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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 slowed or stopped plant growth.

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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 providing 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

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 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)

One option is to use a transplant shock fertilizer at the time of transplanting. These stimulate new root growth and can help pepper plants acclimate more quickly.

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!


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.

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!


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 8 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.


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.

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)

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.

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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.

Trisha B

Friday 30th of July 2021

My pepper plants have confused me for sure. They started producing and then all growth stopped where it was. After a little research I think possibly I was overwatering them. I didn’t give up and it took months but all of a sudden they all started growing again beautifully, producing a ton. Now suddenly I’m right back to everything completely stuck. Whatever peppers on the plant have stopped at whatever stage/size it is at and the plant itself has stopped growing in height and isn’t producing anything more.

Serafina

Wednesday 28th of July 2021

I have the opposite problem. I've two Mad Hatter pepper plants- one of my favorite varieties- planted in my keyhole garden, right next to the compost bin. It's only my second year doing this, and the plants are ENORMOUS! Ordinarily, I wouldn't complain, except they are overshadowing everything else in the 6'x6' bed! The spread is probably 6' x 4' & 4' high They're amazingly healthy & absolutely LOADED with fruit! Great! But I also want my other peppers! It's so hard to prune. Should I do a hard cut back?

Is this typical for a keyhole garden? Should I just plan in the future to have only a few plants there? Thanks in advance

peppergeek

Wednesday 28th of July 2021

Hey - so Keyhole gardens were designed for smaller root system crops - lettuce, herbs, kale, bok choy, carrots, beets, onions, etc. Pepper roots will typically take over and dominate in these types of gardens, we better to plant them in a separate bed or in pots and save the keyhole for leafy veggies..but nothing wrong with letting your huge mad hatter produce for this year and enjoying it!

John

Sunday 27th of June 2021

Hi, I have just started trying to grow chilli peppers and know that I am a little late in the season (Scotland) so I bought a plant which has now started to flower. I noticed that at each node the junction is turning black and reaches half an inch or so up each stalk at the juntion. I thought this a fungal infection then noticed the same on a plants in a few youtube videos including your latest on flower drop. Can you please tell me what this is and whether it is something to be concerned about?

Thanks

peppergeek

Wednesday 30th of June 2021

Hi John, the darkening at nodes is completely normal for many varieties. As long as your plant looks otherwise healthy, assume this is normal.

Deborah Peck

Thursday 10th of June 2021

I have Anaheim chili and jalapeño plants that are mostly long tall stems, and leaves, not a bushy filled out plant, I planted them mid March, I’m in a hot desert of California,I definitely water them regularly and fertilizer..why aren’t they becoming bigger bushier and producing peppers?..they’re all in HUGE pots

Brewster

Monday 7th of June 2021

I'm switching to 5 gallon buckets next year. Tired of soil compaction and messing around with composting. What do you think about half potting and half store bought garden soil mixture ?

peppergeek

Monday 7th of June 2021

For peppers, that should work. Just make sure it has a good balance of drainage, water/nutrient retention, and organic materials.