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I'm trying growing out chilies for the first time (well, first time from seed, last year I bought some and aphids obliterated them after one happy month), and I'm having some mixed success.

The cayenne pepper has been growing much faster than the hotter variants I've planted. The plant looks happy enough, but the stem is quite thin and for a while it needed some support. I've read that lanky growth is sometimes caused by too much fertilizer promoting leaf and vegetative growth too early, so I cut back on that. I can see a sturdier stem with cellulose forming, but as a window plant I would be afraid to take it outside for a few hours on a good day, as I am not sure it would withstand any sort of wind.

This is what the plant currently looks like (just repotted). It gets all wobbly when moving the pot: Cayenne full view

It has been started exactly two months ago (28/02/2019), which, in hindsight, considering how much sun the UK-midlands get, might have been a bit too early, but I was very eager (or was I?).

I've been looking at what I can do to thicken the stem and make the plant stronger. I've since removed the supporting stick and the cloth binding it to it (I've seen on this site somebody comparing support to an arm cast - your arm feels weaker when you remove it).

The one technique I've found used, especially on young chillies, aimed at promoting stronger stems and bushier growth, was topping (example with pictures). All the examples I found showed great glorious success. However, all of them were done on somewhat younger plants than mine, suggesting to top just after the first fork appears. However, my cayenne already made a second fork by the time I found out about topping, and it's putting out flower buds (better seen on the close-up below).

My questions are as follows:

  • Is it too late to top my chilli?

    I am leaning towards "not too late" here, and while doing it, I'm also considering trying to clone what I cut off while topping, as suggested in this discussion. (I think it's one of those things which will hurt me more than it will hurt my chili).

    As I literally just repotted it, I would first give it 2-3 days (or more if needed, but the previous times it recovered after a day) for the repotting to take, and then top it.

  • If I am still on time, where do I top it?

    My options here are:

    1. Top below the red arrow (second picture), or at the thinner red arrow to leave an extra node. This is the ideal height around which I would like it to "bush", and it is below the first fork. But it means cutting quite a lot of things off.
    2. Top at the purple arrows (on the same picture). This would be topping below the second forks. But it is quite high up the plant, and I am not sure if it would get the stem sturdy enough to allow it to support that height.
  • If it is too late, do you have any other suggestions on how to make the stem sturdier?

Cayenne close-up

PS: In my research I've come across this post on chilli prunning and topping, but that one is talking about prunning/topping in the spring, on old plants which have overwintered

PPS: (Bonus question) If I do go ahead and top it, I will definetely try to clone the parts I cut off - there is nothing to lose at all since I would be cutting them off anyway. Since they have flower buds on them, should I remove the flower buds from the potential clones, to allow it to route more power to the leaves and developing roots?

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I think you are doing far too much research.

Topping can help the plant but is usually done in professional nurseries to make the plant bushier and more commercially attractive.

You have a very young plant there and I think it’s fine. However, I would have left the stake for support.

If you live in the midlands, I would not put it outside. A greenhouse is preferable or a window sill but not in direct sunlight.

If you are getting leafy growth, it’s because you are using the wrong fertiliser, probably high in Nitrogen. Change it to a tomato feed which is higher in Phosphorus and Potassium. These nutrients promote more healthy and sturdy growth as well as helping fruit development.

I have been growing many types of Chilis, peppers and tomatoes, and I have hardly ever pruned them, just remove or pinch foliage when overcrowded when fruits come. Do not remove the flowers, they are your future fruits.

You can propagate if you choose to prune but you need to make sure it’s a non flowering stem using the softwood cutting method. However, the plant will be weaker as a clone(lack of new genes!). Seed sowing is best and easier..... and February sowing is good time for sowing chilli.

  • Thank you for your answer. Glad to know you think the plant looks healthy and don't suggest any changes to how I care for it except for fertilizer (and yes, I have stopped the nitrogen-rich one and will swap to tomato feed, good to have a confirmation). I'll still wait a bit to see if there's any other opinions before accepting - especially since all the guides, tips and suggestions for topping I've seen were by non-professional, private and hobby growers, and to do at home. Shame I don't have two plants, I'd try it on one just to be able to comapre for myself, but I've got limited windowspace – penelope Apr 28 at 20:14
  • And I am doing far too much research - it's my job (literally) - and I approach most new things in that way, and I enjoy it. But, I also talk to and encourage my plants to grow with lots of love :) As far as removing flowers goes - I wasn't going to remove them from a growing plant, I was asking specifically for the case I decide to top, and attempt to clone what I cut off while topping - should I remove the flowers from the cuttings I am trying to root, since they will need to spend energy on creating roots? I am not sure we understood each other on that point. – penelope Apr 28 at 20:21
  • If you use a flowering shoot for the cutting, all of this part of the plant would have put most of its energy into growing the flower. Therefore we always try to use a side shoot which is non flowering so that there’s plenty of energy to grow roots. That’s the general idea – user33232 Apr 29 at 6:07
  • Hey, I wanted to come back to this and tell you how it all turned out. I followed your advice, but unfortunately won't be accepting your answer as I don't believe it was the right thing to do. The four branches (just above the purple arrows on my pictures) keep on growing taller and taller, and the plant has outgrown my window. They are at least twice as long as the stem before the first Y and making the plant quite unstable. This weekend, I'm giving it a somewhat aggresive pruning, and I also got rockwool cubes to try and clone everything I end up cutting off. – penelope Jun 14 at 18:05
  • On the other hand, I ended up topping my other chili (habanero, so it's not directly comparable) and the results are amazing. The habanero was somewhat behind developmentaly from the cayenne, and I topped+prunned it about 3 weeks ago, just after it made it's first Y and then prunned some more a week ago In three weeks, it is back to its former size, with side-branches growin from every node, growing like crazy. And I have cloned the top I cut off, as an experiment, removing the flower buds forming there. After three weeks, the clone is still green and not wilted, so I guess that worked too. – penelope Jun 14 at 18:09

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