Topping pepper plants: effect on yield

last year, after learning about topping peppers, i topped my third-generation vietnamese tear jerker plants. here in zone 10, the growing season isn’t over, but i have some preliminary data on topping’s effect on production. i’ll present additional data after 2018 is behind us.

there are some limits to the conclusions one can draw, since the n is small across all generations. in fact, there was only one plant in each of the first and second generations. also, the first-gen plant was partially damaged by heat (the coworker who gave it to me left the plant several hours in his scorching hot car), so the top part of the plant was dead and couldn’t sprout new growth the way a healthy plant could. and i didn’t keep track of precise numbers the first few years, though i remember rough yield numbers for 2015 and 2016.

lastly, the data might not be applicable to other pepper strains and/or other growing conditions.

1st gen VTJ yield:
2014: i forget.
2015: 35-50 peppers.
2016: 35-50 peppers.
2017: dead from heavy rains. lesson learned about drainage holes.

2nd gen VTJ yield; plant was not topped:
2017: 73 peppers.
2018: haven’t harvested any yet; will count as i harvest.

3rd gen VTJ yield in 2018; all plants were topped once when the seedlings were several weeks old:
3G1: 193 peppers harvested; at least 20 more remain on the plant.
3G2: 117 peppers harvested; there must be at least 70 remaining.
3G3: 157 peppers harvested; only a handful of peppers remain.

the peppers from the topped plants weren’t smaller, either; on pepper forums, some have opined (without data) that perhaps greater number of peppers produced would be offset by smaller fruit size. in fact, my topped plants produced some of the largest fruit i’ve seen so far.

i also grew topped and untopped datil plants. the difference in yield wasn’t as dramatic as it was for the VTJs, but i did notice that one of the untopped datils had a wimpy trunk and required staking. . . and frequent, frustrating repositioning of the stake.

based on what i’ve seen so far this year, i plan to behead all my pepper seedlings henceforth. this is anticipated to result either in greater yield per plant, stronger trunks, or both.

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I expect this would depend a lot on the variety as well as location. In NY all the varieties I grow just keep getting taller and setting more fruit as they do. I can’t imagine topping would be helpful with their type of growth, exept to reduce the labor of tying branches to support weight- which is very time consuming.

This year, I didn’t get the normal late yield, however, but I assume it was because of a lack of sun as our monsoon has been relentless. They are loaded with green peppers that just can’t ripen up. Wettest growing season in 25 years. Freakish weather is probably the new normal.


definitely, alan. i can’t say that my VTJ topping experience would be applicable to other pepper types, or other climates. and for all I know, there could be further differences between capsicum chinense, annum, baccatum, and pubescens species.

in 2019, i’ll be growing several topped serranos, and i’ll compare their productivity with that of their parent, a Home Depot purchase which was grown without losing its head.

hoping to hear of others’ pepper topping experiences.

and here are some instances of topping gone wild:


A long time ago when I was going to Penn State, they ran a study looking at removing the flowers on yield. They removed all the flowers up to specified dates and looked at the yield in lb’s at the end of the season. The yield went up the longer they removed them until it was to late for the crop to ripen. They said this was because the plant has to put so much energy into the fruit to stunts the growth, allowing the plant to reach full size before letting fruit to set resulted in a bigger plant for longer which resulted in more peppers. This year I was to busy to do this and the pepper plants ended up tiny with only a few peppers.



That is quite logical, and I’ve done that in the past out of common sense. The trick is knowing when the first hard frost will arrive- I pick off not only flowers but small peppers.

Many of the fundamentals of tree fruit growing also apply to annual fruits.

I should think this would accomplish all and maybe more than topping plants, unless further away leaves don’t serve the fruit below, which your study suggests isn’t the case.

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some varieties, like the serrano, are floppy well before the appearance of any buds. the topping might strengthen the stem at an early stage. i’ll find out soon. :slight_smile:

also, if one is dealing with a short growing season and is starting peppers indoors, the topping can also happen indoors, and if done early enough, the plant should still have the opportunity to produce fruit.

sorry about the weather this year, alan. may the next year be better.

Strangely my peppers did pretty well and the hots are hot as ever. Had to pull in the harvest Thurs. eve. By morning it was 27 degrees.

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so far, my serranos that have been topped have not had an issue with floppiness. no staking necessary, and that is reason enough to top my peppers. my first two serrano plants (both store-bought) required staking.

update on my vietnamese tear jerkers:

2nd gen VTJ yield; plant was not topped:
2017: 73 peppers
2018: 146 peppers

3rd gen VTJ yield in 2018; all plants were topped once when the seedlings were several weeks old; any late-season peppers that were harvested in 2019 do not count toward 2018 totals:
3G1: 240 peppers (suffered moderate hornworm damage but still provided a good yield)
3G2: 259 peppers
3G3: 160 peppers (the least vigorous of the three, but it still produced more than its untopped parent)

so it seems topping improved yield considerably. the 2nd-gen plant (untopped) doubled its yield in its second year of production, but its second-year production was less than the first-year production of topped plants.

here’s my 2nd-gen VTJ on october 28 of last year:

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