What's messing up my bell peppers?

I have a four-year-old bell pepper plant that produces the tastiest bell peppers ever. Lately, however, the peppers all develop a strange kind of lesion by the time they’re ripe where a part of the skin is missing and there’s an off-white, dryish dent in the fruit several centimeters across in size, usually near the tip.

What gives? What it is that my pepper plant needs?

It could be sunscald. The control is to use varieties that are resistant to sunscald and to control leaf-eating pests on the plants.

It could also be blossom end rot.

jayjay speaks the truth. It could be either of these things. (Photos sure would help!)

Sunscald and blossom end rot are both environmental injuries. Sunscald is caused by – duh! – the sun, and blossom end rot is caused by lack of calcium, usually the result of uneven moisture – the soil gets really dry, and then it gets really wet.

Thing is, sunscald and blossom end rot can make the plant susceptible to pathogens like alternaria.

You don’t say where you’re located, but with a 4-year-old pepper plant (long may it prosper!), you either have to be somewhere Zone 9-ish or have a greenhouse.

Check with your local Extension office. Many Extension services have some kind of plant disease or diagnostic clinic.

Thanks for the suggestions, jayjay & freckafree!

Sunscald it can’t be, unless it is caused by too little sun. I live in SW Finland and the plant is indoors…

Blossom end rot sounds and looks plausible. What I’ve read about watering plants is that watering too frequently and in too small amounts per watering are bad for plants, because it causes the root system to grow weak and shallow, ie. close to the soil surface. Accordingly, I water the bell pepper roughly once a week, using maybe six liters of water and a dash of multi-nutrient for plants.

I know that pepper plants love water. Maybe I should increase the waterings while reducing the amount of water per session? Or if lack of calcium is the culprit, maybe giving the plant that (bone filings?) would clear up my peppers?

It’s not that simple unfortunately. While blossom end rot is caused by a lack of calcium in the plant it has nothing to do with a lack of calcium in the soil. It’s caused by the plant either not being able to absrob calcium, or not being able to divert it to the fruit. Oddly it can be caused by not having enough water or having too much. To little water and either their is nothing to dissolve the calcium in, so it stays on the soil, or else any calcium absorbed is shunted to the leaves along with the available water so the fruits are deprived. Too much water and the water in the soil displaces the oxygen, causing the roots to suffocate and stop transporting calcium form the soil.

So you can put all the calcium you like in the soil, it’s unlikely to help.

If you want to remedy it with fertiliser you need a foliar calcium treatment.You might be bale to find these at a garden shop, and the are available on line. Just mix some in water and spray on the leaves. That way the plant can get the mineral without having it involve the roots.

Increased frequency of waterings probably won’t solve the problem unless the deficiency is caused by a lack of water. If your soil is getting waterlogged, at least periodically, increasing the frequency of watering will just mean the soil is wet more of the time. What you really need to do is water enough t keep the soil moist but not wet. How often and how much that is depends on your soil, weather, and the size of the plants.

Another trick that’s probably worth trying is simply aerating the soil. Make lots of holes by driving a garden fork in around the plant down to about 50cm. More air in the soil, better root respiration, better calcium uptake.

An application of gypsum is the best way deliver much needed calcium to a plant. Gypsum will not alter the pH of the soil as limestone might and it is rather inexpensive. Delivering calcium at this point will not save the fruit already affected and probably not those that are much larger than your thumbnail, but the next batch will be fine. A foliar calcium application is a quick fix but, with a 4 year old pepper plant, you obviously need a long term solution.

No, they won’t.

As I just pointed out, BER is almost never caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. It is caused by a lack of calcium in the fruit. The addition of five pounds of gypsum per square foot won’t do anything at all to adress blossom end rot in 99.9% of cases.

Yes, you do. But the addition of gypsum isn’t any sort of fix over any time frame. The problem is not a lack of calcium in the soil, it is a lack of calcium in the fruit and quite unrelated to calcium levels in the soil.