Whether you are new to gardening or have an experienced green thumb, nothing is quite as rewarding as growing your vegetables. No matter what you chose to grow, the joy of growing, caring for, and finally enjoying the fruits of your labor is unmatched in my opinion. However, a hobby as rewarding as this is not without its hardships.
For example, growing peppers can have its struggles. Even if you carefully researched the best way to grow peppers outside, and meticulously watered, pruned, fed, and cared for your plants to ensure a good yield of fruit, one day you might notice small, circular holes in the pepper plant leaves! Luckily, this doesn’t have to spell disaster for your plants, and with a little careful treatment, all your hard work won’t go down the drain.
Narrowing down what causes holes in pepper plant leaves can be a tricky process, but it is essential for the proper care and treatment of your plants. Use the guide and photos below to help determine
One of the most likely causes of holes in pepper plant leaves is pests. I love a well-balanced ecosystem as much as the next person, and like it or not, pests are a part of that system! The insects that feast on the plants you have worked so hard to curate carefully can hardly expect to be welcome guests in your garden, but they will surely appear at some point. You may even try and plant something they might like more than your prized peppers, in an attempt to lure them away, but there they are, chewing tiny little holes in your otherwise perfect plants. Some of the more common pest species are listed and described below.
Tomato and tobacco hornworms are (relatively) massive caterpillars and the bane of most gardeners’ existence! They target all species in the tomato family, including peppers. Defoliation will start at the top of the plant and move downwards, with it only taking a few days for the entire plant to be bare.
Treatment: Handpick these pests off your plant, use a spray of organic spinosad to deter them, and consider attracting or introducing assassin bugs into your garden to help fight these larger caterpillars.
Slugs are one of the most common pests of pepper plants that will eat holes in your plants’ leaves. Large, slimy, and moisture-loving, these pests will appear when the moisture levels around your plant are high.
Treatment: Water your plants earlier in the day to allow the soil to dry out and avoid creating the perfect conditions for slugs to thrive. If you see slugs on your plant, head to the garden in the evening to catch them at their most active time, and simply pick them off. Avoid using slug traps as these can contain chemicals toxic to all species, not just the annoying ones!
In the absence of other suitable food, grasshoppers will not only target the leaves of your pepper plant but also the stems and flowers! Usually, there is enough other food around to prevent these bugs from causing too much damage, but there are steps you can take to further protect your plants if needed.
Treatment: Planting cilantro, keeping grass short, and attracting wildlife like birds (that feed on grasshoppers) are natural ways to keep your garden grasshopper population under control.
Cutworms are the larvae of moths and will only appear during certain times of the year, often not in large numbers as they are solitary feeders. However, they can do significant damage to a pepper plant, feeding not only on the leaves but the stems as well, sometimes taking a plant down completely!
Treatment: Spraying the leaves of your plant with a neem oil or garlic oil solution can help to deter these pests. Pick them off your plants at night or rake the soil under your peppers during the day to find them and their eggs hiding in the dirt. Attracting wildlife like birds and bats to your yard can help manage populations in the long term.
The aphid is a small, sap-sucking insect that actually won’t chew holes in the leaves of your plant. However, the aphid will impact your plant by feeding on the sap and stealing nutrients, causing potential deficiencies or attracting other pests as your plant gets weaker. If you notice aphids on your pepper plant, it is better to take action than to wait for a bigger issue to show up!
Treatment: Organic control is your best bet for aphid treatment. This might be a spray of horticultural oil, neem oil, or insecticidal soap. You can also use water to wash aphids off of your plants, but be careful you don’t snap a stem if you are using a hose with high water pressure!
Diseases, like bacterial leaf spot, can cause tiny brown spots on your pepper plant leaves that may result in holes. Diseases can be tricky to identify, and may easily be confused for pest damage, so it is important to keep a close eye on your plants and see if the damage spreads without the appearance of pests, or if something else is impacting your plant.
Nutrient deficiencies, especially for essential elements like nitrogen and calcium, can also cause tiny holes in pepper plant leaves. If you have not added compost, fertilizer, or other nutrient-boosting additives to your garden in a while, and many of your plants display the same symptoms, this is possibly the cause.
Environmental factors may also be causing holes in your pepper leaves. When a plant is stressed due to lack of water, high heat, or too much direct sun exposure, this can cause small brown spots to appear on leaves. As the leaf dries out even more, these brown spots can open up into holes, damaging your plant leaves.
Mechanical Or Chemical Damage
Damage to plant leaves can also come from other sources. Rocks, hail, birds, and even gardening equipment may rip or tear small holes in pepper plant leaves. Additionally, chemical spray drifting onto your plants from a neighbor spraying for weeds in their yard may burn the plant’s leaves, resulting in holes. If you have ruled out all other potential impacts, mechanical or chemical damage is likely the cause. Be careful when working around your plants with herbicides or equipment, and your plants should be good as new in no time.
How To Get Rid Of Holes In Pepper Plant Leaves
To properly treat your pepper plant and deal with the holes, you need to accurately identify the cause of the issue. Carefully examine your plant and see if you have any of the pests listed above, and follow the recommended steps for dealing with them. Unfortunately treatments are rarely the same for all species, so properly identifying the pest present is important!
If you decide the issue is not pests, but rather a disease, you will want to take action immediately. Diseases can spread quickly, even passing from plant to plant. Examine the number of affected individuals and see if they are salvageable. For some diseases, you can get sprays or treatments to help slow the spread. For others, you will want to carefully prune off any diseased parts of the plant with clean, sharp shears, to stop the disease from spreading. Inspect your plants regularly for early signs of the disease coming back, and give your plants good care overall to help them fight off infection.
Nutrient deficiencies are probably the easiest issue to treat. Since these holes are likely due to a lack of either nitrogen or calcium, simply add compost or manure (nitrogen), eggshells (calcium), or a balanced fertilizer to attempt to boost the nutrients available to your plants. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer you use carefully to avoid over-fertilizing your peppers, which can stress them out even more!
Although mechanical and chemical damage might make your plants look unsightly, they often don’t require treatment. If only a few leaves are damaged, you can safely remove them to improve the aesthetics of your garden, but this isn’t necessary. Your plant should recover fine and grow fresh, new leaves soon.
Although discovering damage to your pepper plants can be devastating, don’t lose hope! By following the guide and implementing the tips above, you can treat damage to your plants and restore them to their former glory in no time at all. The important thing is to pay close attention to your plants so you can detect issues early on, preventing extensive damage in the first place.