What Is Eating Your Peppers At Night And How To Stop Them

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.

 1: Caterpillars

 Caterpillars

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.

2: Hornworms.

Hornworms.

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

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

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.

5: Thrips

Thrips

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

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.

7: Whiteflies

Whiteflies

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.

8: Aphids

Aphids

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

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

Nasturtium in vegetable garden

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. 

Pesticides

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

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.

  • Deer generally prefer to strip pepper plants of their leaves. However, they will eat almost everything when food is scarce. They will even choke down the hottest of peppers rather than go hungry. 
  • Rabbits will also eat entire pepper plants. Like the deer, they don’t like eating hot peppers but they will when they are hungry. 
  • Other rodents can also be to blame for lost pepper plants during the night. Talk to your local garden center about what animals are prevalent in your area. 
  • Tree Shrew. If you live in an area where tree shrews are common, then you have an interesting situation. Tree shrews are the only non-human animal that actively seeks out hot and spicy food. 
  • Birds are another common problem. In the wild, the bright colors of peppers are meant to attract birds, who will eat the fruit and spread the seeds far and wide. While birds don’t generally come out at night, they might be getting to your peppers early in the morning, so you might want to put up bird protection around your pepper plants.

How To Stop Animals From Eating Your Peppers

How To Stop Animals From Eating Your Peppers

There are several ways to keep animals away from your pepper plants. Here are few suggestions. 

  • Fence. The best way to protect your peppers from animals is a good solid fence. You can build a large fence around your garden, or put a cage around individual plants. Deer will require a very high fence, while rabbits will need a tight fence that goes into the ground. 
  • Bird Netting. Bird netting can also come in handy but it should be used cautiously. Most bird netting that is readily available is not recommended to use as it will not only keep the birds from getting through, but the birds will easily get entangled, causing injury or death. There are many bird-safe nettings available, however, and hanging deterrents such as metal pie plates, old CDs or 
  • Sound Deterrents. Turning on a radio, or noise machines will often keep animals away from your pepper plants. Make sure you mix it up by frequently changing the station, and moving locations or the animals will quickly get used to it. 
  • Scent Deterrents. There are many natural products available that you can apply to the plants that make them undesirable to animals. Ironically, sprinkling ground hot peppers or hot sauce will also keep them away. Make sure you reapply after a rain, and it still won’t stop the animals when they are very hungry. 
  • Scare Deterrents. For small animals and birds, you can often scare them away. While a scarecrow might do the trick, a plastic owl or hawk sitting on a post will make them think a predator is on the prowl. As with the sound, make sure you move your decoy regularly or the invaders will quickly realize he is a dummy.

Updated on by Amber Noyes

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.