plants make their way outside, and they are quickly becoming giants.
    The downside of pruning chillies in their infancy is that it slows their growth by a few weeks while new branches start to grow laterally. By pruning right now we can leverage this slowing of growth in our favour. I’m sure anyone who has massive chilli plants on their windowsills, blocking out the sun can understand how this could be beneficial!

How does it work?

When we remove the growing tip of the chilli plant, it triggers the plant to redirect its energy towards lateral growth. This happens because the plant’s growth hormone, auxin, is produced in the growing tip, and when it is removed, the hormone is redirected to the lateral buds, causing them to grow more rapidly. As a result, the plant becomes bushier, with more branches and nodes, and will have a greater number of flowering sites.

So how do we go about pruning our chilli plants? It’s simple really…

  • Start with a set of sharp scissors. Because of the fiddly nature of the task I prefer to use a little set of nail scissors. It’s good practice to sterilize or disinfect your scissors before use, and wipe them with disinfectant between each plant so not to introduce or spread infections between your babies.
  • Check that the plant has reached a height of about 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) and has developed 5-6 sets of leaves. At this stage, the plant has established a solid root system and can handle the stress of pruning without significant setbacks in growth.
  • Take your scissors and remove the top growing tip. Try to get as close to the final set of leaves as possible.
  • Avoid getting any water on the pruned tip for the next few days.
  • Job done. Sit back and watch your spindly plant transform into a bushy monster!

When NOT to prune your plants

  • If you’re plants aren’t already at least 15cm tall with at least four sets of leaves don’t bother pruning them this year. They’ll be set back too far and may not mature in time for your peppers to ripen by autumn.
  • If you’re reading this post after the second week of May, I would recommend not pruning your plants this year either, for the reason stated above.

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