Food Gardening Network

Growing Good Food at Home

Dealing with Bell Pepper Pests

Aphids on the underside of the leaf of bell pepper plant

Aphids on the underside of the leaf of bell pepper plant

Pests on your bell peppers, left unchecked, can damage and destroy your developing plants. Keeping a close watch on your plants during regular daily inspections will help you spot any pests before they can do irreparable harm. Healthy bell peppers can bounce back from pest damage if you catch the pests quickly.

A couple notes about prevention:

  • Don’t overwater.
  • Use floating row covers when plants are young. Add hoops to the row covers as plants grow.
  • Place sticky traps to catch pests early.

Spot the symptoms of bell pepper plant pests

Check leaves, stems, and fruits for these symptoms that come from pests on the prowl.

On Bell Pepper Leaves, Stems, & Fruits

Symptoms Pest
Yellowing leaves; clusters of small “bumps” on leaves; “honeydew” on stems with sooty mold growing on it Aphids
Damaged or destroyed leaves; scars on fruit Beet armyworm; Tobacco cornworm
Holes in leaves, buds, and sometimes young fruit Flea beetle; Pepper weevil; Plant bug; Slugs; Snails
Leaves crinkle, curl, and turn yellow Potato leafhopper
Holes in peppers Corn earworm; Fall armyworm; Pepper maggot
Stems cut off at soil level Cutworms
Round holes chewed into stems Corn borer
Curved cut in fruit Plum curculio
Webs on leaves; damage to underside of leaves; white or yellow spots on leaves; leaf drop Mites
Extensive leaf damage leading to sunscald of peppers Tomato hornworm

How to treat pests on bell peppers

Here are some proven ways to get rid of pests on your bell peppers. Choose the best treatment for the type of pests invading your plants.

  • Block them. Put cardboard collars around the base of the stems of your plants and push them into the ground. Ground-level pests won’t be able to get through.
  • Pick off the pests. Use your garden gloves to remove the pests by hand. After removal, destroy pests by drowning them in a bucket of soapy water or crushing them with your foot. You can get rid of tomato hornworms by picking them off your pepper plants, crushing them, and then dropping them in the compost. Handpicking isn’t efficient or practical for very small pests but works well with larger pests.
  • Blast them. If you spot invaders like aphids, give them a good blast with the garden hose. Chances are good the neighborhood birds will notice and come eat your pests.
  • Apply insecticidal soap. Insecticidal soap is organic. The potassium salts in insecticidal soap help remove an insect’s protective waxes, causing destruction of insect membranes and killing them. Mix the soap with water to create your solution and apply directly to insects on any plants. While insecticidal soap is less apt to affect other organisms, certain plants might be sensitive to the soap and can suffer leaf burn.
  • Apply horticultural oils. Combine plant- or petroleum-based oils with water to produce horticultural sprays. Neem oil, for instance, is derived from seed extracts of the neem plant. Oil-based sprays block an insect’s air holes, interfere with an insect’s metabolism, disrupt insect feeding, and inhibit insect growth. Like insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils can cause plant injury if not properly diluted.
  • Apply a Bt-based biological insecticide. This is a naturally occurring material, based on the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. It’s helpful in controlling caterpillars and worms. Spray it on your infested plants. When the worms and/or caterpillars eat the sprayed foliage, they die.
  • Make your own pest spray. You can make your own pest spray with benign materials. Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon of a mild dish detergent, and 2 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a gallon of water to make a solution that will repel all kinds of bugs, as well as a fungicide for blight and mildew on bell pepper plant leaves. Shake it well in your bottle before spraying and repeat every week for it to be continuously effective.
  • Diatomaceous Earth (DE). Sprinkle DE at base of plants and between plants. Many pests cannot cross over this barrier of sharp microscopic particles without dying.

Do pests attack your bell peppers every year? How do you handle removing them—and even preventing them in the first place? Please tell us how you treat your bell peppers to avoid pests.

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