Growing peppers comes with a ton of potential issues throughout the season. One common problem for growers is sunscald on peppers. Yes, the sun is a vital component of growing peppers outdoors, but it can also become too intense for tender plants and fruits.
In this article, we will show you how to identify sunscald on pepper plants and how to avoid it. There are several growing techniques to help you prevent sunburn on your peppers.
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What Is Sunscald?
Sunscald on plants is defined as damage to plant tissue from excessive sunlight exposure. This may seem strange when you consider that plants need sunlight to produce energy and to grow.
Sunscald (or sun scald) on peppers is usually caused by excessive sunlight to tender portions of the plant. These include younger leaves and especially the developing fruits. The less developed skin of young fruits cannot tolerate full-sun conditions on many pepper varieties.
This exposure will essentially cause an injury to your peppers, almost like a sunburn for your plants. It is especially common when plants are transitioned from an indoor to an outdoor growing space with fruits already on the plant.
How To Identify Sunscald on Peppers
Sunscald on peppers can be mistaken for other conditions, but it has a few defining characteristics. Sunburn will often start as a white or black discoloration on the pepper fruit’s skin.
These localized spots will develop over time to become soft. Once the tissue is damaged, it is much more susceptible to diseases and plant pathogens. This often leads to rotting.
Alternaria Fruit Rot
Alternaria fruit rot is a condition that is mainly caused by injury to your peppers. Lesions form at the site of the injury and eventually sink. They will often then become covered in a brown or black mold. Fruit rot can be caused by sunscald injury, but also by extreme cold, heat, insect damage or a calcium deficiency. See more on fruit rot here.
Brown or white foliage
Fruits are not the only part of a pepper plant that is vulnerable to sunscald. Without proper transitioning, tender young pepper plant leaves may become damaged from excessive sunlight.
Sunscald on pepper leaves will start with leaves turning brownish or white, quickly becoming dry and crispy to the touch.
Though sunscald on plants may seem counter-intuitive, it is a real concern if you are growing in full sunlight. It is mainly caused by exposed fruits, so lets turn to some solutions to avoid sunscald on peppers.
How To Prevent Sunscald on Peppers
The best way to fix sunscald is to avoid it altogether. Once it occurs, your fruits will most likely be unusable. If you plan to sell your peppers, sunscald may cause a loss of some of your crop. Follow these guidelines to help reduce your risk of sunscald on peppers.
Fertilize Properly During Early Plant growth
One of the best ways to avoid sunscald on peppers is to feed regularly during young growth. If your plants don’t get a good start to the season, they may have smaller leaf canopies. This means more light can reach the peppers once they begin growing.
Provide plenty of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as calcium and magnesium. This does not require fertilizer, but if your soil is not nutrient rich, there are many supplemental options.
Fox Farm makes a great trio of fertilizers, one for each stage of plant growth. Follow a rigorous feeding schedule from day one!
Learn more about fertilizing peppers in our article here.
Harden Off Plants
When starting pepper plants from seed, it is often required to start indoors during the winter. Indoor conditions are very different from outdoor conditions. The sunlight is significantly brighter than grow lights, and wind and rain will stress the plants as well.
Learn more about hardening off pepper plants here.
Give your plants a proper transition period when moving them outdoors. If you simply put your pepper plants outside in full-sun, they will definitely have issues. We usually give our plants a couple of weeks to get used to the outdoors. This means gradually increasing the time spent outside each day until they are ‘hardened off.’
Grow Varieties With Shading Leaves
Hot, sunny days can be great for pepper plant development. After all, peppers require full sunlight to grow at their best! However, these highly sunny days are when peppers are most vulnerable to sunscald.
Some varieties of pepper plants have better leaf coverage than others. When choosing which variety to grow, consider how well the canopy will shade the developing fruits.
For example, bell peppers have large leaves, offering plenty of shade to the peppers. However, some ornamental pepper varieties have much smaller leaves. Other varieties have peppers that grow vertically, breaching the leaf canopy. This leaves room for the sun to penetrate and scald the fruits. If you’re planting one of these varieties, consider planting in a spot with partial shade.
Provide Alternate Shade
When you are planning your garden, it is important to consider where each plant should go. Peppers are relatively short and require lots of sunlight. Usually, you’ll want to keep them out in the sun as long as possible.
However, if you have a plant that may be susceptible to sunscald, you can plan to have the plant be partially shaded during the day. This could be as simple as planting it on the northeast or northwest side of a taller plant. The larger plant will then provide some shade to your pepper plant as the sun sweeps across the sky.
If you don’t have other plants in your garden, you can create makeshift shade. Try using an umbrella or a piece of furniture to provide some shade (especially during the hottest hours of day).
Use Shade Cloth
If all else fails, you can set up shade cloth to avoid sunscald on pepper plants. This can be used on a temporary basis while fruits are young and developing. Just make sure that your plants receive enough sunlight to continue growing strong.
Sunscald on your peppers can be very disheartening to see. If you suspect that your plants may be at risk, take precautions early and save the peppers! As always, you learn a bit more each year you grow, so next year can be a better success.
Good luck, and if you have any questions, feel free to leave them below.