Do you wake up in the morning and discover holes in your pepper plants? Or worse yet, do you find entire plants completely devoured by some unseen night prowler? Sometimes, it is a challenge to keep your peppers safe until YOU are ready to eat them.
Unfortunately, there are many insects and mammals, such as pepper weevils, hornworms, snails, or even rabbits that will feast upon your pepper plant at night, between dusk and dawn. Each critter has its strengths…and weaknesses. Generally, they each leave their unique signature telling you they came to call.
But how do you know what insect is eating holes in your pepper plant’s leaves, or which animal is take chunks out of your pepper fruits?
Read on to learn about how to identify the insect pests that might be eating your pepper plants and how to stop bugs from eating pepper plants.
Insects That Eat Pepper Plants At Night
Spider mites, slugs, snails, aphids, tomato hornworm, and some other soft-bodied insects are the most common culprits when it comes to feasting on pepper plants during the night.
Insects that eat your eat your plants leave will sometimes lay eggs near where they have eaten, and others are small enough to hide on the leaf or in the hole.
Many different kinds of caterpillars can invade your garden. Talk to your local garden center about which kind is most likely in your area. They will most often eat holes in the leaves, but they will also eat the stems and the fruit.
Of all the caterpillars that will eat your pepper plants, the most devastating is the hornworm. Hornworms often grow up to 10 cm (4 inches) long and as fat as your finger.
They are light green with spots and strips down their side and are aptly named for their protruding horn on their back end. (This is not a real horn, and these caterpillars are quite harmless.)
Either the tomato hornworm or the tobacco hornworm will feast on your plant and can cause catastrophic damage. They can easily strip all the leaves from a plant overnight, but they will also devour the stem and fruits.
Hornworms are easily picked off the plant by hand (they are actually quite cute and fuzzy).
3: Slugs And Snails
leave their tell-tale trail of slime. They generally feast on the lower leaves since they cannot climb very well. Again, they are easy to find and handpick.
These crawling invaders are also kept away from the plants by sprinkling diatomaceous earth, laying sandpaper, or placing copper rings around the base of the plants.
4: Pepper Weevils
Have a long sucking mouth like a trunk. They eat the leaves and blossoms, but will also bore into the fruit and eat the seeds.
They also make small holes in the peppers and cause them to discolour and wilt, and the insides will often turn black.
Thrips are slender insects that suck juices from the pepper plant. They cause white or silver speckling or dead brown strips on the leaves.
6: Spider Mites
Spider mites are easily identified by the masses of silky webs that enshroud the leaves. There are several different types, and some prefer the leaves while others seek out the stems and flowers.
Whiteflies are tiny insects that can cause lots of damage by sucking the juices from the leaves. They can usually be found on the underside of the leaves and leave a sticky residue on the plant.
Aphids are another common insect that can devastate your pepper plants. While they seem tiny and harmless, an infestation can quickly kill a plant.
They also suck sap from the leaves, depriving the plant of nutrients that can lead to sickly, stunted plants. They are best identified by a sticky black goop they leave behind.
How To Keep Bugs From Eating Your Peppers
Contrary to popular opinion, insect infestations are not usually a fault of the bugs, but a problem inside the garden. Elliot Coleman calls this type of thinking a “plant-positive” approach instead of an “insect-negative” way of dealing with nature. Most insects are drawn to unbalanced ecosystems where they thrive, and they seek out sick plants that are easily attacked.
The first line of defense when dealing with insects infesting your peppers is to focus on the health of your garden by improving soil health, and ensuring the plants have food, water, and are disease-free.
Sometimes, however, the “pests” will still come despite our best efforts. In this case, here are some practical, here-and-now solutions to dealing with insects who are eating your pepper plants.
Attract Beneficial Insects
Attracting beneficial insects is by far the best way to keep bad bugs at bay. Planting flowering companion plants, such as clover, buckwheat, or Alyssum will attract pollinators.
These pollinators not only help your peppers produce fruits, but most pollinators are also predators that feast on other undesirable insects.
For example, some beneficial wasps are parasitic and will lay their eggs on hornworms and the hatchlings will quickly devour the host species. Rather disgusting, I know, but this far better and more natural method than hunting and killing the hornworms yourself.
Beneficial Fungi And Bacteria For The Biological Control Of Insect Pests
Soil is a collection of living organisms and should be host to countless fungi and bacteria. However, if your soil is becoming infertile or sterile, this is an ideal condition for invasive insects to thrive.
You can add purchased bacteria and fungi to your soil to help rid bad bugs. Adding compost will also help these healthy microbes grow in the soil.
Use Crop Rotation As A Tool To Interrupt Insect Life Cycles
Rotating your crops (growing them in a different place every year) will stop insects from infesting one particular area.
Growing a new crop in an area is especially beneficial since many bug larvae will overwinter in the soil. When they emerge in the spring, instead of finding their favorite pepper variety again, they will encounter a plant they do not like as much, and hopefully will move on to other places.
Rinse The Leaves With Clean Water
Using the garden hose, you can often wash a number of bugs off the plants. Using soapy water can also be beneficial. In either case, make sure you do not end up overwatering your peppers as this can lead to other problems.
Remove Damaged Or Diseased Plants
If you see a damaged leaf or a diseased plant, remove it from your garden right away. As we mentioned above, insects are drawn to sick plants so removing them from the garden will stop bugs from having an easy meal.
Diatomaceous Earth Is Beneficial For More Than Killing Bugs
This fine silica rock isn’t just good for slugs and snails. It can be sprinkled over the entire plant as a natural insecticide against many different bugs.
Take care not to breathe in the dust as the fine particles are not good for your lungs. Diatomaceous Earth will have to be re-applied after a heavy rain.
Chemical pesticides have no place in the world, let alone in the garden. As a last resort, seek out an organic pesticide such as neem oil. There are many options available that are naturally occurring in nature so will not wreak havoc on your food.
Nocturnal Animals That Eat Pepper Plants
There are also creatures from the animal kingdom that will sneak into your garden at night and eat your peppers. In most cases, animals find the capsaicin in peppers hot just like we do and this acts as a natural repellent.
However, this doesn’t stop them from eating the leaves and the plants themselves. Of course, sweet and bell peppers do not contain capsaicin and so are fair game.
Here are some animals that commonly eat pepper plants.
How To Stop Animals From Eating Your Peppers
There are several ways to keep animals away from your pepper plants. Here are few suggestions.
Cameron Jenkins moved from the city to a small farm where he lives with his wife and daughters. The farm is divided between the garden, pastures, hayfields, the start of an orchard, and 13 times as many pets as people. Their farm vision is to grow produce and raise animals in unison with nature. When Cameron is not farming (or writing about it) he spends his time playing with his children, reading, cooking, and napping with his pet pig.