1. Homepage
  2. »
  3. Growing
  4. »
  5. Vegetables
  6. »
  7. Pepper Plant Flowers: Pinching Back & 5 Ways to Limit Drop

Pepper Plant Flowers: Pinching Back & 5 Ways to Limit Drop

White pepper plant flowers and immature pepper fruits growing in the garden.

Pepper Plant Flowers: Pinching Back & 5 Ways to Limit Drop

I love growing fresh peppers- they have a spot in my garden every year! And there won’t be any crunchy, flavorful fruits without healthy flowers growing at the appropriate time.

Pepper plant flowers contain pollen-producing and pollen-receiving sites, and each blossom is capable of yielding fruit. Blossoms appearing before the plant is 12 inches tall are considered premature; those early flowers will likely produce small, misshapen fruit and should be removed. Flower drop can happen due to lack of pollination, prolonged high heat and humidity, drought, excessive nitrogen in the soil, and root constriction.

In this post, I’ll walk you through what I’ve discovered about pepper plant flowering over years of trial and error. You’ll also learn what you can do to keep those flowers healthy and abundant.

Let’s get started!

Why Pepper Plants Flower

Peppers of all varieties are fruits, even though we treat them like vegetables for culinary use. And like all fruits, those delicious jalapenos, bell peppers, and ghost peppers grow from flowers.

Flowers have male structures (called stamen) that produce pollen and female ones (called stigma) that receive pollen and contain immature fruit. The pollen must move from the stamen to the stigma for the plant’s genetic material to combine, resulting in fruit.

Some plants, like pumpkins and cucumbers, often have distinct male and female flowers, and pollen from males must make its way to a female for fruit production. On the other hand, pepper plant flowers are self-pollinating, meaning that they contain both male and female structures. So each and every flower is capable of producing a mature fruit under the right circumstances.

Growth Stages of Bell Pepper Plant Flowers

Pepper plant flowers go through three stages on their way to fruit development:

  1. Flower buds form
  2. Flowers open and pollination takes place
  3. Flowers dry up as fruit sets

Flower buds form. Flowers start off as round green buds. Several flower buds can be clustered close together, or single ones may sprout off the stem.

Flower buds forming on a pepper plant in the garden.
Pepper flower buds

Flowers open and pollination takes place. Most pepper flowers are white, although some varieties have purple blooms. Either way, the bright color attracts pollinating insects, and the open petals expose the stamen and stigma to the breeze.

A closeup photo of white bell pepper plant flowers.
Bell pepper flower

Flowers dry up as fruit sets. Once pollen has fertilized the ovary, the flower’s purpose has been fulfilled. The petals turn brown and dry up, eventually falling off the maturing fruit.

New pepper fruit with dried up brown flower petals at the tip growing on a pepper plant.
Shriveled flower on new pepper fruit

Should You Pinch Flowers Off Pepper Plants?

Seeing that first flower bud is a joyous thing- or is it? Pepper plants aren’t mature enough to produce healthy, full-sized fruit until they’re at least 12 inches tall, but stress can cause a plant to produce flowers prematurely.

This can happen from:

  • Being in a small pot for too long
  • Exposure to cold nighttime temperatures
  • Inconsistent watering

The plant essentially goes into crisis mode and starts flowering in hopes of producing seed before it dies. Any peppers you get from these early blooms are likely to be small and misshapen.

Pinching off premature flowers is the best way to keep your plant focused on maturing properly and bearing large, healthy fruits.

However, there is a need for caution here. Peppers take a long time to produce mature fruit (especially some of the hot varieties), so if you live in a far northern area with a short growing season, you’re probably better off leaving those early blooms in place. Otherwise, you may get a fall frost before you have a chance to harvest.

TIP: If you purchase pepper seedlings from a garden center, choose ones that don’t have any flowers yet- instead, look for the ones that are short but stocky, with lots of healthy leaves. But sometimes all of them are prematurely flowering, and that’s ok. Just be sure to pinch those early blooms off until your plant is settled in its permanent home for a few weeks and is at least 12 inches tall.

How to Pinch Off Pepper Plant Flowers

When they’re small, pepper buds and flowers are pretty easy to remove, but you still want to use care to avoid damaging your plant. Never pull the buds/flowers off- instead, you’ll need to sever them from the stem gently.

Each flower has its own tiny stalk that grows off the main stem. I’ve found that the easiest and most full-proof way to remove flowers is to use sharp scissors or a fine-tip garden pruner to cut the flower stalk.

You can also gently pinch the flower or bud between your fingers to remove it. Gently grasp the stem below the bud to steady the plant, and carefully pinch the bud, pulling your fingers toward your palm. This video from Soothing Leaf shows how to pinch off buds by hand:

When to Stop Pinching Pepper Plant Flowers

You can stop pinching off pepper flowers when your plants:

  • Have been settled into their permanent homes for a couple of weeks
  • Are at least 12 inches tall
  • Have several sets of healthy leaves

At this point, your plant has the resources and space it needs to produce quality fruits. So let the flowers bloom!

Why Are My Pepper Flowers Falling Off? 5 Reasons

It’s happened to me, and it’s frustrating. Your pepper plants are producing lots of lovely blossoms, then seemingly out of the blue, they all start to turn brown, shrivel up, and fall off the plant- leaving no baby peppers behind.

When your pepper plant flowers but doesn’t produce fruit, your plant senses inhospitable conditions for producing fruit, so it cuts off resources to the flowers to prevent wasting energy. There are a few reasons for this to happen, some of which are in your control and others that aren’t. Let’s break it down in more detail.

1. Lack of Pollination

The entire point of a pepper flower is to move pollen from the stamen to the stigma to produce seed-filled fruit. If pollination doesn’t happen, the flower is useless and falls off.

You can do a couple of things to help the pollination process along:

  • Make your garden a draw for pollinators. Plant other flowering plants near your peppers to encourage insects to visit the area frequently. This is known as companion planting, and borage, marigolds, and nasturtiums are some of my favorite flowers to put in the veggie garden.
  • Ensure good airflow to your pepper plants. Even a gentle breeze can be enough to transfer pollen, so place potted pepper plants in an area that’s open to the wind. For pepper plants in the ground, trim back any plants that might be blocking air movement.
  • Pollinate flowers yourself. Gently shaking your plant, particularly early in the morning, can move the pollen where it needs to go. I’ve also had good results from gently brushing across the flower with a small paintbrush or cotton swab.

2. Heat and Humidity

In my experience, I’ve lost the most pepper flowers during heat waves with high humidity, and scientific studies back this observation up. In sticky, high-moisture conditions, pollen can become damp and harder for pollinators to pick up or the wind to carry, so it doesn’t get transferred properly.

There’s not much you can do about the weather. Providing lots of water, mulching the bases of your pepper plants, and providing shade during the afternoon can help, but it won’t address the humidity. Sometimes, unfortunately, it’s just a bad year for peppers.

One thing you can do is plant heat-resistant varieties. Bell peppers are typically the most vulnerable to heat strain, while banana peppers and spicy peppers tolerate the heat and humidity much better.

3. Drought

Peppers need lots of moisture to produce juicy fruits- Utah State University Extension recommends providing 1-2 inches of water every week. And that moisture needs to be consistent; peppers don’t appreciate a routine of drenching and then being allowed to dry out to the point of wilting.

If your peppers don’t have their water needs met, the plant will abort the flowering and fruiting processes.

I’ve been guilty of inconsistent watering- especially if there’s a chance of rain in the day’s forecast (that often doesn’t materialize!). A drip irrigation system or soaker hose is a good solution here.

4. Too Much Nitrogen, Lack of Potassium and Phosphorous

Peppers are fairly heavy feeders, meaning that they need lots of nutrients to produce large fruits. Peppers need all three macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) in every growth stage, but their nutritional needs change throughout the growing season:

  • Young pepper plants need lots of nitrogen to grow healthy green leaves.
  • Once the plant matures, it needs higher amounts of phosphorous and potassium to produce flowers and fruits.

If you’re still feeding a mature pepper plant a high-nitrogen fertilizer, you’ll end up with heavy foliage and few flowers. Once the plant reaches about 12 inches in height, it’s time to switch to a fertilizer that has lower nitrogen and higher phosphorous and potassium.

5. Root Constriction

Roots are the lifeline of the plant. If your pepper plant senses that it can’t spread its roots any further in search of moisture and nutrients, it will cut off flower and fruiting production.

This is primarily a problem for peppers in containers, though your in-ground plants may also suffer if the soil is heavy and compacted.

If you suspect your pepper plant has outgrown its pot, transplant it into a larger one. If you think your peppers are growing in compacted soil, apply lots of organic matter (compost, shredded leaves, grass clippings, aged manure, etc) and work it into the soil to help promote a better structure.

What to Do About Pepper Plants Not Flowering

But what about if your pepper plants just aren’t producing flowers in the first place? In my experience, lack of sunlight is a big factor here. If you aren’t meeting your pepper plants’ sunlight requirements, it isn’t able to photosynthesize enough food energy to produce flowers.

So if your plant is in a shady spot, whether it’s the shadow from the house, trees, shrubs, or taller garden plants, do what you can to increase the light. Move potted pepper plants into a sunnier location, or trim back overhanging plants or limbs. There’s not much you can do about a house shadow, so you may just need to plan a different spot for your peppers next year.

Another reason for no flower production could be too much nitrogen in the soil. Once your plants are about 12 inches tall, switch your fertilizer from a high-nitrogen formula to one with more phosphorous and potassium.

Infographic outlining the key points of pepper plant flowers.

Frequently Asked Questions about Pepper Plant Flowers

Pepper plants usually start producing flowers about 8-12 weeks after germination. Plants may start flowering before this time, but these blooms are premature and usually a stress response.

The only reliable way to know if a flower was pollinated is by seeing a fruit maturing on the plant. Pollinating insects near your pepper plants are an encouraging sign, or you could pollinate the flowers by hand if you want to make sure it happens.

Final Thoughts

From my years working in the garden, I’ve found that providing consistent watering, good sun exposure, and proper fertilizing are the factors I have the most control over to help my pepper plant flowers thrive. Unfortunately, you can’t control everything, so I recommend focusing on what you can!

I hope you’ve learned some useful information and tips for taking care of your flowering pepper plants. If you have any other questions or tips you’ve picked up over the years, I’d love to hear about them! There’s always more to learn, and what better way to learn that from each other? So please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

Related articles