Do Peppers Need to Be Pollinated? (Plus 4 Ways to Do It)


If you are new to growing peppers or are not getting fruit yet, you might be wondering if you need to pollinate your pepper plants.  After all, if helping them along the way will produce more peppers, then why not do it?

So, do peppers need to be pollinated? Peppers need to be pollinated to produce fruit.  Their flowers are self-pollinating, so they don’t need other plants nearby for pollination. However, bees help with pollination of peppers. Pepper plant flowers can fail to pollinate for several reasons, such as extreme temperature or humidity.

Of course, there are some methods you can use to improve pollination of pepper plants, such as hand pollination. However, hand pollination of pepper plants may not help much if the temperature or humidity is too extreme.

In this article, we’ll explore the reasons that pepper plants fail to pollinate and what you can do about it.  We’ll also look at some ways to hand pollinate peppers.

Let’s get going.

Do Peppers Need To Be Pollinated?

Pepper plants need to be pollinated to produce fruit.  However, it is important to remember that the flowers of pepper plants are perfect.

This is not my biased opinion on pepper flowers – it is actually a scientific term.  A perfect flower contains both male and female parts.

pepper plant flower
Pepper flowers are perfect, meaning that they contain both male and female parts.

Under the right conditions, the male part of the flower will release pollen onto the female part of the flower.  This results in pollination and fruit set.

A flower on a pepper plant can also receive pollen from:

  • other flowers on the same pepper plant
  • other flowers on other pepper plants

Usually, the transfer of pollen from one flower to another is done by bees and other pollinators. However, wind or hand pollination can also do the trick (more on this later).

Pollination of a flower will lead to a pepper fruit forming and growing from where the flower was.

Do Peppers Need To Be Planted In Pairs?

You do not need to plant peppers in pairs for pollination and fruit production.  Since each plant has perfect flowers, a single plant (or even a single flower) is capable of pollinating itself.

Although pepper flowers are perfect, cross-pollination is still possible.  Cross-pollination occurs when pollen from a flower on one pepper plant pollinates a flower on a different pepper plant.

Although not required to get fruit, planting peppers in pairs will result in more flowers in one area.  This will attract more bees (and other pollinators), which will increase the chances of pollination.

bee on blueberry flower
Planting more peppers results in more flowers, which attracts more bees to help with pollination.

According to Texas A&M University, if hot peppers and sweet (bell) peppers cross pollinate, the resulting sweet peppers will not be hot.  However, the seeds of those sweet peppers could produce entirely different plants and fruit in later generations.

In other words, the seeds from cross-pollinated fruit will not “come true” or grow into the same type of plant as the parent plant.

Are Peppers Self Pollinating?

Pepper plants are self-pollinating, which means that a single plant (or even a single flower) can set fruit by itself.  It does not need another plant in order to make peppers.

For this reason, peppers and other self-pollinating plants (such as tomatoes) are ideal for indoor gardening.  You can plant just one of these crops and still get fruit!

One drawback of self-pollination is that a pepper plant cannot evolve in response to a changing environment.  This is because later generations have the same genetic material as the mother plant.

It is important to remember that self-pollination does not mean guaranteed pollination. They still need wind, bee’s wings, or some other stimulus to release their pollen!

pepper plant
Pepper plants are self pollinating, but bees and wind are still necessary to help them produce fruit.

In addition, there are several things that will prevent a pepper plant’s flowers from self-pollinating, including:

  • Extreme Temperature
  • Extreme Humidity
  • Lack Of Wind
  • Lack Of Pollinators

Let’s start with temperature.

Extreme Temperature

Extreme temperatures are one cause of a lack of pollination in pepper plants.  According to the Oregon State University Extension:

“Normal pollination and fruit set don’t occur when night temperatures fall below 58 degrees.”

https://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/why-vegetables-drop-blossoms

Temperatures much below 58 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees Celsius) will slow down growth of the entire pepper plant, and may even cause damage.

Frost will spell the end for pepper plants, so avoid transplanting them outside too early.  If this is a concern in an area with a short growing season, you can learn how to protect peppers from cold in my article here.

frost
Pepper plants are warm-weather crops, and frost will spell the end for them.

On the other hand, if you transplant outside too late, high temperatures in the summer will cause pepper plants to drop their flowers entirely.  According to Texas A&M University:

“Most peppers will drop their blooms when daytime temperatures get much above 90 degrees F. in combination with night temperatures above 75 degrees F. They will also drop their blooms in the early spring if temperatures remain cool for extended periods.”

https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/vegetables/pepper.html

Providing a little shade during the hottest part of the day may keep your pepper plants cooler. You might want to consider shade cloth to keep pepper plants a little cooler and prevent them from drying out.

Keeping pepper plants watered will also help to avoid drought stress during hot, dry weather. Drip irrigation is one way to do the work once upfront and avoid spending hours watering every week.

However, extreme temperature isn’t the only problem that can prevent pollination of pepper flowers. We also have humidity to contend with.

Extreme Humidity

The humidity level in the air can also affect pollination of pepper plants. Too much humidity (sticky or muggy air) and too little humidity (dry air) can both cause problems:

  • When the air has high humidity (sticky or muggy), the pollen gets too sticky.  This prevents the male part of the flower from releasing its pollen.
  • When the air has low humidity (dry), the pollen is not sticky enough.  This prevents the pollen from sticking to the female part of the flower.

The inside of a greenhouse can build up high humidity levels over time. So, consider airing out your greenhouse when it is time to pollinate your pepper plants.

greenhouse
A greenhouse can build up high humidity levels inside, which can affect pollination of pepper flowers.

In addition to high temperature and humidity, the inside of a greenhouse (or any other building) will have a lack of wind, which can also prevent pollination of pepper flowers.

Lack Of Wind

The wind is one way that the flowers on pepper plants are pollinated.  Normally, the wind causes the flowers to move and vibrate.

wind sock
Wind is one way that the flowers on pepper plants get pollinated.

This stimulates the male part of the flower to release pollen.  Without any wind, this won’t happen.

A lack of wind is a problem if you are growing plants in your home or in a greenhouse, since bees are not able to help with pollination.

Putting the pepper plant outside briefly can help to encourage pollination. If this isn’t possible due to temperature or weather, there are other ways.

Aiming a fan at your indoor pepper plant might help to stimulate pollination of the flowers. However, you can also use hand pollination (more on this later).

Lack Of Pollinators

In some places, bee populations are on the decline. It is suspected that pesticides are causing most of the problem, but there could be other reasons.

For example, extreme heat or cold can also stop bees from doing their work to pollinate flowers. This is true even in “clean” areas where pesticides and chemicals are not used.

bee on flower
Extreme temperatures will prevent bees from going out to do the work of pollination.

No matter what the reason, a lack of pollinators will result in less fruit from your pepper plants. You can learn how to attract more bees to your garden in my article here.

To get as much fruit as possible, you might need to pollinate your plants by hand. Let’s take a look at how to do that.

How To Hand Pollinate Peppers

There are a few ways to pollinate your pepper plants by hand.  All of these methods come down to the same thing: the goal is to make the flowers vibrate, which releases pollen from the male part and sends it to the female part.

Here are the 4 methods you can use for hand pollination of pepper plants:

  • Brush with soft bristles
  • Tuning fork
  • Toothpick
  • Shake the plant

Brush

A brush with stiff bristles could hurt your flowers, so use a brush with soft bristles.  A paintbrush or toothbrush would work well to hand pollinate peppers.

An electric toothbrush would be even better, since the vibration is similar to a bee’s wings as it flies around.

electric toothbrush
A brush with soft bristles, such as a toothbrush, will work to pollinate pepper flowers.

Just touch the brush to the flowers on the plant.  Do it hard enough to make them move a bit, which will stimulate the release of pollen.

If you want to cross-pollinate between different pepper plants, put the bristles inside the flowers as you go along.

Tuning Fork

A tuning fork is another interesting choice for hand pollination of peppers.  Just strike it on a hard object to make it vibrate.

tuning fork
The vibration from a tuning fork mimics the vibration of a bee’s wings.

Then, touch the vibrating fork to your flowers.  This simulates the buzzing of a bee’s wings, and the vibration will cause your flowers to release pollen.

Toothpick

This method is cheaper than the electric toothbrush or tuning fork.  First, take your toothpick (or pencil, or stick) and gently push up or down on the flower to move it out of place.

toothpicks
A toothpick is a low-tech way to pollinate pepper plants.

Then, move the toothpick to let the flower go.  When it moves back into place, the movement and vibration will cause the male part to release its pollen.

Shake The Plant

Shaking the entire pepper plant mimics what the wind would do.  It doesn’t require any tools, so you can do it without any preparation.

pepper in cage
It may be difficult to shake a pepper plant if it is too close to a cage or stake.

This method will be a little more difficult to use if the pepper plants are tied to stakes or cages.  It will also cause the stems or branches to break if you are too aggressive with the movement, so go easy on them!

How Can You Tell If A Pepper Flower Is Pollinated?

After hand pollination, you can sometimes see a puff of yellow pollen emerge from the flower.  However, this may not always be visible.

pepper flower
Fruit will appear behind the flower after successful pollination of a pepper plant.

Eventually, a fruit will start to form where the flower is. The pepper fruit itself will appear behind the flower.

How Long After Flowering Do Peppers Appear?

According to the University of Georgia Extension, it takes 45 to 55 days after pollination for a bell pepper to mature to full size (at that point, it will be a shade of deep, dark green).

It takes another 15 days after that for the pepper to turn deep red.  So, you are looking at 60 to 70 days from flower pollination to mature red bell peppers that are ready for harvest.

bell peppers
Leave peppers on the plant to make them turn from green to yellow, orange, or red!

It would be somewhere in between (maybe 55 to 65 days) if you wanted yellow or orange peppers.  Be sure to watch them so that you can harvest to get the colors you want.

Of course, there are also pepper varieties that produce purple fruit, so that is an option if you want to broaden your horizons!

purple bell peppers
You can also find pepper varieties that produce purple fruit.

You can learn all about when pepper plants produce fruit in my article here.

How Many Peppers Will One Plant Produce?

According to the Michigan State University Extension, a bell pepper plant can produce 6 to 8 fruits per plant.  However, it is possible to get more than this with proper care of the plant.

You can learn more about just how big bell peppers can get in my article here.

It is also possible to get more peppers if you grow varieties with smaller fruit.  For example, there are way more than 8 fruits on the pepper plant pictured below.

pepper plant
This pepper plant has dozens of fruits on it, since each one is so small.

Conclusion

Now you know that peppers will need hand pollination if there is a lack of bees.  You also know about 4 different ways to do it.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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