Topping pepper plant (a question)

sromkie(9)June 18, 2013

I was reading some posts here yesterday and someone said they hadn't "topped" a plant yet. I am new to all this pepper growing stuff, but the term gave me a pretty good idea of meaning. I did a Google search just to be sure I understood the concept and to learn the purpose. Now that I have, I've got a question:

Everything I read (and all the videos I watched) about topping a plant were in reference to young pepper plants (before they get tall and unwieldy). So, is it too late for me to top a plant that's a few feet tall and has been in the ground since November, or is it still worth doing? If I should still do it, how far down would I go? The plant has several pods on it now and I wouldn't want to lose any, but if I can make it a higher yielding and stronger plant, I'll do what I need to.

I've attached a picture of the plant (It's actually two that sprouted together and I forgot to separate. The smaller of the two isn't producing anything yet... should I just cut that one to the ground so they two aren't competing?)

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You can top a plant at anytime. It will encourage the plant to grow wider and easier to handle with the nasty evening storms we get in Florida. I see the perfect spot to top that baby. But then you will loose a nice pod or two. I would stake it up and ride it out. I usually wait till December or Janauary to top my plants. Really kick starts them so come spring they fill out and produce more peppers.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 2:15PM
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I top my plants for two reasons. I start them indoors under hid lights. if I don't top them they would be so tall that they would have a huge canopy and the lights would not get to the bottom of the plants causing them to stretch out. topping them also allows them to become very bushy and them stem will become very sturdy. each time you cut the top off you will get more tops coming of the main stem at each set of leaves that are left on the stem. ie cut top of plant get two new tops. top the two new tops and get four to six new tops ect. by the time my plants are ready to go outside for the season they look like shrubs. the other reason I top them is I take the cuttings and root them to get more plants. I can turn one plant into eight or more plants before the season even starts. as far as topping after I put them in the ground I don't do it but I also don't live in your zone so my season is much shorter than yours. I think you would be ok to top your plant being your in florida. by the looks of the small stem it would probably help. I would just cut the tallest part of the plant of a couple of inches. I probably would only top the tallest stem at this point and you will notice the stem will get thicker and sturdier and the bottom branches will really explode.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 2:28PM
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So wait, if you cut the top off the plant, plant that in the ground it will grow? Explain I'm confused.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 7:17PM
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No... LOL

I've never done it, but apparently you can take cuttings, use a little rooting solution, pop it into a very fast draining medium like 100% perlite and it will(with some luck and the right conditions) begin to ROOT itself. Perhaps Ky can give us a class on it ;) Google or search in the forum for propagating pepper plants from cuttings -- I know there's more to it than what I just said.


    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 7:26PM
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Thank you for the suggestions. I guess I will go romy6's advice and ride it out until the winter. I'll top it when the weather starts getting colder. How far down would I want to top it at that point?

Also, I will probably want to transplant it into another part of my garden at some point (I ended up building out a bed just for peppers). When's the best time to do that production/weather-wise, and what should I know before I attempt it?

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 8:03PM
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northerner_on(Z5A ONCanada)

It's amazing how different aspects of gardening use different terms. I read this post because I did not know what topping was, but it seems to be what is called pruning in other gardening areas. As I was always told, pruning encourages growth, making a plant bushier and fuller. It happens to me every year with my lilacs. In annual terms, they call it pinching, where you 'pinch' out the top of the main stem causing the plant to branch and fill out producing more branches and hence flowers. Interesting!!

    Bookmark   June 19, 2013 at 3:03AM
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If I am using a container I will cut the plant in half and repot . Depending on the size of the pot. For inground I just hack it where there us still green growth and leave the wood. Pics to help better dscribe my terrible writing skills.:)

This guy was about 6 feet tall. Had some mite/insect damage so I hacked and sprayed around February.

More recent pic

    Bookmark   June 19, 2013 at 2:20PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Indeed, when you remove the top growth point, the plant hormone Auxin is redirected to the lateral or axillary buds. This is what produces back-budding, branching, and bushing out.

Great pics!


    Bookmark   June 19, 2013 at 4:05PM
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Romy6 - Those pictures are very helpful. Thank you. I appreciate your advice. Now I have a pretty good idea of what I should do when the "winter" comes.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2013 at 8:16PM
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romy that is what I would call pruning, when a plant goes to the dormant stage you would prune the branches back. what I consider toping is when the plants are young and vigorous. you can take the tops off and make a very sturdy plant. pepperguy, it is almost that easy. northerner to me pinching is where you take as little as possible, topping is where you take a little more. and woohooman, I would love to spread the word on how to take cuttings. cause it works well

    Bookmark   June 19, 2013 at 11:31PM
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I want to ask question to everybody. when do you top the pepper plant? what's the ideal size and where do you top it?. i plan to plant peppers this spring here in Los Angeles,zone 10b. Help pls.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 12:20AM
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I topped mine all at same time between 4 to 6 inches tall and now they are all doing great with lots of branches. Much better than last years leggy plants.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 12:28AM
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flipback23(9 SF Bay)


4-6 inches is when I did mine as well for new plants, for older plants I dont know since this is my first season.

Kypepperman can you please expand on the rooting process of cuttings I would love to reuse the cuttings versus starting new plants that's a great head start in the process.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 10:56AM
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esox07 (4b)

Posted by greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a (My Page) on
Wed, Jun 19, 13 at 16:05

Indeed, when you remove the top growth point, the plant hormone Auxin is redirected to the lateral or axillary buds. This is what produces back-budding, branching, and bushing out.

Great pics!

Josh, I know you are a teacher...What do you teach? Chemistry, Biology, Botany?
Another post where you have gone all Albert Einstein on us.

Word of the day: "AUXIN"

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 2:05PM
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There is something called rooting hormones and it come in powder form. Cut a stem off with a few leafs on it, dab the bottom in it and stick it in rock wool and Boom you have another plant with the same genetics. I think that's how it works.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 6:30PM
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The link below shows three different ways to take cuttings from pepper plants.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cuttings

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 9:21AM
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Looking at the picture the second plant is not a pepper looks like a wild flower of some sort, I would nix that one from competing with your pepper plant.


    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 8:02AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Topping is not the same as pruning, I think.

In the first method you chop the head off . This is often done with some over grown street trees. Or, if someone wants to get rid of a big tree in a small yard, they "TOP" it first then cut it down. In the case of peppers , you chop off the main and/or major branches to make it substantially light and short. Those who over winter peppers often do this as well.

In pruning, however, one does selective, surgical removing leaves, new growth, new shoots BUT the main and major laterals are not cut off. A good example of pruning is what is practiced in tomato growing. Normally the main and major laterals are left alone but the new growth (suckers) are pruned.
Some people also DO TOP tomato their plants at the end of season, to direct energy toward ripening of the existing fruits.

Having said above, there could be some overlap .


    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 4:45PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Well it's all pruning to me. When and why vary. I would call it heading as that is the term when you shorten any branch. Thinning is removing the whole branch. So you do a heading cut of the main branch on young pepper plants.
Topping though is an acceptable term too. I guess that refers only to the main branch. You can head any branch, often done to control vigor or size or both in fruit trees.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 12:03PM
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This is my first time growing peppers and as it would I made some beginner mistakes I am now realizing regarding topping/pruning and also transplanting. I was made aware recently of the topping and trimming techniques and wanted to get a better idea of where on my plants would be a good idea to do this after this season is over? Thanks for any response/input! They are all chocolate habaneros except for the Terra cotta pot which is a cayenne that I recently trimmed and cut back which I neglected to do all summer..

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 12:36AM
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An expert on this forum should validate me on this, but although it will break your heart, the place to cut is just below the place where the plant forms a "V"..... even if there are buds above the V....

I am not sure that it is not too late this year to do that, if you want to get some peppers, though.

Again, I am a student here, not an expert.....

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 4:03AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

At this point in the season I would not top the plant. I topped some of mine early in the year. I sort of had to for them to fit in my cold frame. Anyway I noticed no difference in topped and untopped plants. I will not be topping anymore. Unless I need to fit them in the cold frame. We had a cool summer and they remained in the cold frame longer than expected.
What I noticed is untopped plants grew similar all on their own.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 5:48AM
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That is not what happened with my Jalapenos. The ones I topped grew bushy, as did the one clipping I successfully cloned... the ones I did not cut back are slim and about 4t tall...

That said, the ones I left alone have been producing more peppers, to date, although the bushy plants seem to be catching up in the last few weeks.

I think I will cut the V early next year, for the simple reason that, in my environment, I think I have to plan to over-winter one year to get a decent return, and bushy plants will take less space.

All that may change if I get serious about a Greenhouse, though.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 6:25AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

All of mine became bushy, none grew tall. Although mine get full sun all the time. All gardening is local. The plants pictured looked to be tall. They seem to me to need a lot more light. And bigger pots!
You can see my plants here

Here is a link that might be useful: Peppers in root pouches

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 6:59AM
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I started all the habaneros under a t5 light and moved them outside after their veg stage to do their flowering thing however I didn't transplant them into larger pots at the proper time and the plants were pretty rootbound and wilted quickly in full sun. After I transplanted them into larger pots they seemed a lot happier however as I continued to try and get em used to being outside in full sun (8-10 hours a day) they remained very sensitive to full exposure. In one instance this week I put them into full sun at 12 noon and immediately they wilted badly. I checked the soil and it wasnt bone dry but wasn't WET either. I watered and fed (liquid nutes) them immediately and they perked back up as if nothing happened. I have a couple of questions:
1) is it possible they grew extra photosensitive under the t-5 light?
2) how many hours should chocolate habaneros be in full sun in zone 9?
3) is it bad I posted this on a forum about topping a pepper plant?

I am new to the forum world and if its against the ethics LMK lol.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 10:55AM
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DMForcier(8 DFW)

Ethics? In this group? We hand out habanero pods to children at Halloween! [bwah-ha-haah!] We sell weaponized fruit to crowd control device manufacturers.


Anyway, if you broach a taboo subject we'll let you know, but I can't think of one that has anything to do with gardening.

1) Plants need to get used to the intense light and physical buffeting from wind. That is called 'hardening off'. You do it gradually, but it only takes a few days.

2) Peppers are high energy plants that will eat all the light you can give them and ask for more. But to support the photosynthetic processes they need water - sometimes lots of it. I have a single hab in 10 gallon pot that needs water every other day. The plants also need their toes shaded from direct sun so they don't get too hot, but white pots should be good for that.

3) I don't like to top. But how you plan to overwinter may dictate that you cut them well back. You've got several months to read up on overwintering techniques. In the meantime I'd leave well enough alone.

Unless you want to move to bigger pots. That would be okay and should not stress the plants much at all.


This post was edited by DMForcier on Thu, Aug 21, 14 at 13:39

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 10:39PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Yeah to be clear topping is fine. In my situation I doubt I will, but I may prune them if I overwinter any. Mine were started under T5 lights too. Well Ultra T5, not regular, or something like that. They get too hot. i don't like them, but the fixture is for them, so stuck with them.
Excellent post DMForcier!! I agree, we can talk about whatever we want!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 11:06PM
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