Pepper plants are a staple of summer gardens and like other plants rely on pollination to bear fruit. If your pepper plant fails to pollinate it will reduce your crop yield because the plant’s flowers fall off instead of developing into fruit. To ensure your pepper plants are getting pollinated properly it is important to understand how pollination works in pepper plants and steps you can take to encourage it.
Pepper plants get pollinated when wind or a pollinator deposits pollen from one flower to another plant’s flower, which helps fertilize the flower and eventually results in peppers. Pepper plants can also self-pollinate, meaning that the pollen moves from the male to female parts of the same plant.
Keep reading to learn more about pollination, different types of pollination, and how pepper plants pollinate. We’ll also talk about different ways to boost pollination in pepper plants to get a better yield.
Methods of Pollination in Pepper Plants
Unlike vine plants like zucchini and pumpkins that have male and female flowers on the same plant, peppers produce flowers that are bisexual or “perfect.” This means that the flowers have both female and male reproductive parts.
Self-pollination happens when pollen reaches the stigma, the little narrow stems that stick out of the center of a flower, in the same plant. Self-pollination occurs in two ways:
- When the pollen from a flower is transferred to the same flower’s stigma, this is called autogamy.
- When the pollen of a flower touches another flower’s stigma on the same flowering plant, this is called geitonogamy.
When peppers can’t get pollinated naturally, they don’t produce enough flowers. And in some cases, even if they do produce flowers, the flowers fall off easily and can’t produce fruit. That’s when the gardener should encourage pollination manually through hand pollination. We will discuss hand pollination in more detail later in this article.
Pepper plants can also cross-pollinate, which means pollinators or the wind transfer pollen from one pepper plant to another.
Pollination by Pollinators
Vectors, or pollinators, are agents that carry the pollen from the stamen to the stigma. They include insects, birds, and mammals like bats. Hummingbirds and bees are specialized pollinators that feed on the flowers’ nectars. Beetles, moths, thrips, and flies are other successful pollinators. There are also physical agents like wind and water that can help with pollination.
Interestingly, pollination isn’t the pollinators’ intended job. Pollination is the result of a process called “mutualism,” in which both the plant and the pollinator benefit. The pollinators visit the flower for different reasons, for example, bees and butterflies foraging the nectar, while many animals and insects feed on pollen, and some tiny insects seek warmth and shelter inside the flowers.
When pollinators visit the flower, pollen sticks to their bodies, and they move and spread that pollen either to other parts of the same plant or to other plants when they visit them. They also brush their bodies against the stigma in the same flower.
Conifer plants like pines, which don’t have flowers, rely on wind for pollination. The male cones produce pollen, which the wind carries to the female cones and fertilizes them.
Ways Pepper Plants Pollination Can be Disrupted
There are several conditions that might reduce the chances of pollination in pepper plants:
- Pesticides that are toxic to pollinators like bees can kill or discourage pollinators from visiting your peppers
- Extreme hot and cold temperatures reduce pollinators, especially bees.
- Lack of wind is another factor that affects the rate of pollination. Wind helps move flowers and make the pollen flow and release into the stigma.
- High humidity levels can make pollen sticky and reduce the chances of pollination. If you keep your pepper plants inside a greenhouse, try to reduce the humidity by opening vents to get the air circulating.
How to Encourage Pollination in Pepper Plants
Under normal conditions and in a pollinator-friendly space, the bees and breeze do their jobs just fine and help to produce good pepper yields. However, if you do not get good results and frequently see blossoms falling off and not turning into pepper pods, here are some tips to encourage pollination for your pepper plants:
Attract pollinators to your garden
If you want to encourage pollination, you need to attract pollinators to your garden. Create an inviting space by planting flowers in your garden. Replace lawn with flower beds but make sure the flowers are native to your region.
Lavender, chives, sage, and black-eyed Susans are among the many perennial flowers that invite bees to your garden. These plants bloom earlier than peppers and help encourage bees to frequent your garden. Another advantage of perennials is that they come back every year, and you don’t have to repeat planting them.
You could also boost the presence of bees by planting early blooming trees like apricots, cherries, and others based on your region’s ecosystem. They provide a much-needed food source for bees in the early spring while adding beautiful color to your garden.
The best way to attract pollinators is to make your garden safe them. So, avoid using pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and choose natural methods such as compost.
Bees get thirsty and need water while foraging, so you can also attract them by adding a small water source to your garden for birds and bees. Check out our comprehensive guide on how to best attract pollinators to your garden.
The way you plant your peppers is also important. Avoid planting them close to each other because it hinders air circulation and makes bigger plants shade smaller ones.
When Should You Hand Pollinate a Pepper Plant?
Sometimes, the natural pollination methods don’t work. If you see that pollinators are not helping, you might want to try manually pollinating your pepper plants. It’s a way of boosting flower movements to stimulate pollen release and self-pollination. You could use different objects to hand pollinate the plants.
How to Hand Pollinate a Pepper Plant
Use a toothbrush or paintbrush with soft bristles or even an electric toothbrush, a tuning fork, a toothpick, a pencil, or a stick to gently vibrate the flowers. You want to be super gentle, or you’ll end up hurting the flowers. Just move the objects enough to vibrate the flowers softly and encourage the pollen to release within the flower.
If you want to be more thorough, use a cotton swab, and gently rub it against the anther (the part of the flower’s stamen that contains the pollen) and brush it on the stigma. If you have the same pepper species in your garden, you could cross-pollinate by rubbing the swab on other flowers’ stigma. If you want to avoid cross-pollination, use a single brush or swab for each pepper type.
You could shake the whole plant without using any tools, just like the wind would do. Don’t be aggressive because you might break the stems.
Instead of shaking the plants by hand, you could use an electric fan, especially if your plants are indoors. It can mimic the wind and help encourage the plants to self-pollinate. Place the fan close to the plants and put it on low speed several times a week.
The best time for hand pollination is in the afternoon, around 12 – 3 PM, to ensure pollen is at its maximum.
Pollination is nature’s way of making sure plants can successfully produce seeds and fruits. Through this process, pollen that carries the plant’s genetic materials moves to its female reproductive organs.
Pepper plants need to pollinate to produce fruit. If pollinators like bees, birds, and the wind are not helping with the pollination process, you can try hand pollinating the pepper flowers to promote self-pollination. Use a soft-bristled brush, cotton swab, or a toothpick to move pollen or shake the plants by hand or with a fan to hand pollinate your pepper plants.