Yellowing, flower/pod drops - What am I doing wrong?

cjohansenMay 20, 2013

My plants have been doing good for a while, but lately it's started to look a bit sad. I've been thinking that it's just the overdue transplant that's to blame - plants are crowded in under my lights, too big to get proper light all over, root bound and so on. However, I do keep some on the windowsill as well, where there's good lighting, but these plants also seem to be plagued. So, I'm wondering if I'm doing something wrong. Here's the symptoms I'm seeing:

  • Yellow leaves - Mostly the lower foliage, but some plants have yellow leaves all over

  • Leaves dropping - After turning yellow, leaves typically drop

  • Flower drops My plants are dropping a lot of flowers - most of the new flower growth drops

  • Bud drops The past few days, several plants have dropped small pods, while bigger pods on the same plants have stayed.

  • Brown/wilted spots on leaves Some plants have developed brown/wilted spots on leaves, which eventually turn yellow and fall off

Generally, it feels like my plants are a bit stressed, but I'm not sure exactly what's wrong? Too much water? Too little? Too little light? Fertilizer issues? Can these be symptoms due to plants being excessively root bound? Many are, but I thought that would only stunt their growth.

Another worrying sign I saw today: One of my finest Habaneros, which is now in a 17 litre pot, is showing lighter colored/slightly yellow new growth. Is it missing some nutrients? (See picture)

Anxious beginner pepper gardener :)

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howelbama(7 NJ)

What are your fertilizing and watering habits?

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 12:48PM
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I've been trying to let plants dry out between waterings, and then soak through. I judge dryness by feeling the top ~inch of dirt and feeling the weight of pots. Plants are currently in 2 liter pots, some in 0.5 liter pots. I water roughly once weekly, the small pots more frequently. When plants are on the windowsill or outside they tend to dry out more often. Lately I may have been watering some plants too often.


I don't really have a system for fertilizing. I've been giving them some organic fertilizer, 8.0-2.0-6.0 4ml/1l, roughly weekly (i.e. more or less every watering). Since a couple of weeks ago I've been giving them some organic tomato feed, 3.0-1.0-2.0 4ml/1l, roughly every other watering or so.


Plants are in peat based potting mix with some vermiculite mixed in for aeration.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 1:53PM
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howelbama(7 NJ)

Your watering habits seem ok, but FYI peat and vermiculite are both generally used to increase water retention... Perlite does a much better job of aeration than vermiculite.

The plants don't look too bad in the pics, so you may be worrying a bit more than you need to.

Organic fertilizer takes time to break down and become available to the plant, which also requires a good soil food web to do so. Containers do not support a strong soil food web, so organics are tricky in them.

What zone are you in?

Do you plan on puttng them outside, side lighting through a window does not do much for plants even with the supplemental overhead lights. Unless you are talking about a serious lighting setup.

I think lighting may be your biggest chanllenge...

Hopefully others will chime in with some additional thoughts for you.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 2:51PM
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Thanks for your input. Sounds like lighting probably is the biggest issue. In my experience, the plants have responded well to sunlight on the windowsill, but obviously it doesn't get all the plants etc.

I was wrong about the Vermiculite - I am actually using Perlite :)

I'm hardening off the plants now, aiming for planting out next weekend. I've built a raised bed for ~40 of them, and then I'm keeping another 12 in 12l and 17l containers. The raised bed and outside containers will be using a mix of garden soil/top soil and compost.

Is it right that yellow leaves never recovers? If so, I guess I can help the plants avoid wasting energy by pruning bad leaves.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 3:08PM
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Probably container size. Since you're planting next week, you should be ok.

As far as your container soil, you may want to rethink your medium. Bagged garden soil MIGHT be ok, but you really don't want any actual "soil" in containers. If you don't want to try the famed 5-1-1, you might want to go with a mix of POTTING soil/mix, compost, and perlite.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 4:02PM
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Kevin, thanks for the heads up. I'm getting bulk top soil and compost tomorrow. I figured I could put whatever goes in the raised bed in the containers. I will do 50/50 with the potting soil I'm already using and the compost then, rather than the top soil. Will also add Perlite. How much Perlite would you recommend relative to potting mix/compost? It's kinda expensive... :)

About the 5-1-1 - maybe next season. At this point I have no idea where to get the bark, haven't seen anything like it anywhere. This being my first year, it feels like I already have enough to wrap my head around.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 4:33PM
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howelbama(7 NJ)


Don't buy your Perlite from the big box stores, or if you do, don't get the Miracle Gro stuff.. it is waaaaaaay overpriced. Im not sure where you are located, but if you are on the east coast (US) Agway has it at really good prices, around 20 bucks for 3 cubic foot bags. I think you can order 6 cubic foot bags online too for really good prices. Mom and Pop type nurseries are always good to check too, but some of them are more overpriced than the big box stores, while others have great deals... it's just hit or miss. Look in your yellow pages for agricultural supply stores and farm and feed type businesses.

It's always good to start familiarizing yourself with local sources for supplies.

I'm not sure what ratio of Perlite you should add to the compost, but probably a pretty large percentage, possibly upwards of 40%.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 4:45PM
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Yeah. It can get pricey, but like howelbama mentioned, local is sometimes not a bad idea. I have found bulk potting soil for as low as 20/yd. And I found 5 c.f. coarse perlite(what you want) for $17 at a small local nursery.

As far as ratios are concerned, you might be better off visiting the container forum, but they'll probably tell you no compost. I say why not. Either in a large container and a microherd can be supported or in a small one where one can't, it either breaks down or it doesn't. If it does, then great -- microherd nourishing. If it doesn't, still great -- more porosity for synthetic ferts to do their thing.

I would probably do a mix of 50% soil, 25% compost, and 25% perlite, but that's me. You got a week to gather more info and prices. Let's see what others may say. ;)


    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 5:23PM
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Thanks again guys. I'm in Norway - Perlite is really expensive here. The best I found is NOK 85 for 8 liters (that's roughly $15). In comparison, I'm buying top soil and compost in bulk at NOK 400 / 1000 liters. A cheap alternative would be LECA, but I recon it's too big(?) Anyway, 12 containers (12l and 17l) at 25% Perlite should be doable. No point in skimping now, almost four months into this project :)

I will go for your suggestion for the pots, Kevin.


    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 6:17PM
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Christian: Pose that question regarding LECA or any other alternatives over on the container forum. I know that many people get creative in components of a soil mix. Perlite is a totally inorganic material, so I'm sure people have found substitutes that are acceptable.

Ouch! 2 gal for $15.


    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 8:37PM
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Flower drop probable causes:

1. Day temp too high >95F
2. Night temp too low 85F
3. Too much nitrogen fertilizer
4. Too much water
5. Low light levels (reduces fertility).
6. Very low humidity (reduces fertility)
7. Poor air circulation (air circulation contributes to pollination).
8. Lack of pollinating insects.
9. Size of pot

  1. Too much mineral in feedwater.
  2. Too much grower attention/anxiety.
    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 7:09AM
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