Chilli plants are a popular crop in Australia and a personal favourite of ours – they’re easy to grow, require minimal maintenance, and produce a bounty of spicy fruit!
However, pruning at the right time is a must if you want to get the most out of your chilli plants. In short, pruning helps to control the size and shape of your chilling plants, promote healthy growth, and increase its yield.
But when is the best time to prune chilli plants in Australia?
Let’s find out.
When to prune chilli plants
Pruning chilli plants in Australia is best done in Autumn (around April to May), just before they enter the winter dormant phase and the leaves start to drop. This timing, while dependent on specific location and climate, is ideal as it allows plants ample time to recuperate from the pruning process before fruiting.
Post-harvest, when the last fruit has been picked and leaves start to fall, is the perfect time to prune. This not only trims back any spindly or leggy branches but also leaves an evenly branched, open framework, enhancing the plant’s health and productivity.
Different varieties of chilli plants suitable for growing in Australia
Australia has a diverse environment, making it ideal for a variety of chilli plant species. Here are a few suggestions for your garden:
- Bird’s Eye Chilli: This species is a garden favourite in Australia, famed for its intense spice levels and small, pointy fruits. It grows best in full light, well-drained soil, and warm weather.
- Habanero: If you enjoy a lot of heat, habanero may be the chilli for you. They are native to the Amazon and require hot conditions to thrive, although they can be grown successfully in most Australian regions.
- Jalapeno: These are well-suited to Australia’s environment and are ideal for milder chilli aficionados. These adaptable chiles are delicious in a variety of cuisines and thrive in a sunny position in the yard.
- Scotch Bonnet: Like the Habanero, is one of the hottest chillies you can grow. They thrive in Australia’s hotter regions.
- Trinidad Scorpion: This is one of the world’s hottest chillies for people who enjoy a challenge. This cultivar enjoys the heat and thrives in northern Australia.
Remember that most chilli plants prefer sunlight and heat, so put them in a sunny area in your garden.
How long do chilli plants live in Australia?
Chilli plants in Australia can live for several years if they are cared for properly. However, most chilli plants are grown annually, meaning they are planted, grown, and harvested within a single growing season.
In general, chilli plants will produce fruit for several months before they start to decline in productivity. At this point, many growers will replace their plants with new ones to ensure a continuous harvest throughout the growing season. With proper care and maintenance, chilli plants in Australia can produce bountiful harvests for years.
How to Prune Chilli Plants for Maximum Yield
Pruning chilli plants isn’t just about shaping them – it’s also about maximising yield. Here are some tips for pruning your chilli plants for maximum yield:
- Start by removing any dead, damaged, or diseased branches. These branches can take energy away from the healthy parts of the plant and reduce overall yield.
- Look for branches growing inward toward the centre of the plant, as these can also reduce yield by blocking sunlight and air circulation.
- Remove these branches, leaving only the ones growing outward and upward.
- As your plants grow, they may develop a lot of small branches that produce little to no fruit. These branches can be removed to redirect energy to the larger, more productive branches.
- If you’re growing your chilli plants in a pot, be sure to prune back the roots as well. This will help to keep the plant’s growth in check and promote healthy root development.
Should I let my chilli plant flower?
Yes, letting your chilli plant flower is important for it to produce fruit. Chilli plants typically produce small, white or green flowers that eventually give way to fruit. The flowers are essential for the plant’s reproductive process; without them, the plant will not produce chillies.
Additionally, once the flowers have been pollinated, the plant will begin to produce fruit, which will continue to grow and ripen over time. So, allowing your chilli plant to flower is crucial in ensuring a bountiful harvest of delicious and spicy chillies.
Do chillies get hotter the longer you leave them on the plant?
Yes, chillies can get hotter the longer they are left on the plant. The level of spiciness in chillies is determined by a compound called capsaicin, which is produced in the fruit’s placental tissue. As the fruit matures on the plant, the capsaicin levels increase, resulting in a hotter and spicier chilli.
However, it’s important to note that not all chilli varieties will continue to get hotter as they mature. Some varieties will reach a maximum spiciness level and then plateau, while others may become milder as they mature. The best way to determine when to harvest your chillies for the desired spiciness is to taste-test them periodically as they ripen on the plant.
Is it worth overwintering chilli plants?
Overwintering chilli plants can be worth it, depending on your individual circumstances and goals as a gardener. Overwintering refers to keeping a plant alive throughout the winter months to continue growing and producing fruit in the following growing season. There are several reasons why you might want to consider overwintering your chilli plants:
- To save money: If you have a favourite chilli variety you want to continue growing year after year, overwintering your plants can save you money by eliminating the need to purchase new plants yearly.
- To increase productivity: Overwintered chilli plants will often start producing fruit earlier in the growing season, giving you a head start on your harvest.
- For sentimental reasons: If you have grown attached to a particular chilli plant and want to keep it alive, overwintering can help.
However, overwintering chilli plants can also be time-consuming and challenging, as it requires careful attention to temperature, light, and humidity levels. Additionally, overwintered plants may be more prone to pests and diseases, as they have been weakened by the stress of the previous growing season. Ultimately, whether or not to overwinter your chilli plants will depend on your individual goals and circumstances as a gardener.
Storage tips for harvested chilli plants
Storing your harvested chillies properly ensures you can enjoy their spicy flavour long after the growing season.
Here are some handy tips that we enjoy when storing chillies:
- Drying chillies is a traditional method that preserves their flavour and heat. You can use a dehydrator, an oven on a low setting, or even air dry them in a warm, well-ventilated place.
- Freezing chillies is a great way to keep them fresh. Simply place your chillies in a zip-lock bag and remove as much air as possible before sealing and storing in the freezer. This method retains their heat and flavour for months.
- If you’ve harvested a bumper crop, why not make a chilli sauce or paste? These can be refrigerated or frozen for future use.
- Another option is to store your chillies in oil. This method can also infuse the oil with a chilli flavour, perfect for cooking.
- You can also pickle your chillies in vinegar. This gives them a long shelf life and a unique, tangy flavour.
Remember, always handle chillies with care, especially the hotter varieties. It’s best to wear gloves when handling and storing your chilli harvest.
1. Can you prune chilli plants too much?
Yes, it’s possible to prune your chilli plants too much. Be sure to only remove the necessary branches and avoid cutting back more than 1/3 of the plant at once.
2. How often should I prune my chilli plants?
Pruning frequency will depend on the growth rate of your plants. Generally, you should prune your chilli plants once or twice a year to maintain their shape and promote healthy growth.
3. What tools do I need to prune my chilli plants?
You’ll need a sharp pair of pruning shears or scissors to prune your chilli plants. Be sure to clean and sterilise your tools before and after use to prevent the spread of disease.