Defoliation is a technique that comes straight from the bonsai world and is primarily used to reduce leaf size and encourage branching.
It’s the process of removing all of the leaves on your pepper plant usually once the seasons first growth has come through.
Most of the energy the roots store during the dormant period are for creating that new growth in spring. By removing the growth, the root system will need to use it’s remaining energy to grow new leaves and as it doesn’t have much energy left, the leaves will grow in smaller.
Defoliation vs Semi Defoliation
Completely stripping your plants of leaves can be a bit intimidating, so if you feel a bit apprehensive you could go for semi defoliation. The theory is the same, except instead of cutting off all the leaves you only cut off most of them. The remaining leaves will be able to feed some energy to the roots to help the plant out and they’ll also serve as a good indicator of your plants health while it’s recovering from it’s haircut.
How To Defoliate
Grab your scissors and some rubbing alcohol to clean the blades and lets get started.
The most important thing when removing the leaves is that you don’t damage the part where the leaf meets the stalk/branch. That’s where the new leaf will grow from so damaging it means you won’t get a new leaf.
Instead of cutting the leaf close to the stalk, make the cut at the bottom of the leafs wing-things so that part of the stem remains attached to the stalk/branch. The bit of remaining stem will dry up and fall off on it’s own.
In theory, you should be cleaning your blades between each cut to make sure you aren’t transferring germs between the cuts. If there’s a lot of leaves I’ll tend to clean the blades between sections of leaves because I don’t have the patience of a bonsai master.
If you’re planning to defoliate the entire tree then away you go!
For semi defoliation I like to leave a leaf or two in each section. Choose a nice healthy, fairly young leaf that’s towards the edges of the tree. This way, they can get plenty of light, you can get a good view of them and if you’re planning to wire your bonchi you’ll be able to get a good look at the overall structure of your tree and wire it without much obstruction.
The older, larger growth isn’t a good choice for leaving on the plant. The young leaves will need energy from the roots to continue to grow and because the roots are already taxed the young leaves final size should be reduced along with the new growth.
Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of the defoliation process but I’ll take some this year and update this post with them.