Why are your pepper plant leaves falling off? In this article, I’ll explain several possible causes for pepper leaves dropping.
Keep in mind, many of the causes are easy to fix! In most cases, your plants will make a full recovery, and may be perfectly healthy despite some leaves dropping.
It is natural to see a few leaves falling off your plants here and there, but this article should help you determine the root cause. If there are more serious issues, correcting your plant care may save your peppers in the long run.
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Natural Leaf Death
I’ll start with the most likely and least threatening cause of pepper leaves falling off. As pepper plants age, some leaves will grow old and naturally die.
- Lower leaves dying at random
- Yellowing color on just a few leaves
If the majority of your plant’s leaves appear healthy, natural leaf death is likely the cause. It is nothing to worry about! As long as the number of leaves dropping is relatively low, you shouldn’t worry.
This is especially common as pepper plants age. Newer leaves will take precedence over older leaves. It is also possible that a few leaves were damaged, leading to leaf death.
The most common nutrient deficiency is nitrogen. If plants lack necessary nitrogen, leaves will turn yellow and eventually fall off the plant.
Nitrogen is a mobile nutrient, meaning that the plant can move it around to different parts of the plant that need it most. As a result, a nitrogen deficient pepper plant will have yellowing leaves at the base of the plant, moving up as time goes on.
Other possible deficiencies include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur. If you are growing in pots, these are more likely to occur.
Read our article on pepper plant leaves turning yellow here.
Some pepper pests will suck the sap out of the plant’s leaves. Others will simply chew holes into the leaves. Either way, pests can certainly cause leaves to fall off.
- Curling leaves
- Brown patches on leaves or stems
- Visible pests (typically under leaves)
If you suspect pests, the first thing to do is locate and identify them. Check beneath leaves, especially on newer foliage. Some pests will also gather around newly forming flower buds.
Some pests are easier to deal with than others. Aphids can be sprayed off with a hose, while slugs and caterpillars must be picked off by hand. Prevention is key, so try planting some beneficial plants near your peppers to attract good insects.
Read more about dealing with pepper plant pests here.
Pepper leaves falling off can also be a natural response to environmental factors. This is because peppers are deciduous, similar to when trees drop their leaves in the fall.
Poor Watering Habits
Over-watering is our #1 “stop doing this now” no-no of growing peppers. Peppers require even watering, but too much can be catastrophic. Without proper drainage, the root system is essentially drowning.
- Curling leaves
- Yellowing leaves
- Root rot
If you are planting in pots, ensure that there are holes in the bottoms of them for adequate runoff. In-ground plants should be planted on mounds to allow rain to flow away from the roots.
Under-watering is better tolerated by pepper plants, but should still be avoided if possible. In severe cases, it can cause pepper leaves to drop.
If it is going to be very hot, peppers will drink significantly more water, especially when mature in size. Feel the first inch of soil for moisture before watering.
In either case, add some sort of organic material to your soil at the beginning of the season each year.
Keeping soil happy with organic material will help keep moisture levels even and consistent.
Learn more about watering peppers in our article about it here.
When peppers are moved outside into direct sunlight, the require hardening off. This is the process of gradually adjusting the plants to increasing amounts of direct sun.
- White or brown on leaves
- Shriveled, dried out leaves (crispy texture)
No matter how powerful your grow lights are, the sun is brighter. Though peppers will grow best in full sun, young, tender plants should never be moved outdoors without a transition period.
To harden off your peppers, start with just 15-20 minutes of direct sunlight, and then move the plants into shade. After a few days, increase time in the sun to 30-45 minutes, and so on. After 3-4 weeks, your plants should be able to tolerate full sun, all day.
In many climates, early autumn brings cool nighttime temperatures. Peppers are native to warm, almost tropical climates, which means cold weather is bad.
- Random leaves dropping all around the plant
- A general ‘thinning-out’ of the plant
As a response to cooler temperatures, pepper plants may drop some leaves to reduce exposure and transpiration. This can help them survive a cold night. However, at temperatures below freezing, most pepper varieties will simply die.
When expecting a cold night (below 50°F) , use garden cloth or a sheet to protect your pepper plants from the cold.
The final possible cause of pepper plant leaves falling off is disease. There are a number of diseases that can infect your pepper plants and cause leaf drop.
- Circular spots on leaves
- Fuzzy mold on leaves
If the leaves have spots that seem to be repetitive or have a pattern, your plant may be diseased. The best way to prevent many diseases is to keep lower leaves out of the soil.
Another method of prevention is keeping the plants as healthy as possible. Just like humans, a healthier organism will be better suited to fight off disease and viruses. Keep that soil healthy!
See more examples of pepper plant diseases here.
I hope this article helped you figure out why your pepper plant leaves are falling off. Let me know in the comments how you dealt with the issue and if you have any suggestions!