Pepper plant leaves curling: Here’s what to do

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Understanding and addressing leaf curl in pepper plants is essential for maintaining health and maximizing productivity. Read on to learn how to diagnose and treat the issue of leaf curl so your plants can thrive!

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What causes leaf curl on pepper plants?

When the leaves of your pepper plants start to curl, it indicates that your plant is experiencing environmental stress. However, there’s no need to panic because, with prompt action, you can usually resolve the issue.

Water stress

One of the most common causes of leaf curl is water stress. Both overwatering and underwatering can result in the curling of pepper plant leaves.


Overwatering is a significant concern when growing pepper plants, as they are susceptible to excessive moisture. It can quickly become damaging to the health of the plants. When peppers are overwatered, their ability to absorb oxygen and nutrients from the soil is hindered, resulting in the curling of leaves. Additionally, stunted growth and the appearance of yellowing leaves may serve as additional indicators of overwatering. To accurately gauge the moisture levels in the soil, you can utilize a soil moisture meter, which will provide you with valuable information about the condition of the soil.

What to do about it:

If you suspect overwatering is the cause of leaf curl in your pepper plants, there are several steps you can take to address the issue:

  1. Decrease the watering frequency: Allow the soil to dry out partially between waterings. This will help prevent the roots from waterlogging and promote better oxygen circulation.
  2. Consider drilling more drain holes: If your pepper plant is in a container, ensure it has proper drainage by adding more drain holes to the bottom. This will allow excess water to escape and prevent water accumulation around the roots.
  3. Transplant into well-draining soil: If you suspect that the soil itself is the culprit and it retains too much moisture, it may be beneficial to transplant your pepper plant into a different container or garden bed with well-draining soil. This will help ensure proper water distribution and prevent overwatering.


Dehydration is another factor that can lead to leaf curl in pepper plants. When plants do not receive adequate water, their leaves may curl downward as a response to conserve moisture. Recognizing the signs of underwatering is essential to address the issue promptly.

To determine if your pepper plants need more water, you can employ a couple of methods. Firstly, stick your finger 1-2 inches into the soil. If the soil is slightly moist, it indicates some moisture is still present. Alternatively, you can use a soil moisture meter. A reading of 3 or lower on the meter suggests it’s time to water your plants.

What to do about it:

If you suspect that underwatering is the cause of leaf curl in your pepper plants, take the following steps to alleviate the issue:

  1. Water more often and/or thoroughly: Increase the frequency and depth of watering to ensure your plants receive adequate moisture. Monitor the soil moisture levels regularly and adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
  2. Ensure proper watering techniques for containers: If your pepper plants are in containers, water them until excess water begins to seep out from the drainage holes at the bottom. This ensures thorough watering and allows any accumulated salts to be flushed out.
  3. Moisture for plants in the ground or raised beds: Water the soil deeply enough to moisten it at least two inches down for pepper plants planted directly in the ground or raised beds. This encourages the roots to grow deeper, enhancing their ability to access moisture.

Providing your pepper plants with sufficient water and proper hydration can help them recover quickly from the effects of underwatering, as long as you catch the issue in time.


Edema is a condition that can lead to leaf curl in pepper plants, particularly in indoor settings. It is characterized by the formation of tiny, light-colored crystal-like blisters on the undersides of the leaves. In severe cases, edema can cause noticeable leaf curling. This condition occurs when the plant absorbs more water than it can handle, leading to the rupture of leaf cells due to excess water accumulation. If left untreated, edema can result in leaf loss, impacting the plant’s ability to carry out photosynthesis effectively.

What to do about it:

To mitigate the effects of edema and prevent further leaf curl, consider the following steps:

  1. Water less frequently: Reduce watering frequency to avoid overloading the plant with excessive moisture. It’s recommended to water in the morning so that the soil has sufficient time to drain before evening when cooler temperatures can increase humidity levels.
  2. Improve spacing and airflow: Increased spacing between pepper plants allows for better airflow and reduces humidity around the foliage. If your plants are indoors, using a fan to promote air circulation can help dissipate moisture more quickly and improve overall airflow around the leaves.

How much water do peppers need?

a hand holding a moisure reader that reads "4.5 moisture" into the soil among green foliage

Proper watering is crucial for the health and productivity of pepper plants. Generally, peppers require about 1 inch of water per week to thrive. To ensure optimal moisture levels, monitoring the soil moisture using a soil water gauge is helpful. All vegetables require soil moisture levels ranging from 41% to 80% or a reading of 4-8 on a soil water gauge. 

However, pepper plants have slightly lower water needs compared to other vegetables. To maintain the appropriate soil moisture level, keep the average reading on a water gauge at around 4-5. Allow it to drop to 3 before watering again, ensuring the plants receive adequate moisture without becoming waterlogged. You can grab a moisture meter on Amazon for less than $15!

How to tell if you’re under or overwatering?

Distinguishing between symptoms of underwatering and overwatering can be challenging as they may appear similar. However, there are some telltale signs to help you identify the cause of the problem. When leaves curl upward, it often indicates overwatering, while leaves curling downward typically suggest underwatering.

To accurately assess moisture levels, use a water gauge to measure the soil moisture content. This can provide valuable insights into whether the soil has the appropriate moisture level for your pepper plants. Additionally, be vigilant for other signs of edema, such as blisters under the leaves. Such blisters are more commonly associated with overwatering and can further indicate if excessive moisture is causing the leaf curl.

By carefully monitoring the moisture levels and observing the specific leaf curl patterns, you can determine whether your peppers are being overwatered or underwatered, enabling you to take appropriate action to restore their health.

Too much sunlight

Pepper plants generally have high sunlight requirements; in most cases, excessive sunlight is not a problem. However, this issue is more commonly encountered with seedlings, particularly when starting seeds indoors. If your seedlings receive too much light, it can result in leaf curling.

One possible cause of excessive sunlight effects is when the grow lights used for indoor seedlings are positioned too close to the plants. The intense light can overwhelm the young plants and lead to leaf curling. Running the grow lights continuously without providing a period of darkness can also contribute to this issue.

When pepper seedlings experience excessive sunlight, their leaves tend to curl upward, resembling a taco shape as they almost close in on themselves. This distinctive leaf curling pattern is a common symptom of seedlings exposed to too much light. 

It’s worth noting that rapid hardening off, which involves acclimating seedlings to outdoor conditions, can also cause similar leaf curling due to sudden exposure to intense sunlight.

What to do about it:

If you notice leaf curling in your pepper seedlings due to excessive sunlight, there are several steps you can take to rectify the situation:

  1. Adjust the distance of grow lights: Move the grow lights farther away from your pepper plants to reduce the intensity of light exposure. This will help prevent the leaves from curling and experiencing stress. Experiment with different distances to find the optimal position that provides sufficient light without overwhelming the seedlings.
  2. Optimize lighting hours: Reduce the duration of lighting provided to your pepper seedlings. Ideally, aim for 12 to 16 hours of light per day. This will allow the plants to receive the necessary amount of light while also allowing for periods of darkness, which are essential for healthy plant development.
  3. Gradually acclimate seedlings during hardening off: If you are hardening off your pepper seedlings, take it slow to avoid shock and damage caused by sudden exposure to intense sunlight. Gradually increase their exposure to sunlight by adding an additional hour each day. This gradual adjustment will help the plants adapt and minimize the risk of leaf curling due to excessive sunlight.

Pest damage

a hand holding a pepper leaf to reveal small dots on the underside

Localized leaf curling in pepper plants can indicate the presence of insect damage. Common pests such as aphids, thrips, and spider mites are known to cause this symptom. To determine if pests are the cause, it’s essential to physically inspect the undersides of the affected leaves for signs of insect infestation. Additionally, dark spots on the leaves and yellowing can serve as additional indicators of pest damage.

What to do about it:

If you confirm the presence of pests causing leaf curling in your pepper plants, you can take the following actions to mitigate the issue:

  1. Manual removal or washing: Sometimes, pests like aphids and other insects can be manually squished or removed from the plant by gently spraying them off with a hose. This physical removal method can help reduce the pest population and alleviate the damage.
  2. Consider pesticide options: If the pest infestation is severe or manual removal is insufficient, you can explore the use of pesticides. Options such as capsaicin-based products, neem oil, or insecticidal soap can effectively control pests on pepper plants. Follow the instructions on the pesticide label carefully to ensure safe and proper application.

When using pesticides, it’s crucial to consider their potential impact on beneficial insects and the environment. Opt for organic or environmentally friendly options whenever possible, and always follow the recommended application rates and safety precautions.

Calcium deficiency

A deficiency of calcium can contribute to leaf curl in pepper plants. It’s important to note that this deficiency is typically not caused by a lack of calcium in the soil itself but rather by the plant’s inability to uptake an adequate amount of calcium. Calcium uptake can be hindered when the pH of the soil is imbalanced. Soils that are highly acidic or highly alkaline can both lead to calcium deficiencies in peppers (Jensen, 2010).

What to do about it:

To address calcium deficiency and prevent leaf curl in peppers, consider the following steps:

  1. Replenish calcium levels: If you suspect or are aware your soil lacks calcium, amendments such as bone meal can help replenish this nutrient. Ensure that the chosen amendment is balanced with magnesium as well, as these two nutrients work together for plant health.
  2. Test and adjust soil pH: Test the pH of your soil to determine if it is within the optimal range for calcium uptake. If the pH is too acidic or alkaline, adjustments may be necessary. Add appropriate soil amendments or treatments to bring the pH to a more balanced level (sulfur increases acidity, while lime reduces it), thus improving calcium availability to the pepper plants.

By addressing calcium deficiency through the use of suitable amendments and maintaining the proper soil pH, you can support healthy calcium uptake in your pepper plants and reduce the occurrence of leaf curl.

Don’t let leaf curl discourage you! With the knowledge gained from this article, you can tackle the various causes of leaf curl in your pepper plants. 

Remember, timely action is vital in addressing water stress, over or underwatering, excessive sunlight, pest damage, and nutrient deficiencies. Embrace the journey of gardening, and don’t be disheartened by leaf curl. Your pepper plants will bounce back with patience, care, and the right interventions.

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