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I have some plants on my balcony, and some of them show more or less strangled stems. The strangling happens at the point where the plants come out of the earth. The stem is weakened, but the plants seem to survive. It happens on several kind of plants, like Tomatos, Peppers and nasturtium. When I plant them deeper, some of them develop the same defect on the new border.

They grew on different types of substrate, and I didn't see any bugs there.

What could have caused this defect to arise?

Strangled stem of a sweet pepper

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I would suggest that they are being eaten by slugs or snails. My tomato plants get the same treatment even when growing on in the cold frame where there are no other pests.

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