Jalapeno peppers are my go-to hot pepper offering mildly hot fruits that are super versatile. I use them in salsas and stir-fries, as well as on nachos and in hot sauce. The plants are prolific, yielding dozens of glossy green fruits, and are easy to grow in containers and garden beds. The big question is when to harvest jalapenos for optimum flavor, heat, and quality. Below you’ll learn more about when and how to pick jalapeno peppers.
What is a jalapeno pepper?
A jalapeno pepper is a medium-sized chili pepper with glossy, bright green skin that eventually turns red when fully ripe. The fruits range from 2500 to 8000 on the Scoville scale and are considered mildly-hot. Capsaicin is the compound that gives chili peppers their heat and fully ripe red jalapenos, which have spent more time on the plants, contain higher capsaicin levels than green fruits.
Like bell peppers, hot peppers are best started from seeds sown indoors in early spring. I start my jalapeno plants under grow lights and use a heat mat to speed up sprouting and increase germination rates. Before moving the hardened off seedlings outside to garden beds or containers, I amend the soil with organic matter like compost and add an organic vegetable fertilizer to further support healthy growth.
When to harvest jalapenos
A pepper plant is transplanted into the garden in late spring, once the last frost date has passed. The small seedlings grow quickly when given plenty of sunlight, nutrients, and moisture. Soon the flowers appear and then small fruits begin to develop. So how do you know when to harvest jalapenos? There are two signs that a jalapeno pepper is ready to pick:
- It has reached its mature size. There are many varieties of jalapeno peppers you can plant, but most yield fruits about 3 to 4 inches long. There are varieties with smaller fruits, like Early Jalapeno which has 2 to 2 1/2 inch fruits and varieties with larger fruits. Jedi is a jalapeno with peppers that grow 4 1/2 to 5 inches long. It’s therefore a good idea to read the seed packet or description in the seed catalog to find out the mature size of your selected variety.
- Harvest jalapeños when they’re the right color. I pick jalapeno peppers when they’re deep green in color either using them fresh or freezing them for future meals. Mature jalapeno peppers turn red. Most gardeners start to pick their peppers when the fruits are dark green, but you can also wait until they ripen fully to red. Red jalapenos are typically spicier than green fruits.
Harvest jalapeno peppers as soon as they size up and reach the desired color. If you leave the fruits on the plants, the production of new flowers and fruits can slow and reduce overall yield.
How to harvest jalapeno peppers
Resist the urge to pull or tug peppers from the jalapeño plants. Don’t try twisting them off either. Pepper stems and branches are easily damaged and trying to harvest the fruits by hand can knock unripe fruits from the plants or result in broken branches. Instead, use garden shears, hand pruners, or garden snips to harvest jalapenos.
Use one hand to hold the branch or stem and the other hand to snip the fruits from the plant. Gather the just-picked peppers in a harvest basket or container and bring them indoors. They can be eaten right away, stored in paper bags in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, or washed and frozen whole for winter use. You can even chop or cut the peppers into slices before placing them in labelled freezer bags to make portioning out small amounts easy.