sunscald on leaves of sunburnt peppers

Sunscald on Peppers: How to Identify and Prevent It for Healthy Fruit

As gardeners, we strive to provide the ideal growing conditions for our pepper plants, ensuring they receive ample sunlight and nutrients. However, sometimes even with the best intentions, our plants suffer from certain conditions - one of the most common ones being sunscald on the leaves of your peppers.

Sunscald affects not only pepper plants, but oftentimes tomatoes and cucumbers as well. It can be tricky to identify, let alone fix appropriately to ensure your pepper plants continue to thrive and grow healthy fruit. We explain this phenomenon further below, as well as how you can spot sunscald on your peppers and how to fix it.

What is Sunscald?

Sunscald is a common condition that occurs when pepper leaves are exposed to excessive sunlight, leading to tissue damage. While this may sound counterintuitive to pepper plant care (considering they need sunlight to thrive), too much sunlight on tender parts of the plant like developing leaves and fruit can be very harmful.

Typically, the damage is most prevalent during the hot summer months when the sun's intensity is at its peak. Sunscald can affect peppers of all varieties, but it tends to be more prominent in plants with sparse foliage or those that have been recently pruned. This problem is also common with pepper plants recently transplanted from indoor to outdoor growing spaces, where they continue acclimating to their new environments.

sunscald on bell pepper plant

How to Identify Sunscald on Peppers

Identifying sunscald on pepper leaves is crucial to take prompt action and prevent further damage. Growers often mistaken sunscald for a different issue, so it's important to understand the common signs of sunscald. Here are a few to look out for:

  1. Discoloration: Affected areas often appear pale, bleached, or white, distinct from the healthy green color of the surrounding foliage. The discoloration also appears on the fruit's skin in localized spots.

  2. Dry Patches: The damaged areas may become desiccated and dry to the touch, resembling sunburned skin.

  3. Scorch Marks: Sunscald can leave behind visible scorch marks or browning on the surface of the leaves.

  4. Softened Tissue: In severe cases, the affected tissue may become soft and mushy, indicating advanced stages of sunscald damage.

Ways to Fix Sunscald Damage

Unfortunately, sunscald damage to your pepper plants is irreversible. However, there are steps you can take to minimize its impact and promote plant recovery. Follow the tips listed below to protect your pepper plants from further damage:

1. Provide Shade

Firstly, shield the affected plants from direct sunlight by using shade cloth, umbrellas, or temporary shade structures during the hottest parts of the day. While your pepper plants may have already succumbed to sunscald, the shade helps reduce the intensity of the damage and from spreading it to other places on the pepper plant.

2. Prune Wisely

Additionally, you want to examine your pepper plant for any sunscald damage and trim away these elements, such as dead leaves, to prevent the spread of disease. Doing this also redirects the plant's energy toward new growth and development. Remember that redirecting this energy can stunt fruit development, as the energy will shift its focus back on growing branches and foliage. 

3. Hydration and Nutrients

Plants endure sunscald much more easily when they don't get enough hydration and nutrients for the amount of sun they receive. Ensure your plants are adequately watered to prevent stress and maintain healthy growth. Stay aware of how much water your pepper plants absorb as they continue to develop to prevent overwatering.

Additionally, apply a balanced organic pepper plant fertilizer to support the recovery process. Different plant health products achieve different results - for example, products like Super Myco Tea and Mighty Plant Instant Compost Tea provides beneficial bacteria for plants and pepper seeds necessary for optimal growth. On the other hand, Kelp Blast product works to boost already-developing plants to enhance their development of flowers and fruit. Be sure to identify where your plant is at in its growth cycle and provide the right fertilizer for the appropriate nutrients.

4. Patience

Lastly, be patient with your plants as they heal. Fixing sunscald isn't a night-to-day remedy. With time, new growth will emerge from the plant, and the damaged leaves will be replaced.

sunscald on potato leaves

How to Prevent Sunscald Damage to Peppers

Prevention is always better than a cure when it comes to sunscald on pepper leaves. If you haven't seen sunscald damage, but want to be ahead of the curve, then consider implementing the following preventive measures:

1. Plant Placement

To begin, select an appropriate location for your pepper plants - preferably one that provides partial shade during the hottest hours of the day. When planning and designing your garden layout, consider putting taller plants on the western side of areas where you want to grow or transplant pepper plants. These taller plants will provide natural shade for the growing pepper seedlings, along with other benefits that come with companion planting.

2. Increase Foliage Density

You can also encourage lush foliage growth by regularly pruning suckers and providing adequate spacing between plants. By giving the seedlings enough room to fill out, this helps shield the leaves from direct sunlight. Another option includes growing varieties that have better canopy growth or large enough leaves for plenty of shade. Bell peppers, for instance, grow large leaves that protect developing fruit compared to smaller leaves of ornamental peppers.

3. Mulching

Try applying a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plants to retain soil moisture and regulate soil temperature, reducing the risk of sunscald. Constant sunlight radiating down on your pepper plants causes evaporation of the soil and plant moisture at a much faster rate. Besides mulch, you can plant ground-covering companion herbs such as thyme or rosemary.

4. Water & Nutrient Management

As stated above, malnourished pepper plants are incredibly susceptible to sunscald. Be sure to provide enough water and maintain consistent watering practices to prevent water stress. Water deeply and evenly, avoiding excessive fluctuations in soil moisture levels.

Also, when sowing pepper seeds into the ground or transplanting pepper seedlings to soil, add beneficial nutrients to encourage fuller and stronger growth. Doing this from the beginning discourages issues like sunscald from occurring down the road.

5. Protective Covers

Finally, utilize row covers or shade cloth to shield young or vulnerable plants from intense sunlight until they develop sufficient foliage. Make sure to keep tabs on how they fare once the grow to a certain point. 

Growing Tips From Pepper Joe's

Sunscald on pepper leaves can be a frustrating setback for gardeners, but with a proactive approach, it can be managed effectively. If you ever find yourself looking for more information on growing peppers from seed or seedling, then browse through our resources such as our Gardening Tips & Guides, as well as our Gardening FAQ page. You can also tune in to see our Grow With Joe blog series, where we publish content - including informational videos - on different topics and issues around growing peppers. Lastly, our team of growing experts are here to help you! Call (888) 660-2276 or email us any time you need additional support.

By understanding the causes, identifying the damage, and implementing preventive measures, you can minimize the risk of sunscald and ensure healthy growth for your pepper plants. A little care and attention go a long way in safeguarding your garden from sun-related stresses and promoting a bountiful harvest of vibrant, flavorful peppers.

Browse through our selection of Pepper Seeds today!

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