Almost every gardener I know grows pepper plants. If you are reading this, you probably grow them yourself or at least you know someone who does. Needless to say but peppers are a very common garden vegetable. T
here are many varieties of peppers grown by gardeners around the world. Some are small, while others are large. Some are fiery, while others are sweet.
If you are growing one or several varieties of pepper plants and you are keen on increasing yield or improving the health of your plants, you should read this post. Because in it there is everything you need to know about topping pepper plants which increases yield and improves pepper plant health.
What Exactly Is Topping?
Many experienced gardeners practice topping. Topping is a special technique that experienced gardeners use to increase the yield or improve the health of certain plants. Most garden pepper plant varieties can easily be topped to increase yield and improve overall health.
Topping is also known as top pruning. Many people are unfamiliar with the term topping but many know exactly what top pruning means. It is simply the cutting off of the growing shoot.
Therefore, the topping of pepper plants is the cutting off of the growing shoot/ tip on their main stem. Pepper plants are usually topped when they are young and growing. This is usually done to stop them from continuing to grow taller and to instead encourage them to develop branches laterally and become bushy and produce more fruits.
Pepper plants and many other plants grow upward because they have hormones gibberellins and auxin concentrated in their tips. These two hormones are growth hormones.
They produce signals to trigger growth and this is what causes upward growth. When peppers are topped, these growth hormones concentrate on the nodes below the cut tips. When they do this, they produce signals to cause the growth of the nodes as branches. This usually results in peppers branching and becoming bushy rather than getting unnecessarily tall.
Most pepper plants grow tall and they naturally become leggy. This is why gardeners top them off to prevent them from becoming unnecessarily tall and needing support infrastructure. You can easily tell if your peppers need topping by simply looking at them. If they are leggy, they need to be topped. If they look like they might snap, they need to be topped.
The Advantages of Topping Pepper Plants
1. Improved Yields
The number one reason why people top pepper plants is to have more fruit. Most pepper plant varieties grow vertically because of growth hormones in their tips. Cutting off their tips results in growth hormones concentrating in nodes down the main stem resulting in the growth of more branches.
And as we all know: more branches mean more flowers and, therefore, more fruit. So if you want your pepper plants to produce more peppers, you should top them.
However, please note that some pepper plant varieties top better than others. Generally, pepper plants producing small peppers are the best to top. This is because topping them almost always results in the plants producing more peppers.
In contrast, pepper plants producing large peppers should not be topped because topping them sometimes reduces yields overall. For example, topping bell peppers has been noted to reduce their yields.
2. Improved Overall Health
This is the number-two reason why people top peppers. Most pepper plant varieties grow tall and hence become leggy. And the taller they grow, the unhealthier they become and the likelier they become to snap into two.
Cutting off their tips makes them shorter, stronger, and bushier. In other words, it improves their overall health and makes them more likely to bear more fruit.
So if you want your pepper plants to be healthy, you should strongly consider topping them.
3. Improved Stability
This is also one of the reasons why guys cut off the tips of their pepper plants. Many pepper plants including varieties such as padron, guajillo, and jalapeno can grow very tall.
And when they grow tall, they become more likely to snap into two, to be blown over by strong winds, and to be knocked over when they are dry. So if you do not want all your hard work to go to waste, you should top them early enough to make them short and bushy instead of tall. This will improve their stability and make them less likely to snap into two or to be blown over.
4. Enables The Growing Of Peppers In Small Spaces
The topping of peppers enables gardeners to grow them in pots, small spaces, and small/ short greenhouses. This is because topping ensures peppers do not grow too tall.
The Disadvantages of Topping Pepper Plants
As I have explained above, the topping of peppers is a practice with many advantages/ benefits. However, it also has a few disadvantages.
1. Less Fruit in Some Cases
Topping pepper plants that produce large and sweet peppers such as bell peppers is not advisable as it generally decreases yields instead of increasing them.
2. Delayed Fruit In Most Cases
By cutting off the tip/ lead growth shoot, you will obviously delay flowers from sprouting and becoming fruits. So while topping pepper plants will generally increase your yields, it will also make you wait for peppers a bit longer.
Topping Pepper Plants: How Exactly To Do It
If you are interested in topping your peppers after knowing everything you now know about topping pepper plants, you will find this section interesting.
Below are the six steps you need to follow to properly top off any pepper plant in your garden.
- Wait for the plant to grow a bit. Do not cut it until it is about 10 inches tall and has several healthy-looking branches.
- Find a quality pair of scissors. Make sure it is sharp so that you can make a clean cut/ snip.
- Locate the tip of the main stem/ the main growing shoot of the plant above the healthy-looking branches.
- Cut off the tip but make sure you make the cut above the healthy branches/ true leaves. If you leave no leaves your plant could die.
- Sit back and relax and watch the branches below the cut become the plant’s main stalks/ side shoots.
- Top the plant at any time throughout its life to encourage the formation of more branches and more fruit.
As you can see, it is not very difficult to top off peppers. And while the first topping is probably the most important, you can top your pepper plant as often as you desire to trigger the formation of more branches.
The first time you will top your pepper plant, it will take a couple of days before you see signs of side shoots. So do not think that something has gone wrong if you do not see side shoots the first two or three days. Give the plant time and you will surely see exactly what you are looking for.
Warning: topping is very addictive. Don’t do it if you really don’t need to for you will delay the fruit.
The Best Pepper Plant Varieties to Top
You can top any pepper plant to make it bushy, healthy, and stable. But as mentioned several in this article, it is better to top pepper plants that produce small fruits than those that produce large fruits.
This is because topping pepper plants that produce large fruits is not very beneficial in the long run. Since while it can make such plants more stable, it almost always reduces their yields. Therefore, for pepper plants producing large peppers e.g. bell peppers, you should stake them or find other means to make them stable and healthy.
As for pepper plants producing small peppers. There is no problem at all topping them and encouraging them to form more branches.
Topping aka top pruning can help you to make plants bushier, steadier, healthier, and more prolific. Additional pruning can also help you to maintain your plants and ensure they focus on producing high-quality fruit.
By additional pruning, I am referring to the cutting of the suckers which poke between branches. Suckers are not fruiting branches. They consume energy that could help fruiting nodes develop faster and, therefore, should be snipped. Apart from snipping suckers, you should also make it a habit to cut leaves and branches on your peppers that are preventing light from hitting the lower branches.
When your peppers are mature, you should also make it a habit to prune none fruiting branches to ensure the plants focus energy and resources on the fruiting branches.
As mentioned above, all this additional fruiting will help you to maintain your peppers and to produce good fruit.
The Final Word
Topping, aka top pruning, makes pepper plants stable and generally increases yields. Additional pruning is also important. You should only reserve top pruning for small peppers because it increases the yields of such peppers. As for large peppers, you should use other means to increase yields and make them stable.