Bell peppers are a firm favorite for home gardeners. However, they also happen to be a favorite snack for cunning garden pests. If you have noticed nibbled leaves on your bell pepper plants or fruits with holes in them, read on to find out what is eating your bell peppers, and how to get rid of them!
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What’s Eating My Bell Peppers?
The most common pests eating your bell peppers are aphids, flea beetles, beet armyworms, Colorado potato beetles, leafroller caterpillars, pepper weevils, and leafminers.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these bell pepper pests with solutions to get rid of them using organic gardening methods – so you can enjoy your harvest of bell peppers!
Aphids seem to be the bane of home gardeners everywhere. These soft-bodied little (typically about 1 to 5 millimeters in length) insects have a tendency to congregate on your bell pepper plants. Aphids come in various colors such as green, yellow, black, brown, or even pink.
Aphids are sap-sucking insects that can be found on the underside of your bell pepper plant leaves or congregating on the stems. Signs that your bell pepper plant is being munched on by aphids are subtle at first. But as the infestation intensifies, you will notice the leaves of your bell pepper plant turning yellow and may start rotting.
When aphids feed on your plants, they secrete a sweet, sticky, substance called honeydew. This secretion attracts other insects, such as ants, and can cause sooty mold to grow.
How to Get Rid of Them: Luckily, an aphid infestation can be handled easily and quickly. All you need to tackle these common garden pests is a hose, some dishwashing liquid, and some water in a spray bottle.
First, give your bell pepper plants a good spray with the garden hose to dislodge the tiny insects. If some have managed to stay on your plant, you can simply wipe them away with a paper towel. Once you have removed all of the aphids, mix 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid with 1 quart (1 liter) of water together and spray your bell pepper plants with it. Or you can use an insecticidal soap spray.
2. Flea Beetles
Flea beetles are tiny, shiny beetles belonging to the Chrysomelidae family and derive their name from their characteristic ability to jump like fleas when disturbed. While there are various species of flea beetles, they are typically black or bronze in color, measuring around 0.05-0.12 inches (1.5 to 3.0 mm) in length.
If your bell peppers are being eaten by flea beetles, you will see a pattern referred to as ‘shothole’ on the leaves. ‘Shotholes’ are small pits or holes in the leaves caused by the eating habits of the flea beetles.
In addition to the characteristic bite marks on the leaves, your bell pepper plant’s growth may be stunted and your plant could be killed, if flea beetles are left to feast on your bell pepper plant unchecked.
How to Get Rid of Them: If you have spotted the telltale signs of a flea beetle infestation, you can get rid of them by applying neem oil to your bell pepper plants. Additionally, add a layer of mulch around the stems of your plants, or you can use a layer of diatomaceous earth.
As with most things, I find prevention is the best cure, so to prevent flea beetles from nibbling on your plants, cover them with floating row covers. You need to remove these for pollination once flowering starts. Flea beetles prefer younger bell pepper plants so it is best to cover them while they are more vulnerable.
3. Beet Armyworms
If you have noticed circular chunks missing from the leaves of your bell pepper plant, beet armyworm (also known as asparagus fern caterpillar) could be to blame. This moth larvae can make quick work of your plant, skeletonizing it if there are enough of the little critters present.
These pale green, striped caterpillars not only feed on your bell pepper plant’s leaves but also wound the fruit. If you think beet armyworms are eating your bell pepper plants, take a peek at the underside of your plant’s leaves. If you see something that looks like cotton wool, you have uncovered the clusters of eggs.
They are hard to spot because they are nocturnal. Take a wander around your garden after dark to confirm your suspicions. The problem with beet armyworms is that if there is one, there are many, many more. Getting a handle on the infestation quickly is key to saving your veggie garden.
How to Get Rid of Them: If you spot beet armyworms on your bell pepper plants, remove them manually. Next, apply neem oil to your plants regularly to keep beet armyworms and other pests at bay.
For particularly aggressive infestations, you could resort to a caterpillar spray. Although the spray is an accepted organic control, it is nonetheless still harmful to the environment and something I personally avoid in favor of more natural gardening methods.
4. Colorado Potato Beetles
Another pest that could be behind your defoliated bell pepper plants is the Colorado potato beetle, also called potato bugs. Colorado potato beetles attack your bell pepper plants, leaving them bare or with only a few remaining leaves.
Adult Colorado potato beetles are yellow with black stripes and a spotted head measuring roughly 1/2 inch (12 mm) long. The larvae are initially red with a black head, changing color until they are pinky-orange with two rows of black spots.
These colorful pests lay their orange/yellow eggs on the underside of your bell pepper plant leaves. The color of their eggs makes them slightly easier to spot.
How to Get Rid of Them: A Colorado potato beetle infestation is not easy to eradicate or control. If you see them on your plant, remove them by hand. You can apply neem oil to your plants to deter them. You can try to limit the Colorado potato beetle population in your garden by ensuring your garden is free from weeds.
5. Leafroller Caterpillars
Leafrollers are the larvae of various moths that get their name from their distinctive behavior of rolling and webbing leaves together. These green caterpillars then use the webbed shelter they have created to feed. The webbing is fairly distinctive, but other signs of a leafroller problem are the defoliation of your bell pepper plant’s leaves and the webbing of your peppers.
How to Get Rid of Them: If you spot the telltale signs of leafrollers on your plants, you can cut off the rolled and webbed leaves and dispose of them. Keep an eye out for larvae dropping from their nest on silk strings when you do this, as they drop when they’re disturbed.
6. Pepper Weevils
Pepper weevils are a particularly destructive garden pest because they eat your bell pepper plant’s leaves, flower buds, and fruit. Female pepper weevils lay their eggs in the developing fruit bud, so when they hatch, they consume your bell peppers from the inside out.
Adult pepper weevils are small and black, measuring 3 mm with a distinctly elongated snout. The larvae, which decimate your plant’s fruits, are small whitish-gray c-shaped grubs with a light brown head.
If the leaves of your bell pepper plant are being eaten, and the fruits are starting to discolor and drop off, you may have a pepper weevil problem.
How to Get Rid of Them: Although I prefer not to use any sprays on my garden, a pyrethrin garden insect spray is acceptable in organic gardening. You should be aware that even organic sprays are harmful to pollinators and the soil and should be used with caution. But before going down this route, you can remove adult weevils from your plant by hand. In addition, you will need to destroy any infected fruit that has dropped off your plant to prevent further infestations. Also, inspect and remove any discolored fruit. After you harvest your plants you should destroy them, again to stop any further infestation.
7. Leaf Miners
Leaf miners are small, fly-like insects, measuring less than 0.12 inches ( 2 mm) in length, their larvae are whitish, legless maggots and both are difficult to spot. Adults can be black or yellow, depending on the species. While adult leaf miners may be difficult to spot, the damage caused by their larvae is more noticeable.
Because leafminers are hard to spot, you will need to look out for signs that your plant is being attacked by them. Luckily, the symptoms of a leaf miner problem are easy to spot. Leafminers leave a white trail in your plant’s leaves, that is thin and white. If the problem is bad, the leaves of your plant will begin to drop, but not before large splotches appear.
How to Get Rid of Them: If your bell pepper plant’s leaves have a winding trail announcing the presence of leafminers, remove the leaf immediately. Leafminers have several natural enemies such as wasps and generally do not need human intervention to control them. However, if you are worried about leafminers, cover your plants with floating row covers to stop leaf miners from landing on them. You can also use neem oil spray.
You should also make sure your garden is free from weeds and till your soil after harvesting your plants.