Size of tomato and pepper plants before letting them flower

(Question)

My 1-2 foot tomatoe and pepper plants in containers are already starting to flower. Should I remove these early blossoms or let them fruit? What size should I grow these plants to before I let them fruit?

(Answer)

With our cool spring, the tomato and pepper flowers are less likely to have been fertilized, as the insects that pollinate the flowers were not as active in the cold weather.  And the early-season flowers tend to sap the energy of the plants.  By pinching off blossoms early in the growing season, you help the plant focus its energy into growing a strong plant –  stems, leaves and roots. If blossoms develop then set fruit but the plant itself is weak, you won’t get many tomatoes or peppers.

With peppers, pinch off blossoms for the first 2-3 weeks after planting.

With tomatoes, it is important to know if your tomato plants are determinate or indeterminate.  Determinate tomato plants are usually more compact and grow to a certain height then stop growing; they set all their fruit at the same time, so the fruit ripens around the same time, within a 1-2 week period.  If you pinch the blossoms back after the buds form, you will have fewer tomatoes.  Generally, determinate tomato plants do not need any pruning, although some pinching of the very early blossoms may be helpful.  So…make sure you check to see if you have determinate and/or indeterminate tomato varieties!

Indeterminate tomato plants grow all summer until frost kills them.  The flowers can be pinched back any time, since new growth produces new buds and the plants set fruit throughout the growing season.

The final height of different varieties of peppers and tomatoes will vary, so it is not possible to suggest a height to which you should grow the plants before letting them fruit.  Rather, now that the hot weather is starting to arrive (it’s June 24), it may be time to stop pinching back those blossoms! Remember that if you pinch too much or too late into the season  the yield of fruit may be decreased significantly.