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Monday, August 18, 2014

To Pinch, Or Not To Pinch

pinched jalapeño tops
pinched jalapeño tops
My morning ritual always starts with a visit to my garden. No matter how many times I've looked at my plants, every visit is like a new one. And the thing that I admire the most is my jalapeño peppers, especially the oldest of the baby fruits. Compared to the other jalapeños, I could tell that the first one is going to be special. Why? Because the other peppers are not as large as that baby.

However, I of course want the others to reach that size, and one of the ways I can do so is by pinching back jalapeño plant. I haven't done so since planting because the flowers are always falling off. Now that I have 6-8 young jalapeño fruits, I dare to pinch.

There are two sides on this debate on whether or not to pinch back jalapeño peppers: one group says yes, you should pinch back, another group says don't bother. Let's take a look at both groups


Yes, Control Those Babies

A definitive yes to pinching back peppers is during the early weeks of the plant, when it's around 6 inches in size and yet to be exposed to the outside world - if you started indoors, that is. Pinching off the flowers must be done because your jalapeño needs to reach its full potential before producing. Early flower buds can cause stress to the young plant because it will use all its energy to produce buds and fruits rather than developing sturdy stems and branches.

Another reason to pinch back and cut the jalapeño pepper to size is once it has reached 8 inches in size to help encourage lateral growth and prevent leggy development. Using shears and gloves, an inch or two is cut off from the top right of the leaf node (check picture above as reference) for stocky plants. If your jalapeño plant is somewhat leggy like mine, rule of thumb is to leave behind six pairs of leaves.

Notice your jalapeño plant not producing flowers with just a few leaves left along several long branches? Pinch back your jalapeño - or more exactly, prune - your jalapeño down to 6 inches. Wait for about a month, and you will be seeing better flowers and better leaves compared to before.

Heck, Don't Even Bother!

Healthy jalapeño plants that are not competing with any weeds or voracious companions will always produce flowers at a rate so fast that pruning is futile. Your vigorous jalapeño plant will produce two buds right at the node where you pinched out the flowers. It's non ending battle, so better give in gracefully. Depending on the variety, your jalapeño will give you excellent quality yield even without pinching back. Also, if you experience significant flower drop like I do, pinching is no longer necessary.

Let's Get Down To Business


Once you've decided to pinch your jalapeños, you need to do some precautions. You will need:
Fiskars Micro-tip Pruning Snip
  • Rubber gloves
  • A pair of clippers, or
  • A small knife, or
  • A pair of small scissors
Gloves are necessary, the rest is optional. You can use your hands to pinch back the flowers, but you must wear gloves to protect you from the capsaicin that may be released from your plant. Cutting tools can make it easier for you and your jalapeño for a cleaner and faster job (remember to clean and then sterilize with alcohol to prevent spread of diseases). I used pruning shears to pinch back mine, greatly
lessening my chances of getting exposed to capsaicin. Believe it or not, I actually drooled a bit when I smelled it, meaning the stems contain that much oil.

The area to cut through is 1/4 of an inch above the node. Nodes are the junction between the leaves and the stem, and the place where new stems emerge. It's safer for the plant because it will prevent diseases. Once you've chosen your node, cut at an angle and you're done.

I cannot say as of yet if this pinching will significantly improve the size of my peppers. My main goal was to encourage lateral growth, with yield size and quantity secondary. I pinched back my plant on August 18, so let's see if new stems will develop after a week or two.


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