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Pepper plants are plagued with a variety of damaging pests that directly eat the plant or lay eggs that hatch into hungry larvae and devour leaves, stems and fruit. It is important to have vigilance when identifying these insects so proper measures are taken before the damage is done. With proper care and equipment, they can be controlled allowing for perfect peppers from the home garden.
Insects That Fly
Aphids are small brown-to-green winged or wingless insects that cluster on the undersides of leaves. They suck the juices until the leaves shrivel and die. Aphids produce a sticky substance called honeydew that sticks to the plant and causes mould on peppers or transmits a disease called potato virus Y that results in low fruit production. The release of beneficial insects that eat aphids, like ladybirds and green lacewings, will help solve the problem. Insecticidal soap used per package instructions will help and large colonies are controlled by spraying with pyrethoid insecticides. Pepper maggots come from yellow flies with a brown stripe on each wing. They lay eggs inside peppers and the resulting maggot eats it from inside out. Control must take place before eggs are laid by using a pesticide containing rotenone.
Insects That Bore
Boring insects tunnel into stems and fruit of the pepper plant. European corn borer, corn earworm or tomato fruitworm burrow holes into pods where fruit grows. Moisture is allowed to get inside and the peppers rot. Stems are also bored, causing them to break. The adult moth lays masses of 30 eggs that look like fish scales undersides of pepper leaves. The larvae hatch into 2-inch yellowish green or brown worms that start boring two to 24 hours later. There are pheromone traps available, but applying pyrethoid insecticides prior to the larvae entering the pod is the usual mode of control. Sevin is also effective, but spray or dust during the evening after bees stop gathering pollen so they will not be harmed.
Cutworms are grey brown or black and eat transplants off right at the soil level by chewing through the stem. Hornworms are a large green worm that also eats lower leaves of the pepper plant. Control both while planting transplants by wrapping a strip of newspaper around the stem, from under the soil to the first branch. This prevents the worms from getting to the stems.
Colorado potato beetles are yellow with a black strip and larvae are red-brown with black heads that eat foliage of peppers. Eggs are laid in orange masses on leaves and larvae are oblivious to the effects of most pyrethoids. Removing leaves that are incubating leaves is the best form of control. Flea beetles are tiny black-brown insects that eat holes in leaves. Dust plants with wood ash or spray with hot pepper or garlic spray after every rain. Pyrethrum also works in controlling them. Pepper weevils are small black beetles with long snouts. Adults eat pepper leaves and lay eggs in the pepper pods. Once they hatch, they eat the pod. Use pyrethrum to control these beetles.
- University of Kentucky; Common Insects Attacking Peppers; Ric Bessin
- National Gardening Association: What's Bugging My Peppers?
- "Mother Earth News" magazine; Growing Peppers; Barbara Pleasant; Feb/March 2010
- Utah State University Extension; Peppers in the Garden; Dan Drost; May 2005
- Alabama Cooperative Extension: Insect Control
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images