What Is Eating Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves? How To Get Rid Of Them!

Did you discover holes in pepper plant leaves and wonder what is causing them? These holes indicate that the plant is under attack by insects.
What Is Eating Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves. How To Get Rid Of Them
What Is Eating Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves? How To Get Rid Of Them!

So, what insects cause holes in pepper leaves? Slugs, flea beetles, grasshoppers, cutworms, armyworms, tomato/tobacco hornworms, cabbage loopers, Colorado potato beetles, or aphids are pests that might be responsible for chewing holes in pepper leaves.

The good news is that you can control these pests and save your pepper plants from further damage.

Reasons For Pests Eating Holes In Pepper Plant Leaves

Many pests enjoy feeding and drilling holes in pepper plants. Some bugs attack young plants. Some love eating pods or drinking plant juices, while others prefer eating leaves. So, identifying what pests make holes in pepper plants is essential before deciding what control you will be using.

Sometimes it could be challenging to identify pests. Spray neem oil onto the plant leaves. This will discourage most pests from eating your pepper plants. If you have more persistent pests, you can use spinosad or pyrethrin sprays.

Here are the common pests that can create eating holes in the pepper plant leaves:

  1. Slugs
  2. Flea Beetles
  3. Grasshoppers
  4. Cutworms and Armyworms
  5. Tomato and Tobacco Hornworms
  6. Cabbage Loopers
  7. Colorado Potato Beetle
  8. Aphids

1. Slugs

What Is Eating Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves - Slugs
Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves – Slugs

Slugs are slimy, soft-bodied mollusks found in moist, dark places. Slugs secrete a mucous-like slime that helps them move and cling to objects. They feed on decaying organic matter, which may include decaying plant material. Still, they will gladly chew on pepper seedlings and tender pepper plant leaves.

These pests are a common issue during rainy days or improper watering. If you water your plants in the evening, the ground and sometimes even leaves will not have enough time to dry out before the night. This type of environment is perfect for slugs. They will come and enjoy the meal. If that happens, you will see a dried-up slime on or beside the hole in the leaf.

Solution: As slugs are nocturnal and spend under cover during the day, the only way you can see them is during late evening or at night. Simply handpick them during the night and place them into a bucket with soapy water or use organic slug control pellets.

For long-term control, follow these tips:

  • Water your plants in the morning and let the ground dry out before night.
  • Ensure your plants are spaced out appropriately. Slugs will have fewer places to hide from beneficial animals.
  • Use live biological control by attracting frogs, toads, turtles, salamanders, shrews, or moles.

Pro Tip: Avoid using traditional slug and snail baits containing metaldehyde or methiocarb. These are chemical compounds toxic not only to slugs and snails but also to all other animals.

2. Flea Beetles

What Is Eating Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves - Flea beetles
Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves – Flea Beetles

Flea beetles are among the common pests that like to visit and damage pepper plant leaves. They are small metallic black, bronze, brown, or gray. 

These bugs prefer young plants that are not yet mature or just reaching maturity. The flea beetle attack signs include irregular holes in the leaves of pepper plants. These holes are very specific to flea beetles. So, if you identified them once, you will know next time.

Sometimes they will hide inside the flowers of the host crop. They usually feed in large groups and fall to the ground when disturbed.

Solution: Flea beetles are small but not easy to control. Different species can react differently to your control measure. Use citrus oil, garlic oil, or neem oil.

If you find flea beetles still drilling holes in your pepper leaves, use sprays containing pyrethrin or spinosad.

For long-term control, follow the tips:

  • Grow a trap crop such as radishes, mustard, and nasturtiums in other parts of the garden to divert attention from the pepper plant.
  • Repel these pests by planting catnip, thyme, basil, or marigolds around the garden.
  • Cover the young pepper plants with a lightweight floating row cover to block the access. Remove the cover when your plants begin to flower.
  • Attract beneficial insects such as braconid wasps, tachinid flies, lacewings, ladybugs, ground beetles, and damsel bugs to control these pests.

3. Grasshoppers

What Is Eating Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves - grasshoppers
Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves – Grasshoppers

Grasshoppers mostly eat leaves, but they will chew on flowers, stems, and seeds. The pepper plant is not their favorite meal, but they will chew on them in the absence of food. 

It is pretty easy to identify grasshoppers. Just listen to the chirping sound they make. If you can hear it in your garden, it is possible that grasshoppers chewed holes in your pepper plant leaves.

Solution: Most grasshopper species don’t cause significant damage to gardens and don’t need to be controlled. However, if you find grasshoppers chewing on your pepper plant leaves, follow these tips to deter them.

  • Cover the young pepper plants with a lightweight floating row cover to block the access. Remove the cover when your plants begin to flower.
  • Many bird species feed on grasshoppers. Place a birdbath and bird feeder to attract birds to your garden.
  • Mow the lawn regularly to keep the grass low. This will help to deter grasshoppers.
  • Plant cilantro. Grasshoppers will avoid the area where cilantro is planted.
  • Attract natural predators such as spiders, praying mantis, robber flies, ground beetles, and tachinid flies.

4. Cutworms and Armyworms

What Is Eating Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves - Cutworms and Armyworms
Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves – Cutworms and Armyworms

Cutworms and armyworms are larvae of large night-flying moths. These worms can grow up to 2 inches (5 cm) long, hide under the soil during the day, and feed at night.

They attack pepper seedlings, chew on leaves, and can even cut down the whole plant by eating through the stem. 

The damage is similar to both worms. However, while cutworms usually feed in solitary, armyworms feed in masses. When the food scares, armyworms will move in large groups, feeding on almost any plant.

Solution: If you have seen cutworms or armyworms anywhere in your garden, most likely, these are the pests that make holes in your pepper leaves. For instant control, spray neem or garlic oil onto the pepper leaves. For long-term management, follow the tips below.

  • Rake the soil around the plant to expose eggs. Beneficial garden predators will take it from there.
  • Reduce weeds in your garden. They serve as an initial food source during early spring.
  • Install bat shelters. Bats feed heavily on cutworm and armyworm moths. Reducing the moths will reduce the number of eggs, which will reduce the number of worms eating your pepper plant leaves at night.
  • Attract beneficial parasitoids such as braconid wasps and tachinid flies. They will lay eggs inside the worms. Hatched larvae will eat the worms from the inside.
  • Many birds commonly feed on armyworms and cutworms. Attract them by installing bird homes, bird feeders, and birdbaths in your garden.
  • Attract other beneficial insects such as assassin bugs, damsel bugs, ground beetles, and spiders.

5. Tomato and Tobacco Hornworms 

What Is Eating Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves - Tomato and Tobacco Hornworms
Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves – Tomato and Tobacco Hornworms

Tomato and tobacco hornworms are caterpillars of a hawk moth. It is one of the most destructive pests in tomato family plants (Solanaceae or nightshades). This includes peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, and tobacco. 

Hornworm caterpillars can grow up to 4 inches (10 cm) long. A few of them can quickly defoliate young pepper plants in a few days, one leaf at a time.

It is not difficult to identify hornworm damage. They will start with defoliation of the top leaves first and then move down, skeletonizing the plant. 

Solution: If you have identified that tomato or tobacco hornworms are making holes in your pepper plant leaves, use the tips below to get rid of them.

  • Due to the caterpillar’s size, it is easy to handpick them and place them into a bucket with soapy water. Handpicking is usually enough to control these pests.
  • Attract birds into your garden. They will pick out these worms for you.
  • Attract predatory insects such as assassin bugs and braconid wasps to your garden.
  • Get rid of these pests by using a spray that contains spinosad (an organic insecticide).

Pro Tip 1: tomato and tobacco hornworms are giant caterpillars and well camouflaged. So, these pests can be hard to notice. The easiest way is to look for its droppings. Then, just look at the leaf above, and you will see it or them. 

Pro Tip 2: If you see a hornworm with tiny white eggs attached to it, do not disturb it. These are eggs of a beneficial parasitic wasp. When the larvae hatch from the eggs, they feed on the host worm and will lay eggs on other hornworms. With these wasps in your garden, you will never need to worry about tomato and tobacco hornworms again.

6. Cabbage Looper

What Is Eating Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves - Cabbage Looper
Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves – Cabbage Looper

As their name suggests, the primary food source for cabbage loopers are cabbages and other cruciferous crops like broccoli, cauliflowers, kale, radishes, and turnips. Suppose there is a large population of these pests or a lack of cruciferous crops. In that case, they will also feed on the leaves of other vegetables such as peppers, peas, potatoes, squash, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and watermelons.

A cabbage looper is a green caterpillar; it makes a loop shape with their bodies when it moves. The damage of these pests is large holes in the middle of the leaf or C shape holes at the side of the leaf.

Solution: If you have identified that cabbage loopers are making holes in your pepper plant leaves, pick them off and place them into a bucket or jar with soapy water. You can also use neem oil.

For long-term control, use the tips below.

  • Many birds feed on caterpillars such as cabbage loopers. Install bird houses and bird feeders to attract them.
  • Plant parsley, dill, fennel, coriander, or other small flower plants that attract beneficial parasitoids such as parasitic wasps.
  • Cover pepper plants with floating row cover. This will keep moths from laying eggs. It will not help with the existing problem. However, it will prevent further infestation. Ensure to remove all covers when the pepper plant starts to flower.

Pro Tip: If, for any reason, the neem oil spray was not a successful solution, try to use stronger organic sprays containing spinosad or pyrethrin.

7. Colorado Potato Beetle

What Is Eating Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves - Colorado Potato Beetle
Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves – Colorado Potato Beetle

Colorado potato beetles (larvae and adults) are common pests that favor potato plant leaves. However, in the absence of potatoes, they will gladly chew on Solanaceae (or Nightshade) family plants like peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and tobacco.

Colorado potato beetles are very destructive, and a group of them can decimate pepper leaves in a very short time. If there is a large group of these pests, they will start eating pepper plants from the top leaves, skeletonizing as they go down. Small groups will leave random size holes in random places.

Solution: The best immediate control is to pick them off the plant and throw them into a bucket with soapy water. Also, neem oil spray will discourage them from further destroying your pepper plant leaves. For long-term control, follow the steps below.

  • Plant pepper varieties that are resistant to the Colorado potato beetles.
  • Use floating row covers on your plants to prevent adults from laying eggs.
  • Rotate crops. As these pests are poor fliers, crop rotation will starve them.
  • Attract beneficial insects such as assassin bugs, damsel bugs, ground beetles, lacewings, praying mantis, parasitic wasps, spiders, and tachinid flies.
  • Use sprays such as citrus oil, botanical oil, spinosad, and pyrethrin to control these beetles organically.

Pro Tip: These pests are very adaptable. If you are using organic pesticides, rotate them often. If you use only one all the time, Colorado potato beetles may become resistant. 

8. Aphids

What Is Eating Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves - Aphids
Holes In My Pepper Plant Leaves – Aphids

Aphids are small sap-sucking insects. They are usually green but can also be black, yellow, or orange. Aphids will not make visible holes in your pepper plant. However, as they suck plant sap, they reduce the overhaul health of the plant. Weak and stressed pepper plants will attract more pests which will make visible holes in leaves.

Any plant can handle a few aphids, but an infestation of these pests can cause much damage.

Solution: If you notice aphid infestation, use an organic control. These can be horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, or neem oil. For long-term management, follow the steps below.

  • Aphids are at the bottom of the food chain. That means they have a lot of predators. Introduce beneficial insects such as aphidius wasps, assassin bugs, hoverflies, ladybugs, green lacewings, minute pirate bugs, parasitic wasps, and spiders.
  • Plant mint, nasturtiums, or sunflowers as a trap crop. These plants will attract aphids away from your main crop.
  • Weeds such as thistle will also divert aphids from your main crop. So, leave some of them at the side of your garden.
  • Use water pressure to knock off aphids from the plants. Be careful. If the water pressure is too high, it can do more damage than aphids.

What Are the Best Pesticides for Pepper Plants?

The best pesticide is a garlic spray or a soapy water solution. You can easily make them at home. Just mix a few ingredients. Here’s an example of how to make a garlic spray at home:

Final Words

No one likes holes in the pepper plants. Often, it indicates pests. If you find holes in your pepper plants, try identifying the pest. Remove big insects by hand or deter them by using neem oil spray.

Avoid using chemical pesticides on your pepper plant, as you may do more damage than good.

Also, check out other similar articles in our Gardening How To section.

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