Black Bell Peppers: Reason to Fear, or Not?

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A plant with a black bell pepper growing.

You’ve probably seen (and consumed) all the colors of bell pepper-green, yellow, orange, and red…  But did you know that sometimes bell peppers can turn black? Though it can look a bit startling, it’s usually not a problem to be addressed.

The most common reasons for black bell peppers are:

  • It’s a normal part of ripening
  • Temperatures have been too low
  • It’s actually a black sweet pepper
  • There’s too much sun exposure
  • Blossom end rot
  • There’s a fungal problem
  • It’s a soil nutrient deficiency

Are you ready to learn more?  Let’s get started!

RELATED: Black strawberry seeds are making the rounds on the internet, but are they what they seem? We’ve done the legwork to answer the question in our post on black strawberries, so stop by to find out for yourself!

3 Non-Worrisome Reasons for Black Bell Peppers

Believe it or not, but there are times when bell peppers turning black is normal. It can be due to nothing more than the pepper’s maturation process, environmental conditions or a specific variety.

Here are the details you need to know about these harmless issues:

1. Your Peppers are Going Through the Stages of Ripening

This is probably the most common reason for your bell peppers taking on a blackish hue. And thankfully, it’s actually a good thing!

I remember the first time this happened to me. I was growing some sheepnose pimento peppers (so it’s not just bell peppers that this happens to!) and I was really excited about the many baby peppers my plants were putting out. But then those healthy-looking green peppers started to turn black. Uh-oh.

Despite the discolored fruit, the plants themselves looked great, so I decided to have a few days of watchful waiting. And sure enough, the black spots turned red, and those peppers were delicious!

It turns out that bell peppers can go through a whole range of colors during the ripening process. The blackening is usually in the form of streaks or dark patches, and I’ve noticed that it often happens on the section of the fruit that’s most exposed to the sun. I’ve even had peppers that had a nearly all-over black hue before they turned red.

All bell peppers start out as green when first formed from the fertilized blooms. They usually stay green until they reach full size, at which point you’ll notice the color changes beginning to occur. The pattern usually goes something like this:

Graphic showing the color progression of bell peppers as they ripen.

This isn’t even all of the color changes known-there are so many varieties! So, many times, when bell peppers turn black it’s just part of their ripening process.

Here’s a photo of one of my peppers in the early stages of developing a totally normal dark patch. Notice how it has a red tinge, which is the end color this pepper will be:

A pepper with a small, early patch of darkening.

2. Cold Exposure

The bell pepper plant is a classic warm-weather crop, and it loves temperatures that are steadily higher than 65 degrees Fahrenheit. They’re not at all hardy to cold weather, as also evidenced by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

So what happens when peppers get exposed to temperatures lower than what they like? You may start to see some black-purple streaking in the fruit’s flesh. 

Fortunately, this is strictly cosmetic and it isn’t anything to worry about. Cold-induced black coloring doesn’t affect your pepper’s flavor, nutrition or texture.

So if you’re at the end of your growing season and a frost gives your peppers a few dark streaks, just harvest them anyway and enjoy.

3. The Peppers Are Naturally Black

Perhaps you picked up a bell pepper plant at the nursery and the tag said it was an orange variety. But now you’ve got black fruits growing on your plants. What’s going on?

It’s possible that the tags got switched (wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened!) and you’re actually growing a black/purple bell pepper variety.

The best way to determine this is to ensure that your plants and fruits appear healthy, with no diseased foliage or damaged spots on the peppers themselves. If all that is well, just give it a little more time to observe what the plant produces.

There are several varieties of bell peppers that are naturally black:

  • Purple Beauty: Mildly flavored and full of vitamins A and C, as well as beta carotene. Purple Beauty turns green when cooked, so if you want to enjoy the color, eat them raw. These are the most popular purple/black pepper variety, and if there was an inadvertent tag mix-up, this is probably what you have growing in your garden. It’s not hard to find Purple Beauty seeds or seedlings at nurseries or even big box stores. But if you’d like to avoid the search, you can order seeds online. Get them right here on Etsy from Zellajake Farm Garden.
  • Merlot: A purple or black bell pepper that stays bright green inside. Resistant to viruses and bacteria, this black green pepper tolerates heat and humidity and is ideal for warmer climates. Find organic heirloom Merlot seeds on Etsy from Raleigh Seed Co.
  • Black Horse: This is one you don’t see too often in the United States. Like Merlot, Black Horse is another black pepper that has green inner flesh. Perfect for grilling, roasting or eating raw. You can find seeds on Etsy from Stewart Farms OH.
  • Bella Noir: Glossy black on the outside and green on the inside, Bella Noir has a mild, sweet taste. The plants stay fairly small so they’re perfect for growing in containers. Find seeds on Etsy from Pepper Joe’s.
  • Sweet Chocolate: This one is definitely unusual! As the name leads you to believe, these peppers have a deep brown skin color and a sweet flavor. The outside may be brown, but the inside is a vibrant red. See them at the Baker Creek website.

All of these black sweet peppers are great sources of vitamins and have lots of cancer-fighting properties. They also contain anthocyanin, a flavonoid that appears in these dark peppers and has greater antioxidants than your “normal” colored bell peppers.

So maybe it’s a good thing that tag got mixed up after all!

RELATED: Did you know you can save seeds from certain bell peppers to grow next year? Find out how to turn bell pepper scraps into new plants!

4 Concerning Reasons for Black Bell Peppers

So we’ve covered the times when black bell peppers aren’t a problem. And fortunately, the harmless reasons for black coloring are the most common.

However, there are times when bell peppers turning black does signify trouble. Here’s what might be behind it and what you can do to help:

1. Harsh Sunlight

Earlier, we said that bell peppers love warm weather, and they do indeed. But too much harsh, direct sunlight can also cause bell peppers of any variety to turn black or purple. Think of it as a sunburn for peppers.

One thing that can make too much sun exposure even worse is the combination of hot and dry weather. According to Michigan State University Extension, this combination can cause bell pepper fruits to grow large very quickly. This potentially puts the fruit beyond the protective shade of the leaf canopy, leaving it exposed to the sun’s full strength.

While the black streaks for sun exposure aren’t troublesome on their own, it’s what comes afterward that’s the true concern. If you leave your pepper on the plant to finish ripening, the black area will turn a bleached white color, known as a sunscald spot. This is bad because it cracks the skin and allows pests and bacteria in.

So obviously, that’s a problem, and affected fruit will not recover a healthy coloring. If you see your pepper black streaks taking on a whitish color, remove the fruit and discard it.

But instead of just keeping your fingers crossed that your peppers won’t get too much sun, prevention is the best strategy. Here are a few things you can do to keep your peppers from getting a sunburn:

  • Fertilize early in the season. Enriching the soil with nutrients in the spring helps promote healthy, full leaf growth that can shade your peppers later on in the season. Look for a fertilizer with a balanced formula. My personal favorite is the Dr. Earth Homegrown blend.
  • Give consistent water. If you’re like me, your enthusiasm for watering your garden wanes as the season progresses. But the late summer is when sunscald is the greatest danger, and your plants need enough moisture to maintain healthy, shading foliage. So make it a point to give your peppers about 1 inch of water per week to keep them going strong.
  • Prune carefully. Removing too many upper leaves from your pepper plant reduces the protective shade, leaving the fruits more exposed and vulnerable to sun damage. Especially in harsh late summer, only prune away leaves that are diseased or dying. But do prune away any damaged lower leaves, especially those that make contact with the soil.
  • Use a shade cloth. Shade cloth is a loosely-woven material that blocks a portion of the sun’s rays, so it’s a great protective layer during the peak sun hours. But since peppers do need quite a bit of sunlight to thrive, it’s best to use shade cloth just during the harshest hours of the day. This large shade cloth is a great option that you can form into a tunnel or tack up over your plants.
  • Treat pests quickly. Garden pests like aphids, hornworms and whiteflies can all damage the foliage on your bell peppers, leaving the fruits exposed. Treat aphids with insecticidal soap (like this one from Safer Brand), remove hornworms by hand and introduce beneficial garden insects (ladybugs in particular) to help control whiteflies.

2. Blossom End Rot

If you notice your bell peppers turning black and the bottom tips are becoming soft, you’re probably dealing with blossom end rot. 

This photo shows a tomato with blossom end rot, but it looks just the same in peppers:

A tomato with blossom end rot.

Blossom end rot can show up at any time during the growing season but it’s most common early on. A lack of calcium is the root cause. Your soil may be low in calcium, or there may be a problem that’s preventing the calcium in the soil from reaching the pepper blossoms.

The only way to know if your soil is low in calcium is through a test. We recommend using SoilKit from AgriTech. This service tests for 14 key soil nutrients (including calcium) and you’ll get your results within 48 hours of SoilKit receiving your sample. To learn more or purchase a test kit, visit their site at SoilKit.com.

If your soil tests low for calcium, you can add a supplement to bring your levels back to normal. Believe it or not, finely crushed eggshells are an excellent way to do this. We cover the process in detail in our post on using eggshells in the garden, so stop by to learn more! If you’d rather go with a pre-made soil amendment, Rot-Stop from Bonide is a good option.

It’s also possible that your soil calcium level is just fine but your plants are having a hard time absorbing the calcium from the soil.

Cold temperatures may cause an interference early in the growing season, but inconsistent watering is usually the primary culprit. So make it a point to water your plants regularly all season long.

3. Phosphorous Deficiency

When phosphorous is in short supply, you’ll usually know it by leaves and stems with dark purple, nearly black discoloration. If the deficiency is far progressed, the fruit can also develop weakened, dark spots.

Once the fruit has been affected, you may not be able to do much to save it since the problem is severe. But it’s always worth a try!

Apply a high-phosphorous fertilizer to your peppers, with bone meal being an excellent source of natural phosphorous. This organic option from Burpee is a great choice.

Also, make sure to keep your watering routine consistent so your plant has the best nutrient uptake possible. And prune away heavily damaged foliage or stems to allow your plant to direct resources to healthy fruits.

4. Fungal Disease

Sometimes disease can strike your bell peppers, with the most common being these fungal conditions:

  • Anthracnose
  • Phytophthora blight
  • Fusarium

In these cases, you’ll usually notice small black lesions on the fruit rather than large splotches of color or an overall black shade.

Anthracnose. This fungus shows up as circular lesions that are black in the center with a defined border:

A plant with anthracnose fungus.

Anthracnose is a soil-borne fungus that usually gets a foothold on your bell peppers from soil that’s warm, has poor airflow and stays constantly damp.

Remove affected fruit and discard, and prune away any diseased foliage. After pruning, clean your pruners well with alcohol to avoid transferring the fungus to other plants.

Then spray the plant with a copper fungicide. This formula from Bonide comes in a pre-diluted spray bottle, so it’s easy to use. No matter what fungicide you choose, be careful to follow the package directions exactly as to when to apply and when it’s safe to harvest your peppers after application.

While fungicide can be effective for treating current infections, according to North Carolina State Extension, the best way to manage anthracnose is through prevention. This fungus can survive in the soil and on seeds for extended periods, even in extreme conditions. Using certified pathogen-free seeds, rotating crops and controlling weeds are some proven strategies.

Phytophthora blight. This fungus affects leaves and stems first, weakening your plants and leading to yellowing and wilting.

Eventually this damage results in dark, soft areas of rot on the fruits. However, damage to the pepper fruits is usually a late sign, and you should see plenty of concerning wilting and leaf/stem lesions before then.

These are blighted tomatoes, but infected peppers look very similar:

A tomato plant with Phytophthora blight.

Once a plant has been affected with blight, there’s no saving it. Pull the plant up and destroy it by burning or is a separate bag in the garbage. Phytophthora blight is a soil-borne fungus, and your best strategy is prevention. Here are a few tips:

  • Practice good crop rotation, and don’t plant your peppers where you’ve grown tomatoes, eggplant, or gourds within the last 3 years.
  • The fungus thrives in damp, warm conditions, so don’t overwater and don’t water your pepper plants from above (to avoid getting the foliage wet).
  • Space out your pepper plants appropriately to prevent overcrowding.

Fusarium. Fusarium usually shows up as black nodules (raised, knotty bumps) on your pepper plant’s stems first before moving on to turning your fruits black and soft.

This is another case of a soil-borne, long-lived fungus, and just like with phytophthora blight, once it attacks your plant, you can’t save it. Follow the same instructions for disposal and prevention we outlined above.

Black on Bell Pepper Plant Stems

So you go out to your garden to check on your bell pepper plants, and you notice some of the stems have turned a blackish hue. 

Don’t panic yet- although this may be cause for concern, it’s highly likely to be perfectly normal. To determine the difference, take a look at what the blackened stem section looks like.

If the discoloration appears at stem junctures, it’s just a normal part of the maturation process and nothing to worry about. Here’s a couple of photos of my strong, very productive pepper plants that have this blackening:

A bell pepper plant with dark purple/black coloring on the stem juncture.
Streaky purple/black coloring on a bell pepper plant stem.

If the rest of your plant looks healthy and you’re meeting the care needs as best you can, there’s probably absolutely nothing to worry about.

Sometimes, though, stem blackening can be a sign of a serious issue. But rest assured- when this happens, your whole plant will look sick. So it should be abundantly clear that you’ve got a problem.

If you spot a black ring encircling your stem, it can be an indicator of Phytophthora blight, like we mentioned earlier. The ring often shows up at the same time as other obviously problematic symptoms, including leaves turning yellow and the plant wilting. Fusarium nodules will also cause blackened areas on the stem.

If you see symptoms consistent with either Phytophthora blight or fusarium on your peppers, pull and destroy the affected plants and follow the steps for prevention listed above.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to black bell peppers, the good news is that more than likely, it’s nothing to worry about and you can look forward to enjoying a tasty and healthy harvest.

And even when discoloration on peppers is a true problem, you can often take steps to save the plant and your harvest. At the very least, you’ll learn what to do to have a bumper crop of peppers next year!

Do you have any other questions about bell peppers turning black? Or maybe you’ve got some other helpful tips to share? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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