Should you pinch off early flowers from tomato and pepper plants?

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Some home gardeners start their plants indoors, from seed. Others prefer to “direct sow” right into the ground. Either way, once your plants have taken root, you must nurture them so they will thrive. There’s a particular gardening issue that is a topic of debate. The question is: Is it best to pinch off the early flowers on your tomato and pepper plants? Some say, “Yes,” others, “No,” and, still others say, “It doesn’t really matter.” In this post, we’re going to talk about both sides of the issue. If you feel strongly about it, one way or the other, we’d love for you to weigh in on the conversation, as well, by leaving a comment under this post on our Facebook page.

In the meantime, let’s consider the thought behind the practice of pinching off early flowers. Why do  people do it? Are the flowers bad? Does plucking them off help the plant in some way? Are they edible? What should you do with them after pinching them off your tomatoes and peppers?

Early flowers turn into fruit just like flowers that bloom later

white flower, tiny green pepper

If you’re a super-novice at home gardening, you might see flowers growing on your tomato or pepper plants and wonder why they are there. (I’m planting vegetables, why are flowers growing on my plants? lol) The flowers that bloom on your plants eventually turn into peppers or tomatoes. After reading that, you might automatically think: Why would I pinch off early flowers then? Doesn’t it mean that I will get vegetables sooner?

Technically, yes, it does mean that. But, the issue is: Do you WANT early fruit on your tomato and pepper plants? When your crops are in their early stages of growth, the plants expend a lot of energy into the root system, stems and leaves. Tomatoes and peppers are heavy and place a burden of weight on the plant. If your plants are too small or weak, they might not be able to support the fruit and will break or drop over. Ideally, you want the stems on tomato or pepper plants to grow sturdy and lots of foliage to form before the plant starts to bear fruit.

Some say pinching off early flowers helps plants grow larger

garden plants, lots of green foliage, red fruit

Those who advocate pinching off early flowers from pepper or tomato plants say that doing so enables the plant to continue to grow tall and strong before bearing fruit. Once your plants start to produce flowers, most of the energy in the plant is going to go toward growing fruit. Peppers are self-pollinating, while other types of plants need help from butterflies, bees and other insects. In both cases, the plants become fertilized and fruit begins to grow. When the plant’s energy is focused on growing fruit, the rest of the plant (I.e., stems, leaves, roots) slows its growth.

People who pinch off early flowers believe that doing so diverts the plant’s energy back to growing tall and sturdy. They say that if the plant hasn’t fully matured in size yet, then leaving the earliest blooms will cause its growth to be stunted because all the energy will go toward the fruit.

When is it not good to pluck off the early blooms?

early flowers, pepper plants, plant tags labeled habanero peppers

Some types of vegetables, particularly certain kinds of peppers, are slow to ripen. Because of this, many gardening experts say that it’s best to leave the earliest blooms alone because it’s going to take a long time for the fruit to ripen. If you pick the early flowers, your growing season might start to wind down before the fruit has fully ripened.

Some say early tomato flowers will fall off by themselves

early flowers, red tomatoes on vine

Another reason some home gardeners vote, “No,” for plucking off early blooms, especially for tomatoes, is that they often fall off on their own. Flower drop typically occurs if you have daytime temperatures exceeding 90 degrees then dropping to the low fifties (or lower, if you live in PA, lol) at night. If your climate isn’t a good match for the species of tomato you’re growing, that, too, will cause the early flowers to fall off the plant. (Yes, certain types of tomatoes grow better in certain areas. Try to research this before choosing your seeds or plants.)

People in the do-not-pluck camp say that taking off the early flowers on tomatoes or peppers is counterproductive to gardening. After all, our ultimate goal is to reap as bountiful a harvest as possible, right? Thus, they ask: Why would you pluck off flowers that are going to turn into fruit? This means that you have less tomatoes or peppers than you would have had by leaving them on the branches. In short, those who advocate leaving the early flowers on the plants believe that there’s no such thing as “too early or too many” when the goal is to get as many peppers and tomatoes as you can.

I’m not so sure how logical that is. If it’s correct that early flowers cause smaller plants, then, in my mind, there’s less room on the plant for fruit to grow. Don’t you agree? A large, sturdy plant is going to have more branches and foliage than a small, stunted plant. It seems that larger plant equals more room for more tomatoes or peppers to grow. Doesn’t it?

A word about starting plants indoors

early flowers, tomato seedlings in terra cotta pots

Another issue that can spur early flowers on tomato and pepper plants is lack of soil space. If you start seeds indoors and wait a long time to transplant your plants to the garden, their root system will run out of soil space. This “tricks” the plant into thinking it’s time to stop growing and work on producing flowers for fruit, instead. Early flower pinchers say it’s important to pick off the blooms if they have opened while your plants are still indoors.

Non-pinchers say to leave them on and immediately transplant the plants into the garden. As you can see, this is a highly debated topic for home gardeners. And, now, it’s your turn to chime in. Do you pinch off early flowers or leave them on? Have you tried both ways and noticed a difference in production? Do you think one way is better or both ways are fine? We’d love for you to share your gardening thoughts!

Do not eat tomato or pepper plant flowers

Finally, earlier in the post, the question was posed as to whether flowers on tomato and pepper plants are edible. This article has a lot of helpful information on edible flowers. However, it states that you should avoid eating the flowers of tomatoes and peppers. It’s worth reading, though, because there are many flowers in general, as well as blooms on vegetable plants and herbs, that are healthy to eat! ( And, with that, I feel another post coming on! ::wink::)

Note: You can simply let the flowers you pinch off biodegrade back into the soil. It will nurture your plants.

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