Peptides and small proteins exhibiting antimicrobial activity have been isolated from many organisms ranging from insects to humans, including plants. Their role in defense is established, and their use in agriculture was already being proposed shortly after their discovery. However, some natural peptides have undesirable properties that complicate their application. Advances in peptide synthesis and high-throughput activity screening have made possible the de novo and rational design of novel peptides with improved properties. This review summarizes findings in the identification and design of short antimicrobial peptides with activity against plant pathogens, and will discuss alternatives for their heterologous production suited to plant disease control. Recent studies suggest that peptide antimicrobial action is not due solely to microbe permeation as previously described, but that more subtle factors might account for the specificity and absence of toxicity of some peptides. The elucidation of the mode of action and interaction with microbes will assist the improvement of peptide design with a view to targeting specific problems in agriculture and providing new tools for plant protection.