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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.

Keith

Tuesday 9th of August 2022

My hit banana peppers are not reaching size before ripening. Some reaching 1.5in before turning red. They are potted and in full sun. What might I be lacking. Buffalo ,NY and actually been good sunny summer.

peppergeek

Wednesday 10th of August 2022

I would guess it has to do with nutrients if the plant has had plenty of sunlight. That, or the pot size is too small. Without enough root mass, the plants will sometimes make smaller pods. It could also just be the early pods of the plant (sometimes the first 1-2 fruits are tiny while the plant is still growing up)

Julio

Saturday 23rd of July 2022

So i have a few peppers inside of a grow tent with a spider farmer sf4000. I also have a few on my window. Ive noticed the plants growing in the tent have much tighter node spacing and have yet to put out any flowers, while the ones in the window are growing pretty tall and have put out flowers and even fruits. They were all purchased at the same time, only difference is the plants in the tent are in 5gallon fabric pots and the ones on the window are in 1 gallon nursery pots. Is there any reason why the plants in the tent are seemingly not doing as well? They are all cherry bomb and carolina reapers. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

ed weibe

Tuesday 5th of July 2022

Habenaero's are tough growing for me. low yield if at all. Right now I ahve a plant thats been repotted and is still the same size from two weeks ago. When I report it though I see a large sqaure chunk of the root ball still in the shape of the original pot. I can only presume the roots are just jammed up. Am going to try unpotting and crunking that soil/root clump to see whats going on in there.

Renee

Wednesday 8th of June 2022

I have pepper plants in a raised bed with plenty of room. New nutrients dense soil. Northern Californi in a sunny hot climate. They havnt grown since I bought small plants about 6" tall at Home Depot a month ago. They flowered & grew fruit right away but the plants have not grown. I can see no pests, the leaves look good I have shavings over the soil, I do not over water. All I can think of is I will try fertilizing. Any other comments or tips are appreciated.

GeraldMichael

Monday 20th of June 2022

@Renee, I'm Nor-Cal too; my plants are in quality loose soil with nutrients, in beds, pots, bags, ground -- purchased a little over a month ago, healthy, at a reputable garden center. I keep them evenly moist, good drainage, occasional dry-out -- everything by the book. They get constant sun and overnight warmth in a protected corner. And yet -- spindly, spare, lackluster... Tomatoes are doing this too. Yet no bugs or scale... My only thought has been the wind -- constant since April, and occasionally with temperature swings.

peppergeek

Tuesday 14th of June 2022

Usually, storebought plants will be on the brink of flowering. It is best to remove the flower buds/tiny peppers straight away before transplanting to encourage root development and foliage growth. The plants are also often root bound, so it is a good idea to loosen the root ball, or in extreme cases cut off the bottom 1/2" of the root ball to re-stimulate growth outwards.

becky

Saturday 4th of June 2022

Hi, Andy. I stumbled upon this site and found lots of useful information! :) We just started a pepperoncini plant (about 5 inches high) in a pot on the deck and it has not grown at all in a week. It has not died either, so that is a bonus, I guess! We planted it in quality potting soil, water frequently, and use the water from boiled banana peels as well. My husband read that somewhere! Any suggestions? We have grown jalapenos in the past with awesome results and the red peppers and squash that are on the deck in other pots today are thriving (same soil, same sunlight, same watering, etc.) Thanks very much.