Are you running into problems with your pepper plants not growing? It seems truly disheartening when your plants show signs of slow or stunted growth and fail to thrive. But don't fret - there are several factors that contribute to these issues, and it may just be a matter of tweaking these elements to get your plants back to normal growth.
Whether you started growing your peppers from seed or decided to invest in pepper seedlings instead, you'll want to keep a close eye on them in case you run into issues with stunted pepper plants. In this article, we explore the different causes of pepper plants not growing and provide practical solutions that help reduce and prevent these problems to help your plants flourish.
1. Not Enough Sunlight
Pepper plants need plenty of sunlight to grow. It's that simple. Most pepper strains originated from areas with warmer climates, meaning they thrive off of lots of sunshine in order to fully develop. In fact, hot pepper plants generally require a minimum of 6-12 hours of direct sunlight daily. It's even more critical for younger plants whose sunlight requirements reach anywhere between 14-16 hours per day!
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Insufficient sunlight causes weak, spindly plants with limited growth of flowers and fruit. It also causes a slew of events such as poor water absorption, slower transpiration, the inability to photosynthesize, and other issues.
- Place your pepper plants in an area of your garden that receives ample sunlight.
- Use an indoor grow light if starting your pepper plants indoors.
- Consider using reflective materials to maximize light exposure.
- Move your container plants to areas with complete sun exposure.
2. Poor Soil Quality
Another reason for your pepper plants not growing is bad soil quality. Your plant's soil plays a vital role in its growth and development, responsible for key matters such as water drainage, root expansion, and nutrient absorption. When all three of these elements are met, your pepper plants will thrive and boast impressive yields. If these elements aren't met, then you may see issues start occurring such as root rot caused by poor water drainage, wilting or dying leaves, and ponding around your plant.
Soil needs compacting for it to remain intact, but not too much compacting that prevents water, oxygen, and nutrients from reaching the pepper plant's roots. Prior to the growing season, check in on your soil and see what improvements need to be made to prevent stunted pepper plants. Rich soil packed with organic matter tends to look darker, feels more moist, and crumbles away more easily. These are signs that your soil will allow your plant's roots to grow and expand, as well as have water and oxygen reach the roots.
- Aerate the soil and alleviate compaction for roots to grow.
- Remove any layer of thatch that has grown.
- Conduct a soil test to identify any deficiencies and make adjustments by enriching your soil with nutrients and other organic matter.
3. Temperature Extremes
As we previously mentioned, pepper plants originated from warm climate regions and thrive when temperatures reach anywhere between 70-85°F (21-29°C). Extreme heat or cold, however, stunts the growth of your pepper plants, so its important to maintain optimal temperature conditions as much as possible. This is especially true for younger pepper plants that require healthy growth for fruit development.
- Provide some shade for your plants from scorching heat during the hottest part of the day.
- Use protective coverings or bring potted plants indoors when temperatures drop below 55°F (13°C).
4. Inadequate Watering
Watering your pepper plants can be a major focus area for them not growing adequately. Underwatering pepper plants - especially young seedlings or newly transplanted plants - definitely stunts their growth and dries them out completely. While it is true, for some varieties, that the less water you give pepper plants, the hotter the peppers become, you should not underwater young pepper plants while they are still in their development phase.
Overwatering your pepper plants, on the other hand, also prevents them from thriving. When this happens, the excess water doesn't allow oxygen to enhance the soil's content, effectively reducing the nutrients needed for the plant to grow properly.
It can be a difficult task to find the right balance in watering your pepper plants. The symptoms from both overwatering and underwatering look the same, overall leading to stunted pepper plant growth. It's important to keep a close eye on your plant's watering to make sure it has just the right amount.
- Water plants deeply when the top inch of soil feels dry. You'll know this by sticking your finger into the soil to determine its moisture.
- Ensure proper drainage to prevent waterlogging.
- Provide mulch around your plants to retain moisture and help regulate soil temperature.
5. Lack of Fertilization
Believe it or not, pepper plants genuinely need regular fertilization to not only grow to the best of their ability, but to also produce higher yields of richer-tasting fruit. Without using fertilizers, pepper plants don't receive the essential nutrients from the soil which limits their growth potential.
Fertilization occurs right away when planting your pepper seeds or seedlings into the soil. After that, they require fertilization every so often to maintain their high growth rate. It's important to note that different fertilizers enhance different aspects of your pepper plant. For example, our Myco Blast fertilizer works to boost the plant's immune system by applying the product to its base. Super Myco Tea, on the other hand, enhances soil fertility with beneficial microorganisms to increase development and production. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer package to ensure you are providing the correct dosage.
- Before planting, incorporate a balanced fertilizer into the soil. Assess the soil's pH level for a balanced, nutrient-enriched composition.
- Provide regular feedings throughout the growing season with fertilizers specially formulated for vegetables.
6. Pest Infestation
Pests can wreak havoc on pepper plants, hindering their growth and overall health. Common culprits include aphids, spider mites, and pepper maggots. If you see any indication of pest infestation such as chewed leaves or discoloration, then take swift action to prevent further damage. Doing so in a timely manner will allow your pepper plants to recover.
- Regularly inspect your plants for signs of pest activity like chewed leaves or discoloration.
- Introduce natural predators like ladybugs to your garden.
- Use organic pest control methods to combat infestations.
- Plant pepper companion plants to naturally keep pests at bay.
Besides pests, disease weakens pepper plants, causing stunted growth and reduced pepper yields. Common diseases include bacterial leaf spot, powdery mildew, and fusarium wilt. Moisture plays a significant role in the development of these diseases which thrive off of unregulated, humid environments.
Good sanitary practices can help mitigate the spread of these diseases like proper spacing, pruning, and watering. If the disease becomes too severe for the plant, discard it immediately before it affects the rest of your garden. Apart from other plants, try keeping any diseased part of your plant away from affecting the soil as much as possible.
- Ensure proper plant spacing to promote air circulation and reduce moisture on the leaves.
- Avoid overhead watering.
- Use Supreme Growers BANISH to control any mildew growth on your pepper plant.
- Remove any plant part that's affected by disease such as leaf spots, wilting, or discoloration.
- Discard any pepper plant if the disease is too severe for it to recover.
8. Early Flowers
Some younger pepper plants produce small flowers very early on that fill out the rest of the foliage. This happens when you plant pepper seeds early in the season, or you have an early-maturing pepper variety. These observations bring good and bad news: the good news is that these early flowers indicate a larger harvest can be expected as the growing season progresses, the bad news is that you won't achieve this if you leave these flowers on the plant.
To further explain, pepper plants develop flowers pre-maturely in response to their limited soil space. When the plant outgrows its space, it will start the next growing phase which is developing flowers and fruit. For pepper transplants, the focus needs to be on root growth. By removing these elements when the plant is between 2-3 weeks old, you allow it to continue growing and expanding within the soil, enhancing its capability to produce higher yields of peppers later in the season.
NOTE: For any late-maturing pepper varieties, you should not remove flowers or early fruit to ensure you have fully-ripened peppers.
- Within the first 2-3 weeks, remove any early fruits and flowers from early-planted or early-maturing pepper plants.
9. Container Size
Our container growers know that choosing the wrong-sized pot can be a huge reason for pepper plants not growing properly. Most pepper plant varieties grow to be fairly large - up to 6 ft. tall - and having enough soil space for the roots to grow and expand is vital. For those starting pepper seeds indoors, make sure to transplant the pepper seedlings to an appropriately-sized pot if you plan on continuing your journey with container growing.
- Grow pepper plants in a minimum of 3 gallons of soil - optimally up to 5 gallons.
- Time out the pepper plant growth in order to transplant your seedlings at their appropriate stages.
10. Not Enough Spacing
Pepper plants need plenty of everything, but spacing is one of those things that you can't miss as a gardener. Plants, in general, require decent space between their neighbors in order for their roots to stretch and grab hold of the soil. When they grow close together in a garden, other plants can siphon off essential nutrients needed to grow fully. It also introduces the risk of potential disease like fungal and bacterial damage that ruins your crop.
- READ: Planning & Designing Your Garden
If you notice your pepper plants not growing properly in your garden, then take a closer look at how close they grow to their neighbors. Spacing keeps your garden sanitary, reduces the risk of disease, and keeps plants from taking water and nutrients away from one another.
- Measure 18" of space between pepper plants in a row.
- Plant rows 30-36" apart from each other in your garden.
11. Needs Pruning & Weeding
While pruning your pepper plant isn't always necessary, doing so allows for more direct sunlight exposure necessary to thrive. With less foliage to account for, pruning helps the plant redirect its energy to grow in other areas and build enough strength to manage any outdoor elements and handle heavier yields. It also gives you the chance to inspect your pepper plants if they are not growing properly and cut out places of disease.
Growers most likely prune their pepper plants around 4-6 weeks old when they snip off the top part of the plant, otherwise known as "topping." This allows for the plant to focus its energy on growing more outward rather than upward. Once the plant is in the soil, bottom pruning helps keep any low or drooping branches from getting near the soil. This prevents disease and viruses from burrowing into the soil from the plant itself or the residual water coming off of the plant.
Apart from the excess foliage on your plant, you should also keep an eye out for weeds that develop nearby. Weeds harm the pepper plants by siphoning off essential nutrients.
- At 4-6 weeks, trim off any excess foliage from your indoor pepper plants. Keep the true leaves intact.
- Bottom prune your pepper plant's branches once it's in the soil.
- Pull weeds or other harmful plants that grow nearby the pepper plant.
12. Transplant Shock
If after transplanting your pepper plants to a large container or directly into the ground you notice them not growing normally, don't worry just yet. Transplanting from one environment to the next takes a toll on your pepper plant, and it needs time to adjust - typically a couple of weeks - before it resumes normal growth or flourishes completely. During this period, it might not grow as robustly as it previously did. Factors that play into this are switching from grow light to direct sunlight, differences in soil composition, and its inability to ward off natural elements like rain or wind.
Transplant shock, however, happens when your transplanted seedling does not acclimate to its new surroundings and stops growing altogether. Leaf drop, sun scalding, drooping stems, or curling leaves are common indicators of this issue. Be sure to keep a watchful eye on your transplanted seedlings to make sure they get past this crucial time period.
- Harden off pepper plants to prepare them for transplanting.
- Monitor transplanted seedling closely and make adjustments to water and/or sun as necessary.
- Make sure the plant is well-watered and use mulch to keep soil moisture retained.
- Try not to fertilize newly-transplanted seedlings for 1-2 weeks while they adjust to their new home.
13. Seeds Are Not Viable
This is more of a proactive measure, but if you still aren't sure why your pepper plants aren't growing normally, then it could be the pepper seed itself. Seed viability blindsides growers of all types. If the seeds aren't tested for this, then it could be a complete waste of time to try and grow them.
A simple test determines whether the seeds are good or not: the water test. Place your pepper seeds in a container of water and let them sit for 15 minutes. Any seeds that sink to the bottom of the container are viable; any that float are likely duds. If you browse through any of our pepper seed pages, you will see their germination rates tested by our growing experts during our most recent gardening season.
- Before planting, test the viability of the pepper seed by performing the water test.
14. Bad Companion Plants
Lastly, this is more of an indirect issue for stunted pepper plants, but having the wrong companion plants near your peppers can do more harm than you think. Companion plants can be major benefactors that do a number of things like ward off pests, attract pollinators, provide shade and ground cover, enhance nutrients, and more.
However, not all plants grow well next to pepper plants. Some like broccoli, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts actively work against pepper plants due to competing for the same nutrients. Others like potatoes and radishes are susceptible to the same diseases that spread rapidly amongst each other.
- Take note of the environment your pepper plants regularly grow in and the issues that occur each season.
- Research and grow companion plants next to your pepper plants to fortify and help them grow.
Growing Tips from Pepper Joe's
If you still have questions about your pepper plants not growing, contact our team of growing experts today by email or at 1-888-660-2276. We also provide plenty of resources on growing pepper plants with our Gardening Tips & Guides and Gardening FAQs page. Remember, gardening is a continuous learning process, and each plant has its own unique growing characteristics.
Learn more about growing healthy pepper plants with our Grow With Joe blog series!