Pepper Plants: Identifying the Culprits Behind Holes in Leaves

Pepper plants are a delight to grow, but they often fall victim to pests that leave unsightly holes in their leaves. The list of possible culprits is surprisingly long, and each one has its own distinct taste for fresh green foliage. Let’s explore some of the common pests that can wreak havoc on your pepper plants and how to deal with them effectively.

The Many Culprits of Holes in Pepper Plant Leaves

When it comes to pepper plant leaves, pests can come in various forms. Slugs, snails, cutworms, grasshoppers, aphids, caterpillars, and even beetles can all cause damage to your pepper plants. These creatures have an insatiable appetite for fresh leaves, making them a prime target for their feeding frenzy.

Reasons Holes in Pepper Plants Leaves

While most pests are content with decaying plant matter, they find fresh leaves much more enticing. Some pests will even go beyond simply munching on the leaves and attack the peppers themselves, while others cling to the stems and drink the plant’s vital juices. It’s important to identify the specific pest plaguing your pepper plants before choosing a course of action to control their population.

Cutworms and Armyworms

Cutworms and armyworms, the larvae of large moths and beetles, respectively, are notorious for their destructive feeding habits. These creatures can grow quite large, with adult armyworms reaching a length of up to two inches. While armyworms primarily feed at night, making them difficult to spot during the day, cutworms are solitary attackers. Both pests can significantly damage young pepper seedlings, gnawing on leaves and even cutting through stems, leading to the demise of the entire plant.

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Slugs, those slimy mollusks, are another pest that pepper plants have to contend with. These nocturnal creatures prefer dark, moisture-rich areas and use mucus to move and adhere to surfaces. While slugs typically feed on decaying material, they have no qualms about feasting on the leaves of your pepper plants. They tend to appear after rainfall or when the soil remains moist, making vigilance essential. Spotting dried-up slime on leaves or the ground is a telltale sign of slug activity.


Although grasshoppers primarily chew on stems, seeds, and leaves, they may turn their attention to pepper plants when food is scarce. Identifying these summer insects is relatively easy, as they produce a distinctive chirping sound. Grasshoppers create multiple holes in stems and leaves as they sample different meals before settling on a particular plant.


Aphids, small insects that are often translucent but can be yellow or green, attach themselves to the stems and leaves of pepper plants. They feed on sap, absorbing the nutrients necessary for their development. While a few aphids can be tolerated by plants, a large-scale infestation can have severe consequences, leading to diseases such as mosaic virus or brown spots. Spider mites are sap-sucking bugs similar in appearance to aphids, but with two black stripes on their translucent bodies.

Flea Beetles

Tiny, elusive, and black, flea beetles are one of the most common pests that damage pepper plant leaves. They attack young plants, leaving behind irregular holes that serve as evidence of their presence. These beetles may also hide inside the plant’s flowers, but a quick shake can dislodge them.

Caterpillars: Tomato and Tobacco Caterpillars

The caterpillars of hawk moths, known as tomato and tobacco caterpillars, are among the most destructive pests in the nightshade family, which includes pepper plants. These caterpillars can reach lengths of up to four inches and can devour an entire plant within days. Their distinctive feeding pattern involves skeletonizing leaves from top to bottom, leaf by leaf.

Cabbage Loopers

As their name suggests, cabbage loopers primarily feed on cabbage leaves and other brassica crops. However, when populations are high, they may transition to pepper plants and neighboring crops. Cabbage loopers create unique C-shaped holes or chewed edges on leaves, making them easy to identify.

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Potato Beetles

Potato beetles are common garden pests that primarily attack potato plants. However, if left unchecked, they will move on to other nightshade plants, including pepper plants. These beetles can cause extensive damage, munching their way from top to bottom. Small groups will leave random holes on pepper plant leaves as they move.

Dealing with Pests that Cause Holes in Pepper Plant Leaves

To combat the pests causing holes in your pepper plant leaves, appropriate measures must be taken.

Fighting Cutworms and Armyworms

When cutworms or armyworms are the culprits, neem oil can be an effective repellent when sprayed directly onto the leaves. Raking the topsoil and exposing their eggs is another method, allowing natural predators to control their population. Removing weeds reduces their food source, and encouraging birds or bats to visit your garden can provide additional control.

Getting Rid of Slugs

Removing slugs can be challenging, as they are primarily active at night. Handpicking them and placing them in a bucket of soapy water is an effective method. To prevent slug infestations, it’s suggested to water plants in the morning and allow the soil to dry before nightfall. Proper spacing between plants also reduces hiding places for slugs. Encouraging natural predators like toads, shrews, salamanders, turtles, and moles can also help control their population.

Getting Rid of Grasshoppers

While grasshoppers usually don’t cause significant damage to pepper plants, large infestations may require some action. Protecting plants with lightweight netting can help deter grasshoppers. Attracting birds and maintaining low-cut grass in the garden are other effective measures.

Dealing with Aphids

For organic control, horticultural oil, neem oil, or insecticidal soap can be used to combat aphid infestations. Plants such as mint or sunflowers can be grown to deter aphids. Water pressure can be used to knock aphids off plants, but caution must be exercised to avoid damaging the plant.

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Getting Rid of Flea Beetles

Citrus oil, neem oil, and garlic oil can be mixed with water (adding soap if desired) to create a homemade spray that effectively eliminates flea beetles. Growing herbs like garlic, radishes, mustard, or nasturtiums can divert the beetles from pepper plants. Beneficial insects such as ladybugs, beetles, and damsel bugs also enjoy a feast of flea beetles.

Eliminating Caterpillars

Handpicking caterpillars and placing them in a bucket of soapy water is a direct and effective method of control. Inviting birds to the garden can provide additional assistance, as they eagerly consume these pests. If you spot a hornworm with tiny white eggs attached, leave it be—it’s hosting beneficial wasp eggs that will help control the population.

Handling Cabbage Looper Infestations

Handpicking cabbage loopers and disposing of them in soapy water is an excellent method of control. Attracting birds and beneficial wasps by planting flowers and flowering herbs can further assist in combating looper populations.

How to Get Rid of Potato Beetles

Handpicking and disposing of potato beetles should be done promptly. Alternatively, you can toss them into a bucket filled with soapy water. Certain pepper plant varieties are resistant to potato beetles, offering a natural defense. Crop rotation also starves these beetles, as they have limited flight capabilities.

Treatment of Holes in Pepper Plant Leaves


Discovering holes in your pepper plants can be disheartening, but with swift action, you can mitigate the damage caused by pests. Examining the affected leaves closely is essential for identifying the culprit and selecting an appropriate pest control method. Caterpillars, aphids, and loopers are the most challenging pests to manage, but handpicking and using natural remedies can provide effective control. Inviting birds and beneficial insects into your garden will help keep watch day and night. By implementing these measures, you’ll ensure that your pepper plants thrive and produce a bountiful harvest. For more gardening tips and information, visit the Ames Farm Center.