Pepper plants, with the scientific name Capsicum, comprise more than 30 species of flowering plants of the family Solanaceae. These plants are widely grown for their pungent edible fruits, which are used in a wide variety of culinary recipes. They are native to tropical America and are very easy to grow, but they are also prone to problems and diseases that could kill them if not timeously addressed.
How to save a dying pepper plant
1. Hold off on watering if overwatering was the problem.
Some plant owners tend to spoil their plants by watering them too often. This is not a good scenario, since plants tend to develop root rot when they are overwatered. This can spread to the rest of the plant, causing leaf discoloration, wilting and, ultimately, the death of your pepper plants.
Remove any brown or black infected roots and replace the old soil with fresh potting mix. Allow the soil to dry out before you water the plants again.
2. Rehydrate your plants if underwatering was the problem.
Place the entire pot in a sink or bucket full of water and let it sit there for 15 to 30 minutes. Then, allow the pot to drain thoroughly; do not allow the plants to sit in water. Establish a proper watering schedule so you do not miss any watering sessions.
3. Replant the plants in fresh soil if they are rootbound.
Pepper plants will wilt and die if their roots are choked due to overcrowding. In this case, remove the plants from their pots and loosen up and separate the roots gently. Repot them in fresh soil, in new pots just slightly bigger than the previous ones.
4. Transfer the plants to a spot where there is less harsh light.
If you notice that your dying pepper plants have brown or black spots on their leaves, it could be due to sunburn from the harsh midday sun. Trim off the affected leaves and move the plants to another area where there is no direct sunlight.
5. Provide more indirect light if the culprit is too little sunlight.
Dying pepper plants with yellow or pale leaves that are dropping off could be getting too little sunlight. Provide bright but indirect light for your plants to enable them to thrive again.
6. Check the growing conditions if the plants are failing to thrive.
If your pepper plants are dying and you have ruled out watering or light issues, it may have something to do with the growing conditions. Sudden temperature changes and incorrect humidity can both play a role in the plants’ overall wellbeing. Make sure the plants are not located near air conditioning or heating vents, or in areas that catch drafts, and assess the humidity inside your home.
7. Check for pest infestations.
Pests like cutworms could damage pepper plants, especially the young seedlings. Aphids can also colonize the leaves and excrete honeydew that attracts other insects, while flea beetles attack young plants. These pests can distort the leaves and cause wilting. Severe infestations could take a toll on your plants’ health and threaten their survival.
Reasons your pepper plant is wilting and dying
It could be due to disease.
Pepper plants are prone to fungal and viral diseases, such as Verticillium wilt, which can cause yellowing, droopy leaves. Root rot, a fungal disease, affects the roots first, but can eventually cause the entire plant to wilt and die.
Other diseases that affect pepper plants include:
- Bacterial leaf spot – This causes yellowish spots and leaf drop.
- Mosaic virus – A viral infection that also attracts insects.
- Southern blight – Signs include rotting stems followed by wilting, dying plants.
- Powdery mildew – A disease that is prevalent in humid conditions and develops at any stage of the plant’s life. Symptoms include white, patchy, powdery growth that expands to cover the entire lower leaf surface.
- Blossom end rot – This affects ripening peppers and is caused by calcium deficiency and sporadic watering.
- Sunscald – The fruits become dry and papery as a result of too much exposure to sunlight.
- It could be due to pests.
The presence of pests could lead to wilted and dying pepper plants. Some of these insects also cause yellowing leaves and stunted growth.
Here are some common pests that invade pepper plants:
- Cutworms – These pests attack young seedlings.
- Aphids – They suck the juice of plant tissues and excrete honeydew that attracts other insects.
- Fruitworms/armyworms – These pests feed on tender pepper pods, and may also feed on foliage.
- Flea beetles – They like to feed on young pepper plants.
- Corn borers – They invade and feed on pepper pods.
- Hornworms – These pests also feed on and decimate pepper plants.
- Whiteflies – They transmit viruses and cause foliage to shrivel and turn yellow.
- It could be due to insufficient water.
Pepper plants will wither and die if they do not get sufficient water. The first sign is usually drooping leaves, because the plants are losing more water than they are taking from the soil. Environmental factors, such as temperature and humidity, also play a major role in how plants utilize water.
Give your pepper plants a heavy watering, but make sure the excess water drains off. To keep track of the soil’s moisture, use a water meter to ensure you are giving the plants the right amount of water.
It could be due to heat stress.
Pepper plants can tolerate high temperatures and thrive in warmer climates, but they also have their limits.
Here are some measures to protect your pepper plants from heat stress:
- Water the plants to maintain soil moisture.
- Move the plants to a shady location, especially during the afternoon when the sun is at its most intense. You may also place a cheesecloth over the plants to give them temporary shade.
- Avoid pruning and fertilizing in high temperatures, as this could add to the stress.
- Monitor your plants’ temperature.
- It could be due to transplant shock.
Pepper plants that have been transplanted to new containers or moved from the outdoors to indoors may experience transplant shock, and their leaves will start to wilt and drop off. To fix this problem, provide shade during the transition and be patient while the plants adjust.
Pepper plants are widely cultivated for their fruits, which are popular as spices and add flavor to numerous cuisines. They are easy to grow and can tolerate high temperatures up to a point, but they are also prone to problems and diseases that could kill them if not treated promptly. You can save your dying pepper plants by determining and addressing the cause of the problem, be it over- or underwatering, crowded roots, incorrect lighting, or pests.
Image: istockphoto.com / Aleksandr Rybalko