There are two camps of pepper growers out there, those that prune and those that do not. I fall into the “do not prune” group, with a couple of exceptions.
Peppers (and tomatoes and eggplants) can be pruned to become more bushy and less upright. Some growers say this increases yield. I don’t disagree or agree with them, maybe someday I’ll experiment to see what kind of results I get. I probably should have tried it this year since I have several plants of several varieties (I have 3 Thai dragon plants, two habaneros, two habanadas, and MANY jalapenos). Well, the time has passed for this year. I will commit to doing an experiment next year of side by side pruning vs. no pruning of several different varieties to compare yields.
But for now I am a no-prune kind of guy. With some key exceptions. I prune only to prevent pests and disease. After a plant is large enough, and has enough leafage, I take off any leaves that are close enough to the soil to be affected by dirt splashing up on them. This can lead to bacterial and fungal infections. Those fungal and bacterial pathogens can also lead to one of the other reasons why I prune.
If the plant has enough foliage, I’ll also remove any leaves that have been damaged by pests. Very often pests will attack leaves that are already devastated by a pathogen, or vice versa. The healthier overall a plant is, the more resistant it will be to pressure from pests or diseases. Many of my pepper plants have had holes chewed in them by some kind of pest. I haven’t caught the culprit, it could be some kind of beetle or small slugs, but they leave foliage with holes. That damaged foliage can be the conduit for pathogens to enter the plant, so I do try to remove them if possible. This year I stuck some pepper plants in the ground that got really chewed up. These weren’t my healthies plants. The plants I sold were my healthiest, followed by the plants that I gave away, and finally by the peppers that I grew in grow bags. These plants in the ground were my weakest plants, and were duly chewed up by some insect pest. I will not prune away the damaged foliage on these because I would end up taking too much of the foliage away and the plant will not be able to photosynthesise. Now, I’m not expecting much from these plants, so it’s not really a big deal to me. But I would be really upset if these plants were my only peppers.
Another practice that I want to touch on is removing flowers to encourage more fruit. Information on this topic has a couple of problems. First, there is a lot of it. Second, none of it comes from authoritative sources. I’ve read garden bloggers talking about pinching early flowers that are pro and say it increases yield and others who say it doesn’t. I have not found anything that seems to be backed by science (like a link to a study). I have been doing this on my peppers, and did a little experiment this year by pinching off some plants’ early flowers, and leaving other plants’ flowers alone. It is way too early to tell, but I will update if I notice any difference. I do have one thought on this though. If you still have not transplanted your pepper to a permanent home (be it a container or in a garden bed) and the plant flowers, remove those flowers. That is the plant trying to reproduce early because it’s roots are under stress and need more room. Remove these flowers. Other than that, I can’t find anything more than anecdotal evidence either way. Here is an article from a site I really like, Pepper Geek. A great article, but again, it doesn’t have any references or links to support the practices. I like their site and generally trust them, but that’s not enough for me to consider something a fact without firsthand experience. If you know of a good study on whether or not removing early flowers increases yields, please post the link in the comments, I’d love to read it!
So I am a no-prune kind of guy. Except for some very minor pruning to improve and maintain the health of the plant. With tomatoes I also prune by taking away the suckers, but pretty much allow the plants their natural growth habit. I’ll write some more articles on how I prune other fruiting plants in the future. There are some fruiting plants that absolutely need a good pruning to get fruit. I’m thinking of brambles and blueberries as examples. But for peppers, I prefer minimal intervention.
Do you prune your pepper plants? How do you do it? Why? Have you found you have greater success? Please let me know in the comments below!
Wishing you all a great and productive summer! Productive in the garden, I couldn’t care less about your productivity at work.