What is wrong with my pepper plant?
March 21, 2010 6:00 AM   Subscribe

What is killing my habanero pepper plant, and how do I save it?

I have a habanero pepper plant. I've had it for about a year, during which time it has been amazingly resilient. It was planted outside last summer, and a rabbit ate all the leaves. It recovered, survived living in a shady area, and even produced a single pepper. In September, I dug it up, potted it in a 6" pot, and brought it to our new house, where my cat promptly ate off every leaf again. It now lives in a birdcage and the cats leave it alone. In the past few months it has really made a comeback, producing many leaves and, recently, flowering.
But now it seems to be having trouble again. Flowers and leaves are yellowing and dropping off. What is going on? Is it rootbound? Underwatered? Overwatered? Needs more fertilizer? (I put in a couple of spikes a few days ago.) When I look at the hole in the bottom of the pot, I can just see a tiny bit of root.
How can I save my plant? I'd hate to lose it now that it's survived so much!
posted by Adridne to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
Hello, I am about to ask an idiotic question, which is thus: does the birdcage have birds in it? Because if so, bird poop has lots of nitrogen in it, overdoses of which can cause yellowing of leaves. You can remedy this with a bit of gardening lime, or just by moving the plant again.

Else, check the leaves with a magnifying glass and see if there are any creepy crawlies. It could be some type of virus or mite.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:18 AM on March 21, 2010

I would say offhand get a bigger pot and check the roots if they are not white but brownish they are rotting from too much water, thus yellowing the leaves and dropping them.
posted by Max Power at 6:26 AM on March 21, 2010

Test the pH of your soil.
posted by wongcorgi at 6:29 AM on March 21, 2010

yellowing can also be a sign of iron deficiency. if the potting soil is new and store bought, it should be o.k. if not, it's an easy fix with some chelated iron or even burying a rusty nail in the pot
posted by Redhush at 7:22 AM on March 21, 2010

There are several reasons this could be happening. In my experience, it has always been temperature related:

Temperature. Pepper plants are extremely sensitive to temperature. This is probably one of the most common causes for lack of flowering or bud drop and one of the most likely to suspect first. Optimum daytime temperatures for bell pepper varieties are between 70 and 80 degrees F, with up to 85 degrees F for hot varieties, like chili peppers.

Nighttime temperatures falling below 60 or rising above 75 degrees F are also indicative of bud drop. In addition, overly cool conditions, especially early in the season, can prevent buds from forming.

When the nights warmed up, and the days were hot, my habaneros flurished.
posted by walleeguy at 7:48 AM on March 21, 2010

I was also going to mention temperature/sunlight. I have tried to winter-over sun & heat loving plants like basil before and failed miserably because I had crappy light in my apartment. Do some research before you buy a light for it, apparently the incandescent "gro-light" blue bulbs you see at Lowe's, etc. do no good. You'll need something fluorescent.
posted by sararah at 8:13 AM on March 21, 2010

Plant pathologist here. It could be low light levels- peppers need a lot of light. It could be humidity: peppers are generally outdoor plants, and do poorly under the dry conditions we have in our houses. It could be over-watering- a plant in low light and dry conditions isn't going to be transpiring normally. Finally, I don't know how to tell you this, but peppers are annuals, and keeping one going for more than one season may not work very well.

As soon as temperatures allow, put the plant outside. You might even want to put it outside during the day and bring it in at night if you're still having frosts (but keep it in shade, because it's now not used to bright sunlight and will get scorched in full sun). If it produces another fruit, you might want to save the seeds and plant some so you can keep this individual genotype going. That's if you're sentimental; otherwise, just start some new seedlings.
posted by acrasis at 1:59 PM on March 21, 2010

acrasis: Most peppers are "tender perennials", I think. In tropical conditions they'll fruit for a long, long time.

Here's an article that might elucidate the problems you're having. It's probably a combination of wrong heat/light/humidity that's dooming your plant.
posted by maniactown at 2:33 PM on March 21, 2010

Thanks for the replies, everyone.
I've started putting it outside on sunny days (it was already in a very sunny location inside), and watering it less.
Whatever is happening to it seems to be very slow, so hopefully it will make it until it can live outside all the time again.
Lots of stuff to consider here. I'll make some changes and see what works...
posted by Adridne at 6:48 AM on March 22, 2010

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