As a long-time gardener, bell peppers and tomatoes are two things that I grow even if those are the only two things in my garden during a particular growing season. But, even though I think I am doing everything right, sometimes brown spots appear on the peppers.
The three main causes of brown spots on bell peppers are (1) sunscald, which is caused by weather conditions, (2) blossom end rot, which is a disorder also caused by weather conditions, and (3) anthracnose, a disease mainly found on tomatoes and potatoes but occasionally found on bell peppers.
In the following paragraphs, we will discuss these three main causes of brown spots on bell peppers and what can be done to either avoid or treat the problem.
Potential Cause #1: Sunscald
Identification: Sunscald can occur when the fruit on the bell pepper plant is exposed to intense sunlight and high temperatures. Extreme heat can break down the surface of the fruit while intense sunlight can cause chemical reactions which damage the fruit and result in the tan areas you see on the surface of the peppers.
Those damaged areas make it easier for the peppers to be attacked by bacteria and fungus, making it more difficult to diagnose the real problem resulting in damage to the bell peppers.
Treatment: The best way to avoid this issue is to select bell pepper varieties with fuller foliage that can withstand weather conditions in your area.
Potential Cause #2: Blossom End Rot
Identification: Blossom End Rot causes dry leathery spots that are found only on the blossom end of the fruit and are caused by what are known as physiological issues such as water fluctuation or calcium deficiency. This condition is found not only on bell peppers but also on banana peppers.
Treatment: There is no specific way to treat the affected peppers, but here are some things that will help:
- Pick off the peppers that have spots on them.
- Maintain a regular watering schedule of 1 to 1 ½ inches of water per week.
- Do not over-fertilize, especially if you are using a nitrogen-based fertilizer that could reduce the amount of calcium in the soil.
Potential Cause #3: Anthracnose
Identification: Anthracnose is a disease that is commonly found on ripe and overripe tomatoes but is also occasionally found on bell peppers. Symptoms of Anthracnose appear as small sunken areas on the peppers that may develop a black center as the disease progresses and secondary organisms attack the infected area and eventually damage the entire pepper. Sure signs of anthracnose are concentric circles with a pustule of salmon-colored spores.
Anthracnose is caused by a fungus that can live in the soil for as long as 3 years and can be spread to healthy fruit by spores that are splashed onto the fruit from the soil during rain or overhead watering or irrigation.
Treatment: Ways to control anthracnose include:
- Harvest early, if possible.
- Avoid overhead watering or irrigation practices.
- Maintain a regular application schedule of fungicide sprays for the control of leaf diseases.
- Practice a 3-year schedule of crop rotation.
Is It Safe to Eat Bell Peppers With Brown Spots?
Brown spots on bell peppers do not make the peppers unfit to eat. If the bell pepper has not been completely damaged, just cut out the damaged area and the rest is safe to eat.
How Do You Grow the Best Bell Peppers?
Bell peppers can be started indoors from seeds and transplanted into garden beds, started from seeds in the garden beds, or started from young plants purchased from hardware, farm supply, or chain stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, or Wal-Mart.
Here are guidelines for successfully growing bell peppers.
Bell peppers prefer sandy or loamy soil that is well-drained and need a soil pH of between 6.0 and 6.8 to grow properly. The soil should be fertilized before planting with a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen.
Plants should be side-dressed with fertilizer when the blossoms appear and again approximately one month later when the first fruit has developed.
The location of bell peppers in the garden is also very important because they normally thrive near corn, cucumbers, and carrots, but do not do well near fennel, cabbage, or any plants in the cabbage family.
Bell peppers need full sun, but in areas where the heat is intense, they can be grown in partial sun and may need to be shaded by shade cloths or larger plants because intense heat can damage the plants and cause sunscald on the fruit.
Plants should be staked or tied up as the plant grows to keep limbs and fruit from touching the ground and to keep the foliage upright to protect the fruit from sunscald.
Young plants should be planted outside when the soil temperature has reached 65 degrees and nighttime temperatures will not fall below 60 degrees.
Plants grown in the garden bed should be planted 3 or 4 inches deep, 18 to 24 inches apart on 6 to 8 inch high beds or hills that are 4 to 6 feet wide. They can also be grown in pots and containers.
Bell peppers need deep watering. They require 1 to 2 inches per week, however, in climates where there is extreme heat, they may need to be watered twice a day. Dry conditions will cause bitter-tasting bell peppers, but too much water will cause blossom end rot.
Watering should be done as early in the morning as possible.
Water from the bottom and not from the top.
When planting, fill the holes with water and let it soak in before planting the seedlings, then water the plants after they are planted.
There are 4 types of beneficial insects/organisms that are important to any type of garden vegetable by helping to control populations of destructive insects.
- Predators like assassin bugs, yellow jackets, lady beetles, and dragonflies
- Parasites like braconid wasps, and Eulophids
- Biologicals such as spinosad and logic
- Pollinators like honeybees, beetles, and butterflies that help produce the food we eat.
These insects/organisms should be identified and protected.
Use organic pesticides to keep the plants protected from garden pests, especially aphids and flea beetles, which are the top two pests that invade bell peppers. Spraying plants with a fungicide and an insecticide every 7 to 10 days starting when fruit first appears until harvest helps to reduce insect problems.
Please note that when using herbicides and pesticides for gardening purposes, it is very important to READ ALL DIRECTIONS BEFORE USE and to FOLLOW THOSE DIRECTIONS EXACTLY.
Pepper plants should be transplanted either when it is cloudy or in the evening to prevent the plants from wilting.
Dealing With Weeds
Practice good weed management as uncontrolled weeds compete for water, fertilizer, food, and sunlight and can make pest control and harvesting more difficult. Weeds can be controlled by mulching and by spraying an herbicide such as the surfactant that I recommend, which can be purchased on Amazon, and this over-the-top grass killer.
What Is the Best Way to Harvest Bell Peppers?
It takes bell peppers between 60 and 90 days to ripen, depending on the variety. Green bell peppers are the least mature and the most bitter, but if you leave them on the vine, they will continue ripening and will change from green into yellow, then orange, and finally become red, at which time they are fully mature and sweeter than the other colors.
The best way to harvest a bell pepper is to cut the pepper from the plant. Pulling the fruit off by hand can damage the plant by breaking the entire limb.
Growing bell peppers is not a difficult thing to do. But, as with all vegetables, a lot of things can go wrong and there are many diseases, pests, and issues that arise from time to time that can damage your bell pepper crop.
I recommend that anyone interested in growing bell peppers or any other vegetables start by having the soil in your garden spot tested at your local USDA Ag (Agriculture) Center before you plant and follow their recommendations for amending the soil. They should also be your go-to place for anything to do with gardening, from what to look for, which fertilizers to use, the best plants and seeds to plant in your area, and will provide help with identifying any problems and what to do about keeping your vegetable plants healthy and productive.
You can find your local Ag Center by going to the USDA website and typing your city or county and state into the search box.
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