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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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For week of Dec. 10:

Take advantage of these dry but crisp conditions. It’s time to get out the rake!

* Rake leaves away from storm drains and keep gutters clear.

* Fallen leaves can be used for mulch and compost. Chop up large leaves with a couple of passes with a lawn mower.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant. Without their foliage, trees are easier to prune.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Make sure to take frost precautions with new transplants and sensitive plants. Mulch, water and cover tender plants in the late afternoon to retain warmth.

* Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Don’t water succulents before frost; cover instead. Use cloth sheets, not plastic. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eaves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Plant garlic (December's the last chance -- the ground is getting cold!) and onions for harvest in summer.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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