Bell pepper plants belong to the species Capsicum Annuum but are actually perennials that when kept safe from frost by overwintering indoors will grow peppers for anywhere from 2-5+ years.
Most people grow bell peppers as annuals by planting them every year. Bell peppers that have grown for multiple years will be bigger than pepper plants that are grown for a single year. Bell pepper plants grown as annuals can have a large difference in size depending on whether or not the plant was started indoors.
Bell peppers grown in one season will reach between 18-36″ tall and 12-24″ wide. Most bell pepper varieties overwintered with supplemental lighting can reach 4-6 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide by the next growing season. Greenhouses employ a “V” system where bell peppers are trained up two lengths of twine and regularly reach thirteen feet tall.
When overwintering bell pepper plants indoors without supplemental lighting the plant should enter a dormant state. In this state the bell pepper plant will not continue to grow or produce fruit. It will simply survive.
When the next season approaches break the bell pepper plants out of dormancy by watering, fertilizing, and exposing to more light. If you see new growth in a month or so you’ve successfully overwintered your bell pepper plant. The pepper plants second season should see it double in size from the first year and be 2-3x more productive.
Do Bell Pepper Plants Need Support?
Bell pepper plants are pretty sturdy bush like plants. If you’re growing bell peppers in their first year in an area that’s not extremely windy like near an open field you probably don’t need to give them support.
But, bell peppers are large fruit that can stress branches to the point of snapping so it’s not a bad idea. Snapping branches is no good as we want to be able to leave peppers on the branches to ripen until we are ready to pick them.
If you want to grow a 6×6′ monster bell pepper plant over multiple years like the youtuber in the video above had before pruning it you’ll definitely need to support it. Imagine the weight of a full sized bell pepper at the end of a 6′ branch. Netting, cages, or stakes are all options to provide support to the plants.
Staking with bamboo poles and garden ties is the simplest method. Netting can be a good idea if you have a lot of plants and can be used vertically like a fence along posts or horizontally as a support for growth above a certain height. Cages are good if you want just a few behemoth plants.
Pruning Bell Pepper Plants
There are many reasons and times to prune a bell pepper plant.
- Pruning to Increase Yield – If you’re growing the bell peppers as an annual for only one year pruning to increase yield won’t help much and might result in an overall lower yield with less peppers that are bigger in size. If you plan on keeping the bell pepper plant for multiple years or are growing pepper plants with smaller fruit pruning for increased yields is a good idea. You’ll make a bushier, stronger plant that can handle a higher load of peppers. The way to do this is to do what’s called “topping” your plants and then subsequently removing branches that grow inwards towards the middle of the plant as they appear.
- Early Flowering – If bell peppers start to produce flowers within 4 weeks of being transplanted outside pinch off the flowers. The plant is starting to fruit too early and will give a better yield in the end with more vegetative growth at this point.
- Low Growth – Prune off low growth to reduce chance of disease. Clean the plant up to 4 inches above the soil.
- Remove Suckers – Suckers are the small shoots that grow where the leaves come off of the stem. These make a messy plant with more energy going towards vegetative growth than is ideal.
- Ripen Up – About 4 weeks before the first expected frost we want the plant to put all of its energy into the existing fruit. Prune back the top of the plant and the ends of all branches. Take off any leaves that are blocking the bell peppers from getting direct sunlight. Light directly on the fruit will make them ripen faster.
- Overwintering – If you want to take the plant indoors to overwinter without supplemental lighting you’ll want the plant to enter a dormant state. In this case you’ll cut back the pepper plant to about a third of it’s size and you can cut the root ball in half if you want to get it into a smaller container. If it’s already in a container leave the roots alone.
- Notes – For good practice fill a shot glass with 90% alcohol solution and dip your pruners or blade in it from one plant to the next. Prune plants on a dry day so wounds can heal well.
Clone a Bell Pepper Plant
Cloning a bell pepper plant allows you to get a large number of bell pepper plants and all of them identical to the plant you take them from. This allows you to pick a vigorous growing and heavy yielding plant and to know what kind of color and flavor fruit to expect from it.
Taking cuttings from your bell pepper plant and starting clones indoors can be an alternative to bringing a plant indoors to overwinter. You want to take clones from the plant about a month before bringing it inside. The point of this is to take the cuttings while the plant is still active. By leaving it outside while temperatures cool the plant will naturally start entering dormancy.
Choose branch ends that are green and healthy. Take cuttings that are about 8″ long. Use something sharp to cut with so you get a clean cut and don’t mash the branch. Cut the stem at a 45 degree angle. Remove leaves and buds from the 8″ section leaving only small leaves at the top of the cuttings. Place the cuttings into a cup with water while you take the rest of the cuttings. Take more cuttings than you want plants because it’s unlikely that you’ll have a 100% success rate.
A hydroponic system like this is the best I’ve seen to consistently get large healthy clones. When you’re ready to transplant into a pot with soil the plants make the transition from hydro to soil without a problem. You can easily make a system like this yourself with a plastic tote and a fish tank water pump. Just cut holes in the lid of the tote for the plant starters to fit in.
Another good option is a starter tray with a dome that has a vent to control humidity. Here are some plant starters and Clonex Rooting Gel. No matter how you take your clones I recommend using the Clonex rooting gel.
After taking cuttings and placing them in your chosen medium you should see signs of roots in 1-3 weeks. For more information about cloning look up videos on marijuana clones. Because it’s a high value crop those guys really know their stuff.