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People love peppers for the sweet and the heat, adding dimension to dishes around the world and around the clock–breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
It’s no wonder that peppers are a favorite in many home gardens. Growing pepper plants is a rewarding endeavor, but they can be somewhat picky about their environment. Pepper plant sensitivities can result in a disappointing lack of fruit.
In this article, we will address nine causes of unfruitfulness in pepper plants, and ten strategies for overcoming these challenges.
What Prevents Pepper Plant Fruit Production?
There are a number of reasons why your pepper plants might be underproducing. Let’s begin with their delicate relationship to temperature:
Generally speaking, peppers operate best within the same temperature range that most humans enjoy.
According to Texas A&M University, the ideal daytime temperature range for bell peppers is 70-80°F and 70-85°F for hot peppers like jalapenos. Nighttime temperatures need to stay between 60-75°F for optimal fruit set.
If the air gets hotter than 90°F during the day and 75°F at night, the majority of peppers will drop their flowers (source).
Of course, an absence of flowers means no fruit development. If fruit has already set, extreme temperatures will delay its growth.
Peppers are also averse to cool temperatures. According to Iowa State University, night temperatures lower than 60°F reduce pollination and fruit set (source).
Long bouts of chilly weather in spring can also result in bloom drop.
Transplanting too early in the spring when temperatures are still cold weakens plants, sometimes without improvement. Weak plants are not going to produce much fruit.
Bell-type peppers are a little pickier when it comes to temperature than hot peppers such as jalapenos, serranos, and habaneros. This greater sensitivity makes bell peppers more prone to abort or postpone fruit development (source).
Different varieties need more time than others to reach maturity. Choosing a long-season pepper for a short-season region is a poor match that can result in a disappointing harvest.
Overly dry soil stresses pepper plants which leads to flower drop. Wilted leaves are another symptom of underwatering.
Not Enough Light
Sowing seeds indoors without giving sufficient exposure to sunlight results in leggy, unfruitful transplants. Once transplanted, insufficient sunlight results in decreased pepper size and yield.
Too Much Wind
Flowering is a sensitive time for peppers. Too much wind can interfere with pollination and cause peppers to lose their blooms. Sometimes wind topples the whole plant.
Nitrogen promotes vegetative growth in plants. This is great, but too much nitrogen tells the plant not to prioritize vegetation over fruit (source).
High humidity can hinder pollination by making pollen too sticky which can cause pepper plants not to fruit.
Pests and Diseases
The pepper weevil is a pest that eats the leaves, buds, and young developing fruits on pepper plants. Diseases and fungi can also reduce pepper plant productivity and kill them. Penn State University has an expansive list of pests, diseases, and suggestions on how to manage them (source).
The factors listed above are common issues, but your particular variety, soil, or location may have a unique derivative of difficulty not pinpointed here.
How Do You Promote Fruit Production in Pepper Plants?
We explored many variables that can interfere with fruit development, especially in regards to pollination and fruit set. Thankfully, there are many ways to combat these problems.
Here are 10 ways to support fruit production in pepper plants:
1. Control the Weather
Okay, so you can’t control the weather, but you can create a mini climate by covering pepper plants with boxes or plastic before chilly nights to retain heat from the soil.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about temperatures that are too high. If you live in a sunny location where temperatures often reach above 90°F in the afternoons, planting on the east side of a building can provide some beneficial shade.
Also, keeping pepper plants in moveable containers offers location flexibility during heat waves.
2. Provide a Windshield
If you reside in a windy place, plant peppers near (but not too near) the face of a building, fence, or other wind-blocking structure. If a structure is not available, you can fabricate a windbreak out of strong materials (source).
This will help your pepper plant stand erect with its flowers attached.
3. Variety Selection
For successful fruit production, start with a pepper variety well-suited for your region.
Pepper varieties resistant to disease grow better in warm and humid climates. Banana Supreme, Doe Hill Golden, Mucho Nacho, Colima, and Aladdin X3R are all examples of highly rated disease-resistant varieties.
If you live in a cooler region, select varieties that are more tolerant of cold weather. Manzano peppers, for instance, favor 45-60°F temperatures.
If you live at a high elevation or somewhere with a short growing season, choose a short-season variety like an Ace, Super Bell, Early Jalapeno, or Anaheim Chili.
Take your time transplanting peppers. Cornell University recommends setting peppers out 2-3 weeks after the last frost and hardening them with a few days of 60-65°F weather. This helps to prevent transplant shock, but overhardening slows plant growth (source).
A smooth transplant process sets a pepper plant for healthy, vigorous growth and, ultimately, fruit.
5. Full Sun
Place pepper seedlings in a sunny space indoors. If this isn’t available, New Mexico State University recommends employing a grow light for 14-16 hours a day (source).
When transplanted, peppers need a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight, but 8 or more is ideal. This supports healthy fruit production.
Cut the tops of pepper plants to encourage lateral growth. This helps stabilize the structure to prevent damage from strong winds. Pruning also increases fruit production.
7. Deep Soaks
Remedy dry soil with deep soaks about once a week, more frequently if your soil is sandy. Skip a watering if the rain beats you to it.
8. Mind the Nitrogen
Avoid excess nitrogen, but apply it strategically to increase yield.
Give your pepper plants a boost of nitrogen before their first fruit set to encourage vegetative growth initially. This delays fruiting but allows the plants to grow more branches and leaves prior to fruit production which should, in the end, yield a greater harvest.
Without the nitrogen boost, the plant shifts its energy from vegetation to fruit development early on when there are only one or two peppers on the plant. Then when the fruit is picked, there is an awkward burst of vegetative growth before the next batch of minimal fruit.
Avoid small harvests and off-and-on again growth with thoughtful fertilization.
Michigan State University recommends giving the plant 75% of its nitrogen before the first fruits form and then 25% over the course of the season until a couple of weeks before harvest (source).
9. Hormone Spray
Use a blossom set spray like Bonide (BND544) (link to Amazon) to encourage fruit development when the weather is cool and cloudy. Do not spray them in high heat. It’s designed for tomatoes but applies to pepper plants as well.
10. Aid Pollination
If conditions are humid for an extended period of time during flowering, you can help the pepper plant self-pollinate by giving the stems a few taps to transfer the pollen.
Different plants are picky about different things. For peppers, it’s temperature. There are many possible reasons for trouble with pepper production, but it often boils down to conditions being too hot or too cold for flowers and fruit set.
Hopefully the lists above help you troubleshoot and solve your pepper problems. You can also check with your local Extension office for information specific to your area such as the varieties that tend to grow well in your climate.
Extension officers can also test your soil to see if it’s capable of supporting peppers, and, if not, how to remedy the soil.
All the best to you and your peppers!