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I've been given a few peppers plants a few weeks ago, which I'm now trying to grow inside, on my sunnier window ledges. While trying to find out how to care for them, most advice I've found seems to indicate that I should "pinch out" the top when the plant is ~30 to 40cm tall (the tallest is current;y about 30cm now, so I'll need to do something with them soon).

I understand why we do this, and think I know approximately what I should be doing, but I'm a complete novice and have never tried to do this before, and would rather not accidentally kill them early on.

So, exactly how do I pinch out a pepper plant?

  • I've never seen a chile that did not freely branch of its own will as it matured. I've pruned a few back when growing in pots over the winter, similar to pruning fruit trees, but that was to clean up unwanted branches and unhealthy bits, not to force branching. Some larger exotic species will grow with a rather vertical shape but these are generally far too big for a window ledge. (I've had them grow as tall as me out in the garden.) Common C. Annuum varieties are 20-80cm and naturally bush shaped nearly as wide as tall when mature, decorative types are usually on the smaller side. – Max Power Apr 1 at 2:00
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I assume this is to stop it getting too big? I've grown a lot of peppers and I've never pinched them out, but I grow mine outside.

I find a healthy pepper plant with a good root system will readily put out new shoots from lower down as it gets bigger or is under attack - e.g. broken branch; defoliation by horn worm; falling over and gravity is suddenly in the wrong direction; etc.

So I think you should be fine with whatever you do. 30-40cm sounds a reasonable size and it should be mature enough to do put out new growth quite quickly. Two days ago I staked up some ancho plants about that size that had fallen over, and they were already putting out new shoots after less than a week in that condition.

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  • Could be... But frankly I've no idea what I'm really doing, and have just been trawling the internet for advice, and that size range seemed to be mentioned a few times, with indications that it should be pinched out at that height to encourage spread. My core problem is that, when given a plant and told to "pinch it out", I don't actually know what I should be physically doing to the poor thing... at a guess I remove the top-most small shoots? (pull them off? use scissors? etc?) But I don't want to rely on my guess and then have dead plants... – DMA57361 Jun 15 '11 at 21:07
  • Always go for a clean cut when pruning. Pulling can damage plants. Scissors or a sharp knife are probably good ways of doing it. – winwaed Jun 15 '11 at 21:10
  • @wimaed Noted, thanks. Presumably "remove the top-most small shoots?" is the correct action then? – DMA57361 Jun 15 '11 at 21:20
  • I'm not sure this is a direct answer to my question, but it's made be happy enough with my assumptions to actually do something to the plants when the time comes. Thanks. – DMA57361 Jun 16 '11 at 7:22
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I've never pinched out peppers, but when I pinch out small tomato suckers or the tips of basil (especially if I'm removing a flower), I literally use my fingertips to pinch the stem and it comes away from the plant.

However, if I'm pruning a thicker stem that I know isn't going to just pinch away from the plant, I will use scissors. This avoids a ragged/torn stem that is going to damage the plant and may invite disease and/or pests.

You can try pinching your peppers with fingertips. If you don't get a clean cut this way, go get scissors and snip just below where you pinched so you have a clean cut.

As with so many things, this is one of those activities that's easier when you keep up on it. Pinching suckers with your fingertips is quicker and easier than pruning stems with scissors.

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As noted, pinching is for small tender stems. Use your thumbnail to cut the stem, pressing the stem into your index finger - using your finger as a "cutting board". It's a very natural action - it's not like using chopsticks or something!

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