What causes pepper plants to suddenly wilt and die?

Gardens & Landscapes October 17, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF

Southern stem blight, caused by the fungus Sclerotium rolfsii, can attack the lower stem of peppers and other vegetables in the garden, causing plants to wilt and die. The fungus is often visible on the lower stem of the plant as a patch of white fungal growth encircling the stem at the soil line. Sclerotia (reproductive bodies) of the fungus appear as tiny reddish-brown to black spherical bodies the size of a mustard seed and are often found attached to the white fungal growth. These sclerotia allow the fungus to survive for years in soil and plant debris. This disease is favored by moist conditions and high temperatures. Carefully dig up infected plants, including sclerotia, and bury or burn them. Do not put plant debris in a compost pile. Work up garden soil several weeks before planting to allow cover crops and garden debris to decompose thoroughly. Due to the large number of plants attacked by this fungus, crop rotation must involve the use of nonsusceptible plants such as corn or other grass-type plants. Contact your local Extension office for fungicide recommendations.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.