5 Common Pepper Problems and How to Fix Them

My Garden Life
June 29, 2020
Table of Contents
Hot peppers, sweet peppers, bell peppers, spice peppers – we love to eat them, and we love to grow them! That’s because peppers are one of the easiest plants in the vegetable garden. Unlike their nightshade cousins such as tomatoes, peppers are famously easy to grow—all the more reason to learn about the few problems, and their solutions, that your peppers might encounter. Here are five:

1. Failure of Bell Peppers to Turn Colors (other than green)

What it is:
Though the bell pepper you planted was advertised to turn from green to yellow to red (or purple or brown or orange), when the first killing frost looms, you have nothing but green peppers on the vine.
What it looks like:
Fruit stays green.
What to do about it:
Most bell peppers take a long time to mature, 70-80 days to get green peppers, another 10-30 for the colors to show. And by the time many bell peppers are ready to start showing their true colors, fall is on the garden and the temperatures are falling below the 70°F (21°C) that most peppers need to ripen outdoors. Here are some solutions:
  • Cover the pepper plants with season-extending fabric, which will buy you one or two weeks more of ripening time.
  • Or, when your first frost date approaches, uproot the plants, place them in a bucket of water, and store in a cool, but not freezing, place. The peppers will continue to ripen for up to a month.
  • Next spring, plan to look for pepper hybrids specifically bred for early harvest. That way you are sure to have ripe peppers before autumn arrives.

2. Cold and Frost

What it is:
Peppers are heat lovers, and a light frost or even an overnight dip in temperature into the 30s can stunt spring seedlings or wipe out a fall crop.
What it looks like:
If cold stunts new transplants, they may still grow, but will produce less and lower quality fruit. A single overnight frost can leave your lush green plants a melted, black mess; killing them and destroying the attached fruit.
What to do about it:
If possible, start your pepper seeds indoors two months or more before the last frost date, and don’t rush them into the garden. Daytime temperatures should be between 75-80°F and nighttime temperatures no lower than 65°F when you put your peppers out, after a week or two of hardening off (introduce seedlings to outdoor conditions each day for one week). See item one above for tips on preserving your harvest by protecting it from the cold in the fall.

3. Blossom End Rot

What it is:
Calcium deficiency.
What it looks like:
A discolored dent at the blossom end (bottom) of the pepper, ruining the fruit.
What to do about it:
Blossom rot is much more of a problem in tomatoes than in peppers, though the latter can suffer from it as well, wrecking the fruit. Blossom end rot can be caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. This can be remedied by adding calcium in the form of egg or oyster shells, or applying gypsum to the soil at the time of planting. Deficiency can also be caused by a problem with calcium uptake by the plant. That’s caused by irregular watering, so make sure your peppers are getting a consistent 1 inch (3cm) of water per week.

4. Sunscald

What it is:
Sunburns that occurs on exposed fruit during the hottest part of the summer.
What it looks like:
Discolored fruit and blistered skin, which looks bad but the remainder of the pepper is fine to eat. Consider cutting away the scalded portion or roasting the peppers and peeling off the skin.
What to do about it:
Though peppers like the heat, they do appreciate some protection from the harsh afternoon sun, especially when summer is at its hottest. Keeping plants well-watered, fed and otherwise healthy helps too, by encouraging lush leaf growth, which in turn shades the peppers.

5. Root Knot Nematodes

What it is:
A type of soil-dwelling roundworm that feeds on bell peppers’ roots.
What it looks like:
The plant will wither, produce poorly and possibly die. When pulled up, pea-sized yellow nodules created by the root knot nematode larvae will dot the roots. The larvae drain the plant’s nutrients through these nodules.
What to do about it:
Root knot nematodes have a wide range of hosts, so the crop rotation practices that take care of many other sorts of nematodes will not help in this case. If you suspect you have an infestation:
  • One option is to solarize your soil as you would in clearing a bed for weeds.
  • Another is to grow nematode resistant varieties of peppers.

Prevention

As always, keeping your pepper plants healthy, well-watered and fed, will give them the ability to better withstand pests, diseases and stressful weather conditions. In return you’ll be rewarded with a hefty harvest of delicious peppers!
Red bell pepper plant loaded with ripe red peppers

And when you’re wondering what to do with all those peppers you harvest this fall, you’ll want to try out this simple Three Pepper Cheese Dip. It’s an easy appetizer for an end of summer harvest party or dish to pass at a tailgate potluck.

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