A few years ago I was getting new shingles on my roof, and thought my container pepper plants would be safe since they were far from the wall. Well, one of the shingles glided like an eagle down and sliced one of my young cayenne pepper plants in half. It somehow survived, and another two months later I had loads of green cayenne peppers to start eating.
If you’ve had a similar accident or if you’re thinking of pruning your peppers, you’ll be glad to know your pepper plant can grow back, in some cases even stronger than before. Read below to find out more about how they grow back and the best way to prune them.
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Do Chili Pepper Plants Grow Back?
Chili pepper plants are perennials (but vulnerable to frosts) and readily grow back when pruned or damaged. In fact, a pepper plant can completely grow back if cut down to a few inches of bare stem as long as there are at least one or two nodes on it. Nodes are bumps along the stem and branches where new leaves and branches grow out.
Depending on the situation, many people will purposely prune their chili pepper plants, such as when they plan to overwinter or to control the size and shape of their plants.
Why Chili Pepper Plants Grow Back When Pruned
Not every plant grows back, but chili pepper plants are one of the many that do. You may have already noticed this with some plants in your garden, like herbs which keep growing back when you cut them.
The reason chili pepper plants grow back has to do with plant hormones. As a plant starts growing, the top growing tip (called the apical meristem) releases a hormone called auxin which, among other things, stops new branches from growing out from nodes along the stem. The moment you cut off the top of your chili pepper plant, the rest of the potential growing tips can start budding and growing.
Below you can see the new growth in my Thai Dragon pepper after pruning it. This photo was taken a little over a week after pruning. 11 days after this photo was taken, the plant was already putting out lots of foliage. Whenever I prune peppers, I try to leave at least two nodes on a branch as “insurance”.
Why Should You Prune Chili Pepper Plants?
You don’t need to prune chili pepper plants, but a lot of people do for various reasons. The main reason you should prune your pepper plants is to prepare them for overwintering. Chili peppers are actually perennials and keep growing year after year, but they are frost tender, meaning they cannot survive a frost. So, if you life in a place with mild winters that don’t get below freezing, you can grow peppers outside all year round. But for the rest of us, we have to grow chili pepper plants as annuals… unless we decide to bring the peppers inside, give them a little TLC (Tenderness, Light, and Care?) until next spring.
You might also want to prune chili pepper plants that are already older than a few seasons. If you have pepper plants that are one, two, three, or more years old, pruning can help control the size, make large pepper plants bushier so they won’t break from a heavy fruit set, and also spur new growth and rejuvenate your plants so they can put on a larger fruit set.
The below video shows a perfect example of someone who has grown a chili pepper plant for years and keeps pruning it so it stays bushy, strong, and healthy.
Another relatively common way chili pepper growers use pruning is to make their pepper plants bushier during the main season. Sometimes when you grow a chili pepper plant, it will grow a long stem before it forks and starts putting out buds and fruit. This can make your pepper plants top-heavy when growing big chili peppers, and make them more prone to breaking or falling over. If you prune the tops off early in the season, leaving a few nodes on the stem, the side branches will be lower, giving you a more study plant.
IMPORTANT: Any time you prune a chili pepper plant, you are going to set it back as it starts growing back again. If you are pruning the tops of young transplants, it could set them back a few weeks. Keep this in mind if you have a short growing season.
When Should You Prune Chili Pepper Plants?
If you are growing a chili pepper plant as a perennial, you can prune it any time you want. Unlike trees and fruit shrubs, there is no wrong time to prune a pepper plant, but as mentioned above, it will need extra time to recover before you start getting new buds, flowers, and peppers.
If you are pruning young chili pepper plants early in the season, you can prune them from a few weeks before transplanting up to a few weeks after transplanting. The shorter the season, the earlier you should prune them.
If you are pruning mature chili pepper plants to take them inside the house and overwinter them, you would prune them immediately before (or after) you take them inside. If you give them adequate lighting, they will survive, start growing back, and you might even get some peppers in winter! In the spring, you can prune them again before you take them out or you can leave them if you still have lots of flowers and and peppers on them.
How to Prune Chili Pepper Plants
Pruning chili pepper plants might seem daunting but it’s actually very easy. Use sharp, sterilized pruning shears or scissors to make a clean cut on the stem or branch you want to prune, making sure to leave at least one or two nodes on the stem or branch.
You don’t always have to just prune the main stem. If you have a mature plant that has very strong branches, you can leave some of the branches, which will also start to grow back.
Usually with a week (sometimes longer if the plant is very stressed) you will start seeing tiny new leaves growing out of the nodes. These will eventually grow into large side branches, which will themselves fork and branch out, developing a nice bushy chili pepper plant.