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Pepper Plants Not Growing – Stunted Pepper Plants – Easy Tips

Are your pepper plants not growing as expected? Slow or stunted growth happens to peppers sometimes, but there are methods to fix it. We have put together our top tips for when your pepper plants are not growing.

The first few tips in this article will pertain to younger plants, while the later tips will apply to more mature pepper plants. However, we recommend reading all of these causes to ensure that you take preventative measures next season!

All of these methods are part of basic pepper plant care. Your routine may simply need one adjustment to get your pepper plants to start growing normally again. For each possible cause, we’ll cover some other symptoms you will likely see in addition to slowed or stopped plant growth.

Pepper Plant Spacing

1. Give Young Peppers Plenty Of Light

Peppers come from a warm climate with lots of sunshine. Young plants are the most susceptible to poor growth if given too little light.

No, a sunny window is not ideal for young pepper plants. For best results and the fastest growth, use a grow light on seedlings indoors. We recommend to provide young pepper plants with 14-16 hours of light per day.

Symptoms of poor lighting:

  • Leggy plants (tall and lanky)
  • Thin stems
  • Slowed growth rate

If you already use a grow light, make sure it is strong enough for your peppers. Light is the energy source for your plants, and this energy is used to form new leaves and branches. Without adequate energy, your pepper plants will grow more slowly.

For a quick recommendation, try this budget grow light on Amazon.


2. Fertilize Regularly, But Not Too Much

Once pepper seeds sprout, they will start to use nutrients. They don’t need much at first, but as they grow larger, they will use more and more.

Depending on the stage of growth, the type and quantity of fertilizer you use will vary. For young plants 4 weeks or younger, we recommend 1/2 strength nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Alternatively, you could use a nutrient-rich potting soil without fertilizing at all.

See all our recommended soils and fertilizers here.

For plants that are beginning to produce flowers and fruits, we recommend switching to a phosphorus-rich fertilizer and reducing nitrogen. This encourages the plant to stop growing new leaves and focus on producing peppers.

Other symptoms of nutrient issues:

  • Yellowing leaves
  • Leaves wilting or falling off
  • Flowers dropping

Note: If you use a nutrient-rich soil, then fertilizer is likely unnecessary for the first 2-3 months of growth.

If your pepper plants are not growing, consider your fertilizer regimen and adjust if necessary. If you are fertilizing consistently or have healthy soil, look to other possible causes.


3. Don’t Over-Water

We will chant this mantra time and time again to new pepper growers. Peppers always prefer even-watering, and never too much! This is the most unforgivable form of over-loving your pepper plants.

Too much water can cause a plethora of issues, one of which is stunted pepper plant growth. While under-watering isn’t great either, over-watering just might be the death of your plants.

Other signs of over-watering:

As you can see, over-watering is not good for peppers. Get it under control and learn how to know for certain when your pepper plants are thirsty.

Read more about watering pepper plants here.


4. Transplant Shock

Transplanting is a necessary step in growing peppers from seed. Shortly after transplanting seedlings into larger pots, the plants may grow more slowly for a few days.

This is normal. When peppers move to a larger pot, the root systems need some time to adjust to new surroundings. Be patient and allow the plant to recover without too much disturbance. We also recommend avoiding fertilizing for the week or so after transplanting.

Sun shock is a related issue that can occur when transplanting peppers to the outdoors for the first time. Direct sunlight is much more intense than grow lights, and pepper plants must be hardened off gradually to avoid damage.

Other signs of transplant shock:

  • Leaf drop
  • Curling or abnormal leaves forming
  • Sun scald (if moving to the outdoors)

Most important is to be patient after transplanting while the plant recovers. More often than not, the plants integrate within a week or so, and then take off in growth!

Note: If your plants have been outdoors for several weeks and are still not growing, your soil may be compacted. Avoid walking on garden soil, especially when it is wet!


5. Don’t Compress Soil Too Much

The roots of your pepper plants like a well-aerated, porous medium to grow through. If you pack your potting mix too tightly, the roots may struggle to expand and absorb water efficiently. The water will also have difficulty draining properly from the soil.

For potted plants, we recommend packing soil down, but never too tightly. When filling new pots with soil, stop compressing when you start to some feel resistance. This is especially important if you are using a coir-based product.

Compress too little, and the soil will collapse when you water for the first time. Compress too hard and the roots will not have access to enough oxygen.

Other signs of compacted soil:

  • Root rot
  • Leaves dying
  • Oversaturated soil
  • Poor drainage

If your ground soil is compacted, use a garden fork to gently loosen the soil up. For raised beds or garden plots, we recommend gently loosening (not tilling) the soil each year a few weeks before planting.

Also, add compost and other organic material to ground soil to encourage good bacteria! Compost also helps with drainage and soil structure over the long term.


6. Transplant To A Larger Pot

One of the most obvious causes for pepper plants not growing is an under-sized container. Many pepper varieties can grow to be very large, over 6 feet in height. However, this is only possible with enough soil space.

We generally recommend that peppers are grown in a minimum of 3 gallons of soil. Ideally, your final pot size should be 5 gallons or larger for maximum yields.

How to Make Peppers Grow Faster

Other signs of under-sized containers:

When transplanting pepper plants, the timing is most important. Seedlings in small seed cell trays should usually be upsized to 3-4″ pots about 2-3 weeks after sprouting. After another 4-6 weeks, they will be ready to move outdoors to full-sized containers or into the ground.


7. Pull Weeds Regularly

This may seem obvious, but weeds can inhibit your pepper plant’s ability to grow. While weeding is a chore, it is important to avoid your peppers from competing with unwanted plants. Weeds can also be a breeding ground for unwanted pests.

Pull weeds when they are small to prevent large, nutrient-stealing root systems. Alternatively, lay down a mulch cover around the base of your peppers, such as chopped straw or a black tarp. This will prevent weeds from growing in the first place.

Young Peppers with Straw mulch 2
Mulching around pepper plants to suppress weeds.

Learn more about keeping weeds out of the garden here.

Other signs of excessive weeds:

  • Well, when the weeds are taller than your pepper plants, you have a problem!

For larger garden plots, we highly recommend using a weeding hoe.


8. Check For Pests

Pests can be a nightmare for any type of garden plant. Peppers are vulnerable to aphids, spider mites, thrips, grasshoppers, slugs, caterpillars, and many others.

When pepper plants are under attack, they can often slow or stop growing. However, there are some tell-tale signs of insect damage.

Other signs of pest damage:

  • Curled leaves
  • Holes in leaves or peppers
  • Random brown spotting on leaves
  • Bite marks in leaves (usually caterpillars or slugs)
  • Live pests (look closely and under leaves)
Adult thrip closeup on pepper stem
Thrip on pepper stem.

Aphids are known to feed on young foliage. If you have aphids, your plants may be trying to grow, but can’t because the new leaves are being destroyed.

Learn more about treating pests on pepper plants in our article here.


9. Disease

Unfortunately, pepper plants are susceptible to a variety of diseases as well as pests. Most will cause visible signs of infection and distress.

Diseases can often mean that your pepper plant must be discarded. Most can spread easily from one plant to another, and many can lay dormant in soil or seeds, infecting future crops.

To avoid disease, always be sanitary while in the garden. We also recommend bottom pruning pepper branches to keep leaves up and away from the soil. Never water over the top of your plants, always just at the base of the main stem.

Many diseases are spread via pests as well, so be sure to control your pests in addition to bottom pruning and mulching. Read our article on pepper plant diseases and problems here.


10. Plants Have Reached Mature Size

The last possibility is that your pepper plants have simply reached their mature size! Some pepper varieties won’t grow above 1′ tall, regardless of container size. Others can grow to be truly massive and produce thousands of pods.

Be sure to set your plant size expectations realistically at the beginning of the grow season. In our experience, C. chinense and C. baccatum pepper species tend to grow quite large, while C. annuum are small to medium-sized.


As we’ve covered, there are many possible causes for pepper plants not growing or growing slowly. With the right nudge, I hope your plants will be back on track and growing healthy again soon.

Calvin Thumbnail

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.

Andy

Wednesday 25th of May 2022

Hi - I’ve over wintered a chilli plant (superhot) and now re potted to a new pot and compost ,the plant looked healthy and had new growth in all the nodes - it’s now only producing very small leaves only the size of a finger nail -much smaller than the original size leaves and no new branches - it’s now been like this for weeks with no new growth - it’s looking quite bare - I’m not sure what is causing this- other plants are growing as they should be - Any suggestions would be welcome - the soil make up is compost , worm castings , perlite , handful bone meal slow release fertiliser and some chicken pellet fertiliser mixed in - I’ve used this soil make up for years - Any help would be greatly appreciated- Andy

Andy

Monday 16th of May 2022

I have 14 pepper plants of various varieties but I am running into the same issue with basically all of them. They are the same size or maybe 1 set of leaves taller than when I put them in the ground nearly a month ago. It is a brand new raised bed, fully organic, filled with 6" of compost, 3" of composted horse manure and sand, and 3" of additional compost. in addition to that there are about 6 dead fish (bluegill) buried in the soil under them. i have given them an additional shot of blood meal and fish emulsion but to no avail. They get a full 8hrs of sun/day and a water them well every 2-3 days give or take. the soil is loose and airy, they are mulched well with straw, but they are just not growing well. Some of them have some light yellowing on the leaves. The only exception to this is my over wintered habanero that is planted in the same area and has just set about 10-12 fruits.

I'm at a loss...

Amy

Friday 6th of May 2022

I have jalapeno, bell and poblano peppers growing. Soil is acidic, sandy, and all three have thrived the past three years. I haven't done a single thing differently this year, but the japs and bells are only about six inches tall, to the poblano's 15 inches, all planted the same weekend. Also, the japs and bells leaves are so huge they're nearly touching the ground (about a third of the leaves on each plant). It is possible I'm overwatering - I can't stand to see them droop in the afternoons on days I don't water them. We did have 2 or 3 cold snaps about a week after I planted them (Easter weekend). If it's cold stunting, will they outgrow it now that it's unlikely to get cold at night anymore? Any guidance appreciated!

peppergeek

Sunday 8th of May 2022

If the cold weather passes, the plants should bounce back soon and start growing again. As long as the roots were protected, they shouldn't have too much trouble recovering.

Jimmy504

Tuesday 3rd of May 2022

First time grower here of ghost peppers. Plant is about 2 ft tall, looks healthy, watered by drip irrigation for 2 minute intervals every several hours , has tons of fruit bulbs that aren't getting any bigger and I have no clue why. I've had the plant for about a month and have not fertilized it yet, pH level is about 6.5.

peppergeek

Sunday 8th of May 2022

I might suggest a light feeding. If the fruits are full-sized, then they are probably just in-between and will eventually ripen at that size. Otherwise, feed on a regular schedule to encourage lots of full-sized fruits.

Leona

Sunday 1st of May 2022

I live on the west side of the mountains in Washington State. Is it better to grow peppers in a greenhouse in 5 8 gallon buckets or out in the garden?