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Pest & Disease Problems

My Plants Always Seem To Be Dry. What Do I Do?

Make sure that you are using mulch. A 3" layer of mulch helps the plants conserve moisture by shading the ground and keeping it cool. Mulch keeps the soil from drying out so quickly on warm summer days, and it also keeps weeds from growing around your plants, stealing precious moisture and nutrients. Some types of mulches include chopped leaves, straw, hay, shredded bark, wood chips, dried grass clippings and even newspapers!

Water deeply and infrequently versus frequently and shallow. This encourages roots to go deeper, searching for moisture rather than staying on the surface where they will get heated and dried.

My Fruits Have Sunken Areas at the Blossom End.
What Do I Do?

This is called "Blossom End Rot" and is a condition caused by a calcium deficiency, but is usually found on plants in a drought condition or with inconsistent watering. Taking control of watering and moisture levels can often solve the problem. Place a mulch down to help keep moisture levels consistent, and be sure to water deeply and infrequently versus frequently and shallow. Also try spraying plants with seaweed. Often plants grown in containers will suffer from this condition. Use a mulch, or try planting the chile plant into a larger container.

My Chiles Are Cracking. What Do I Do?

This is a condition also caused by inconsistent watering. Often this will occur after a heavy rain following a dry spell. While there is not much that can be done once they have cracked, a good prevention is to keep your plants consistently moist by using a good mulch, and watering deeply. To help dry out soil that has gotten saturated, take a pencil and poke down a few inches around the plant, a few inches out from the stem so as to not injure roots, in rings around the soil area. This will allow air to penetrate into the soil and return the media to its proper air/water ratio.

Another condition which causes cracking of chiles is a condition known as "corking". Most frequently found on Jalapeño type chiles, this is quite common, and has no adverse effects on flavor. Actually in Mexico, chiles highly streaked with corking are highly desirable.


I Have Small Greenish Bugs On My Plants. What Do I Do?

Sounds like Aphids. Also known as "plant lice", aphids are found in every part of the country. They are probably the most common pest to attack young transplants. Aphids reproduce like crazy, as females do not need males in order to reproduce!

  • Outdoors: Ladybugs are wonderful predators of aphids and will probably keep them under control on plants grown outside, once the weather has warmed up a bit. For low levels of aphids, knock them down with a strong spray of water. For higher populations, use Insecticidal Soap. They key for success is doing multiple successive sprayings.

  • Indoors: Bugs love to come indoors, especially aphids. They can be easily controlled with Insecticidal Soap. They key for success is doing multiple successive sprayings. Spray your plants once or twice before you bring them in, and then another 1-2 times indoors. The shower makes a good spray-down location.

  • Insecticidal Soap Instructions: Use 4 Tablespoons per gallon of water, mixed in a sprayer or squirt bottle. Spray at the first sign of bugs. Cover the plant foliage, both tops and especially undersides of the leaves. Never spray in full sun. Fully cover the plant, but don't go crazy and keep the plant saturated for long periods. The key to success is doing multiple sprayings - Spray once every 3 to 4 days, for 3-4 applications, or as needed. Soft bodied pests will be killed upon contact with the soap, but the soap must touch them, there is no residual effect. Spraying multiple successive times ensures that you get them all!! Insecticidal Soap can be purchased either in a ready-to-use spray, or a concentrate

  • Seaweed is a good "multi-vitamin" remedy and is not a favorite of aphids, nor any sucking or rasping pest. Seaweed raises the sugar level (or "brix") of the leaf, which pests simply hate. Use it alone as a drench, spray or add a bit to the soap mixture (1-2 Tablespoon Seaweed per 1 Gallon of Soap solution). Seaweed acts like a multi-vitamin and keeps plants strong, and helps relieve any stress that the plants may be under.

  • Pests are attracted to "weaker" plants, those that are malnourished or are under some sort of stress. Be sure that your feeding regime is adequate. Our plants LOVE the Organic Fertilizers that we use!

For higher levels of aphids, or for folks that always seem to have a pest problem, beneficial insects may be the answer. We use them exclusively for pest control in our greenhouses. These are insects which occur naturally, but for us, the USDA required screening does not permit them to enter, so we must raise and release our own. It's neat! Beneficials are killed off by the use of synthetic pesticides - while synthetic insecticides do kill the "bad guys", it also kills a lot of the "good guys". Unfortunately the "good guys" take much longer to bounce back than the "bad guys". Our recommendation is NEVER to start with synthetic pesticides, as it sets up problems all along the way. Some great beneficials for aphids include Ladybugs, Lacewing larvae, Aphidoletes, and Aphidius, but these are best used in a controlled and enclosed environment.

I Have White Bugs Flying Around My Plants.
What Do I Do?

Sounds like Whiteflies. While they may be somewhat controlled with Insecticidal Soap, the best solution here is for the use of Encarsia formosa, a Whitefly parasite. These are tiny wasps that attack only whiteflies, by either eating the scales or laying eggs in the scales. The parasites are shipped inside whitefly scales that are attached to cards, which you hang among the infected plants.

The best news with Encarsia formosa is that it will stay around if you have Whitefly, so it is fine to use outside. They stay!

At first whitefly sign, we set out 1 card of Encarsia formosa per 3 square feet, every week for 3-4 weeks. For greater numbers of whitefly use 1 card per square foot. For best results you need to make consecutive weekly releases to get the parasite established. This is not a cheap quick-fix solution, but once you have Encarsia established they will continue to reproduce and keep your plants Whitefly free.

Something Is Eating My Chile Plants. What Do I Do?

First step is to determine whether the attacker is animal or insect.

Deer and rabbits eat the leaves off of plants, with deer occasionally ripping the plants completely out of the ground. Rabbits tend to eat lower leaves of plants, with deer nibbling the tops. They usually do not eat the chile pods however.

Insects would include caterpillars and hornworms. Their droppings are small (approx 1/16th of an inch) which at times is the only way to tell, because they become camouflaged with the plants.

Fencing is a good way to keep deer and rabbits out of your garden. Sometimes just wire or string strategically placed can discourage them from entering. For deer, place lines at 6", 12" and 24". For rabbits, place lines at 3", 6" and 12". While this might not completely solve the problem, it has worked for some, and is a good first "line" of defense! The plastic mesh type of fence is a more permanent measure, works well, and is pleasing to the eye - it practically disappears from view. Just be sure to secure it well to the ground as deer would prefer to scoot under than jump over.

Deer and rabbits have keen senses of smell, and other means of deterring them is to put down items which carry a human smell. Human hair is one approach. Get some from your local hairdresser, and put it into bags made from pantyhose, and tie around your plants. This might need to be replaced after heavy rains, to keep the human smell strong. Some folks have reported good luck with using fragrant soaps tied in bags around their plants. Others try the more natural approach, by urinating around the perimeter of their garden! Since it is a readily available commodity, and the price is right, it might work for you.

Other "brews" which might work include mixtures of egg, fish, and dried blood. Being vegetarians, any animal based product is undesirable to them. Repeat applications would be necessary after rains.

For caterpillars and hornworms, try the simplest solution of finding and removing them. Be very carefully of the horn of hornworms, it is very sharp and can sting badly! These are nasty critters and can completely strip your plants of leaves in a matter of days. Bt, a natural bacteria, works well to rid plants of caterpillars, and is harmless to other insects or people. It is a powder mixed with water and sprayed on the leaves of the plant. It takes a few days to work, while the caterpillars ingest the bacteria. Do not spray if the caterpillars are covered with small, white, rice looking projections, as these are parasitic wasp cocoons and are highly beneficial at attacking and killing hornworms!!

My Plants Are Turning Yellow. What Do I Do?

This could either be a nutrient deficiency, or more likely, the plants are being overwatered. Overwatering leaches nutrition from the soil, and it stresses the plants by being too wet. Plants need a lot less water than we think. Try fertilizing with fish emulsion and seaweed.

My plants are very tall with beautiful green foliage but no flowers or peppers. Why?

Sounds like too much nitrogen. When the plants are small and young, you want to fertilize regularly so that they get off to a strong start, but once the plants have reached a good size, you want to cut back on the fertilizer applications. We tend to hear this complaint often from users of non-organic fertilizers such as Miracle Gro. Rarely do we hear this complaint from folks who use fish emulsion and seaweed, which we recommend highly. We like to fertilize once a week for the first 3 weeks, then once every three weeks thereafter. When the plants have reached full size you may stop applying fish emulsion, but continue with the seaweed. If the plants start yellowing give an application of fish emulsion to green them up.

My plants have barely grown since I put them in the ground in early spring. Why?

Sounds like they were put out too early, and they have been stunted. Chiles like to have warm feet, and will do very poorly if planted too early. While most folks look  at the calendar to decide when to plant, you need to look at the night temperatures instead. Plant out when night temperatures are consistently above 50 to 55 degrees. It is better to plant out three weeks late than one week early! If you have plants that were stunted by the cold, it will take the summer's heat to pull them out of it.

My plants have grown only a little since I put them in the ground and have only produced a few fruits. Why?

When planting out your transplants, be sure to pull off all buds, flowers and fruit that are on the small plant, and continue to do so until your plants have at least doubled or tripled in size. Plants are either in vegetative mode, or fruiting mode -you want them to be in vegetative mode until they are good sized, before you allow them to be in fruiting mode. If you allow them to fruit when they are small, they will remain a small plant with just a few fruits. If you remove all buds, flowers and fruit for approx. 3 weeks after planting, you will get a good-sized plant just loaded with fruit.

The flowers on my pepper plant are turning yellow and falling off. Why?

Buds will turn yellow and fall off (abort) if conditions are not right, usually due to high day or night temperatures. This will also happen if the plants are too wet or too dry, or if there is too much nitrogen in the soil. We tend to hear this complaint in the middle of the summer when temps are high and soil moisture is not consistent. Be sure to mulch you plants as this offers a layer of protection from the hot sun, and helps keep the soil moist. Generally buds will remain on the plant once temperatures cool down, especially as we go into September.

My Chiltepines are not producing fruit and not even flowers yet. Why?
My Habaneros are not producing fruit and not even flowers yet. Why?
My Rocotos are not producing fruit and not even flowers yet. Why?

Habaneros, Chiltepines and especially Rocotos are long season varieties, in that they take a long time to produce, usually more than 90 days from transplanting. Your buds are falling off (aborting) because conditions are not right, usually due to high day or night temps, inconsistent soil moisture, or high nitrogen levels. Generally however, they will remain on the plant and produce fruit once the temps cool down a bit. We find that Chiltepines do better their 2nd season. Try to overwinter them and you should have a good early harvest. The one Chiltepin we find that does well the first year is "Texas". Found growing further north where it would get killed by frost/freeze (versus many chiltepines which are found in warmer Mexico), it produces early on a compact plant. A good early season habanero type is "Limon", which produces heavily and early on a compact plant. Rocotos are found growing natively high in the mountains, and need cooler temps to be happy and produce well. Ours do not start producing heavily until November/December (in the greenhouse), so we recommend not growing Rocotos unless you have an extremely long (but cool) growing season, or you are able to bring them indoors for winter. We also find that Rocotos do much better if there are a few Rocoto plants, planted close together.

The skin on my chiles is turning white in patches.
What is this?

Sounds like sun-scald. This happens on chiles that are not being protected by leaf cover, and the fruit is being exposed to long periods of sun, which is causing a scald of the fruit. The first way to prevent this is to get your plants to a good size before you allow them to produce. Usually fruit is held under the canopy of leaves, but small plants will not have a large canopy for the fruits to hide under! This also happens in areas that tend to have many cool and cloudy days, followed by very hot and sunny days. This sun-scald usually does not affect the flavor, but if the fruit is left on the plant, the scalded areas will develop into holes, which may then lead to rotting. We recommend removing all sun-scalded fruit to ripen indoors.

The skin on my chiles is turning blackish purple in patches. What is this?

Sounds like sunburn. On some chiles this sunburn is quite normal, like Purira with it's upright pods standing above the foliage. But on others it is because the leaf cover is not large enough to protect the fruit from the strong rays of the sun. Try to get your plants good sized before you allow them to fruit, so that there is good leaf cover to hide your chiles from the sun's rays. While the sunburn may look strange, it will not affect the fruit, and the chiles will mature to their normal color.

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