Pepper plantations are established on a wide variety of soils, their texture varying from sandy loam to clayey loam. In Malaysia, most of the plantations are in soils which have been developed on slate, sandstone and on areas of alluvial origin having poor nutrient status (DeWaard 1969). The clay is of kaolinite type and of poor buffering capacity. The soil pH ranges between 4.5 to 5.5. In Indonesia, pepper plantations are raised in all types of soils, ranging from rich loose volcanic to clayey loam. In Sri Lanka, red clay loam and sandy loam are favoured by planters. In India, pepper is grown on a wide range of soils under the following situations:

i. Coastal and midland areas where pepper is grown as a backyard crop along with coconut/arecanut and/or other support trees ii. In the uphills, hill slopes and valleys where pepper is extensively cultivated iii. Hills at an elevation ranging from 750-1200 m, where it is grown on shade trees in coffee, cardamom and tea plantations iv. Valleys as a mixed crop in arecanut gardens.

Pepper requires a porous, friable soil, with good drainage, adequate water holding capacity, rich in humus and essential plant nutrients. The major pepper growing soils of India can be broadly classified into four major orders viz., Oxisols (6%), Alfisols (70%), Mollisol (10%), and Entisols (4%) (Sadanandan 1993) (Table 4.1.2).

Table 4.1.2 Distribution and classification of major pepper growing soils*.

Soil type



States in India




Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu






Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu





Kerala and Karnataka

Red loam



Kerala and Karnataka


Red loam (Alfisol)

This soil is acidic in reaction (pH 5.3-6.3), highly porous and friable, low in organic matter and essential nutrients, including potash, low in cation exchange capacity, high Fe and Al, prone to P fixation and having low water retention capacity. In this soil, pepper is grown as mixed crop in coconut/arecanut groves, using them as standards to trail pepper or mixed with other trees, both perennial and annual.

Forest loam (Mollisol)

This soil is acidic (pH 5.0-5.5), restricted to high lands of the Western Ghats, shallow in depth, but well drained, having dark brown to black colour on the surface due to the presence of organic matter. The soil is rich in organic matter, N and K, but organic carbon decreases irregularly at depths. The phosphorus and base status are medium, highly valued soil for pepper, because of the inherent fertility. Pepper is grown mainly as a monocrop in this soil.

Laterites (Oxisol)

The soil is acidic (pH 5.0-6.2), generally having low level of plant nutrients, including potash, low cation exchange capacity (CEC) with weak retention capacity of bases applied as fertilizers or as amendments. The soils are low in P status and having high P fixing capacity because of the abundance of Fe and Al; deficient in S, and N loss through leaching is substantial in high rainfall area. The high exchangeable aluminium, can become toxic to plants, low Ca content limit root volume and increases moisture stress. The micro nutrient deficiencies are also frequent in this soil. Pepper is grown mainly as a mixed crop in the coconut/arecanut gardens and as a homestead crop.

Alluvium (Entisols)

The soil is acidic (pH 5.0-6.5) and mostly occurring along the banks of rivers and its tributaries, moderately rich in plant nutrients including potash and bases, shows wide variation in the physico-chemical properties, depending upon the nature of aluminium deposit. The soils are deep with sandy or loamy in texture and respond well to management. Pepper is grown as a mixed crop on arecanut which is used as standards to trail pepper.

Though pepper is grown on a wide range of soils, moisture availability is one of the major factors that governs the suitability or otherwise of a particular soil type. In heavy rainfall tracts, well-drained soil types are ideal. Even though adequate supply of soil moisture is desirable, inadequate drainage is harmful for the plant. The pepper roots are very sensitive to shortage of oxygen and to high partial pressure of carbon dioxide which results in diminishing root activity, root growth and nutrient uptake. Soil conditions ideal for plant growth and development are, adequate drainage, good water holding capacity of soil, and absence of rock or hard substratum within one meter of the soil surface.

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