I live in Montreal Québec and have planted bell peppers in a new raised bed. All was well for two weeks and then the leaves started to cup, develop holes and now are now starting to have black marks on them.

I have looked for bugs under the leaves but have found nothing. We have been getting a lot of rain.

Any idea what might be causing this?

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Edit :added another photo

Edit: More images, garden shot and eggplants enter image description here enter image description here

Edit 3: Week or so later, after applying some controlled release fertilize, posting this as an imgur album as the photos were to large for direct posting. I think they are looking a lot better, which makes me hope that the issue is not a virus, rather just an amateur gardener not giving the plants what they need. Also got a pepper growing, and a few flowers. https://i.sstatic.net/UZMQJ.jpg

  • what soil is in the raised bed and is the bed open at the bottom? If not, how deep is it?
    – Bamboo
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 13:03
  • Bed goes right to the ground. Should I have left a gap between the ground and the wood? The soil is a mix of bagged soil I got from a garden center which was recommended for vegetables and soil from the garden. It is more on the clay side in texture. Bed is a foot tall and I dig down another foot under the bed and loosened the soil. Not quite double dug but somewhat deep Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 15:17
  • What was the name of the bagged soil you used, I'd like to look it up, and have you used any fertilizer of any sort prior to planting or since? Is that area quite shady, where they're planted?
    – Bamboo
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 16:16
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    Another question that needs answering, Stephen is, are you or friends or family smokers? There are other vectors as well such as aphids and other sucking/chewing insects that spread this disease. Could very well have happened before you purchased your starts. If indeed these were starts from the store. Or did you grow from seed?
    – stormy
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 18:22

4 Answers 4


The twisted and deformed new leaves tell me this is calcium deficiency. Sometimes just too wet of soil and/or cold soil will cause this. Then there is the yellowing of the young leaves that could mean iron, zinc or manganese deficiency. The 'rosetting' of the top leaves where the internodes are serverely shortened is definitive of lack of zinc.

These nutrients or chemicals could be present in the soil but have just been made unavailable by temperature, moisture, an overabundance of one or more chemicals and most certainly pH. So don't apply anything until we have a better idea what is in that soil.

I am lost with the statement 'should I have left a gap between the wood and soil'. You did well by digging the soil up beneath but is there a wood bottom? Just would like that clarified. Also need to know have you used any fertilizer at all? If so really need to know the list of macronutrients as well and micronutrients if any. Do you still have the bag the soil came in?

What causes problems some bagged soils have added fertilizers. They need to be accounted for before adding any other fertilizer. Were these peppers planted as starts from the store? The older leaves look a little too green (too much nitrogen) and the streaks indicate phosporous deficiency. It is hard to tell in photographs. Those leaves would be the leaves that came with the plant when you purchased them from the nursery/store.

Then there is the non decomposed bark chip mulch. As we speak decomposers are furiously working to decompose that wood. Decomposers use lots of nitrogen as an energy source depleting nitrogen availability to the plants.

Please get back to us with more details, Stephen. Try to get a pH test of your soil, via at least 2 methods that agree. If it has been raining a lot has it also been cool temperatures? What are the temperatures at night? Is the only wood the sides or is there a bottom? Raised beds are great for drainage and helping soils warm, unless there is a bottom. Find those bags and list of ingredients to pass that information on to us. Sorry this isn't a definitive answer as yet. Oh, and did you use your garden soil with the bagged soil? Or is this all bagged 'soil' that sits on the garden soil?

This is a multidimensional and interesting problem, Stephen! We'll be back with more information soon. Please send us more details, asap...thanks!

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    Arghhh! My internet is going in and out and this is the third time to comment. Wash hands in very hot water then use latex gloves. Virus is very tough, even doing this might not help. Try to not touch your egg plant. Get ready to pull out your peppers. The big bummer is you won't be able to put any of the solanaceae family in that soil for two years, at least.
    – stormy
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 21:50
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    Really need to hear what you've done for fertilizer. Small chance this might be nutrient deficiency or excess. Hope so. Not to worry. You can get cheapo black plastic pots to plant peppers in and they will do very well. That size start use no larger than a one gallon pot.
    – stormy
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 21:52
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    @stormy, I think you've got a point about the cold and wetness being factors here with the leaf deformations. I'm not sure that is the exact issue, per se, but I have noticed that the time of year definitely seems to affect stuff like this, as well as maybe how I water. Last year, early on, my peppers were like this, and they were fine later on. Some of them are like this now, but I think they're recovering. Some plants did show zinc deficiency signs, interestingly, and I did give them some zinc last year (they had plenty of calcium from the beginning, though, I believe—via basalt rockdust). Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 1:54
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    The dark portions of the leaves could be sunscald, although if so, it doesn't always look like this in peppers. I have some peppers like that this year (but none were like that last year). Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 2:02
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    It could be a virus, though, but I don't know. Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 2:15

No you didn't need to leave a gap between the wood and the soil, and there's clearly drainage because its open at the bottom and you dug that soil over.

I'm hesitant about what's wrong, there are so many things that can affect bell peppers (see list of possible problems here http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/GARDEN/VEGES/peppers.html). Something has been eating the leaves, which is not the major issue, but not sure what's causing the black markings, and the upper leaves appear puckered or bubbled, slightly deformed and somewhat yellow, so I'm wondering about a viral infection. I hope it isn't, but if it is, there's no treatment. The other possibility is oedema, if you've had lots of rain and the plant's taken too much up, that will cause some puckering too, but usually with bumps beneath the leaves. Thrips infestation can also cause puckering, but not yellowing, though that could be accounted for by low nitrogen availability - I'm not really being much use, am I, because I'm unable to isolate the cause, sorry. The list of possible problems in the link above might be useful - if you click on any one, it takes you to another page with information about that problem.

UPDATE; to include information in comments. Yes, you can transmit tobacco mosaic virus to peppers and tomatoes if you handle them after smoking, see here http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/gardens-gardening/your-garden/help-for-the-home-gardener/advice-tips-resources/pests-and-problems/diseases/viruses/tobacco-mosaic-virus.aspx. That does not mean that's what's happened though, most viruses present in the same manner, with torsion of the leaves and yellowing in mosaic or band patterns, which I'm not seeing yet on yours, the yellowing is more generalised. Time will tell if it's a virus.

  • My first thought was virus as well. Very very possible Bamboo. I didn't mention virus because you handled that very well. What is interesting is the stark difference between new growth and old growth. Could this be mosaic from tobacco?
    – stormy
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 17:23
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    tobaccocigardealer.com/tobacco-mosaic-virus-structure You know, when Stephen gets back with answers to our questions, we'll have to find out if he smokes or has smoker friends or could've been done at the nursery. I think virus would diagnose this just fine...mosaic virus.
    – stormy
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 17:59
  • I do smoke, generally on my deck which is about 10 feet from the garden. Never throwing butts into the garden but I have for sure smoked around it. I read the page you linked but its not clear to me how it would transmit. Would smoking and then handling the plants potentially transmit it? Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 18:15
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    Yes, I'm afraid it would, in theory, in particular in a greenhouse. There's a link about it, but I'll post it later, my internet's playing up... But it doesn't have to be tobacco mosaic virus, could be any sort of virus, they generally all present with yellowing, often in mosaic or banded patterns (which I'm not seeing yet on yours) and torsion of the leaves. Time will tell if its viral or not...missouribotanicalgarden.org/gardens-gardening/your-garden/….
    – Bamboo
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 18:21
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    Yes, handling plants susceptible to mosaic virus is almost a sure thing. Washing hands and then using latex gloves would be helpful as this virus as well as others is very tough. Still would love to hear what you've added for fertilizer and whether or not that soil had fertilizer incorporated. Do you know if your peppers were a variety resistant to this virus? I am seeing...that puffiness between the veins as well as the veins themselves are yellow, twisting, all indicative of virus, especially mosaic, tobacco virus. My internet is going in and out as well!! Still need to know about fert!
    – stormy
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 21:39

Possibly the use of CCA-Treated wood (aka Copper-Chromium-Arsenic pressure-treated lumber) might be the source of such an issue. I say that because of the green color of your wooden pot.

From this resource:

Low concentrations of arsenic, chromium, and copper occur naturally in water, soil, plants, and the human body[...]. Intake of excessive amounts, however, can have adverse effects on plants and humans.


Several studies have clearly shown that As, Cr, and Cu can leach from (be removed from) CCA-treated lumber when it comes in contact with water, soil, and/or compost. The amounts of these elements that are leached from the wood depend on several factors.

Increasing factors:

  • if the whole pot is completely soaked with water that never drains
  • acidic soil
  • organic matter

    Loss of CCA metals is increased when CCA-treated wood is in contact with certain materials, such as silage or compost, that are high in organic matter and have an abundance of organic acids. Such organic acids are formed during production of silage and compost. Because organic matter strongly binds CCA metals, little of what is released into these materials can be taken up by plants.

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    Highly unlikely, frankly...extension.psu.edu/plants/crops/esi/treated-lumber
    – Bamboo
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 14:57
  • @bamboo, That's same ref. as mine. Could be if the whole pot is in contact with water and never drained.
    – J. Chomel
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 15:04
  • It is a raised bed which is built out of pressure treated wood. I will see if I can find more information about it. The soil in the bed has been wet for the first inch for almost two weeks due to the weather here. I was thinking the roots may be waterlogged Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 15:14
  • @J.Chomel sorry, only followed the Wiki link you provided - but CCA timber was changed from 2003, so I wouldn't have thought arsenic and the like would be a problem
    – Bamboo
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 15:26
  • @bamboo, I realize this is unlikely, from the new pictures posted: a lot of earth for very little treated wood. And the dates too indicates my source is old.
    – J. Chomel
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 15:37

This looks like a lack of available calcium to the plant (with some sunscald that is probably on leaves that grew before the transplant, not being used to the full sun; northern regions can get a lot of sun).

I'm guessing, if this isn't a virus or pest causing the symptoms, that your soil has too much available potassium in it, which can interfere with calcium and magnesium absorption. Potassium is supposed to be more available when it's cool, which could explain why my plants with similar symptoms recover when it gets consistently hotter.

Wood chips are high in both calcium and potassium, but I know from experience that adding large amounts of both calcium and potassium seems to contribute to blossom end rot in Martino's Roma tomatoes. So, I'm guessing potassium wins when there are large amounts of both nutrients.

Adding extra nitrogen might help, if it wouldn't be too much for your soil. I believe nitrogen can inhibit potassium and vice versa. I believe I've also heard or read that calcium and nitrogen need to be in balance.

I also have experience giving tomatoes and peppers with too much potassium extra magnesium to treat apparent magnesium deficiency (but it didn't do much; I'm guessing the extra potassium stopped the plant from using it).

Calcium, potassium and silica are all important for strengthening plants. If a plant is deficient in calcium, it may be more susceptible to insect damage.

Magnesium is more available when it's cool than when it's hot (so, that might explain why you don't see obvious magnesium deficiency symptoms). Plus, it probably takes quite a bit of heat before you'd notice it, anyway.

Anyway, I could be wrong. Stormy's answer is very helpful, I think.

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    I think you are right about it not being a pest, home soil test kit showed very low level across the board with a pH of 6.5. after fertilizing the soil the plants perked up,and the new growth looks nice .at this point they have lots of flowers and 4 peppers. For insects I have a rather large problem with Japanese beetles, which I was aware of when I made my initial post and I think they have been contributing to the issues. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 0:13
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    I had added a balanced slow release fertilizer and then a week later have them a half strength watering of 20-20-20, and now a few weeks later they seem to be doing well. Might have also helped that it stopped raining every day, although our weather has not been great still. Thanks for your post, it has some interesting information and it is always nice to hear about other people's experiences. This is my first year trying out growing vegetables, in a new house at that! So quite a learning experience Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 0:17

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