Paprika: What Could Go Wrong?

Did you plant peppers in your garden this year? Bell peppers are widely used in most kitchens, are relatively easy to grow, and are a great addition to the garden.

But, as with any plant, you may experience complications when growing it. Whether you’re solving a problem for peppers that already exist in your garden or you’re trying to avoid future problems, this week’s podcast episode and blog post has you covered. Listen below or continue reading.

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common problems with peppers

Starting Pepper Seeds Indoors

While you can easily grow peppers from seed by planting them indoors about 12 weeks before your average last frost date, the endeavor is not without its challenges. Pepper seeds take between a week and 25 days to germinate. This can be difficult especially for new gardeners. You’re not sure if they took the time, if they needed more water, or if it just failed and you need to replant.

If you are starting pepper seeds indoors, here are a few things you can do to ensure the best chance for healthy germination and growth.

keep warm

The best way to make peppercorns germinate reliably is to keep their environment warm. They grow best when the soil is between 70 to 85 degrees. If you don’t normally keep your house this warm, you can use a seedling hot mat (this one from Amazon I used) under a seed tray or a block of soil, and this will help speed up the germination process.

moist soil in hand

Stay moist

Consistent humidity is the second key to getting your peppercorns to germinate.

But how do you keep your soil moist for a few weeks without encountering mold from oversaturated soil? It sure is a delicate balance, and even veteran gardeners deal with this one!

I find it helpful to cover my seed tray or block of soil until germination. One way to do this is to use some type of humidity dome. Usually you get one of these with a seed scratch kit like this one. If you don’t have one, place your seed block on a tray and cover it with plastic wrap. Every few days, I open them to allow a little airflow and cover them again until the first seedlings appear.

Another thing you can do is separate the varieties of peppers you are growing into different trays. Different peppers germinate at different rates, and when it comes time to remove your moisture vault or plastic wrap, you’ll want most of the seeds to germinate at about the same time.

Plant leaves turn purple

Once your pepper seedlings emerge and start growing, you may notice that the undersides of the leaves are not a bright green, but a purplish hue. Most of the time this means your soil is too cold and your plants are not taking up the phosphorus they need. Once your soil has warmed up, most plants will outgrow this problem.

leaves turn purple on pepper plants

no pot

If you’re new to this method, potting is when you transplant your plant seedlings into a larger pot to allow them to grow in a larger space before it’s time for them to head out into the garden. Since our pepper plants tend to be less fussy when they outgrow their tiny containers, we won’t be taking the time to grow them. BUT, if you plant it, you will see how fast it grows. This will make them healthier when it’s time to plant them in the garden.

Planting peppers

Speaking of growing peppers in the garden, there are a few things that can go wrong in this stage of growing peppers as well. Let’s take a look at some of the most common problems we face.

Planting too early

In case you didn’t know, pepper plants are sensitive to cold and will die even in mild frosts. Because they thrive in hot weather, they want to be planted when the air and soil are warm. Most mistakes made in planting stem from planting too soon when the soil is too cold.

wilted peppers in the greenhouse
Even in the greenhouse, when the temperature drops at night to below 40, these peppers are not happy.

A good rule of thumb is never to plant peppers in soil that has a temperature below 60 degrees. It might still be too cool, but we’re talking about the bare minimum here. When you plant peppers when the soil and air are too cold, they will grow at a snail’s pace. Instead, wait until your nighttime temperatures are consistent in the 60s or even 70s.

Not directly stalking chili plants

Pepper plant stems are quite brittle. Usually want to wait until the size is a little bigger to stake it. It’s important, though, to stake them out right away. Spring and summer winds and storms have knocked down my peppers, and once the plants are filled with fruit, this burden will also weigh on them and cause them to fall. Whether you use a single pole (and tie it to the post) or use a tomato cage, do so at planting time. You will be happy to do it.

stalking jalapeno chili

Do not plant in fertile soil

While pepper plants are not as greedy as others for nutrition, they do have special needs. At the beginning of its growth, peppers need nitrogen for good leaf growth. Then, when the plant begins to flower, phosphorus is important for good fruit formation.

Adding compost to the soil at planting time will go a long way in providing a balanced, fertile soil for the peppers to grow. Adding a slow-release fertilizer to the planting area will help continue to feed the plant as it grows. Tomatoes Tomatoes are great for adding to your pepper plants because they allow them to absorb phosphorus while the plant is developing its fruit. A few weeks after planting, peppers respond well to liquid nitrogen fertilizers such as fish fertilizer.

gardener planting peppers

Growing Problem

Once you get your pepper plant in the ground (or container), it’s fairly easy to care for. However, there are some problems that you will want to avoid seeing your crop until harvest.

Uneven watering

It can be a big challenge in the summer to keep our watering consistent, even and even. But, peppers really need it from us. Signs of a lack of water can include wilting, although sometimes wilting from heat or other stressors. If you’re not sure, place your finger in the soil near the plant to the second internode, and if your fingertips are dry, the plant needs water.

Blossom End Roti

Lack of consistent watering can also cause a common pepper problem – flower tip rot. If you are not familiar with flower tip rot, the fruit will show rotten spots on the underside or sides. Flower tip rot is caused by the fruit’s inability to absorb calcium. Most garden soils have sufficient calcium, but it is the absorption, through lack of water, that causes this problem.

Although Epsom salt is often touted as a remedy for flower tip rot, a lot of magnesium (causing an imbalance between magnesium and calcium) can actually make the problem worse. When Epsom salt mixed with water is used, it is more than likely the water is what makes the difference in helping prevent flower tip rot in future fruits.

sunburn

Bell peppers exposed to harsh sunlight can develop a condition called sunscald. This is like a double edged sword in that they need heat to grow, but they can burn in direct light. An easy way to help with this is to not prune your plant above the fruit, but instead, let your foliage help shade the fruit underneath. Another way you can help is to plant taller plants on their west side and leave them in the shade of their neighbors during the hottest part of the day. Shade cloth is also an option.

sunburn on pepper plant
Sunscald on pepper plants

stunted growth

Many gardeners ask, “why is my pepper plant so small?” One of the reasons for stunted growth could be because the weather is not hot enough. This applies to both outdoor weather and soil temperature. If your summer isn’t hot for a few summer months, consider a greenhouse to capture the heat the peppers need.

Another reason for stunted growth is a soil pH that is too high or too low. Bell peppers thrive in soil with a pH of 6-7. If you suspect this problem, I suggest a soil test to be sure.

The last thing that can cause stunted growth is a lack of sunlight. Make sure you have planted in full sun (usually 8+ hours a day). Also, make sure taller plants don’t shade your plants too long during the day. If sunscald is a problem, this shade is definitely a balance, but more than once I’ve trimmed neighboring tall plants just to make the peppers bloom with more light.

Peppers don’t turn red

If your peppers are green, but you want red, just wait. The life cycle of plants is that they will turn green first, and then ripen to red next. In my experience, they turn red more quickly as we get closer to falling. So, really, all it takes here is a little patience.

Red paprika

Pests and Diseases

Fortunately, pests and diseases are not as common in peppers as other garden vegetables such as tomatoes and squash. But there are still some that you should pay attention to.

Pest

In general, pests that can attack chili plants are aphids, caterpillars, bed bugs, grasshoppers, and flea beetles. In my own garden, aphids are more of a problem early in the year, although I let them be food for good insects. (Learn more about organic flea control here.)

My garden is full of stinky caterpillars and locusts, but these pests usually prefer plants other than my chilies. I tend not to react and do much about these pests except that they rarely cause major problems. But if you need to step in, consider organic options first.

disease

While there are many diseases that can affect your pepper plants, you may not encounter them for years. If you suspect your chili plant has a disease, this site will help you identify the problem. If the disease persists, try planting seeds and transplanting more resistant to the disease the following season.

pepper harvest
pepper harvest

Overall, bell peppers are easy plants to grow for most gardeners and perfect for novice gardeners. Hopefully knowing these potential problems will help you troubleshoot and prevent some of the common problems with growing peppers.

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