Pepper Plant Leaves Curling – Why And How To Treat

Pepper Plant Leaves Curling

Growing peppers truly is a science. It can be accomplished with simple means; soil, water and the sun. Or, it can be done in a complex lab with precise nutrients and watering. However, as with anything that is alive, imbalances and stress can cause issues.

With peppers, the plant will give clear signals when something is wrong. One common issue that is found in pepper plants are when the leaves begin curling. This can happen for a few reasons, and this article will discuss what you can do when your pepper leaves are curling.

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Why Are My Pepper Leaves Curling

Of the many potential causes, there are four that are most likely to be causing pepper leaf curl. Each has a slightly different presentation of the problem, so try to diagnose your issue and treat accordingly.

Leaves curling is a sign of stress in your plant, and it can usually be remedied with some simple adjustment to your plant care routine.


Overwatering

Pepper Plant Overwatering

One of the worst things you can do to your pepper plants is to keep the soil too moist. Pepper plants prefer soil that is on the dry side, while too much water will lead to many problems.

Overwatering can cause pepper leaves to curl due to the roots’ inability to access enough oxygen and nutrition from the soil. Overwatering will also usually cause yellowing leaves and stunted plant growth.

The solution: Water only when the soil has become mostly dry. You can know that the soil is dry enough to water by feeling the soil just below the surface, or by lifting the pot to feel the plant’s weight. If you allow the plant to dry too much, the leaves will begin to wilt, but will rebound after a watering. You can also try using a cheap water meter from amazon to check soil moisture.

Learn more about watering pepper plants in our article here.


Plant Edema

Severe Plant Edema
Plant edema on pepper plant.

Plant edema is a common cellular disorder caused by irregular water retention. It will appear in peppers as a whitish, crystallized substance underneath the leaves. Extreme edema can cause plant leaves to curl.

The solution: Read our dedicated article on treating plant edema here.


Calcium Deficiency

Calcium is a secondary nutrient for pepper plant growth. Among other things, it is used by plants to develop strong cell walls. When not enough calcium is provided, leaves cannot develop properly and will begin to appear curled and bubbly. This is sometimes accompanied by brown spots on the leaves and there may be other signs of nutrient deficiency like yellow leaves.

The solution: Provide calcium to the soil through the use of bone meal or other calcium supplements.

Calcium and magnesium are both secondary nutrients that can be provided to avoid irregular plant development. These are sometimes, but not always included in pre-fertilized soils, so check your soil ingredients!

Many all-purpose fertilizers will also include calcium, but not all. Check your fertilizer to see what nutrients are being provided.

We love Fox Farm fertilizer trio for simple, well-balanced feeding.


Too Much Light

Providing light to your pepper plants is essential. Peppers like full sunlight throughout the season, so if you are planting outdoors, lighting is unlikely the issue.

One potential cause for outdoor light burn is watering in direct sunlight. The beads of water can refract the sunlight and cause burn spots on the leaves. However, these appear as dark burn spots on the leaves rather than curling.

You may see some leaf curling when you first transition your plants outdoors. Be sure you are hardening off your plants properly and gradually acclimating them to direct sunlight.

A more common issue is caused by using indoor grow lights incorrectly. Grow lights can vary widely in brightness and intensity. They are essential if you start your own pepper seeds indoors, but you have to follow the light instructions for how close the lights should be to your plants.

If your plants are too close to the light, you will begin to see the leaves curling up and closing in rebellion from the light. This problem will eventually cause pepper leaves to dry up and fall off, often turning brown and crumbling when squeezed.

Plant Leaf Curl

The solution: If you think your plants have light burn, adjust your lights a few inches higher. Our grow light needs to be 12-18 inches away from the canopy of leaves.

Also, make sure the lights are set on a timer to be on for 12-16 hours, and off for the rest of the day. Check that the timer is working properly, as 24/7 light is not good! If you’re outdoors, try to water at dawn or dusk to avoid leaf burn.


Insect Damage

Uncontrolled insects can be the bane of your garden. They come from seemingly nowhere and can wreak havoc on your plants in a matter of days.

Curling pepper leaves can be a sign of insect damage, though it will typically be focused on individual leaves rather than the whole plant. Curled and bubbled leaves are the leaves that the insects have been eating.

If the entire pepper plant has curled leaves, it is likely one of the other issued mentioned. However, if you notice localized leaf curling, you may have aphids, thrips, spider mites or another insect pest.

Unfortunately, pest removal is more difficult than preventative care. However, you can take some measures to try to alleviate the issue and get rid of most of the insects.

The solution: Hand-pick the affected leaves and burn them if possible. Otherwise, bring them outside and discard because insects spread easily. You can also introduce ladybugs or other helpful insects that feed on the pests and not on your pepper leaves.

As a preventative measure, neem oil is effective – simply work the suggested amount into your soil before transplanting or spray a diluted solution onto the foliage.


After treatment, do not expect the curling leaves to flatten out and look perfectly healthy. Just because the plant doesn’t re-form to look beautiful doesn’t mean the issue hasn’t been resolved.

Expect new leaves to look properly formed and understand that the curling leaves will remain curled. The best way to solve most planting issues is to plan ahead.

Read our full guide to growing peppers here to make sure you’re giving your pepper plants the best chance they have from day 1.


Other Causes Of Pepper Leaves Curling

Though the causes mentioned are the most common, there are many other potential issues that can cause curling leaves. If you are sure that none of the other causes apply or you have tried without success, there are some other, less common causes.

Your plants could be root bound. Learn more about root bound plants in our article here. This issue is caused by plants being kept in containers that are too small. The roots can become entangled, eventually causing distorted leaves.

Your pepper plants could have a bacterial infection, though this is often accompanied by brown, circular spots. This is often caused by using sterilized soil which can attract new colonizers, or by not rotating crops each year.

If you are growing indoors, your plants may suffer from poor pollination, which can cause distorted leaves. Try hand pollinating or shaking the plants after the flowers have opened. This issue is also accompanied by dropped flowers and a lack of pepper pods.


Remember, curling pepper plant leaves are usually nothing to worry too much about! Look at your plants as a whole and try not to get too hung up on a few curled leaves. If your plant looks mostly healthy, then be happy about that. Keep an eye out for more concerning issues like fungal issues and garden pests.

We hope this article helped you diagnose why your pepper plant leaves are curling. Growing peppers can be a challenge, but the reward is always worth the extra effort. Good luck, and let us know if you’ve had success with treating your curling pepper plant leaves!

Calvin

One of the original Pepper Geeks! When Calvin isn’t gardening or learning more about peppers and botany, he might be traveling new places or playing some music.

8 thoughts on “Pepper Plant Leaves Curling – Why And How To Treat”

  1. I moved my starts outside for a half hour to start hardening them off and I got slight curl on two of my starts. What should I do now.

    Reply
    • Were they in the shade? It could be due to light overexposure. Could be one of the other reasons in the article. Start in the shade and gradually increase the time in the shade before direct sunlight. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  2. Thank you for the information. It has really helped my pepper plant.

    I have a pepper plant that had a couple of leaf curling at the bottom leaves. After reading your post, I have adjusted my grow lights further away from my pepper plant. Currently, the new leaves are growing well, and there are no more curling leaves occurring.

    I would like to ask will the curled leaves at the bottom recover? Would it be advisable to remove them?

    Reply
    • Glad to hear that moving the lights has made a difference – as pepper plants grow, they don’t need as much intense light.

      As for the already curled leaves, they most likely will not recover as the leaf cells have already developed in an irregular way. However there is no need to remove them. They can likely still photosynthesize despite the unsightly appearance.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  3. I bought 4 pepper seedlings on Tuesday and transplanted into 1 gal buckets outside. The plants seem to be growing fine but the lower two or three leaves are slightly yellow on the edges and curled just a bit. The upper leaves are growing large and healthy.
    Should I be concerned?
    We have had a good but if rain these last few days. Also a couple nights down around 50°F.
    Also, should I top off these transplants once they get 3 or 4 leaf sets?
    Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Hi James, the yellowing is likely caused by a nutrient deficiency. Yellowing leaves starting at the bottom of the plant indicate a deficiency in nitrogen. Get a good fertilizer and keep consistent with it until the plants are mature and begin producing flowers.

      — Read our post on yellowing leaves here: https://peppergeek.com/why-are-my-pepper-plants-turning-yellow/
      — Read our post on fertilizer here: https://peppergeek.com/fertilizer-for-pepper-plants/

      As for topping off, it is currently a bit later in the season than we would recommend doing this. You want to make sure the plants have enough time to produce the pods.

      If it will be below 40F, I would say take the plants inside overnight if possible. Otherwise , they should be able to handle cooler overnight temps.

      Reply
  4. Hello. I just transferred my jalapeño plants to a new container i did have to cut the roots (since the two plants are mixed together)?but there was a good amount of them left. The thing I’m worried about is that the leaves are now curled. I did give them some water and the soil was new potting soil. If you could give be me some tips that would be nice. Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi there,

      The curling could be caused by overwatering, sudden exposure to full sun, or a calcium deficiency. If they were put outside suddenly into the sun, the leaves may be closing up to avoid overexposure. Allow the soil to dry between waterings, and always allow water to drain.

      Good luck!
      -Calvin

      Reply

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