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What's causing those brown spots on my peppers?

Blossom end rot shows up on peppers when they've received uneven watering and too much sun. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)

Signs of uneven irrigation pop up in late summer

It’s a maddening malady of late summer. You wait weeks and weeks for peppers to ripen – or at least get big enough to pick. Then they develop an ugly brown spot or callus.

What happened?

Most likely, those brown spots are pepper blossom-end rot. This can happen on the sides of peppers as well as the bottom. It’s not a fungal disease or the result of a pest invasion, but a calcium deficiency. The pepper plant didn’t have enough calcium available while the fruit was developing. Without that necessary building block, these too-thin cell walls collapse, then rot.

The answer is not to add more calcium to the soil (although that probably won’t hurt), but to be consistent with irrigation. Overwatering as well as underwatering can lead to those brown spots.

Blossom end rot, which also affects tomatoes and squash, usually occurs if soil was allowed to dry out too much, then flooded with water. That happens a lot during late summer vacations; gardeners return and overcompensate for not irrigating while they were gone.

The plant responds by pulling up as much water as it can, growing rapidly. But if there isn’t enough calcium available to go with that sudden abundance of moisture, brown rot follows.

The good news: It can be corrected. The damaged peppers are edible; just cut off the brown spots.

Then, remember to be more consistent in irrigation. Mulch around plants can help keep moisture even and let the remaining peppers develop normally.

Other factors that can lead to blossom-end rot are too much nitrogen-heavy fertilizer or ammonia. For peppers, stick to fertilizers with more phosphate than nitrogen or potassium. Excess sodium also can be an issue.

To boost calcium, add bone meal, rock phosphate or crushed egg shells to your planting bed next spring.

For more on blossom-end rot:


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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